Phil is the creative arts pastor at West Ridge Church. He joins us to discuss the next generation of churches.
What’s In This Session?
- Ministering through the biggest communication shift in the last 500 years (9:11)
- Recognizing the importance of change despite being wildly successful (10:35)
- How much longer will the megachurch model remain viable? (14:05)
- Why churches are missing the mark when it comes communication (17:55)
- What makes change so difficult (23:08)
- Navigating difficult decisions & relationships with senior leadership (27:45)
- 3 questions to continually ask your team/leadership (30:46)
- What to do if you’re an older pastor recognizing the need for change (34:28)
Show Notes & Resources Mentioned
3 Instant Takeaways
- In the last decade the average church hasn’t changed how they communicate, but the average person has. It’s critical that churches recognize this shift and learn to communicate to their community in a way that they will recognize and understand. The medium isn’t sacred – the message is.
- People are starving for authenticity. People want to go some place where they don’t feel like everyone wants something from them. Our culture is inundated with advertisements. Stand out by putting people first, not your church. Don’t be another sales pitch.
- Fear makes change difficult. 80% of people do not like change. To overcome this, consider decisions based on the people in your community that still need to be reached, instead of just your existing congregation.
The Full Transcript
Brady Shearer: This is the Pro Church Podcast, session number 196. The next generation of churches with Phil Bowdle. …
Speaker 2: [Singing 00:00:12].
Brady Shearer: Well hey there Pro Church Nation and welcome to the Pro Church Podcast. You’re now part of a small group of pioneering churches doing everything we can to seize the 167 hours beyond our Sunday services. Why? Well, because we’re living through the biggest communication shift in the last 500 [00:00:30] years; and what got us here won’t get us there.
I’m Brady, your host. This is session number 196. You can find the show notes for this session at ProChurchTools.com/196. In this session of the podcast, we’re joined by a repeat guest, Phil Bowdle, discussing the future of churches and what it looks like for the next generation; so let’s do it.
Speaker 2: [Singing 00:00:50].
Brady Shearer: [00:01:00] Welcome back to another session of the Pro Church Podcast. My name is Brady, your host; great to have you along for the ride with us. We like to start off each and every session by sharing with you a pro-tip or a practical tool that you can begin implementing and using in your church or ministry right away. Today, I want to share with you a platform called ‘Drift.’ You can check them outline at Drift.com.
Drift is, in many ways, [00:01:30] what I see as the future of the way that we interact with our online visitors to our website. Now, to be upfront, we don’t use Drift at Pro Church Tools. We use a competitive service that I believe I’ve spoken about before called ‘Intercom.’ If you go to Storytape.com, if you go to ProVideoAnnouncements.com, if you go to Nucleus.church when that reopens in the new year, and you interact with us either as a user logged into your account or as a visitor to [00:02:00] the site, you’ll be able to chat directly with our team through this little speech bubble in the bottom right corner of your screen. That’s powered by Intercom.
Drift is something very similar. The reason that I wanted to talk about Drift as a competitor different from Intercom is that they are a lot more affordable than Intercom. I think it makes it accessible for most churches, whereas Intercom, the pricing is complex. It’s based on users. It can easily tick up into the hundreds and hundreds. We pay Intercom about $1,000 a month, I believe, when it [00:02:30] … combine all the apps that we use for them, and each individual price, and the different apps within those individual apps. Like I said, it becomes a bit complex.
Drift, I’ve heard great things from my friends over at Trained Up. They’ve been doing an amazing job, Drift has, growing their platform and expanding their reach; even within a space that Intercom had and has dominated for so long. Basically what Drift is, is think about it as this little speech bubble in the bottom right corner of your church’s website. When someone visits [00:03:00] your website, it just pops up in the corner. It’s not obtrusive, it’s not obnoxious. It pops up in the corner and it just says something like, ‘Hey, you have any questions for us about our church? Let us know.’
Now instead of people filling out forms, instead of people having to get in touch with you the old way via email, call somebody, like I said, a form; now you’ve got these conversations. That’s what Drift really specializes in: conversations not forms. If you’ve heard anything about messenger bots or anything like that, this is what [00:03:30] an app like this can do. Sure, it allows you to communicate one-on-one with visitors to your website, but it also allows you to qualify those people so you could ask questions beforehand. Your bot, the Drift bot, can kind of qualify these people and just make sure everything’s ready to go before you have a conversation.
Now, I don’t really think that’s going to be necessary for most churches because most church websites don’t get enough traffic where you have to qualify people and sift through all the visitors to make sure you’re having conversations with the ones that matter most; but I think it’s just one way to make your church more accessible [00:04:00] to people. Your website is your church’s most important marketing tool. It’s where you’re making your first impression online. One way to make a better first impression is to integrate something like a Drift where you can have these conversations rather than just having forms filled out, and stuff like that. Recommend you check it out, Drift.com is the place to do that.
With that being said, we’re going to welcome in our guest for today’s session of the podcast, a repeat guest, Phil Bowdle. Phil is the creative arts pastor at West Ridge [00:04:30] Church. In this conversation, we’re talking about the next generation of churches. We talk about ministering through the biggest communication shift in the last 500 years, recognizing the importance of change even when you are wildly successful, how much longer will the megachurch model remain viable. Is it going to increase? Is it going to decrease?
