Digital Parish: Doing digital ministry when resources are scarce

What kind of tech demands are there for digital ministry? How should you staff for it?

Let's face it. Many of us hear those questions and assume we can't start in online ministry because resources are a bit too scarce. In this session, we're chatting with Shane Russo about some resource-saving tips and practices to put into our digital ministry toolkit.

The Episode

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Show Notes 

So many resources to put in your digital ministry toolkit:

Ryan Dunn (00:01):

This is pastoring in the digital parish. Your resource and point of connection for building digital ministry strategy and bringing your congregation into the digital age. What kind of tech demands are there for digital ministry? How should you staff for it? <Laugh>? Let's face it, digital ministry is easy for big churches. Well, okay, that's too simplistic. Digital ministry is easier for big churches because it's a matter of resourcing, right? A big church likely has access to the tech and people power that make doing something new, like building an online ministry, a bit more realizable. But here's what I hope we've learned through pastoring in the digital parish. The beauty of online faith community centers on their accessibility. Digital ministry makes church accessible for people for reasons, ranging from time to physical limitations to the big factor of intimidation. And online ministry helps break down those barriers. And from a minister's standpoint, digital ministry also offers us accessibility to the people we hope to be in community with.


It removes those barriers for us, but a big barrier still remains. That's the barrier of resource. Most of you listening to this podcast are not involved in large or megachurch ministry. Most of us are part of smaller churches, or in the least, you're familiar with a scarcity of resource, but we're still passionate about seeing our faith communities grow, and we see digital ministry as the means for bringing church and new populations of people together. <Laugh>. And by the way, my name is Ryan Dunn. I should get that out there. I'm a digital content creator for United Methodist Communications. I'm also the volunteer Digital Ministries director for a small but mighty congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. I've been having a number of conversations about how to get things done when there's no budget and no people to do things. One of the people I'd been conversing with was Shane Russo, who is in a really similar situation.


He's the lead pastor of a church in Ohio. According to their website, they have a staff of four, just for reference, and that includes clerical, custodial, and musical staff. He also wants to see the church meet new people, and sees digital ministry as a means for doing so. Sound familiar? So we sat down for a conversation where we could swap ideas and help each other out. We threw around a bunch of resources and ideas that you can stow away in your digital ministry toolkit, too. A little more about Shane. He's the curator slash creator of the stained glass rebel blog, stained glass He's a local pastor of the United Methodist Church, a dad, a husband, and a fellow digital ministry pioneer like us. So let's get talking. Shane Russo, a k a, the stain glass rebel. How goes it with your soul today, Shane?

Shane Russo (03:08):

Hey, it goes well. It goes well. Nothing to complain about.

Ryan Dunn (03:11):

Yeah. All right. Same here. We're getting off to well, we're recording this on a Monday, getting our, our week kind of kicked off with this podcasting experience. So having just gone through the weekend, like, what did ministry look like for you this past weekend?

Shane Russo (03:25):

Yeah, so this weekend I kicked off a, a new series on the Lord's Prayer. And I serve a church in northeast Ohio. And it is a suburban, urban setting. It's <laugh>. I, I, I label it that way because it it's a city. It's technically a city. It's got all of the trappings socioeconomic problems as a lot of urban settings. But it is, it is functionally a suburb of like a slightly larger city. The church used to be downtown, now it's up on a hill in a park after it burned down twice, you know, in its history. Mm-Hmm. so they've kind of removed themselves intentionally away from the urban center of it all. And sort of the tradition of the church has followed suit. So for me, I serve a a primarily white congregation in northeast Ohio. We are theologically and politically purple, I would say, you know?


Yeah. And that brings a, a really unique set of challenges because you have to approach everything knowing that somebody's gonna disagree. And yeah. And so I try to gear all of my sermons and all of my content to not necessarily the middle, but to addressing, like, Hey, I know this is gonna pinch some of us. Mm. either way, I, so I acknowledge that. But here is, here's what the gospel has to say about this. And and so that's, that's usually what every weekend looks like. But this weekend was, was especially good because previous week I had given a really hard message, really challenging, pretty aggressive this week. It's an introduction to the Lord's Prayer. How aggressive can that be? And I even was

Ryan Dunn (05:05):

Listening, oh, I don't know. You start talking about like, <laugh>. “they will be done.”

Shane Russo (05:09):

Yeah. But we're not there yet. But that'll be, that'll come, that'll come down. But ultimately what happens is, you know I even went back and listened to it, and I was like, oh, wow. Man, my tone was so much softer. It was more inviting. And it got a lot of positive feedback and all of that stuff. So, you know, it's, it's just my ministry context is like a lot of folks, it's complex. There's nothing simple about it, and I just try to do the best I can.

Ryan Dunn (05:36):

Yeah. Hmm. Yeah. Well, the, we're gonna be talking about the ways that we can implement digital ministry in a small church context and some of the things that we're doing. So just to kind of set the table for that. And what my small church context is, is that I volunteer for a, a tiny, it's actually called a missional congregation. We are not fully self-supported. And we don't have weekly worship. So this past weekend, we do meet on a weekly basis, but this past weekend was not one of our worshiping Sundays, it's one of our gathering Sundays. And since we have a number of of congregants who have both come to us recently, but also a number of congregants who have been established within our church or another church that we merged with for a while, we felt like it was an important time for people to share their stories of why they've become a part of this congregation.


