What's in this session?

  • Alex Wilson (0:49)
  • Traditional Model (1:20)
  • Alex's Model (1:50)
  • Formula #1: Culture/Intersection With Faith/Application (3:18)
  • Formula #2: Story/Intersection With Faith/Application (5:14)
  • Formula #3: 10 Second Sermons (7:17)
  • Design/Editing (8:47)

Show notes and resources

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The Transcript

Brady Shearer: There’s a youth pastor I know who preaches almost exclusively on social media. He’s not a big name yet; you’ve almost certainly never heard of him, but he’s using platforms like YouTube and Instagram to disciple his students and reach them every single day, not just when they attend church and youth services. And in this podcast, I’ll break down the formulas he’s using to create this content and introduce you to this innovative young pastor.

Alex Mills: Well, hey there, and welcome to Pro Church Tools, the show where in ten minutes or less you’re gonna get a dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift we’ve seen in 500 miles. I’m your host, Alex Mills, joined as always by the boss man, Brady Shearer.

Brady Shearer: Last year, Alex, we went on a story taped trip to the state of Hawaii, and while we were there we visited one of the islands, Kauai, and someone had insta’d us through a DM and said, “Hey, we know you’re coming on the story tape trip and we’d love to put you up.” And we’re like, “Okay.” There aren’t too many hotels in Kauai because like 18 people live there, including this individual, Alex Wilson. And we learned in the brief time that we were with Alex, he is an incredibly creative individual, and he is pushing the limits of Seize the 167 in ways that I think very few are. So we wanted to highlight him in this episode of Pro Church Tools because we can all learn from what he’s doing.

To provide some framework, the traditional model for a youth pastor like Alex is to host a student service, once every Wednesday night, Friday night if you’re really ambitious, and that’s when you’re gonna take the time to preach to your students. Hopefully they can sit through a 20, 30, 45 minutes like in youth group for me, sermon where you’re sharing the gospel, sharing the hope of Jesus. That’s the traditional model.

Alex took this model and completely flipped it on its head, because while we were there in Kauai, which was like three days, every single day we were there, and we were at his house, we know this to be true, he was hanging out with his students after school, before school, helping them get to school. We went to his school. One point he met somebody and he’s like, “Sorry, you’re gonna have to sit in the car. I gotta drop this kid off.” We went surfing with these kids, we went to Puka Dog, which is a famous hot dog location on the island of Kauai, and this is the model that Alex did because he didn’t really preach too much in person. He would hang out with his kids all the time, and then he would almost exclusively preach on social media. Completely different, but something that’s innovative and using the timely mediums that we have to take the timeless message of Jesus and share it.

I went through a ton of Alex’s work, and sometimes it was hard to track down because he has this habit of deleting everything.

Alex Mills: He just did it the other day. He just archived almost all of his Instagram posts, and now it’s just pictures of him and his adorable family. And it’s like, yeah, I know your family’s good looking and I think you’re all cute, but I wanna see some of your content, some of your posts. But he’s working on something new which we’re gonna talk about in a bit.

Brady Shearer: Absolutely. The best thing to do is to follow him on Instagram, Alex Dion Wilson, which was not his original handle. It has since changed. So follow it now before it changes again. Alex Dion Wilson on Instagram. Basically Alex has two formulas for creating these social media sermons, and we’re gonna show a ton of examples just to illustrate how cool they are.

The first formula is simple. It’s three steps. Step one is culture, step two is intersection with faith, step three is application. The way that Alex will always begin these sermons is to highlight, acknowledge a cultural moment that pretty much everyone’s aware of. He’ll then intersect that cultural moment with faith, with a Bible verse, and he’ll provide an application point at the end. So he did this recently with the FaceTime leak. We all found out that FaceTime listened to everything we say. Someone could call you on FaceTime.

Alex Mills: How crazy was that, by the way?

Brady Shearer: You don’t even pick up. You decline it and they hear everything you say.

Alex Mills: That was crazy.

Brady Shearer: So aside from that, Alex took that moment.

Alex Mills: Which we all heard about and we’re all enraged about.

Brady Shearer: And then he shared it at the beginning of the sermon. What’s great about these sermons is that they’re all really short. Ten seconds, a minute, high G TV, 90 seconds, two minutes. It’s like, “Man, did you hear this thing about Facebook?” And then he transitions and he’s like, “The Bible says we’re all gonna give an account. So whether people are listening to you through their phone, God’s always listening. That’s why words are so powerful. We need to consider that.”

Alex Mills: I was shook by the end of that sermon. I was like, “Oh, wow, you’re right.”

Brady Shearer: Yeah.

Alex Mills: I was just here for FaceTime drama, but you really caught me.

Brady Shearer: But that does remind me to turn off FaceTime on my phone. If you haven’t already, make sure that you do. He did another with the Bird Box Challenge. He’s at railroad tracks, he’s sitting down, he’s wearing a blindfold, and he’s like, “Who’s doing this Bird Box challenge right now?” And he does the entire video with the blindfold on. At the beginning he’s trying to set up the phone because it’s hard because he’s blindfolded, and then he used that to talk about living by faith and not by sight and walking blind. Intersects it with culture and then provides an application point at the end.

That’s the first formula, and then the second formula, and we’re actually gonna play an example of this. If you’re listening, you’ll be able to hear it. If you’re watching, you’ll be able to actually see it. The formula for this second type of formula, it’s almost identical, but instead of starting with a cultural moment, intersecting that with faith and then providing application, he starts with a story. Whether you start with a story or a cultural moment, the reason that you begin a sermon in this way, especially on social, is to provide an immediate bridge point. You’ve gotta get people to stop scrolling to engage with your content, so with a cultural moment like FaceTime, everyone’s talking about that. It’s a great leap frog. We did this with our episode of Millennials last week. The new research came up from Barna. A lot of people were talking about that. We used that as this moment to spring board off of into our content.