We talked about why churches are missing the mark when it comes to communication. What makes change so difficult, navigating difficult decisions, and relationships with senior leadership. This is one of the biggest questions we get, most frequent questions we get; so [00:05:00] listen closely to that. Part of the conversation, we talk about three questions to continually ask your team and leadership. Finally, what to do if you are an older pastor recognizing the need for change. Lots of great stuff in this conversation. Phil is always a great person to talk with. I really think you’re going to enjoy this one. We’ll be back in just a moment with my interview with Phil Bowdle.
Well hey there, Pro Church Nation. Welcome back to another session of the Pro Church Podcast. Today, we’re welcoming a repeat guest back to the show, Phil Bowdle. Phil, my friend, what is [00:05:30] up?
Phil Bowdle: Hey man, how’s it going?
Brady Shearer: It’s great to see you, Phil. I always like to think of you as the type of person that firstly … Well, you’re the type of person that is full of surprises. Namely, two surprises. One, your name, last name, the pronunciation ‘Bowdle’ was not what I first thought it was like two years ago before we ever met. I always thought it was like ‘bow’ as in ‘bow and arrow,’ not ‘bow’ as in like ‘bow before the king.’ I always thought it was Phil Bowdle. Then secondly, … that’s surprise number one. Surprise number two, is you’re insanely taller in person than I [00:06:00] expected.
Phil Bowdle: I’m a man of mystery, Brady. That’s just how I roll.
Brady Shearer: Exactly. There’s this great Drake line, to drop a turn on Tony in reference that he says like, ‘I’m taller in person. You’ll see when we meet.’ I’m the exact opposite. I’m shorter in person, and if we meet, you’ll see. You’ve got the whole Aubrey Graham, Drizzy Drake thing going down. We just … I saw you again in Atlanta a couple months ago, and I was like, ‘Has he grown?’ Like is this a [inaudible 00:06:26] inside of [inaudible 00:06:26] sort of thing, where you just keeps going, even though he’s [00:06:30] a full grown adult?
Phil Bowdle: No, Brady. You look taller than normal at that church conference as well, when I saw you. I think you’ve grown, too. I think we’re just growing at the same rate.
Brady Shearer: That is demonstrably untrue, but I’ll take it. Phil, if people are unfamiliar with you beyond the pronunciation of your last name and your gargantuan height, can you reintroduce yourself to Pro Church Nation?
Phil Bowdle: Yeah, sure. First and foremost, I love being a part of playing a role in the local church. That’s the passion and calling of my life. [00:07:00] What I get to do in that is I serve at West Ridge Church in Northwest Atlanta. I’m the creative arts pastor here. Overall, I oversee our worship production, video and communications, and serve on our leadership team as the creative arts pastor. More than anything, at the end of the day, a lot of what I end up doing is helping folks on the first ten and last ten percent of everything we do as a church, in some ways, and trying to play more of the role of the orchestra or conductor, making sure we’re telling one story [00:07:30] as a church. I love getting to serve with a great team, get to be creative every day, solve problems, and be a part of a great church.
Brady Shearer: Can you provide a little bit of context about West Ridge? If people are unfamiliar with the church itself, what size are you at? What kind of experience is it like on a Sunday morning? I was unfamiliar with West Ridge until we first met, and then I was just so impressed by what you’re doing over there.
Phil Bowdle: Yeah. We’re a church [planting 00:07:59] church, have been [00:08:00] from really early on. That’s a big heartbeat of our church and our pastor, Brian Bloye. He just leads an incredibly healthy team, and that just spreads out throughout our staff in how we try to do everything. The look and feel of our church, we’re about four to five thousand every single week. Everybody shows up at once, like Easter, we’re around eleven thousand. Really at the end of the day, I think what we try to do every single week [00:08:30] is just put Jesus on display in our services, in our social media, anything we do. That’s what we’re here for, at the end of the day, and what we get to do.
We’re a contemporary style church. I hate using that word, but at the end of the day, what most people would say is the heartbeat of our church is we’re just trying to be authentic, be real, try to be relatable. The biggest barrier for a big church is that it’s a big church, and a lot of people feel like they can’t connect [00:09:00] or know the staff, know what’s going on. We try to break the mold of that and just be authentic and true to who we are on and off the stage, and in our community. That’s what we’re all about.
Brady Shearer: Phil, I think that you and I have come from similar positions when it comes to something that I say all the time. We’re living through the biggest communication shift in the last 500 years. We’ve got this really fascinating and troubling current infrastructure within the church where the average protestant [00:09:30] lead pastor is 54 years old, which sounds fine on the surface except for the fact that that’s a full ten years older, a full decade older than the year after I was born. In a quarter century, our lead pastors have aged ten years; which means that they’re not being replaced as readily and as quickly as they were before.
