A Chemistry Conversation with Rich Birch
Our Christmas services are right around the corner, and, yes, creating awareness about your special Christmas events is necessary. However, creating an invite culture is an important part of getting people in the door to hear the message of Christ's birth. But how?
Todd Rhodes, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and Rich Birch, of UnSeminary, discuss how to freshen up your communication strategy and motivate your congregation to invite others to one of your church's most important weekends.
Rich has been involved in church leadership for over 20 years. He has a dual vocational background that uniquely positions him for serving churches to multiply impact. He was part of leading one of the first multisite churches in North America. Rich has also, served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, and as a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner.
As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Todd Rhoades: Hey, well thanks for joining us today for another Chemistry conversation. I’m Todd Rhoades sitting in for Matt Steen who is a little under the weather. He had kind of a tough go. He tried to take a few days’ vacation and got a little under the weather.
Rich Birch: That dude’s been running though. I was talking to him a couple weeks ago, and he has been back to back to back to back conferences and all that. Which makes sense. I get it. You slow down for a little bit, and your body’s like, “Okay, we’re stopping.”
T: So I’m going to take joy in Matt’s illness because I get to tactually talk to Rich today. Everybody, Rich Birch is joining us. Rich is one of our favorite people. Great friend of Chemistry Staffing. One of the reasons we really like Rich is that I think like us, he’s always looking at what’s next. Really passionate about multiplying impact at the local church level. So we just want to pick your brain a little bit today, Rich, about Christmas. We’re days away from Christmas. According to when you’re watching this, a few days to a few weeks away from Christmas. A lot of churches have been planning for Christmas for months now. Other churches have not. My hunch is, there’s probably more this year that have not done as much planning as they would for Christmas, just because this has been a crazy, crazy season for ministry. Let’s just start here. So a few weeks out, give us some ideas as far as what churches should be doing right now. If you had, let’s say 20 days left before your Christmas weekend, what are some hills that you would climb? What are some things that you would do? Advice you would give to church leaders?
R: Totally. Well, I think there’s two things that are going on. I think often times, we as we’re planning our Christmas Eve services or Christmas services, we think a lot about what’s actually happening in them. So for the preachers who are listening in, I know you’re thinking, “Gosh, how do I preach this message again?” It’s like the worst time to preach. It’s the worst time and the best time. Obviously, it’s the best time because we get to declare the birth of Jesus. That’s incredible. But it’s also the worst time for a communicator because everyone knows the punch line. Jesus was born. So that’s hard. We spend a lot of time thinking about that. Then, we spend a lot of time thinking about the music. A lot of churches might do some extra stuff. We spend a lot of time actually in the actual services themselves. Although I think that’s important, we need to do that, what I want to do is to challenge leaders to think about how are we talking about our Christmas services so that we can maximize the invite opportunity. This is a critically important time. We’ve done a bunch of work at unSeminary around church growth. And really, the thing that drives church growth - the difference between churches who are growing and those who aren’t are the churches that are growing really have just found a way to systematically invite people - to invite their people to invite their friends. That’s really what they’ve done. They’ve figured out a way to keep in front of their people and say, hey, what are you doing to invite your friends? And Christmas is incredibly important. It is one of those times of year - there’s maybe three or four times a year when a Sunday goes by that people would actually come who don’t normally attend your church. And Christmas is one of those. So what I want to challenge you to do is you’ve got to open up some brain space, not about what you’re doing but how you’re talking about your services, how you’re communicating to your people, how you’re encouraging them to invite their friends. I’ve got a couple ideas, if that’s okay, on that. Do you want me to jump in on that?
T: That would be awesome.
R: The two things are this. The first is, please, please, please - and this is a small thing, but it’s so important. I see churches flub this. Everybody can do this. This is like 101, but you’re get results, just this one thing. Don’t talk about your Christmas Eve services - whenever you talk about them, don’t just describe what’s happening. Always couch it in terms of, we’re doing this service for you and your friends. We’re doing this service for you and your family. Please invite your friends and family to our special Christmas Eve services. Make sure that every time you talk about it, you’re injecting to people how the reason why you’re doing this is not for them but for other people. You’d be amazed by how many times people forget that. They forget this is an important time of the year for us to invite our friends. So don’t just get up and say - and I realize, everyone’s Christmas is going to look different. Maybe you’ve got the singing Christmas tree, the living Christmas tree, do some big thing. Or you just do a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, some smaller, quieter thing. But you should still be articulating that in the context of, we’re doing these things to invite our friends. So literally every time we talk about it, we need to come back to that again. We’re doing this not for you but for your friends. The second thing I would say - so that’s an easy thing. You can just insert that into your language.
T: Just a bit of intentionality.
