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High Tech & High Touch: Conquering the three mistakes of the low-tech church

paul hontz technology Nov 04, 2020

     Some people are called to ministry. I felt called to be a nerd.

     I grew up a preacher’s kid. Any time those church doors were open, I was there. Every Sunday and Wednesday my entire family would be at church for hours. One thing I knew growing up (but didn’t appreciate until years later), was that my dad was a fantastic pastor and a visionary.

     Under his leadership the church started growing. What started as a church of 380 attenders quickly doubled, then doubled again, and again, until it grew to over 4,000 attenders weekly.

     People in the congregation would see me, a young five-year-old with a terrible clip-on-tie, and ask me if I’d be a pastor too someday. I just didn’t feel that spark, even at a young age. I didn’t feel called to it. At the time I felt embarrassed to say it, but I was actually interested in computers. I loved building computers and programming them. As a child I could sit for hours tinkering and learning by myself. I was hooked on anything and everything digital.

     Fast forward a few years to 2010, and I turned my love of computers into a company (paulhontz.com). We built apps, digital marketing strategies and started providing technical consultations. Over the years, my company was lucky enough to be able to do some consulting work with Nike, Wells Fargo, IEEE and many more large organizations.

     I still felt like I was called to be a nerd, so as my company was growing, I decided to take on a couple of churches pro bono and help them apply strategies to grow. What I learned consulting with these churches shocked me. When my team would go to a large enterprise, we’d typically see that they were lagging roughly five years behind current technical or marketing trends. However, when we went to meet with churches, we found they were another five years behind large enterprises!

     To frame that another way, our research showed that most churches are roughly a decade behind the rest of the world when it comes to trends. Frankly, this is unacceptable.

     Why do we allow the most important thing to atrophy? I believe it comes down to three reasons.

1. Meeting people where we wish they were, instead of where they’re actually at

     Did you know that a self-selected “regular attender” only attends church 1.8 times a month? We all know that pastors want people in pews every weekend, but the reality is that over half the services you put on will not be attended by a “regular attender.”

     It’s a matter of pragmatism. We need to meet people where they are (remotely), and not where we wish they were (physically in the pew).

     With most churches, there is a massive disconnect between whom they are creating programming for and the reality of attendance. This will be even more pronounced in a post-COVID world.

     Some questions to consider:

  • How do you “pass the offering plate” to people who aren’t physically in the building?
  • How are you building community and a sense of belonging for these people remotely?
  • When you’re preaching a sermon series, are you giving a synopsis of the previous messages?
  • Are you providing a unique experience for people connecting with you digitally, or are you just trying to map 1:1 online what you did in-person? In our experience, the most successful campaigns don’t try to shoehorn an in-person event into an online one. Both have different strengths and weaknesses, so adjust your programming accordingly.

2. Embracing an employee mindset versus an owner mindset

     One Sunday after service, I was walking out to the car with my dad. My dad’s church was going through a tremendous growth phase. The church had recently completed a beautiful new building, and the campus was immaculate.

     On our way to the car, my dad noticed a weed in a flower bed. He plucked it out and kept walking. He then noticed a scrap of trash across the parking lot. He jogged over and put it in the trash.

     Being an impatient 10-year-old who just sat through several hours of services I said, “Dad, there are janitors and gardeners to take care of that stuff. Let’s get going.”

     He replied, “That’s the difference between an owner mindset and an employee mindset.”

     My dad wasn’t implying that he owned the church, rather he was making a point about caring.

     Put another way, “Something might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.”

     Have an ownership mentality for your church; A sense of agency. When no one is looking, are you still doing the unglamorous jobs that are “beneath” you?

3. Failing to be data-driven

     My company has been fortunate enough to launch several successful multi-million-dollar projects from scratch.

     Whenever we launch something new, I always want to know what the “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) is. What’s the smallest kernel of an idea that we can test with actual users to get real feedback on. I stole this concept shamelessly from my time in Silicon Valley.

     Whenever a new idea comes up, it often feels intoxicating. Our imaginations start running wild about how successful it will be and how everyone will love it.

     Building out an MVP is an antidote to this sort of magical thinking. By shipping the smallest test of an idea as quickly as possible and getting it in the hands of real user, you will learn infinitely more than trying to design a perfect product in a vacuum.

     We allow the data of what our users are actually doing to inform our product roadmap and what we spend development time on.

     The goal here is to grasp what actually matters, versus what we think matters.

     What if churches ran the same way? If I were to start a new ministry at your church, here are some of the questions I’d ask myself:

  • Are we sure there is a need for this? How do we know?
  • What’s the smallest version of this idea we could test this week.
  • How quickly can we respond to the feedback we receive?
  • How do we measure success?
  • Is there a disconnect between what people are saying versus what they’re actually doing?

     Instead of being content with the church lagging 10 years behind trends, let’s become leaders. The change can begin with your church.

 

This article was extracted from Issue 3 (Fall 2020) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.

 


 

This article was written by Paul Hontz

 

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Paul Hontz lives in Holland, Michigan, with his wife and three kids. He owns several software companies and has done consulting work for Nike, Wells Fargo and many more companies. He’s a graduate of Y Combinator, which has launched more billion dollar companies than any other startup accelerator in the world.

 

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