A Chemistry Conversation with Justin Woelk
Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, talks with Justin Woelk in this Chemistry Conversation. Justin shares how online church is not going away. It's here to stay. We, as church leaders, have to accept the fact that online ministry will reach people who will never step foot in our church buildings.
While Justin Woelk serves on the Chemistry Staffing team as one of our church coaches, he also serves as the Online Campus Pastor for North Metro Church in Marietta, GA. Justin and his digital team help serve thousands of people globally move from screen to community. He has 10+ years ministry experience, specifically within the ministry areas of students, college & young adults, groups, and marriage. He spent 5 years within the conference world with Catalyst, Leadercast, and SEND Conferences. He has a Master's of Christian Leadership from DTS. His area of passion and expertise are communicating, relationships, digital church, experiences, and foster care. He is an extrovert, runner, college football fan, foodie, and coffee lover. He and his wife have fostered 4 children and they currently live in Augusta, GA.
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Matt Steen: Well hey, it’s Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. Today I’m pretty excited because we’ve got a new member of our team joining us. Justin Woelk is a church coach, but he also serves as the online campus pastor at North Metro Church in Marietta, Georgia. One of the cool things about the team that we’ve pulled together is not only are we a bunch of guys that are working outside the church, but we’ve got so many practitioners that get what’s going on in the church. Today I’m just excited to hear what Justin’s learning about ministry right now and what he sees church needing to be aware of in days to come. So Justin, thanks for doing this, man. Thanks for having the conversation.
Justin Woelk: Pleasure’s mine. I really appreciate you letting me do this and trusting me with this. I’m excited just to see where we can go. Hopefully, we can help some churches and get some thoughts going for them, maybe even bring some comfort to where they’re at.
Matt Steen: And along the way, try to not to get fired too, right?
Justin Woelk: Always. That’s always a key. Don’t say anything that will get you fired.
Matt Steen: Exactly. So cool, man. So tell me, what are you learning about church now. You’ve done this online ministry thing for approximately ever. What are you learning now?
Justin Woelk: It’s not going to go away, I’ll tell you that. Online church will never go away. While COVID - it’s funny how we use that as a theme now. The COVID time. While COVID made it so important for a season, what it really did is it accelerated the need for it. Because what it’s going to allow the local church to do is, it’s going to reach those people who are never going to set foot in your door. And church leaders are going to have to be okay with that. That’s probably going to head to one of your other questions. But church leaders are going to have to be okay with there are some people that don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to walk in your door, but they do want to connect with the local church. And online is that vehicle; online is that front doors. In North Metro, we have people within our local community that watch every single week, let alone people across the United States and even other countries, so it’s fascinating. And so not only do you get the people who are uncomfortable. Some people are like, this is how I want to do church. And they’re not just pressing a button and watching. They’re engaging, they’re finding community. So I would say that to church leaders - and I apologize if that’s not what you want to hear. But if you think about the generation that’s coming behind you. I’m 36, and I have a generation behind me - I’m telling you, it’s not going anywhere. That’s probably the first thing I would say.
Matt Steen: Nice. So you’re an online campus pastor, right? I think most churches are just figuring out what the difference is between a campus pastor and a normal pastor or something like that. So you’re a generation removed from that. As churches are thinking about doing this online thing, when they’re looking for an online campus pastor, what’s different about… What’s different about you, Justin, that may not necessarily be different as in campus pastor different? Do you know what I’m asking?