R: Just a little bit of intentionality. Every handout that you give, every announcement, make sure that we’re repeating the phraseology again. We’re doing this for you and your friends. However that sounds best in your culture. Invite your friends and family to join us for a special Christmas blah blah blah, whatever that is. The other piece, which if you’ve got a little bit of time, so if we’re 20 days out, what I would encourage you to do is, we all can think of maybe half a dozen people in our church who are the people who invite their friends all the time. You know those people at your church that they’re always inviting. What I would encourage you to do, leader, pastor today is to call those people and ask them a really simple question. This question will actually open up - might give you a view on your church that can help how you communicate about Christmas. So call these people up. Say if I was calling Todd. “Hey Todd, you’re such a great leader. I’ve noticed that over the years that you’ve invited friends to come to church. I’m wondering, I’m talking to some people asking this question. What do you say when you invite friends to our church?” And they’ll be like, “What do you mean?” “I want to know, what are the actual words that you use? Can you repeat to me what you say to people? Because I’d love to know how you talk about our church.” Now if you do that with half a dozen people, if you do that with a dozen people - and write it all down. Write down exactly what they say. And what you’ll see over half a dozen or a dozen conversations with your own people is you’ll get a clear picture of what’s important to your people when they invite their friends. So they might say, “Whenever I invite friends, I say something like, ‘You should come to our church this weekend. The message is so good. It’s so fantastic.’” Or you might hear people say. “You should come to my church. The music is great.” Or “You should come to my church. Our kids’ ministry is amazing.” You’ll see common trends. Now, why is that important? When you’re then crafting your communication about Christmas Eve this year, use the language that you hear repeated time and time again. So you might be really excited about your message. You might be fired up about this incredible thing. But if you talk to six people and what they’re saying to their friends is, “You should come to our Christmas Eve because the candle lighting moment is an important time for my family. It’s just so beautiful. I love that time where we’re all standing there with the candles,” then friends I’ve got something to tell you. Don’t go out and say, “Hey, you should invite your friends to Christmas Eve this year because of a great message.” That’s not what people are saying about your church. What they’re talking about is the candle lighting part of your service. So listen to tactually what people are saying to their friends, and then use that language as you talk about it. Again, you need a little bit more time. That’s actually a good practice in general. When you bump into someone who says throughout the year, “Oh, I invited my friend Todd to come to church,” I always, the next question out of my mouth is, “That’s amazing.” Reinforce their behavior. “That’s amazing. Can you actually just tell me what you said to them? I want to learn from you. What did you say to them? How did that invite go?” And over time, what you’ll do is you’ll learn how your people are talking about their church. Again, critically important as we craft our messaging around, particularly, Christmas services this year. Does that make sense, Todd?
T: That makes total sense. The thing that stood out to me. I mentioned the word “intentionality,” but I think that’s huge. As church leaders, we’re comfortable - by comfortable, I mean, we’re pretty good at crafting services. Right/
R: Yes, yes.
T: We can almost craft a service in our sleep.
T: And you can almost over-craft a service.
R: Yes, particularly this time of the year. Christmas services particularly. I could predict three years from now which songs your church is going to be singing on Christmas Eve. We sing kind of the same stuff at this time of the year, which is okay. But yeah, what difference does that make when we think about crafting messages around inviting people?
T: Exactly, exactly. You could have the best-tailored service and not reach one single new person. So I think just these two practice steps that you’ve given, Rich, there’s some real gold in there. And honestly, both of those things. If pastors were to do both of those things, it would take very little effort, very little time out of your schedule. You can still craft your service, but be intentional about who you’re bringing in. Before I let you go, let me ask you this. I know the question we’re going to get. We’re recording this right kind of the day after this new - Omnicort? Is that what we’re calling it?
R: Onmicron? They have such oppressive names. Like, it’s coming for us.
T: Yeah. And we’ve all seen how quickly things can change. We saw that in March 2020. Even some pastors and church leaders I’ve been talking to have been like, “Oh no, here we go again. What do we do?” A lot of people are going to be asking, what should we expect - I don’t think anybody knows what we should expect. But here’s the question I want to ask you. Most churches right now - it’s all over the spectrum, but most churches, 70% back maybe attendance-wise. As you craft what you’re doing for Christmas, should you focus on trying to get those 30% back? Should you focus on trying to get brand new people? Should you try to do both? And then second part of that question is, what in the world should you do online? I mean, should you continue to pour some additional resources into what you’re crafting for online experiences for this Christmas season? Talk on that.
