Podcast: Adapting the Church to Post-COVID Culture

Studies show that church attendance was dwindling in recent years, then COVID hit. Pastor Jimmy Witcher of Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, Texas, has seized the opportunity to make significant changes that he and his team have considered for years.

In this episode, Dr. Jon Chasteen talks with Jimmy Witcher about the new things Trinity is doing and how churches everywhere can adapt to a post-COVID culture. Jimmy Witcher is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Fellowship in Amarillo, Texas. He has a background in business where he gained extensive leadership experience while managing product development, international sales, and corporate marketing. He’s been a CEO, a COO, and a pastor. He and his wife, Kim, have been married for more than 30 years and have three children.

Dr. Jon Chasteen: Today we’re going to be talking to a really good friend of mine. He and I share a pastor. Both Jimmy Witcher and I are sharers of Pastor Jimmy Evans. And we both met, mutual Pastor Jimmy introduced us actually.

Pastor Jimmy Witcher: That’s right.

Jon: Jimmy Evans is the senior pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, Texas. The uniqueness of Pastor Jimmy is that he has not always been a pastor. None of us have, but pastor… None of us were always a pastor. But Pastor Jimmy has such a unique background. A former businessman, gained extensive leadership experience while managing product development, international sales, corporate marketing. He’s been a CEO, he’s been a COO and now he’s a pastor. What’s wrong with you?

Jimmy: Imagine that.

Jon: Let’s jump into the topic. So, I don’t know how we got off on that. But we were talking about the emotions or the thoughts that you were going through when you started tying together the thought of COVID coming on and the effects that it’s going to have on Trinity. What would you sensing? What was your feeling? Was it angst? Was it nervousness? Was it, you know what? God’s got this and probably all of those.

Jimmy: Yeah. All the above. And I’m sure it’s every pastor out there that’s going through. There’s kind of this acute moment where you’re realizing something serious is going on and now you’re just, are we going to shut down services? Are we not? What are we going to do? How’s this going to work? So, we dove kind of into that. So, you’re kind of in the firefighting mode, for the first couple of weeks.

And then it was a, okay, where do we go from here and how do we stabilize a congregation? So, just like I know you did Jon. I listened to your message. So, when we preach to our congregation, when we’re leading a congregation, it’s like, we’re not gong to lead with fear, we’re going to embrace what God’s doing, but we’re going to be wise. And how do we do that? And to get that communication out.

But then as you begin to realize, hey, this thing’s going on for a while. How do we process this and how do we make the transition? And the thing that was such a blessing for us as a church is we had actually begun a strategic plan the year before, creating a thing that we just made up a name, just to have an internal name called omni-channel, which was digitally connecting with both our congregation and our community. So, the beauty of it was we actually had omni-channel starting to run. So, it was an opportunity for us to just put that in the front and really begin to run with that.

Jon: So, you already had some systems up and going in a sense-

Jimmy: Yeah, quite a few.

Jon: … but you could kind of use switch over pretty quick.

Jimmy: Exactly.

Jon: How many weeks were you guys closed? Because we’re recording this podcast around mid-August. You guys are meeting now in person. I’m asking you to do math off the cuff here. You probably don’t know that, but approximately.

Jimmy: I can tell you the date.

Jon: Oh, perfect. Go ahead.

Jimmy: So, I know we shut down that second week of March when everybody else did. We had our church on Thursday night as regular and then did not come together on Sunday. And then our first Sunday back was Pentecost. It was May 31st.

Jon: Got you. May 31st.

Jimmy: So, we went back on May 31st. And you’ll appreciate this. And the very first weekend we had a COVID hit at our main service. So, we had our service and we had a 4,000-seat room with 800 people in it. And the city called us on Tuesday and said, “Hey, you had somebody that was positive.” We’re like, great. Well, let us know where they were sitting. Oh no, no, HIPAA laws. We can’t tell you if it was a male or a female, what door they came in? I said, what do you want us to do? Well, we want you to let everybody know that was there. Well, how I’m going to track down which of the 800? So, we just told the whole church, “Hey, there was somebody here that had COVID and there was probably somebody at Lowe’s that you went to today and there might’ve been somebody at the store.”

Jon: They would have been too.

Jimmy: But when we go out, we’re going at our own risk and we haven’t had a problem since.

Jon: So, did they mandate masks in Amarillo at some point, along the way or…

Jimmy: Well, with the state of Texas, we’re tracking along with the state and I think as best as I can tell everywhere I’ve been, everybody has a mask somewhere on their person. Maybe it’s under their nose, under their chin and their pocket. But that’s pretty much how it’s going for us too.