Which is not that bad on its own, except for when you compound that with the fact that the millennial generation, my generation, is now the largest generation in the North American workforce, in the voting [00:10:00] group. The most popular age in the world right now, according to The Wall Street Journal, which was a pretty recent report, is 26, which is my age. You’ve got the average lead pastor a full two, three decades removed, two generations removed from the largest demographic in their community. Basically what that means is the way that we used to do things, the methods that we used to use, probably not going to work anymore; at least when it comes to communication because communication has changed so much.
I know [00:10:30] this is something you’re passionate about. I just kind of framed my point of view on it. I’m just going to hand this over to you. Especially from someone who’s coming from a large church that is successful, what I’m impressed by is that I think it’s easy when you are the successful individual or organization, to not think that change is needed. Why didn’t public transportation and taxis see Uber coming? Well, they didn’t need to. They were the big guys.
Phil Bowdle: Yeah.
Brady Shearer: Why did the hotel industry, lodging industry, not see AirBNB coming? Well, because they were the big guys. They didn’t need [00:11:00] to. I’m fascinated by your viewpoint and perspective, because you are extremely successful by all metrics that we have as a church and an individual. Yet, you still see the need for change. Can you dive into that a bit?
Phil Bowdle: Yeah. I think the … probably the biggest burden I have right now is just seeing through … I mean I grew up in the church. Our stories are very similar as well, just have a lot of background in seeing how the church communicates works through the years. I’m only 32, but [00:11:30] I’m a PK, grew up in the church, and I’ve seen plenty of it. At the end of the day, I think in the last 20 years, the average church hasn’t changed the way they communicate. The average person that every church is trying to reach has. Everybody else has changed how they are communicated to and how they receive content and information, and everything like that.
Culture is changing rapidly, and just in how people communicate. Equally as important within this framework of the church, there’s no [00:12:00] more ‘ought to’ for the church. There’s no more Sundays used to be sacred. Now it’s the day where soccer games happen, baseball games, football practices, all that stuff. It’s no longer a sacred time for culture. Within that, there’s a lot more things that are competing with the church, and that the reality is our audience is having to make some decisions that they didn’t have to make 20 years ago.
Within that, I think it’s [00:12:30] critical that we understand how we can communicate to the community that we have, to tell them about the message of Christ. I think for me as a creative, looking at this season that we’re in right now and trying to forecast where we’re going. Ten years from now, I think what’s going to happen, … my guess is that ten years from now, we’ll look back and say that we spent way too much time on tactics, trying to increase our Facebook metrics by ten percent, and not near enough time rethinking [00:13:00] how we should be doing ministry, and the methods we are using to better communicate the [messes 00:13:06] that we have. That’s the burden I have.
When you think about culture right now in general, when I think about how I consume content and everything, one of my favorite shows right now is ‘This is Us.’ In two seasons now, I can’t think of one time that I watched it live on the air. Every time I’ve recorded it, watched it on DVR, or watched it Hulu; [00:13:30] just that communicates a lot of how people make decisions. From how they pick a restaurant, how they pick a show, how they stay connected with people. It is on demand. It is based off their preferences and needs, and what adds the most value to people. That culture and that way of making decisions for the people we’re trying to reach in the church, we’re not going to change that. We’re going to have to adapt to that and adjust to that to be more effective in reaching [00:14:00] than ever before. It’s going to change … mean changing some of our methods, changing the way that we do some things.
Brady Shearer: How long do you think that the mega church model can continue to be the model that so many of us are chasing after? It’s interesting seeing some shifts that are beginning to happen. Matt Chandler just made big news within the church subculture when he said, ‘You know what? We’re not going to simulcast me preaching anymore. We’re going to take our remaining campuses, and we’re going to have new [00:14:30] campus pastors actually be the ones that are delivering the messages during our worship experiences, not just me on a TV.’
I found it fascinating recently while looking at some data saying that 80% plus of people that attend churches attend smaller churches. We know that the majority of churches are small, but I think we just assume that because they’re small, a huge group of people still attend big churches. The vast majority of people that attend our churches go to smaller churches. [00:15:00] I think it can maybe be a little bit backwards or counterintuitive to continue to want to be a super big church when maybe the majority of people don’t even want that. What are your thoughts as what would be defined as a mega church, Phil, the future of that model of ministry? Not saying it needs to go away, but it being the one that we all chase after. That is the epitome of success.
Phil Bowdle: Yeah. It’s tough. I would say healthy things grow. All those [00:15:30] churches that are bigger now, hopefully were healthy at one point, that caused more people to be engaged and connect with that. I think at some level, that’s always going to … that’s going to continue and probably should continue. At the same time, I think the way that people connect with churches is going to continue to be different. A good friend of mine, Dave [Adamsen 00:15:51] at North Point. They’re seeing probably four or five times as many people connect with their church, and they’re teaching online, [00:16:00] as they’re coming through the doors. That’s growth, but that’s a different tension of growth than we’ve really ever seen in the church before.
Big church, small church, whatever it is, I think what people are just starving for is authenticity. What people want is that they want to go someplace where they don’t feel like they’re just being … just … that everybody just wants something from them, because that’s what we deal with everywhere we go; with how many advertisements that are just constantly bombarding us wherever we go. People just [00:16:30] want authentic community, authentic place to learn about how they can grow in their faith. I’m kind of just sick of seeing how many people are just trying to push out all these things, all these churches that just want their events to be full, and people just to show up and attend.