Justin Woelk: Sure. If you want the real difference about time, we don’t have time for that. You don’t want to get into personality profiles and all that silliness because I’m weird and I know it. For lack of a better term, they’re actually really similar other than the fact that I don’t have a building. So most campus pastors, they have some type of lead or senior pastor that tends to be the main teacher that they usually pipe in somehow, and that campus pastor is the local extension of leadership there for the staff and for the people, right? Same thing. Every single Sunday, people get to connect with me, see me. I host every single Sunday morning online. I’m welcoming people. I’m chatting with people. I’m praying with people. But they see our lead pastor teaching. We have a teaching team, but our pastor Rob teaches the majority of the time. Now I think the biggest difference at this exact moment is I don’t have any staff. I do have a team, and we work out schedules for shoots and film and video, editing, all of that, and they work so hard. So while yes, I don’t oversee a children’s director, a Next Gen director, I know some churches who do. I know churches who have said, hey, if we do it in person we’re going to do it online. And they’ve made that clear distinction, and you have that. So I think the idea is seeing the online pastor as someone who does have legitimate leadership and legitimate authority and they are reaching an unbelievable group of people that you wouldn’t consider. Now some people back in the day, so to speak, would want to make an appointment, go see the pastor. Mine happens right here [gesturing to cell phone]. All the time. All the time. 9 o’clock at night it happens. Sometimes I will wake up in the morning, text messages or voice mails. Cancer, COVID, divorce, discipleship. All of it. And I also have the chance to lead some online groups. The gambit’s kind of crazy, in my opinion, from a campus pastor standpoint.
Matt Steen: Wow. Always on.
Justin Woelk: Always on.
Matt Steen: More so than anybody else because that content’s always out there, and you’re helping disciple people who are engaging at different times than normal, right?
Justin Woelk: Different times and different stages of spiritual journey and different cultures, even within our own country. It’s fascinating the stuff that you get to learn and be a part of.
Matt Steen: That’s cool. So as you’re looking around at the landscape and gazing off into the horizon, what do we need to be aware of? What do you see coming at us that maybe sometimes we’re not seeing as a church?
Justin Woelk: Wow. So today is May 7, 2021. We’re going to see if these words come back to haunt me or not. I had the chance last week, Matt, to sit in a room up in Atlanta, Georgia - I now live in Augusta, Georgia, but in Atlanta, Georgia I got to sit in a room with some unbelievable leaders from across the country. I was shocked. To some degree, I was kind of like why am I here. And the conversation was, the church is forever changed. Forever. And while the primary conversation that day was around home gatherings, home church models o home gathering models - not exclusive, not that that’s the only way to do church, but that was a big piece of the content. I believe that throughout that room other leaders, we all kind of agreed that the church has to have a multi-pronged approach from now on. This is my opinion. I think there are some other ones that you could put in there. But these are my three. I would say the church has to have a three-pronged approach. One, you still have your Sunday morning obviously. I don’t think we’re ever going to get away from that. I don’t see how. It might change, shift, but I think it’s still going to be there. Two, I do think there needs to be a home gathering model for every church. Every church right now should be pursuing a home gathering model underneath the umbrella of their church. It kind of meets that need of small groups, but it empowers people to be a local pastor for their neighborhood. And we can unpack that more in a minute with one of your other questions probably. And then the third thing is, I would say a multi-purpose building. I do believe no longer are the days where the church is only going to be, we have a Wednesday night service and a Sunday, and that’s when you come into our building. Our buildings need to be used to do good in our community every day of the week, and it just happens that a church community gets to gather in there. That’s what I believe. To answer your question top level, which people might be mad about. That’s my honest way of answering that.
Matt Steen: Very cool. This is something that excited me. We weren’t doing this 10 years or 5 years ago. I mean, shoot, a lot of us weren’t doing this 3 years ago. Just the radical shift over what churches look like over the last - this is getting me excited, kind of making me wonder what’s God going to do through all this, right?
Justin Woelk: Right.
Matt Steen: A lot of the people who are going to watch this are going to say, that’s great, wonderful, how do I get there? And the answer isn’t always that we need to hire somebody. Where do people start? What encouragement would you give a pastor that’s saying, yeah, I want to do that, but now what?
Justin Woelk: Matt, that’s a great question and I love that you’re asking that. I’m getting convicted at how I want to answer that right now.
Matt Steen: You’re welcome.
Justin Woelk: Just start somewhere. This is not a shot at pastors. I’m a pastor. I’m having a vulnerable conversation that I hope pastors can relate to. We have a tendency sometimes to throw stuff at the wall and see if it sticks. Don’t do that. Your people get tired of that. Your people get tired of hearing the next new thing, or we’re going to do this. Just show up at a meeting one day and say, “We’ve got to try home gatherings.” We’ve got to put eggs in this basket. Not every egg, but we’ve got to put eggs in this basket. We’re either going to bring someone in, or we’re going to reassign somebody. Or two people. Please don’t always put one person, that’s a lot. And go after it. Don’t slow down for 18 months. For some reason, we have this tendency - I’m saying “we,” I’m guilty of this too - of coming in, we did something for a semester, maybe two. And maybe it didn’t hit the exact numbers we were expecting or something new comes along, so we move on. So that would be my first answer to you. The how is to just do it. Say, we want to get a multi-purpose building, or we want to do home gatherings. Do it, go after it, and don’t slow down for a minimum of 18 months, and then truly evaluate it then.