Jon: So, what was kind of your philosophy? Because there’s a lot of pastors out there right now that aren’t meeting still because they can’t.

Jimmy: Right.

Jon: So, what was kind of your philosophy when you were trying to decide whether to open or not? I know this is a really touchy point for some. And it’s such a dividing thing. Everything right now is so divisive and so polarizing. But what was kind of some of your philosophy and your team as you guys process through it? What made you say, you know what, we need to open?

Jimmy: Well, so when we first approached the whole COVID thing, what we said was, is we’re going to do faith with wisdom. So, we’re not going to respond in fear, but we’re going to respond in faith, but we’re going to do it with wisdom. So, part of that was, we never closed our office. We never stopped meeting together as a staff. We did that all the way through. And we opened up our childcare.

When all the schools shut down, it put a huge burden on the healthcare system. So, we opened up our childcare five days a week, eight to six for all of the healthcare workers, for all the key city officials and key infrastructure folks and all the first responders. I mean, our childcare ran constantly all the way through-

Jon: As a ministry.

Jimmy: As a ministry, yeah.

Jon: Yeah, absolutely.

Jimmy: Free childcare for all those. So, we kept moving as a church and kept going forward. Our outreaches, our food outreaches have increased. I think I was saying to our congregation, as of before this week, last week, we’d given out 195,000 meals since March, since this thing started. So, we just kept going as a church and we just knew when we were coming together. And on May 31st we opened up childcare and just started meeting and just said, “Hey, we’re just going to keep going forward and going forward in faith and doing what we believe God’s called us to do.” NT Wright wrote a great book on the, I think it’s on the church and the pandemic that I highly recommended.

But one of the things he talked about in there was, it was the church that responded to the plague. Because as Christians, we shouldn’t be afraid of death. So, it was the Christians that embraced what was going on and that’s kind of been our approach.

Jon: That’s great. So, there’s a lot of pastors who we may hear announcing that we’re not going to start church till next year, we’re not going to start church till whenever, whenever that may be. There’s this whole idea that pastors who said, well, we don’t want to meet again until we can have normal church, whatever normal church is. So, there’s this attitude or this perception or this philosophy of, well, we’re just going to wait until everybody comes back. What are your thoughts on, is everybody ever going to come back?

Jimmy: No, it’s never coming back. And I mean that’s absolutely all my heart.

Jon: Right, absolutely.

Jimmy: The past is gone and it’s never coming. And one of the things that, I assume this is a podcast to pastors. So, maybe we can go a little bit. I wouldn’t say this from the pulpit. I actually think the pandemic, which I know has been terrible and there’s been lives that have been lost and affected a lot of folks. All of us have people in our congregations who have been affected by COVID very negatively. But I believe we’re going to look back five years and say, this is one of the best thing that ever happened to the church.

Jon: True.

Jimmy: Because the church certainly in America has been struggling for the last couple of decades anyway. I mean, when you look at what every church is dealing with, you and I’ve talked about this long before COVID. Declining attendance frequency. All across the board congregants coming, there are tendency, the regular attendance has been declining as lives have gotten busier, and they’ve been able to connect in different ways.

We’ve seen the grain of the American church. We’re just getting older, the younger generations aren’t connecting, they’re not being a part. And then the thing that scares me the most is the lack of evangelism. I think Rice Brooks puts out a quote that basically 80% of churches in America are in decline and of the 20% that are growing, 17% are growing by basically uping their game, doing better worship, getting a better preacher, sheep swapping.

Jon: That’s what I was about to say.

Jimmy: Less than 3% are growing by evangelism. So, you’ve got a church that is a declining attendance frequency, not having the graying out, because they’re getting older, not getting the younger generation and then not growing by evangelism. I mean, COVID is a great opportunity for us to shift, to change our strategy and to go into different direction.

Jon: Yeah. It gives us permission to do things that we may have been afraid to do in the past.

Jimmy: Absolutely. I was just meeting here with some of our pastors from our association of churches and I was telling them… We had a guy about 20 years ago, a healthy, early 20s guy played on our church softball team, got hit in the head with a softball. And they took him to the hospital trying to make sure he didn’t have a bleeder and a concussion or anything like that, but they scanned his brain and found a tumor, but it was so small it hadn’t affected him. So, it was easy to surgery, easy to take out, easy to fix. And he’s perfectly fine today. I actually think COVID in a sense is the softball to the head of the church.

Jon: That’s so good.