When I think really the questions we need to be asking in a big church or a small church is how can we help people take their next step on their walk with Jesus? Our goal is to make [00:17:00] disciples. That’s what we’re here to do. It’s not to build big churches. I think the churches that are going to do that, big or small, are going to be the healthy ones that keep their priorities straight and don’t get too side tracked by just a big building or a big church, but really genuinely want to help people take their next step and pastor people. I love what [Pillage 00:17:19] is doing to make their churches more accessible, and their pastors more accessible to the local context of each community; because that’s going to make them more authentic [00:17:30] to what each mission of each community is going to be.
I think at the end of the day, I think that’s what it’s going to be all about is being authentic to what the church should be and actually genuinely helping people take their step, and care about them more than they care about building a big church.
Brady Shearer: Let’s dive a little bit deeper into that. You talked about some things that you think healthy churches are going to do going forward. Where do you see churches missing the mark right now in how they communicate [00:18:00] to their existing congregation, and then their community as well?
Phil Bowdle: Well, I kind of mentioned it. What I see, the biggest mistake I see is they’re making it all about them, making it all about their church and not about the person in the seat. When you think about the way that a lot of announcements go, or the way a lot of people share things, it’s all like, ‘Hey give, so that we can do this,’ or ‘Serve so that we can do this for our community,’ ‘Attend each week because we want you to.’ [00:18:30] That positioning maybe used to work because there was more ‘ought to’ for people coming to the church; but anymore, the way that we are going to make those decisions is based off of how are we going to … how’s it going to add value to my life, to my family’s life? We need to be changing the positioning of our messaging away from just ‘do these things so that we as a church can do this stuff,’ and more, ‘Hey, we believe that God has wired you to serve, and so we want to provide [00:19:00] a opportunity for you to do that in our church and in our community.’
That’s a whole different message than saying, ‘Hey, we need more kids, need more people watching over our kids in the nursery.’ We need to be helping people respond to what God’s called them to, not just what our church wants or needs from them. That’s the biggest thing. If we can speak on behalf of our audience and be an advocate for them, and really try to help them take their next step to what God’s already called them to do, that feels so much more authentic than feeling guilted into [00:19:30] what a church wants them to do. That’s the biggest mistake I see.
Brady Shearer: One thing I think I see Elevation doing this exceptionally well. I was just kind of perusing through their Facebook page this morning, putting together a little bit of a case study. One thing that I just could not escape my notice was how much of their content was asking absolutely nothing of their audience in return.
Phil Bowdle: Yup.
Brady Shearer: It was just a super valuable piece of content, a story of someone within their church, a fantastic video. [00:20:00] It was never a promotion for them, so much as it was meeting their audience where they were and recognizing that indirectly, that is going to accomplish the goal that you want, which is, of course, response, more than just demanding response. I think that’s the nuance that we struggle with, right, Phil, where it’s like it seems counterintuitive but it’s the way that it works. Don’t ask, deliver value first, and that’s how you’re going to get response in the long term at a much higher pace than if you just ask, ask, ask.
Phil Bowdle: Exactly. A [00:20:30] church I was consulting with this morning, actually. I was having this conversation about Disney, just trying to take it out of that church context. The tendency for most organizations, especially when you’re thinking like a staff member, when all day, every day, you’re in conversations around what you need to be pushing out as a church, the easiest thing to do is think like a staff member, or think just about you and what your needs are instead of what your audience needs. Thinking about Disney, it would be the equivalent of Disney, all their promotions being just ‘Hey come, [00:21:00] sign up for a trip. Come out to Disney because we have this new feature. We have this new ride. We have this new … We have new funnel cakes. You’ve got to check these out. Please, come for our funnel cake extravaganza,’ all this stuff.
When really, what Disney’s doing is telling stories and connecting with people’s hearts, and helping them know that this is going to add value to their lives, and to their family. Sure, they may share some of the features and benefits occasionally, but that’s like the … that’s the rarity. What they’re sharing, it’s much more [00:21:30] tapping into a felt need that people have and want to experience. The church can learn some things from that. Like what you’re saying from what Elevation is doing, everything in our lives … I think if you think about it for yourself personally, there’s so many things that are pulling on your time, your attention, your money. If we’re not careful, the church will do the same thing, when what we want to be doing is helping that pull be from what God’s calling everybody to [00:22:00] do, not just what our church wants them to do.
The hardest part about that, to be honest, is there’s a lot of things that fill up the program sheets of our church that are not actually helping people grow in their faith. They’re just keeping them busy. They are afraid to say ‘no’ to it, or to cancel it because they’ve always done it. That, to me, is some of the disconnect of maybe what worked 20 years ago that just doesn’t work anymore. It means for us, as leaders in the church, [00:22:30] to be bold and courageous, and stand up for the people that our church has not yet reached, and to keep our eyes and our focus on that.