Matt Steen: Very cool. So 18 months. That’s a long time in the digital age.
Justin Woelk: Yep.
Matt Steen: When that 18-month conversation comes up, what should we be looking at? How should we evaluate whether we’ve been successful or not? That’s a loaded question. You weren’t expecting that. You’re welcome for that.
Justin Woelk: No, you’re fine. I mean, it could be a shameless plug. They can contact Chemistry about how we can help them, right. I think the real way I would answer that is, did you see people encounter the message of Jesus that you weren’t seeing before. Let’s have an honest conversation that, again, is probably going to come back on me. As pastors, we have a hard time sometimes being like 20% of the people do 80% of the work. How many times have you heard that in your life, Matt?
Matt Steen: Right.
Justin Woelk: Complaining can be a strong word, but we’re always talking about we don’t have enough leaders, we don’t have enough volunteers. Okay. Well, go empower, literally train six people in your community right now to do church in their homes. Throw them a $50 stipend a month or $50 Publix gift card or $50 Kroger gift card or whatever’s near their house a month, and tell them we are resourcing you and we believe in your reaching your neighborhood. You might find out that on a Friday night they had a tent and they had a smoker and a big screen TV, and they had a cul de sac party. That’s huge. Your neighbors in the name of Jesus just reached their neighbors unlike ever before.
Matt Steen: Yeah, yeah.
Justin Woelk: That’s how we have to evaluate it. I don’t want to get too lost in the weeds. I’ve heard a lot of leaders say this - I’ll be careful. We have to stop measuring attendance and giving as the only measures of growth or health of a church. That’s it. That’s a little bit more than you were expecting. A little ambiguous that might come back on us, but I’m willing to take those questions if needed.
Matt Steen: Well good, man. Well Justin, one of the things I want to do is, down below we’ll have your contact information. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who are going to say we need to figure this out. What I appreciate about the work that you’re doing and even the work that you’re doing here at Chemistry is, yeah, you’re going to help people find their youth pastor and their worship pastor and lead pastor and all that kind of stuff, but you bring a skillset that frankly is kind of limited in the church. Having done the online campus work, having done so much of the digital space. What I love about having you join our team is you bring that expertise, but you also bring the ability to be able to come alongside of a church and scrub in with us and say, hey, let’s talk about your first step leaning into online campuses and getting people outside of the building and kind of thinking through that stuff. So thank you for that. We’ll have Justin’s contact information and a link to be able to get on Justin’s calendar down below and anything like that. But before we wrap up, any final words of wisdom that you would like to cast asunder to the people that are watching this?
Justin Woelk: Yeah man. I would think of two. One is to the point, and the second one’s a little longer. But the first one I would say is, don’t just stream your service. Please don’t. Please don’t just stream your service. I don’t care if you have to put one person on a chat feature. Make it personal somehow. Somehow make your service personal online, please. And the second thing I would say. Matt, you and I actually talked about this a little bit earlier, is pastors, please be encouraged. Please be encouraged. Obviously, we all believe in scripture, and Acts tells us that we were put in the timeframe that we were put in for a reason. God has placed us within this timeframe and within this generation for a reason. Why you? Why me? Why now? Why in all the eras and the things that are going on, why? Just be open-handed with that. Be encouraged that God is still the same God, and He is moving in His church and we just get the honor to be a part of that. So be encouraged. So that’s what I would say.
Matt Steen: That’s awesome man. Justin, thank you so much.
Justin Woelk: My pleasure, thank you.
Matt Steen: Grateful for your time and your work. Like I said, you can track down Justin’s information down below. Love to be able to get you connected to Justin, whether it’s for a search or just to kind of think through your online strategy.