Jimmy: Because it’s allowing us to go, okay, wait a minute. I mean, obviously we gotta deal with the pandemic. It’s going to be with us for another few months, it looks like at least. But I think five years from now, we’re going to look back and see, no, this was the opportunity for us to make serious adjustments to the church and be able to really engage in what God’s calling us to.

Jon: So, a lot of what I want to dig in today is what your church not is going to do, but is doing. And what I love about the story of Trinity Fellowship is this is something that God put on your heart before COVID was ever even a thought. And I want you to walk us through, because you begin to see some of these stats that you’re just giving us about the church decline and all these sort of things was before COVID.

Jimmy: Oh yeah.

Jon: So, you and your elders and your leadership started processing through some of this. And you guys really had some, let’s call it what it is, pretty radical ideas for the future of the church. And you guys, like you’re saying, you were already beating to put some of this in place before COVID hit. And then COVID kind of gave you guys this slap on the rear to say, let’s do this fast.

Jimmy: Well, permission. What I’m doing now is everything I can, I want to blame it on COVID. We’re changing because of COVID, it’s all COVID fault. It’s not me. It’s not me making decisions, it’s COVID, we’ve got to change.

Jon: So, true. COVID is like the proverbial little brother that we can blame everything on.

Jimmy: Exactly. And you get a limited window of opportunity to blame it all on COVID.

Jon: It’s so true. So, walk us through that. How did that start? And we’re going to get into the specifics of what that is in just a minute. And this is so important for pastors to hear, because I think every pastor I talked to is like, we know it’s changing, we know it’ll never be the same, but we have no idea what to do. What I love about what you’re doing is you’re going for it. You’re not saying I may be wrong, I may be right. But we’re pulling the trigger, we’re going for it. And I so applaud that and I so honor that. Take us back to that when that started in your heart.

Jimmy: Yeah. So, that really started a good 18 months ago. And it started when we recognize primarily that we’re not getting the younger generation. When I say younger generation, I mean, kind of the 30, mid 30s and down. I mean, we have some, but we’re constantly getting older and it’s like, why aren’t we being able to really effectively pastor that generation?

So, we looked at it and we’re talking about it. And then we start looking also at how people learn. And we believe that there are principles of the church that never changed. And we’re I’m preaching a series right now on transformation to the congregation, kind of helping them. And we’re going through Acts chapter two, verses 42 through 47, where the church was built upon the apostles teaching and the gathering together, in the communion and the house to house and all that.

Those are principles that I think are constant, but the practices, the way that’s applied, I think have to change on our current society to reach this current generation. So, we began to say, okay, how are people learning? And one of the things that’s obvious is, and I did this survey in our congregation. I said, “How many of you have you had to learn something new, how many of you would read a book?” And then had them raise their hand. I said, “How many of you would rather watch a YouTube?”

Jon: 100%.

Jimmy: Everybody. Everybody would much rather watch a five-minute video to learn something new than go read a book. And this is maybe a little bit shocking what I’m about to say. But if you go back to the reformation, Martin Luther in 1517, the 95 Theses to the world, a couple of fascinating things about that.

Jimmy: Number one, he brought us grace through faith, which was incredible, but he was doing that against the indulgences of the Catholic church. And the second thing that he did is he brought the Bible. He basically said, if we could get a Bible in everybody’s hand, then they could learn to disciple themselves. And it would eliminate this power that kind of the church had over the individual believer.

And what’s fascinating is the invention of the printing press happened in the city that Martin was at. So, if you want an interesting Google, just Google, Martin Luther and the printing press, he was the first best-selling author. He was the first one to leverage the modern technology, to get his message out and bring about a reformation. And literally the way we’ve done church for 500 years was based on-

Jon: That.

Jimmy: … him and his contemporaries embracing the printing press. So, that led to, teaching and teaching people the Bible. And I’m going to, you’re King’s University, you’re all about teaching people how to learn the Bible. And Jesus, when he gave his great commission, he didn’t say, go and teach people the Bible. He goes and teach him what I commanded you.

Jon: That’s good.

Jimmy: And and I think sometimes we’ve substituted those two concepts. So, it leads us to, which I’m all about teaching the Bible, don’t get me wrong, I love teaching the Bible. But we recognize that if we’re going to teach a new generation, we have to teach them what Jesus commanded and not necessarily just teach how to study the Bible, how to read the Bible and that sort of thing. So, that led us to think, okay, we’ve got to start reaching out into our community differently.

Another thing that is an awareness that we had is that all of the marketers in the world are using technology in a way that church isn’t. Had this scary event the other day, I bought this shirt and Kim got real upset for me buying it because it was it from a company that said a crazy bunny, I’ll use that, I won’t use the actual brand name. But I said, crazy bunny, and it’s got this psycho looking logo. And sure enough, she gets on her Instagram feed an ad for that company, because they’re listening to everything that we say.