Brady Shearer: I think that a lot of people listening to this, Phil, are probably nodding their heads along with you, saying, “Yeah, I totally believe and agree with this.” Whether they’re a lead pastor or someone who’s in their church and doesn’t have as much control, what is it that’s holding the average church, average pastor or leader, back from making these changes? Like I said, maybe cognitively [00:23:00] they agree, but they’re still feeling stuck; like, ‘Oh, well we could actually never change that at my church.’ What is that mindset? Why does it exist?
Phil Bowdle: That’s a good question. I think the reality is we always … we tend to go back to what used to work, because that’s our experience. Most church context, the pastors you were saying, I think you said the average pastor’s age is 54 now?
Brady Shearer: Correct.
Phil Bowdle: Most likely, [00:23:30] the most entrepreneurial spirit that they had was in their late 20s, 30s, when the most change was happening and they were most interested in trying to take on the world and take on their community to reach them, or help their church reach those people. The tactics that worked then will not necessarily work now, but it’s most comfortable to most churches to do what you’ve always done.
That is scary, because most people don’t [00:24:00] like change. I think statistically, it’s like 80% of people do not like the word ‘change.’ They don’t like change in their lives. They want stability, consistency. Sometimes as a church, it means that we actually have to make some hard decisions to really think not only what’s best for our community of who we get to steward, but the people in our community that we have not yet reached. I think at the end of the day, it’s fear. It’s just fear that we’re going to make the people that are there upset, or fear that we may fail; [00:24:30] may try event and do something that doesn’t work, or try a new program, a new series that doesn’t work.
I know one of the … Two years ago, we did probably the riskiest thing we’ve done as a church in a long time. … We were really burdened by the fact in our community, that there are 357,000 people within a 20 minute driving range from our church. Over 85% of the people don’t go to church anywhere and are right [00:25:00] in the middle of our community. For us, that meant, ‘Okay, we can just keep doing what we’ve always been doing and hope that somebody just comes through the doors; but the reality is, a lot of these people don’t even know we’re here yet.’ The problem we were trying to solve was, ‘Man, what would be a compelling reason for somebody to decide ‘Hey, I want to find out where West Ridge is, because there’s going to be something of value there for me.”
It didn’t start with just some new series, or a program, or anything like that. What we tried to do is over [00:25:30] the Christmas season, during the month of December, we created a thing called ‘Lives at West Ridge.’ What we did was we literally put thousands and thousands of lights and programmed a 15 minute free light show experience in the front of our church just to tap into a felt need of a lot of families that they want to go out and look at Christmas lights during Christmas. We thought, ‘Man, if we could create something so compelling that would just create … help somebody take their next [00:26:00] step that has never been our church, and never stepped foot on our property, or never driven to where we are and help them have a good experience, and connect with their family in some ways there, that could be a really cool way to do something different that nobody else in our community is doing … and see what would happen.’
Now that said, two weeks before the first time we did it, we were … I will tell you, there were some fear. There was some … There were some scary moments of, ‘Okay, is this thing even going to work, because [00:26:30] we’ve blasted our community with advertising around this thing. I really hope this thing is going to work.’ Sure enough, it worked. We had I think it was 12,000 people drive through our church and probably 80 to 90% of the people, as we’d ask them … when they’d drive in. We’d say, ‘Hey, is this your first time on our campus?’ 80 to 90% of the people said, ‘Yeah, this is our first time here.’
That took us doing a big, risky … a thing, a new initiative, and took some creativity. [00:27:00] It took us solving some problems, but at the end of the day, we reached a lot of people that had never been to our church. We also, the thing that a lot of people don’t know about is we had to say ‘no’ to some things that we normally liked to do, or did in the past. We had to say ‘no’ to some of those things to be able to prioritize a new thing that we believe God was calling us to do.
I think for that would be my challenge to every church that agrees with a lot of what we may be saying, but it [00:27:30] will take … overcoming the fear of change and overcoming the fear of somebody maybe not liking something to maybe reach some people that have not been reached yet in your community.
Brady Shearer: I think that so much of this comes down to the interpersonal relationships between leadership and those that are serving underneath, whether that be an associate pastor and senior pastor, or a youth pastor and their volunteer team, or whatever it might be. For someone who’s … it seems like doing so [00:28:00] many cool, creative things. You just shared a great account within your church of pushing the limit despite fear, and the potential of things going wrong. Real, actual risk. Can you talk about those dynamics between the person who’s ultimately saying ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ signing off on it; and the team underneath who maybe doesn’t have as much skin in the game. They’re not going to look as bad if this goes poorly. They can be a lot more optimistic and idealistic, perhaps. Can you talk about that interpersonal relationship, and maybe ways that [00:28:30] you’ve found best to navigate it in both directions?
Phil Bowdle: Yeah, two things. The first one would be the most important thing that you need to work through and steward, and invest in is trust with your leadership and with your pastor. If you don’t have trust, it’s really hard to suggest a creative solution to something new that may fail. If you don’t have trust, then it’s hard for them to buy in to what your new ideas or outside the box thinking, [00:29:00] because they don’t necessarily trust your intentions or what you’re trying to do. They may think you’re just trying to build a silo onto yourself, or just try to do new things without knowing what may be at stake.
