Into all the world? Really? C’mon, there has to be another way, a Revelation remix, something to let us know the Great Commission has a software update. How in the world do you get a message into all the world today? The buffet of content consumption options today is unprecedented. Oh, and let’s sprinkle in some pandemic and bam, you have a recipe for . . . well, something.
I’ve learned a lot through the past year, but what I have learned most are the following:
OK, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let me tell you about how at my local little rural church in northwest Georgia I saw God use us in an audacious way over the past year. I want to talk specifically about how we used podcasts to share the good news with a whole lot of folks.
We have tried a lot at my little church—outreach in the local community, use of video, writing content, sermons, series, youth activities, and so much more. There are valuable stories in each of these areas that I’d love to share with you, but here I want to talk about podcasts.
This was an area in which, based on our limited resources, we felt we could excel. Here is why: with video you are competing with, whether you like it or not, a $200 million Marvel movie. All I can say to that is—good luck!
But our little audio production from the church—with a microphone, a free jingle download off the Internet, a cheap audio editing program, and a few minutes each week with a little secret sauce—allowed our little church to see hundreds of testimonies come in from around the world about how we were doing our little part to share the story in this amazing world.
The secret sauce? When the idea hit me, I pivoted in my preaching ministry: stop talking to the members. Talk to their friends, talk to their family, talk to the guests who may hear this message, hear the amazing Advent-flavored message for the first or last time. Why? Because if we are ever to grow, especially in the dying West, we must speak to people who have never heard our message. I was impressed in a dumpster fire of a world to not take tomorrow for granted. So every moment, every week, I preached to the guests. I tried to not use fancy lingo; I assumed they didn’t have a clue where Malachi was located or what the Testimonies or The Desire of Ages meant. But I didn’t shy away from using all those tools in my toolbox.
We also tagged every message we uploaded to the various podcast platforms with keywords so that when someone was searching to listen to a specific topic, they would find us.
One more ingredient to our secret sauce: three years ago the average age of our church attendance was around 54 years young. Today I would push that closer to 44 years young. Why? Along the way I decided to start speaking contextually to someone—me, actually—a near-40-year-old male in North America. If I had made a few decisions differently in life, I would not be in the church, but perhaps I would have friends who would be. How would I talk to me if I wasn’t talking from the front but barely listening from the back?
We have about 3,000 people each week who listen to our podcasts across all platforms. I’m nothing special as a preacher. Our church is pretty typical: 100-member rural church in small-town America. What we have experienced can be experienced by any church in the world with minimal input.
Just recently I had my new friend Oscar reach out and ask me to meet him for lunch. So we met, and he told me about how in the past year or so he found himself driving his truck and looking to listen to something. He searched one of those keywords that we had tagged our content with and found us. Oscar is from Arizona and drives across country. He shared that after listening to some 130 of our podcasts, he wanted to be a member of our church. He is now a member of our church—remotely. He tunes in; he gives tithe and offerings; he has a community.
I mean, Joe Rogan can keep people’s attention for four hours, so long-form audio content is alive and well.
Another story (in fact, another trucker): “Just wanted to let you know I really enjoy your podcast. I found it by accident last week. I’m an over-the-road truck driver from Virginia, so I have plenty of windshield time. Your messages are very encouraging and practical. If I’m ever in the area, I will visit your church. I’m not an Adventist, but I am Christian. Thanks again, and God bless.”—Ron.
Another story: my new friend Louis. Louis is rich. I don’t really know how else to say it, but he’s like the rich young ruler: very wealthy, successful company, amazing family, and yet as the world started crumbling in 2020 he had a friend share with him a message that changed his life. That wasn’t one of our messages. He then got into some occult experiences and felt they weren’t for him. So he began searching for some of those keywords that we had been using to tag our podcasts.
Here was his note to me out of the blue:
I recently found the truth of Jesus Christ, and I have been enjoying your podcast from the West Coast. Since I found Jesus the local Adventist church has been closed because of coronavirus, and I have not been able to get in touch with anyone there, so I have been supplementing my studies with your podcast (currently on episode 23), . . . Ellen G. White’s writings, which have been very helpful in furthering my understanding of the Scriptures. I can’t get hold of anyone. I’m willing to fly to your church—I would be truly honored to be baptized at your church. Would this be possible?
I am also looking forward to sharing my testimony with you because I didn’t find God first, I found Satan.—Louis.
Louis flew down and was baptized and is actively taking the message into circles that I never could.
We didn’t have a lot of technical skill in trying to figure out what we needed to do this, but we knew people like to listen, and especially to content that makes them think. I mean, Joe Rogan can keep people’s attention for four hours, so long-form audio content is alive and well.
Some of the data on podcasting skews toward younger demographics. People can be multitasking—listening to podcasts at work or while they drive to work—and that’s OK. With a highly consumable form of content such as a video, you need to be sitting there watching it. You have to give it your time and attention. However, with podcasts, you could be doing the dishes, walking the dog, exercising, etc.
The size of the file doesn’t matter, and that’s remarkable. Many demographics listen to podcasts. Podcasting is another term for audio transmission, like old-school radio that’s now on the Internet and on demand.
We had listened to a few podcasts such as TED Radio Hour and others and thought they were quite good, then asked, “How do we do this?” Here is what you want to do: You’re thinking about the brand of your church. What do you want people to hear and feel as they engage with videos, audio, branding posts, etc.?
We started to think about that and realized, “You know what? We’re in the South. We just want people to feel a down-home, Southern-cooking vibe. We have a great potluck at our church all the time.”
What is amazing is that only half of our listeners
are local. Therefore, this is how a small, rural church in the middle of nowhere, can have a global reach and large impact. A small but nice benefit is seeing our local giving go up even from new friends who join us remotely each week.
There’s a good chance that a sermon is preached in your church every week. The “foolishness of preaching” is still relevant. Find a way to record that message; spend a few dollars each month to push it out to as many platforms as possible, and watch the Lord work.
Jared Thurmon began serving as a lay pastor a few years ago in Adairsville, Georgia. You can listen to their podcasts here: https://adairsvillesda.org/messages.