Jon: That’s right.

Jimmy: All of us have experienced this.

Jon: Isn’t that weird? If my wife and I are talking about something-

Jimmy: Exactly.

Jon: … it’ll pop up on my Instagram.

Jimmy: It just shows up. But yet as the church, we’re not using that. I mean, what if we went into every home in our region that used the word divorce, or if we found every home that had children and there was a parenting issue. I mean, there’s so much data out there that we could tap into as the church. And one of the things that I think is shifting radically is we have had an invitation culture, where our church has been about if I can invite them to church, invite them to church, invite them to church.

So, we had what we would call a celebration service centric service. In other words, the mission and model of the church was built around, if I have a good enough worship, I have good enough preaching, good enough children’s care and I can invite people to come, they will come and by in coming on that Sunday morning or whenever we meet-

Jon: We’ll win them over.

Jimmy: … we’ll win them over and we’ll be able to minister to them. And that worked when we had a Christian ethos as a nation. But now we got to go get them.

Jon: Yeah, that’s good.

Jimmy: And the way to go get them is to get into their homes and get into their lives and be able to reach out and get them. So, that’s what we started 18 months ago. It was like, okay, how do we do that? So, we hired a marketing firm. We began to invest significant dollars in not just social media, but all the back ground and all the things that go into that, trying to learn, how can we go out, grab people and then have a content engine that is driving content to them that we can go get them?

Jon: That’s so good.

Jimmy: So, we believe the cell phone is the printing press of the day, is the bottom line. It’s how we’re going to go get this next generation and just learning how to leverage it.

Jon: So, let’s talk about some of those specifics that you’re doing, that COVID has given you permission to do. And if you’re listening to this, I encourage you to go to Trinity’s Podcast or website and watch this series called Transformation, because what he’s doing in this series is he’s introducing the vision of where he’s taking the church. So, I want to talk about that too, that you can’t just start something without testing [crosstalk 00:20:05].

Jimmy: No, no, no. You got to lead people through it.

Jon: Right. So, you’re in the process of doing that. But let’s just go down to the breast tax. What are you doing?

Jimmy: Okay. So, what we believed is the old model of church was like, we just said, invite them in. So, it was a singular discipleship driver. So, the one driver of making a disciple was we bring them in. So, now we have six drivers of discipleship. So, were trying to build six different ways. And we believe that if we can connect with any individual on at least two different drivers, we can move them towards discipleship.

So, instead of it being a linear path, as we’ve traditionally had, it’s much more of a, is one of our staffs that have spaghetti bath. There’s lots of different ways to get to the same objective. So, one of those drivers is what we’re calling omni-channel. So, it is our multimedia, social media, all those ways. And it’s multi-level. So, we have a Bible cast which is me trying to teach people how to read the Bible and have a quiet time.

So, I do it Monday through Thursday, 7:00 AM, live on Facebook, it’s raw, I’ve got a hat on, because I haven’t taken a shower, I haven’t brushed my teeth. Sometimes haven’t talked yet so I had to clear my throat. But it’s no longer than 10 minutes. And we’re just going through books of the Bible, verse upon verse upon verse applying, just like I would do in a quiet time. Reading it, applying it, praying, and then go into the next day.

So, we do that. We’ve created a high quality YouTube channel where we’re putting out YouTube content that is really taking theological concepts like baptism, holy spirit baptism, tithing, worship, all of the classics and breaking it down into an entertaining, highly produced YouTube video. And the water baptism, there’s an interruption where not your Libra. It was baptizing a skeleton, and you have not been baptized in a minute.

Jon: That’s awesome.

Jimmy: So, again, going after a very targeted age group to try to keep it entertaining for them. We’re doing a podcast, trying to reach out to our congregation so that we can connect with them. One of the big shifts, if you go back to Acts chapter 2:42, it says that they were part of the apostles teaching. Well, I feel like part of what we’re separating in this season is the apostles teaching principle is now going to go through multiple channels instead of it being the preacher preaching for 30 minutes on a Sunday morning.

So, now they can get the apostles teaching in different ways. And that frees us up then to make our gatherings an experiential gathering about encountering God, hearing the holy spirit, things that you don’t translate well over online. The thing about a live service is if it’s three songs, a little ministry moment, and then 30, 40 minutes of a preacher, that translates really well online.