So in this example, if you’re listening, Alex has set up a camera and he is far away down the sidewalk on his skateboard, talking about an SUV, which I can only assume his family is in. He basically says at the beginning of the video, “See you later,” and then the SUV drives away and he starts skateboarding towards the actual camera. He finally arrives and then he says this.

Alex Wilson: So we just moved from Kauai to California, and today I was painting the backyard with the kids and I realized something. They don’t even know why we’ve moved. They don’t know where we even are. They know that … and yet they still are having a great time. They’re still laughing, they’re still having a lot of fun. And it made me think that how I wanna trust God. If he’s doing something in my life that I don’t understand and he’s moving me from one place to another and I don’t get it, I just wanna trust him anyway and just be along for the ride.

Brady Shearer: So obviously Alex here is telling a story of moving. He’s recently moved from Hawaii back to his hometown of Fresno, and he’s talking about how his kids don’t know they’ve moved. They’re just having the time of his life. They don’t have that awareness. He has a little bit more awareness but he’s acknowledging, I still don’t have any awareness compared with how much awareness God has, the way my story is going, and I need to stop trying to control everything. Story, intersection with faith, and then he moves on to an application point.

Alex Mills: He does this other thing too. He does it, and you’ve probably seen this, these ten second sermons that he does. So they’re perfect for Insta stories. He posts them on his feeds, you get them in the feed too, where he’ll often also piggyback on a cultural moment or a cultural figure. What I can remember is it’s a shot of him, but he’s got Post Malone pasted onto his face. So he uses a cultural moment, says something about a lyric of Post Malone, and says, “But God says this about you.” Ten second sermons. They’re so quick. You don’t have to stop scrolling for too long. You can last ten seconds when you’re striping through stories, and he gets you all these times with these ten second sermons. They’re so much fun, just these little golden nuggets of truth. I’ve never seen anyone do anything like this before. I find that a lot with Alex’s stuff. He’s always trying new stuff. And when I see him, like, “Oh, I’m seeing this for the first time.” This guy’s doing some of the stuff for the first time, and I think that’s what’s so special about Alex. He knows how to communicate to youth really, really well. He knows how to speak their language really well, and he knows how to use these social platforms as a ministry to share the good news and hope of Jesus.

Brady Shearer: He did another ten second sermon with the character of Arnold from Hey Arnold and it basically sounded like this.

Alex Wilson: Football head or not, how God made you is wonderful and purposeful.

Brady Shearer: So again, he’s pushing boundaries, he’s doing things that I’ve never seen done before, and this has to do with his design and editing too. Not just the structure and framework of the sermons, but the way that he’s designing and editing them that will force you to stop scrolling. A couple of things that we can take away from the way that Alex designs these social sermons, he hard codes the subtitles. On YouTube this isn’t as necessary, because if you’re watching this on YouTube you can turn on the subtitles or turn them off, but it’s imperative on Facebook and Instagram to hard code subtitles for this kind of micro content, because people aren’t gonna turn it on or turn it off, and if they don’t have audio on, which the vast majority of us don’t, they’re probably just gonna keep scrolling. If you have the hard coded subtitles, you can grab them, and I love the fonts that Alex generally chooses.

He does these GIF overlays. So they’ll be talking about something and then he’ll just randomly put a GIF of Dwight Schrute making a funny face on the screen. And this is perfect for students, because our attention spans are bad across all of humankind, but they’re especially bad with younger people, and so he’s putting GIF overlays of rainbow prayer hands, he’s putting GIFs of random recognizable and familiar television shows and popular celebrity figures. Why? Because they have something to do with what he’s talking. It’s almost like B-Roll basically, which is interesting. GIF B-Roll. Again, things that are never done. He’s always shooting a different location. Remember on social, repeats equals defeats, so he’s shooting on the train tracks or he’s shooting in a church, he’s shooting on some random street corner where he’s fixed his camera up and skateboarded 20 feet away from it. Because every time you see him he’s in a different spot, so you never subconsciously become conditioned to the routine, so you always have a brand new start because it looks different.

And also always pay attention to the way Alex edits the first three seconds of his videos. That FaceTime one we talked about earlier. He has the FaceTime UI on the screen in the first three seconds. It looks like you’re getting a FaceTime from him, because he knows he only has three seconds with these videos. He has to do something crazy to get you to stop scrolling, then he can cook you with a cultural moment, and then he can start talking about the Bible, and that’s the way that this is meant to be done. Alex has also started a brand new YouTube channel. It’s called Apposite, which has a specific meaning that I’d never heard about. Apposite, like the word opposite with an A.

Alex Mills: I had to look it up. I looked it up first because he announced he was gonna be launching a new YouTube channel called Apposite, but didn’t say anything more. There’s nothing on his YouTube channel. It’s like, what’s going on? So I looked it up, and there are a couple of different definitions just today. So if by the time you’re listening to this it’s also up, he posted his first video kind of explaining the channel. And he defined apposite this way, that it means suitable and fitting. So he’s setting out to create content on YouTube that is suitable for the culture we live in, but also fitting for wherever you are right now. And we were with Alex a few weeks ago, and I had a chance to talk to him over dinner about YouTube. We just talked YouTube. And he is so excited and being so intentional with the content he’s trying to create on YouTube. I think what he’s about to do is something really special, so you should check out his channel. It’s called Apposite, A-P-P-O-S-I-T-E, and then of course it’d great, follow him on Instagram, Alex Dion Wilson on Instagram.

Brady Shearer: That’ll do it for this episode of Pro Church Tools. We’ll see you next time.

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