R: Yeah, great question. So I had a mentor early on in ministry, and I come back to this all the time, who said, “Rich, a part of what we have to do as a leader is count the “yes” votes.” What did he mean by that? You’ve got to double down on those people - in this case, those people that are with us. So listen, I know - and this is the same in my church. This is the same in your church. There are people that are with us March 2020 that are not with us anymore. There’s a part of me that as a pastor, as someone that loves people, that breaks my heart. That’s too bad, right. But the reality of it is, there are new people that are plugged in and connected to our church now, and I would say we need to double down on getting the 70% that are with us now, if that’s what it looks like at your church, we need to be encouraging those people to reach their friends. We need to be working hard to really kick start what we’re doing to see those people reach out to their friends and family to invite them to come. It’s not that we ignore the other people. I think we still want to do, if we have any direct mail, if you still have addresses, you could send mail to those people. Do email and all that stuff. But if I was thinking of where I would spend my effort, I would be spending my effort not on trying to recall people but really to motivate our existing people to invite their friends. And to that end - so Omicron or however you say it, so if you look at the track record in the past, when Delta came in, it was 90-120 days depending on where it was in the country before it really had its major impact on communities. What I don’t want you to do, church leaders who are listening in, please don’t scale back your Christmas Eve services because of this at this point. The mission demands us to continue to run towards this opportunity. I don’t want you to lose this opportunity. I don’t want you to get freaked out at this moment. Do we want to open up a small part of your brain where we think about, we may see a rise in our community? Yeah, that’s probably not a bad idea. We may need to go back to communicating some of that stuff around - depending on what it looks like in your part of the country, maybe be thinking about those things. But don’t scale back at this point. And I don’t think that’s being irresponsible. I think that’s just exactly what’s happened with these variants. It’s been between 90 and 120 days from when they first arrive to when it seems to have its biggest impact. We’re really looking more to February is more when it will have its impact. So Superbowl Sunday might be a problem for our churches. And then I think the online piece, I think that’s a great question. The big lesson that I think we’ve all learned, hopefully we’ve still learned this, leaders, online is here to stay. We want to continue to be an omni-channel church. Back in the spring, I put an article out on unSeminary talking about what’s going to be the impact when this thing shifts from pandemic to endemic. At the time, people thought I was crazy. Because we were still thinking this thing would go away. But really, what we’re living out here is we’re still in for a couple years of this. We’re going to still see this thing flow through, and so we still need church online. We still need that. And please, please, please, I hear less of it, but I still hear church leaders that are thinking we can step ourselves back from that. I hate to say this 20 days from Christmas Eve, but if you were planning on not doing a Christmas Eve online experience this year, I think you made a mistake there. We still need to be providing that. You may have to hustle here and put something together. And that could be just because there is a segment of our community, all of our communities that are still concerned about this, that are still freaked out a little bit. And we still want those people to come to our church. We want to reach everybody in our community. So yeah, I think we want to continue to work on church online, continue to find ways to be omni-channel. Yes, people can come to us in person, but they can also come to us online. We’ll do everything we can by all means to reach people in our communities.
T: We’re going to be in this both-and time for a significant period, even moving forward.
R: I agree. Which was crazy to say even 6 months ago, 8 months ago. People, literally when I wrote that article, they’re like, “You’re crazy. Why are you so paranoid about this thing?” When you read the - it’s unfortunate how politicized it’s become. But when you strip all that out and just read people who I don’t think have any vested interest in one or the other, when you listen to what they have to say, they’re like, yeah, we’re going to be into this for a while. We’re going to see this thing pop up and down. And yeah, it’s maybe going to go up and down and maybe get less and less, but we’re in for it for a while here. And it’s going to look different in different parts of the country. We’re going to see probably the north and the northeast is going to have a worst winter than the south because everybody moves inside. But then what did you see last summer? All our friends in the south, as they all go back inside to live in air conditioning, their cases go up. We’re going to see some of that for the coming years. It impacts us in how we do what we do.
T: Very good, very good. Well, thanks so much, Rich. So next steps. Just recap very quickly. Number one?
R: Tweak your language. Every time we talk about Christmas Eve, always talk about inviting your friends and family. And that whole task, if you’re looking for a simple task to do, pick up the phone or email or text a group of people who, what do you say when you invite them. And then use that language when you’re actually communicating about Christmas Eve this year.
T: Good stuff, good stuff. Rich, always a pleasure. Rich does an incredible job over at unseminary.com. You’ve got to go check it out. A bunch of resources there. Again, ways that you can multiply your impact. I know you’ve got some cohorts and masterclasses and those kinds of things where people can connect with you as well. But first step would be just to connect with you on unSeminary.
R: Yeah, just drop by unSeminary. And Todd, I really appreciate you and Matt. I’m always talking to Matt, but I really appreciate what you and him are doing at Chemistry. I think it’s just so critically important in this season particularly as we try to build healthy, long-term teams. The thing I love about what your guys focus on, how do we find people who will stick and stay over the long haul. I just think that’s such a great strategic advantage for churches. They should really reach out to you and be talking with you as well.
T: Great, great. Thanks, Rich. Well, hey, if I don’t talk to you beforehand, you have a merry Christmas.
R: Merry Christmas, Todd.
T: We’ll talk soon. Thank you so much.
R: That’s great. Thank you so much.