It makes it actually, when it’s like when you’re raising kids and trying to get them to church. Sometimes that might even be preferable without COVID. It’s just easier with our kids at home to engage online. But to have an encounter with the holy spirit, that’s a whole different thing. So, we’re separating out ultimately the apostles teaching from the online service.

So, that’s the omni-channel, just trying to get… And that’s where we’re going to start. We’re marketing, reaching out to all the words divorce, actually, I think right now we have an ad campaign that’s running, looking for the word divorce-

Jon: That’s so good.

Jimmy: … in every family and then putting up ad content and then driving those people that are responding to that ad content, driving them to one of our content platforms and really reaching out in our community to folks. So, that’s the omni-channel, then we’re doing an infiltration engine, which is where we’re actually creating leaders where we’re trying to figure out how do we find leaders who are going out into the community, reaching their friends, finding the influencers, equipping them to quickly get them on board so that they can begin to create small group content. We’re using Alpha as one of our primary platforms, but we got others, Marriage on the Rock, Pastor Junior’s material for married couples.

Jimmy: Creating opportunity though for influencers within our communities to be able to reach their friends outside the church. So, gathering in homes, gathering in restaurants, gathering together and reaching the folks that haven’t been reached before and being very intentional about that. We’ve actually just hired that position of basically hiring an evangelist to oversee that entire thing.

We’re just at our deal that we just had with senior pastors, we recognized from business terminology, we’re going from a marketing concept to a sales centered concept. Because you realize marketing is what we’ve done, inviting, come, come to our thing and then it’s going to be awesome. Well, now we got to do sales, which means we’ve got to go out, we’ve got to make sales calls. We got to be very intentional about-

Jon: Meeting them where they’re at.

Jimmy: … going out and meet them where they’re at. So, that’s the infiltration engine. And then the other thing we’re doing is on Wednesday night encounter service, which is much more of just experiential, same sort of thing, coming and experiencing holy spirit in a way that you can’t. So, all of these different facets are working together. And then of course changing the Sunday morning service [crosstalk 00:24:47].

Jon: Yeah. I want to talk about Sunday morning, because, I want you guys to hear what he’s saying in the practicality of… Because I think Sunday morning is where a lot of us pastors get caught up in. I love that you’re going outside of Sunday mornings. Sunday morning is a compliment to what you’re doing through omni-channel and all of these other things you’re doing. Sunday isn’t necessarily the super bowl Sunday that it may have used to be.

Jimmy: Yes, exactly. Right.

Jon: It was all about Sunday and we forgot about everything else. And Sunday is critically important, but I love how you’re introducing a new plan for Sunday morning. So, walk us through that.

Jimmy: Yeah. So, what we’re doing on Sunday morning, I do think it’s important what you’re saying too Jon, all of these go together. So, we’re able to kind of de-emphasize some things on Sunday morning because we’re bolstering it on so many different other channels. But on Sunday morning, so we’re going to do a nine o’clock service, which we’re calling a traditional service. Again, part of change, I would change it all, but I recognize not everybody’s ready for that kind of change.

Jon: Sure.

Jimmy: So, there’s a certain group of the congregation. They want their three songs, their ministry time and their 30 minutes of word. So, we’re going to do that traditional service at nine o’clock.

Jon: And their free coffee.

Jimmy: And their free coffee. Yes.

Jon: Don’t forget the free coffee.

Jimmy: The COVID free coffee.

Jon: And donuts.

Jimmy: So, nine o’clock will be normal. And then at 10:15, we’re doing what we’re calling sessions. So, these 10:15 sessions are where we’re going to have a prayer session, where you can go get prayer. Because again, with COVID, it’s been challenging to have people come down for prayer. But it allows us again. And I encourage all pastors, do change, blame it on COVID. It’s a great thing to do.

Jimmy: So, we’ll have prayer times, we’ll have a prophetic session, we’ll have a healing session. And it also will free us up to have all kinds of small groups and that sort of thing, depending on each campus’s space availability. But then the other session that we’re going to have is I’m going to have a teaching session. So, in the main worship center, I will teach to all of our campuses, but where I had 30 minutes to give the message at 9:00, now I’ve got 45 minutes and we’re actually going to create a text line. So, it’s interactive. I’m going to answer questions, engage, I hope to have my computer so I can have my logo software. So, if somebody asks a question, I can just go off the flat. So-

Jon: Deeper dive, yeah.

Jimmy: … re-giving the message, but doing it in an interactive format and allowing people to engage with me directly on that. But that will not be online. That will only be for those who come.

Jon: Got you. So, the only thing that’s online Sunday morning is your 9:00 AM.

Jimmy: That’s right.

