A Christmas Disrupted Conversation with Tyler Sansom
How does a digital church plan for a Christmas like no other? In this Christmas Disrupted Conversation, Tyler Sansom, Pastor for ChurchAnywhere.us, shares how they are mobilizing an online audience to be on mission this Christmas season.
Tim Nations: I am joined today by Tyler Sansom. Tyler is the pastor of Church Anywhere. If you haven't heard of Church Anywhere, I want to kick things off by just letting Tyler share a little bit of background. Tell us about Church Anywhere, give us some context, and within that talk about what has Christmas over the last few years of Church Anywhere and what has that typically been like.
Tyler Sansom: Church anywhere is a digital expression, digital church plant of First Capital Christian Church in Indiana. We are the whole digital experience that complements what we do in a physical sense. We've been around for a while now, but we've been fully staffed and made it a whole digital church plant as of this year. This is our fourth, going on fifth year of the operation. In the past, Christmas has been pretty standard. We'll do a Christmas Eve service, stream it, and then have engaging social media posts and things like that to go along with the service. This year is a lot different obviously. COVID changes everything.
Tim Nations: Yeah, and that's the big question, right? Churches are trying to figure out, what do we do with a variety of restrictions that different places are facing and also the uncertainty of, what are things going to look like six or seven weeks from now if there's another surge. Trying to figure out, how do we make decisions about delivering an experience for people this Christmas. So talk us through what you guys are deciding to do given the circumstances that we're in.
Tyler Sansom: I'll start with the "why" and then we'll get to what we're doing. We are in a very real, practical sense, ultra figital. We are the prime example of the hybrid model because we have an actual physical location, and then we treat our digital location. It's fully staffed, it's basically a separate church, all under the umbrella of one vision, which is under First Capital ministries. We've been trying to figure out ways to be better at being figital. We do ministry good in person, and we do ministry good online. We have not figured out a way to meld those two together as tightly as I would want them to be. We've been talking about this for months, but the hardest thing for online ministry I think is mobilizing people to be on mission online. It's hard to get people to serve online. It's hard to find even opportunities for them to serve. It's hard to get them to move forward and not just be consumers. It's easier to do that in person, but we still don't do really great at it. So for a while we've been talking about, how can we not only meld the two together more, become more figital with our approach, but how can we do that in a way that's mobilizing for our people. So we have been kicking around this concept of, I think Crossroads calls it "outfitters." They did a sermon series called Outfitters, and we loved that idea, so we stole that language and kind of made it our own. But essentially, we want to be, First Capital ministries would be like the supermarket. And then once we get people into the supermarket, we want them to go through our aisles that we have products. Except every single series that we do, every single themed thing that we do, like monthly or quarterly, we want to be able to put things on these shelves that every single person that comes into our superstore can take with them, both in-person and online. Let me give you a practical example of how we're going to do that in December leading up to Christmas. We've identified several ways that we think best help disciple people. And for December, we're going to focus on three of those. We're going to focus on generosity, community, and prayer life. So our shelves would be generosity, community, and prayer life. And the superstore would either be First Capital in person or Church Anywhere online. Following me so far?
Tim Nations: Yep, I'm with you.
Tyler Sansom: So December, we're going to have the theme of miracles. All month in December, we're talking about miracles. The first week's about the miracle of the angels that answered the prayer of the shepherds. The second week is about the generosity of the wise men and the miracle that they got to witness and their generous spirit of giving Jesus gifts. And then the final week is "God with us," the community aspect of miracles, the miracle of God literally coming in human form. So that's the community, service, and generosity. So we're trying to figure out ways within our services on the weekend to make sure we hit those touch points, but then we've also got an entire strategy for the month of December that has daily content that will help point people, whether it's in person or online, towards these aisles that we want them to take things off the shelves. For example, we've got a reading schedule that's going to be out where we're producing a podcast where people can listen through the entire Book of Luke to get a full picture of Jesus being the miracle. So that's going to be daily. We're going to do daily, written blog posts that are all around the themes of the community, generosity, so on. And then we'll do weekly worship experiences on Wednesday nights, and we're doing those kind of how the Tonight Show does it where their audience is television, but they have people in person that want to watch them tape it. So we're inviting anybody that wants to come in to come worship with us, but the primary focus is to produce this for online. It's that figital model.
Tim Nations: Interesting.
Tyler Sansom: So all of this being said, we're putting it in something called a miracle box, and people can come and sign up for those online and we'll ship it to them or they can come pick it up in person. But inside the miracle box is an advent calendar of all kinds of things that have to do with the three things that we're trying to get them to do for the month. So an advent calendar to do with their families. It's a daily reading schedule that will have to do with that podcast. It's also got an activity book that follows along the messages and devotionals made for kids. It's got Christmas Eve in a box. So within that box, there's going to be a section just for Christmas Eve, and it's going to be interactive elements that we'll hit on during the services. So for example, during the service we might tell our favorite Christmas story and then one of the things in that box is have your kids draw their favorite Christmas present, something like that. There's also a miracle card that we're going to have people write someone's name on at the beginning of December and put it on their bathroom mirror and commit to praying for them every single day. And then at the end of the month, both in person and online, this miracle box we're going to challenge people once it's emptied at the end of December, they're going to fill it up, and on Christmas they're going to go deliver it to the person that they've been praying for and be a miracle in that person's life. So all of it is this holistic approach using digital tools like podcasts and Facebook lives and Facebook groups and things like that and in-person experiences to hopefully point people towards this month the miracle theme of community and worship and generosity.
Tim Nations: That’s awesome. What I love about what you guys are doing is, and obviously you've had practice as you said thinking in each stream independently. For years, you've been very effective at being a physical church. One of the things that folks might not know about you is that you guys, for a small rural community, your church before COVID saw a significant percentage of the community engaged in your church. And so you guys were good at doing physical church within a community. You've also been doing digital church for a while and have gotten really good at doing that in a way well beyond just streaming or on-demand or things like that. Real relationships, friendships, and community online. So bringing those two things together, really getting intentional about being figital. This is where whether or all churches recognize it or not, this is where they're at right now in this season. I'm sure some might argue the other way, but this is where churches should be going forward, is that connection of those two things. And so I love how you guys are being so intentional and creating the resources that help to facilitate that in the lives of the people and that you're doing it from a discipleship standpoint, that that's the value that's really driving this alongside the desire to put those things together.
Tyler Sansom: I feel like for years most churches, including us, we've used online ministry as a marketing tool. And I think this strategy... the word "outfitters," the reason I liked it so much is it gives us the opportunity to empower people. It gives us the opportunity to provide the resources to go out and be mobilized rather than just show them what it could look like in our building in hopes that they'll come. So it flips the script. It's more of a discipleship model than it is a marketing model. I'm excited to try it in December.
Tim Nations: Yeah. So any tips or advice you would give a church that's really struggling, how do we even get started to think about what to do for Christmas? What would you say to them?
Tyler Sansom: It's basically a blank slate this year. All of those golden calves that you would never mess with on Christmas, you kind of can now. So if there's a tradition that you've been looking to alter and make it better or maybe move away from, this is the year. I would definitely look at it as a blank slate and then think of yourself less as a marketing tool, how can I get people to come to our building for Christmas, and more about how can I go to where people already are and show them the miracle of Jesus coming to the earth in this holiday season.
Tim Nations: Yeah, that's great, that's great. Well Tyler, again thanks so much for investing your time in other church leaders and for sharing what you guys are doing.
Tyler Sansom: Yeah, no problem.