I think trust is the thing that has to continue to be nurtured. It’s not something you can ever stop doing. You need to continue to do that. I know for me, a big piece of what I really want to be intentional about with our senior pastor is I want to be … knowing what’s on his heart. I want to know what God’s called him to, because God called him [00:29:30] to start and found our church, not me. I want to be a really good steward of the position that I have and a good steward of what God’s given me the opportunity to lead. I don’t want to ever mistake the role that God’s given me, and that’s not the role of the senior pastor. I want to build and maintain that level of trust with our pastor, so that he knows at the same time what’s on my heart and may know some things that I’m seeing from my perspective that may help us fulfill what we’re called [00:30:00] to as a church.
The first one is just develop trust, but the second one I think in thinking through some of these things from whatever your position is, is the challenge of a senior leader is there’s a lot on their plate. There’s a lot of things that if you’re not a senior pastor, you may not ever fully understand. I got a first glance at that from growing up in a pastor’s home. There’s a lot of things that people may just not understand that are on a pastor’s shoulders.
With that [00:30:30] said, what can happen in the creative environment is that we have to be really good. Whatever your role is, we have to be really good at building on that trust and also clarifying vision and direction from our pastor to make sure that we’re on the same page. There’s three questions that I constantly ask, not only to our pastor, but also to our ministries, and anything that we get to do as we … as our team can assurge as a central service to our whole church.
There’s three questions I use all the time. [00:31:00] The first one is, at the end of the day, what are you trying to accomplish? What are you trying to accomplish? What’s the win for this new initiative, or this new project, or this sermon, or this series, or this event, whatever it is? What’s the win? The second one is what’s the problem you’re trying to solve? Is there a burden that you have? Is there a conviction that you have that you believe is a problem that we need to find a creative solution for that would solve that problem? Then three is what are the barriers that are … that either [00:31:30] we’re having as a church from being able to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, or what are the barriers that people are dealing with that we’re trying to reach that are keeping them from accomplishing what we hope that they would accomplish?
Those three questions end up helping you go from a really wide scope of direction to really help refine and put words to what your pastor’s trying to accomplish, or for you to pitch an idea or direction around saying, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re hoping to accomplish. [00:32:00] Here’s the problem we believe it will solve. Here’s the barriers we believe it will help us overcome.’ Those things help give some language and structure to build trust and make sure that everybody’s on the same page, to make some creative things happen.
If you don’t have clarity around new things, what you end up doing is just keep on going back to the same things. Creativity is rarely safe. It rarely is just done in the same way every single time. Those questions are really critical for me in my role [00:32:30] to help refine direction or make sure we have a clear why behind everything that we do before we start to try to get too creative. Some creative things are all … The win is not that it’s creative, the win is that it’s effective. That’s what we have to do and continue to nurture in our roles, whatever it is.
Brady Shearer: I had one of the most fascinating conversations that I’ve ever had with a person in senior leadership just yesterday. It was Sunday morning. We had just gone for a walk through for our service. We had three services that day. [00:33:00] Nine, ten thirty, and noon. This is like eight o’clock, and walk through is done. I’m sitting with my senior pastor at the breakfast bar downstairs.
We were just kind of talking back and forth personally. Then, we started talking about this dynamic of young people in the community, older senior pastors. I believe he’s 48 years old. He was talking about how he had kind of six to seven more years before he hit 55, where he’s fully expecting and preparing to find ways to be [00:33:30] less visible in the congregation because in his words, he recognizes that for better or for worse, the congregation in many ways is going to reflect the age of the senior leadership. Usually, give or take a decade or so. We’re a church of about two thousand. I was truly fascinated by this conversation, to see someone who’s in such a position of privilege and platform, and everyone loves him; and him saying, ‘I need to find a way in the next five to ten years to become less [00:34:00] visible and step back, because if I don’t, the organization as a whole is going to suffer.’ For him, his why is, ‘I want to reach the most people as possible in this region, and I may not be the person to do that simply because of my age.’
The amount of self awareness it took for him to even say that is something that I definitely do not have. I’m sure at age 55 I’d be like, ‘No, I could still reach young people. I’m sweet.’ For him to say that, … from your perspective, that’s my story. Church of similar [00:34:30] size, little bit bigger on your end of things, what is it like for your lead pastor. First, how old is he or she and then, how are they beginning to think about a conversation like that?
Phil Bowdle: Our pastor is mid-fifties. I think there’s some things that he strategically does that I really appreciate that keeps him young. He … right now, nobody asked him to do this, but he’s the Chaplin for … a local high school football team. Every Friday, he’s out there on the [00:35:00] field with these guys. Every week, he’s doing a devotional for these guys, teaching them through [inaudible 00:35:07].
What I love about this and what’s happened through that is it keeps him young. I mean it keeps him attuned to the challenges that a diverse region that we reach here is dealing with; the barriers that they have, the stories they have. I think there’s some things that a older generation can do to stay … not necessarily to stay young. It’s not about changing your outfits and saying, ‘Now [00:35:30] this will reach young people.’ That just is quickly inauthentic and people can sniff that out.