Jon: 9:00 AM is your-

Jimmy: The traditional service.

Jon: … the new traditional.

Jimmy: The new traditional. Right.

Jon: So, what was once the progressive has now become the tradition?

Jimmy: That’s exactly right. Yeah.

Jon: It’s so true. And I think that’s a big part of what we’re going to see. We’re going to look back 10 years from now and the way we’ve done church for the last 10 years is the new traditional.

Jimmy: That’s exactly right.

Jon: So, your nine o’clock is the “traditional service.” Then at 10:15 are kind of these breakouts.

Jimmy: Right. Sessions, if you will.

Jon: And then 11:00?

Jimmy: And then at 11:15, we’re actually going to start at 11:00 with a little soaking kind of session. But we’re going to have an experience and it’s going to be a dramatic, lead, different service than people have ever encountered before. So, I mean, we’re doing lighting different, sound different. I mean, you’re experiencing it like you’re going into a concert, kind of having that kind of setup. And then we’re going to have extended worship. So, it’s going to be an experiential service.

Jimmy: Again, not online, it’s something you got to be there to experience. But extended worship, a little more flow in worship. We’ve got 10 minutes of time baked in, not necessarily together for prophetic flow. So, there’s an encounter. And then the word, we’re doing what we call a single point sermon. So, you’re going to have 10 minutes, no more than 10 minutes for a single point sermon. So, we’ll take the message that was 30 minutes long and turn it into an Uber text, I’m sorry, a Ted-talk type-

Jon: Ted-talk, yeah.

Jimmy: … short nugget format, single point sermon.

Jon: In between songs.

Jimmy: In between a couple of songs, probably still have music playing behind, keep the flow going. Of course, end with communion at all services. But just getting rid of that long 35 minute sermon and making the purpose encountering God, not the purpose of just coming in here and the preacher preach.

Jon: So, the thing at 10:15 is kind of your breakouts. What some may be familiar with like an equip class. You’ve got all these different options, you can go to this one or this one, or you can go to hear the sermon again, but the extended cut, the director’s cut. So, what do you, you’re launching this on what date?

Jimmy: August 23rd.

Jon: August 23rd. Very so very soon. So, what do you anticipate? Do you think people are going to come to the 9:00, linger around, go to the 10:15 breakout and then maybe even lingering around for the 11:15 experiential? Do you have any theories of what people are going to do?

Jimmy: I mean, I think there’s going to be tire kicking. There’ll be a tire kicking season. I believe people, certainly our target demographic for the future, I believe is going to settle in on the 11:00, that 11:15.

Jon: Experiential.

Jimmy: Because they want an experience. I mean, you look at this generation-

Jon: Is true.

Jimmy: … and what they want, they want to have an experience, they want to experience God. And they’re used to getting their content through certainly different channels.

Jon: I love it because I think every person experience has got differently. Some people go to nature or some people… Everybody kind of has their own. And even in the church, people go to different churches for different flavors and different feelings. You’re kind of saying, if you want their traditional, what you’re used to come to 9:00n. If you’re a in-depth thinker, you want to go deep into theology, let’s go to one of those mid sessions. If you’re experiential and maybe one Sunday, I want to go deep and the next Sunday I want to go experiential. So, you’re giving this… So, I love it. And I think every pastor needs to wrestle with this for their congregation. But let’s talk about challenges. What are some of the biggest challenges in this? You had to have reallocated money.

Jimmy: Yes.

Jon: When you started thinking through this from a budget perspective, you had been doing church one way for years. You had to begin to rethink and reallocate and maybe even lay people off. I don’t know what you had to walk through there. But every pastor, at least I’m thinking through this, what do I need to do as a pastor? And my first question start up, well, I love it, but how?

Jimmy: Yes.

Jon: Do I have to lay people off? Because I don’t have that many people on my video team. I don’t know how to do video. I don’t have that many cameras. I don’t have… So, how did you walk through that part of it?

Jimmy: Yeah. Well, part of it is you’ve got to start. And that was one of the things that I saw with our team is we have to start. So, certainly I think every church needs to look at their budget and figure out how do I reallocate funds towards the media side? Because clearly that’s important.

Jon: Huge, yeah.

Jimmy: And hopefully by now, everybody’s figured out how to get their services online in an effective manner.

Jon: If they haven’t, they’re probably not alive right now.

Jimmy: It’s probably not going to make it. But everybody’s figured that, but just take it the next step, you got to keep learning. And as pastors, we have to learn an entirely new set of skills.

Jon: That’s so good.

Jimmy: I mean, it’s totally just podcasting and doing things live is totally different than preaching on a Sunday. So, I’ve had to learn how to use the podcasting materials, I’ve had to learn how to be a producer, I’ve had to learn how to edit video. I had to learn all these things because it’s just part of making the process happen. So, we got to make an investment in and both finances, got to invest in some people and we’ve got to make sure that we have to be investing in ourselves. We got to learn a whole new set of skills.

Jimmy: And part of it too is recognizing what this generation wants is a rawness that we’re not used to. And a lot of us pastors we’re used to being polished. People see us on Sunday, we’re looking at our best, we’re shaved, we’re ready to go. And I’m up on stage preaching my message that I’ve worked on for hours, which is great. But what most people want is they want the raw. All the time I get that people love that I do the Bible cast without taking a shower. They know that I put on a hat because I just got out of bed-

Jon: Just gotta put on a t-shirt.

Jimmy: … my hair’s a mess. And they love it, and they love that authenticity. Some of it is even getting rid of some of the paradigms that we’ve had and just embracing it.

Jon: That’s really good. And COVID has actually given a, it’s done a lot of things obviously, but there’s also this grace that’s been given on production value.

Jimmy: Absolutely.

Jon: I can grab my phone and just put it in front of my face. I do these weekly or biweekly or whatever is happening in the moment. We’re all just pull out my phone and shoot a video for the staff.

Jimmy: Absolutely.

Jon: Hey guys, how you doing? Love you. So, I think for pastors out there, you don’t need to get bogged down with, I can’t afford a $5,000 camera.

Jimmy: Exactly.

Jon: I can’t afford to bring on a full-time producer. Like what you’re saying, start somewhere. And there’s a grace in production right now. Well, it’s almost better, it’s authenticity.

Jimmy: Almost, it is better. So, I’m saying it is better. People love that kind of rawness.

Jon: Yeah. They love to see their pastor as a real human being-

Jimmy: Exactly.

Jon: … and not a polished person that they can never attain to become.

Jimmy: Exactly right.

Jon: So, I love that. What would be some of your biggest things you had to overcome to get where… You’re about to launch, what were some of the hardest parts to overcome?

Jimmy:

Probably the biggest challenge that we’ve found is just momentum. Because when you’re starting something new, it’s amazing how much our church paradigms are built around events. And I’m including the Sunday morning as one of our main events. So, pastors are trained. I get ready for Sunday. Everybody’s planning on the event or it’s a men’s night or women’s night.

Jimmy: All the things that we used to do, all the energy, they got put into events now is being shifted towards, well, we’re not having events. I mean, it’s COVID, we’re not doing that. We have what we’re doing on the weekend, but a lot of this stuff is shifting. So, how do we shift our energy in a different direction and making sure we’re being intentional about that of saying no, no, no is a different direction?

And as a leader of an organization, it’s amazing how we have to constantly be talking, constantly be teaching, constantly be redirecting. Because the momentum, I mean we’ve been doing church in effect the same way for 500 years. We’ve got electric guitars now instead of organs, but pretty much, and our lights are a little better and we have chairs instead of pews. Everything else is about the same.

Jon: So, true.

Jimmy: So, when you’re making a change, just realizing it’s a deep change that we’re making. And look, I’ve already said, and the beauty of COVID is we can blame a lot of it on COVID. Now’s a great opportunity to do change in a time that we couldn’t, and it’s a short window of opportunity.

Jon: Yeah. And it’s a good excuse and it’s truth.

Jimmy: It is.

Jon: Stuff is changing.

Jimmy: That’s right.

Jon: So, what would you say… Talk about how you introduce this to the congregation. I think it’s important as we wrap up here. You couldn’t just get up one day and say, “Guess what everyone, we’re changing everything.” So, talking to pastors, what’s the importance of casting vision before you announce?

Jimmy: So, anytime we’re making a change of this order of magnitude, I like to cast vision in concentric circles. So, obviously it starts with the leadership, the elders, all of that, we’re all on the same page. Then I gather together our staff and spent a good bit of time working with the staff. This is where we’re going. This is why, this is what’s happening. And then a week later I gathered all of our dream teamers together on a Zoom call. So, we did a Zoom webinar with all of our volunteers. This is where we’re going. This is what’s happening. This is the reason for it. Just casting vision. And then began to do a seven week sermon series, six or seven weeks, on transformation with the congregation, breaking all of that into little bits so that we can slowly move the congregation through. But I like doing it in concentric circles because that way when you do it to the dream teamers, the volunteers, they go to the staff members that they are connected with and go, “Man, what do you think about this?”