What you can do is be … is have empathy for a new generation that you may not understand. I really appreciate how our pastor leads the way in that. I think at the end of the day, a lot of it is about empathy. It’s also the self-awareness that you’re talking about from your pastor is knowing that it can’t just be all about them. It can’t be … Rarely do people come just for one person. [00:36:00] They come for what their church has to offer all across the board for their kids, for student ministry, for what they’re taught, for how they’re … the community that they get to have. I mean it’s multiple things, it’s not just one thing.
Having the self awareness to know it just can’t be all about one person is really critical. Then, what that does is it takes the pressure off of the senior leader to be able to diversify who’s on the stage, maybe who’s teaching, giving some opportunities to some new [00:36:30] people on a stage or on a platform to be able to help them connect with it, people that may not connect with that … the senior leader. All those things are critical, but a lot of those are under the control of a senior pastor or senior leader to be able to decide who are you giving some opportunities to, to grow. Those people probably are going to look differently than you.
I completely agree with what you were saying before. Usually an organization or a team takes the shape [00:37:00] of its leader. You don’t have to look much further than most choirs across our country. Usually, if the choir director is 70 years old, guess what? Most of that choir is 60 to 70 to 80 years old. Even the shape of most creative teams. I would guess that, Brady, for you, you are attracting and leading your team with people that are similar in age and similar in vibe and culture, and believe the same kind of things because they’re attracted to you and your leadership. [00:37:30] Am I right?
Brady Shearer: Yeah. The biggest demographic we have is 24 to 35, or 25 to 34. I think that’s how they split it.
Phil Bowdle: Yeah, exactly. I think it takes self awareness for a senior leader to say, ‘Okay, what is the gap? Who are we not reaching,’ and being intentional about putting some people around the table that will help see gaps that, that senior leader may not see. Our pastor, being in his 50s, he took the risk on putting me on our leadership team when I was in my late 20s. I think [00:38:00] I was 28 when he put me on our leadership. Our executive pastor is my age as well. That took a lot of risk for him to … The safe thing would have been to bring somebody from the outside that’s been doing this thing for 30 years.
He took some risk on me, putting me in a role, but I had to … At the same time, I had to earn it and build trust with them well before I was ever put in a seat to do that. I think I’ve just appreciated the fact that all across [00:38:30] … healthy churches, I see people being sensitive to having self awareness about who they are, who God’s called them to be, and being sensitive to who they’re not, and helping fill in the gaps from that around their team.
Brady Shearer: I don’t want to gloss over just how difficult this can be, because one thing that we’ve been doing at my church is we’ve been having it so that our associate pastor, my good friend Justin. He’s been on the podcast before. He’s preaching once a month right now. [00:39:00] Admittedly, out of his own mouth and our senior leader, he’s not the same quality of communicator yet that our senior leader is. It’s almost like maybe even noticeable sometimes the attendance difference, or if not quite that, just the amount of compliments and the amount of people coming up and saying, ‘Man, that was such a great message,’ and stuff.
He’s just not as skilled yet as a communicator. Yet, my senior leader is saying, ‘You know what? I know that short term, this might have some negative effects based on crummy human nature, [00:39:30] pretty much; but long term, if I continually sacrifice or am not willing to sacrifice a single Sunday for the sake of the future of this church, then what am I saying about myself and really our true vision?’ I don’t want to gloss over how difficult it is.
Phil Bowdle: Sure.
Brady Shearer: The final question I have … Oh, go ahead, Phil.
Phil Bowdle: This is … Forgive me for being too abstract here, but I think in pictures sometimes. The concept that the picture that [00:40:00] I’ve just had in my mind a lot recently is growing grass. We just bought our home about two and a half years ago. I’ve become obsessed with our grass. It’s stupid and it costs too much money, but I’ve learned a lot and I’ve seen … Okay, grass just doesn’t grow overnight. There’s going to be patches. There’s going to be weeds. It takes maintenance. It takes continually working through it. If you just neglect it, weeds are going to take over or there’s going to be rough spots that take a lot of work to fix [00:40:30] it.
That applies to this concept that you’re talking about as well, of how can we ever expect the next generation to lead the future of our church in the next 20 years from now if you don’t give them a chance to grow. If you don’t give a chance to feed into them, water into them, and help them grow, and see blind spots they may have, and give them opportunities to do it. It’s like a lot of … businesses that are going out [00:41:00] of here and churches that are slowly dying is because they’re not giving a chance to seed into the next generation and give them a chance to grow and make mistakes.
All throughout scripture is discipleship happening not only from a disciple or a church leader down to their community, but it’s from leader to leader. It’s investing in other people. We’ve got to … I think it’s on our generation as well to be leading into the teenagers, and the interns, [00:41:30] and the people that are 18 to 25 right now. We have to be learning right now, those lessons … the things that kind of drive us nuts, or think like, ‘Oh, how can they not see that?’ We’ve got to own that now and know right now, we’ve got to be taking the steps that are going to help change this for the future of the church. If we’re not doing it now, it’s going to be surprising if just 20 years from now, we just suddenly decide to start investing in other people and giving other people an opportunity.