Jon: Yeah. Tickles down.

Jimmy: They’ve had a chance to reprocess, “Oh this is gonna be – I’m so excited about it” and vice versa. Then you release the congregation. They go to the volunteers they know, and they’re like, oh, I’m so excited about it. So, it helps build some momentum when you do it in concentric circles. And that’s always very important, I think.

Jon: So, if you’re out there and you want to hear that, go back like I said earlier. Listen to that series that he did.

Jimmy: Yeah. You go to tfc.org and all of our stuff is there. And you can also go to tfc.org/media if you just want to see all of the ways we’re putting out content, just to get some ideas that might spark some thought for you.

Jon: And then if you want to see the actual announcement where he pulled that trigger, it was August 9th, right?

Jimmy: I think that’s right.

Jon: This past Sunday. August the 9th is whenever he kind of laid out-

Jimmy: The actual details of what we’re doing.

Jon: … the details of the plan. What’s been the feedback so far that you’re hearing?

Jimmy: It’s been overwhelmingly positive.

Jon: That’s awesome.

Jimmy: We have not had any negative, really at all.

Jon: Well, I think such a big part of that is because most of the pastors that I’m watching walk through this, it’s either one of two things, we’re going to meet back in person and dadgummit, Nobody’s going to stop us or it’s, we’re going to be online until Jesus comes back. It’s like either or. The future of the church is all online or we’re going back to the way it was. And what I love about what you’re doing is you’re saying, we’re going to do both.

Jimmy: Yes. Embrace both.

Jon: We’re going to really focus online and for now, we’re going to offer the way it’s always been for that population of people. So, I think as pastors, we got to think outside the box.

Jimmy: That’s right.

Jon: It’s not either or. For your congregation, as for me and my house, so to speak, what is the best for your culture geographically, culturally, socioeconomic status, whatever packages and variables go into that equation. So, okay. We close the podcast in the same way every time. I want you to talk to pastors out there. If you had one thing to say to pastors about this season, we’re in and what we’re going to, what advice would you give?

Jimmy: Absolutely. And with kind of difference to the tragedy that’s associated with COVID, I would say this, this is the best opportunity. This is literally an opportunity of a lifetime.

Jon: Wow.

Jimmy: And we can see this as a tragedy, which it is, obviously, but the other side of it is this is giving us an opportunity like we’ve never seen.

Jon: So, true.

Jimmy: And I believe deep within me that just on the other side of this is going to be the greatest revival we’ve ever experienced in our lifetime. The prophets that I talked to are talking about something on the order of magnitude or greater than the Jesus movement.

Jon: Wow.

Jimmy: So, I believe that if we will capitalize on this opportunity, if instead of living kind of in fear, if we begin to embrace it, embrace the change, listen to God, just obey him and begin to get our systems and processes in place. We will be ready for the greatest harvest we’ve ever seen in our lifetime. So, I believe five years from now, we’re going to look back and say, it’s the best thing that ever happened to the church. So, as we embrace it and embrace it in faith and go forward, I think it’s a great opportunity to prepare for what God’s about to do.

Jon: Well, Jimmy, I’m so excited to watch this play out in your church. And I just want to say thank you for being a pioneer. You really are. I’m not saying that no other pastor out there is doing anything, but I don’t see any that are going for it to the level at which you’re going for it and changing and tearing down a system and rebuilding it to be a new thing that could reach.

Jon: So, thank you for being a trailblazer and a pioneer that other pastors could look to, both for inspiration, but also guidance. If they want to get in touch with you, I’m going to give them your personal cell and I’m kidding.

Jimmy: Go for it.

Jon: But tell them how they can follow you on Instagram or what’s the best way that they can just kind of jump in and embrace and see everything that you’re doing.

Jimmy: Yeah. Totally, they can follow us on Instagram. And I truly don’t mind giving out my email address. It’s jimmywitcher@tfc.org. And I’m happy to reach out and visit with any pastor that’s interested in what is going on.

Jon: That’s so awesome.

Jimmy: Glad to do it man.

Jon: Well, thank you listeners for tuning in today. I love each and every one of you, we’re praying for you, we’re for you. Keep going, keep plowing the trail, keep doing what you’re doing for the kingdom of God. Don’t forget, give us a rating. If you can snap a shot of this podcast, put it on social media, help us get the word out. We love you and we’ll see you next time.

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Church InTension
Church InTensionhttps://church-intension.simplecast.com
The Church InTension podcast is a place to have healthy conversations about areas of tension and the intentions of the Church. Hosted by Dr. Jon Chasteen and powered by The King's University and Gateway Church.