I think it’s on [00:42:00] … There’s a lot that we can’t control as a younger generation, but there’s a lot that we can control. That’s investing in people that may not have it yet, may not be as talented as us in certain areas, but we get the opportunity to invest in them because they’re going to be … who knows what they’re going to do 15 years now, ten years from now, five years now; all that stuff.
For right now, a couple offices over, we have a 19 year old social media girl that’s running our social media for thousands of people. [00:42:30] She gets to preach to more people during the week than we get to on Sunday morning. There’s a lot of risk that comes into investing in a 19 year old girl to lead social media, but it is worth it all day long because the mistakes she’s making now are going to help change the way she leads in the future, the way that the mistakes she’s making now are going to help her invest in the volunteers and the other people she gets to invest in now. I’ll take those mistakes any day over safety of somebody that has been doing it for 15, 20 years, [00:43:00] and is done learning. All that said, I think there’s a lot that we can do, because it’s easy to throw rocks and be frustrated with other generations or see gaps of things like that. I think there’s more that we have to own as millennials as well to start making that change.
Brady Shearer: This has been a great conversation, Phil. Can you tell Pro Church Nation a little bit more about where to find you and some of the great projects that I know you’re working on?
Phil Bowdle: Yeah. You can shoot me a email, [email protected] That’s P-H-I-L-B-O-W-D-L-E [00:43:30] dot com if you want to get in touch with me in any way. You can also follow along on my blog, PhilBowdle.com. I try to just put out there stuff that people can use right away; so feel free to check that out. Or, you can hit me up on Twitter @PhilBowdle.com. The good thing about having a weird name is nobody has it. You can find me on that … at that username pretty much anywhere.
Brady Shearer: That’s what I thought until an eight year old girl from Texas took my name on Snapchat and Music.ly.
Phil Bowdle: What?
Brady Shearer: Yeah, Brady Shearer.
Phil Bowdle: No way.
Brady Shearer: The ten year old girl. [00:44:00] Come on, America. Don’t name your kid my name. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you yet, Phil, that you want to leave with Pro Church Nation before we sign off?
Phil Bowdle: Oh man, don’t give up. Ministry, creative work is a grind. It takes risk every single day. It takes focus on remembering what you’re here and what God’s called you to do. If you’re doing that in the context of a church, don’t give up. Remember, be an advocate for your audience, [00:44:30] everybody that you get to reach and everybody that you’re creating content for. Just know every post you create, every video, every little thing God can use. Don’t make the mistake of thinking God can’t use the little mundane things you do, the huge projects you’re doing, or even the things that you want to do but you can’t do yet. Just be a good steward of what you got, because God’s going to … God can and will use all those things that he’s developing in your heart right now, and be a good steward of that. Don’t give up.
If you’re [00:45:00] not working in the church context, the same still applies. God can use everything, every conversation, every creative work that you do to bring glory to Him. Don’t give up.
Brady Shearer: I love it. Thanks so much for stopping by the Pro Church Podcast, Phil. It’s been a blast.
Phil Bowdle: Thanks Brady, appreciate it.
Brady Shearer: All right-y, there you have it: my interview with Phil Bowdle talking about the next generation of churches. Just to do a quick recap, we talked about ministering through the biggest communication shift in the last 500 years, recognizing the importance of change despite [00:45:30] being wildly successful, how much longer the mega church model will or will not remain viable. We talked about why churches are missing the mark with communication, what makes change so difficult, navigating difficult decisions, and relationships with your senior leadership, three questions to continually ask your team and/or leadership. Finally, what to do if you are an older pastor and you’re recognizing the need for change, where to start, and what it’s going to take.
A big thanks to Phil for coming on the Pro Church Podcast. Always a legendary conversation [00:46:00] to talk with Phil, he’s a great dude; as I’m sure you could tell from the conversation. I have a great affinity for him.
With that being said, it’s time for our review of the week. This one comes from GWH34T from the USA. It says, “Five stars. Brady and the crew at Pro Church Tools are doing an amazing job helping churches navigate the social media landscape and reach people with the other 167 hours in a week outside of a Sunday morning service. While not all ideas are always something new, his twists and processes definitely have a great [00:46:30] implementation for churches. I highly suggest this podcast for anyone involved in their church’s website, social media, or volunteer to help reach the people in their congregation and beyond.”
Great review. I really like that because it mentions something that I fully believe. There is nothing new that we’re doing. A lot of the times, when you introduce communication, digital, social, websites, to churches that are more traditional, they’ll feel like you’re changing the message. It feels like you’re diluting the gospel. You’re changing this message that’s so important [00:47:00] to us. Really, the message never changes, but the medium does. Really, right now, the medium must change. The way that we are sharing this gospel message, this hope of Jesus with the world, it needs to be timely. The message itself is timeless. That’s not going anywhere, but we need to be timely with the mediums through which we communicate. That review hits on that greatly.
A big thank you to that review. If you want to leave a review for the Pro Church Podcast, a rating, one of the best ways to support the show. If you just want to subscribe, make sure that you get every new episode session sent to [00:47:30] you directly, head to ProChurchPodcast.com and you can do that there. Plenty of great stuff coming in 2018. This is Brady signing off for now. We’ll talk real soon.