 And so we just had a session yesterday where people went around the room just saying, Hey, what brought you to Glencliff United Methodist Church? And man, what an awesome, awesome experience because I mean, it's a sermon that writes itself in so many ways because people couldn't help but kind of interpret their lives through the lens of the way that the Holy Spirit was active in drawing them together in community. So we we definitely got off in tangents, and not everybody got a chance to share. So it's something that we're gonna revisit, but just a, like a really cool way to, to build community, but also to provide testimony for some of the things that we're doing. So and of course, like I had the interest in maybe like, how can we use this to create content? So we recorded everything and we'll see how that, how that goes moving forward. But, so as you are as you were moving through your weekend in my context, we did not put any of our stuff online. This was not live stream, especially since it was such a personal sharing. Are, are you live streaming all your services?

Shane Russo (07:41):

Yeah. We have one service on Sundays, and we live stream it from beginning to end. And then I either Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, cut out the sermon and post that on YouTube and create shorter clips from that that I distribute throughout the week.

Ryan Dunn (08:00):

Hmm. How are you creating those shorter clips?

Shane Russo (08:03):

So, I use a program called Descript which if you don't know what descript is, it's basically a video editor, a really simplified down video editor that pulls the transcription from the audio. So you upload the, you, you put the video into the program, it transcribes it in like just a couple of minutes, and then you edit it by editing the text so you can delete out. So, and that's basically it. So I use that then to identify the thing that I said, put it in its own clip, and then there are other tools within it. But then I just use that to then export out a shorter, you know, a short clip and all that stuff. And it's, it has taken that task down from being hours worth of work to Yeah. You know, minutes worth. It's really saved me a ton of days. It's worth every single penny I pay for it.

Ryan Dunn (08:55):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Okay. and it is a paid service, but it is, yeah. I guess though, if you're saving all that time, like, I'm not doing that for ours because it is so time consuming. And again mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, I'm a volunteer and it does take several hours to like rewatch the sermon and then to distill out what those clips are and to them down and render 'em and all that. So this, this descript service kind of does that for you?

Shane Russo (09:19):

Yeah. It, it's, and again, it's a piece of software for the computer, and it, it does it, and you can, it's got some templates for how to format it and stuff, but truly the thing that saves the most time is just being able to look through the transcript and say, oh, I like this, this tweetable quote or whatever. Basically, copy it, move it over to its own clip, and then work with it from within there. It, it, it's so much easier than having to scrub a whole video while you're watching it listening. Oh, I like that. Go back and cl it, it, it, it, I cannot recommend it enough. And, you know Nate Weber nerd, pastor Nate over Checkpoint church turned me onto that.

Ryan Dunn (09:58):


Shane Russo (09:59):

So I give him props for showing me an easier way to do something. Definitely. But I've been using it for a few months now.

Ryan Dunn (10:07):

All right. Okay. Hey, I'm learning something already. It's on my list, <laugh>. I'm excited about that. What else are, I'm, I'm intrigued now. What else are you doing to like save time?

Shane Russo (10:17):

Well, the, as we'll come to know as no surprise to anybody who's known me for the last few weeks, I am super into ai. Like, I, I've been, I've been using the chat g p t a lot to help me org organize things even as a a sermon writing partner in terms of like, bouncing off ideas, you know, like going back and forth, asking questions, asking, define holes in my logic, different things, ask me to, or, you know, like I ask it to organize, like, here's the series I want to do. Here are the scriptures I'm gonna use, help me organize out. And you know, it's not writing my sermons for me. It can, it, it, it could do that, but they would not be as personal as the things that I bring to it. Right. But absolutely. Yeah, it has definitely taken down what, again, is an hours long process of organizing out a sermon outline.


I have, I have a process that I use for every outline. Like I ask myself questions. And so I basically created a prompt for the, the AI that says, based on this scripture I'm gonna use and this outline that I already use organize it in this way for me, and I'll go through it and change the ones I don't like, keep the stuff I do, reword it, and then I write my sermon off of that. And the amount of time I have saved on writing, like the writing process and the organizing process has again, just been dramatically reduced. And it's not writing for me, it is just helping me organize the thoughts that I am already putting into it. So. Hmm. That's been helpful. So that's one, that's one another, you know, time saving measure that I really recommend and, and hope that people can get over this fear of the new, because it's really, it could, it could amplify the production of so many pastors with limited time.

Ryan Dunn (12:06):

Yeah. And, you know, really, I don't think, I mean, the technology itself is new, but I don't think the principle is no. Right. All that new, I mean, all of us are comfortable looking at, at like, reference books and, and really, like, in my opinion, the chat G p t has really kind of come forward to, to be a, a point of reference and that it culminates a lot of different sources and makes that information presentable for you. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So I've often used it in in my role as a content creator and just kind of filling in spaces when I get stuck. So I get to a point of writing where I realize like, I need, I need some way to like, provide an example of this or this point would, would really hit well if I was able to to provide the actual, like, scriptural references that, you know, are in the back of my mind that I'm not able to, to quite pinpoint. So I'm able to put those into the, into the chat G P T, and it'll kick it back for me. And yeah, it's totally time saving because, you know, I don't have to go rooting around through concordance or <laugh>,

Shane Russo (13:14):

Anything like that. Yeah. Well that's, and that's exactly it. Like for this Lord's Prayer series that I have, like, I could just use the two versions of the Lord's Prayer that are in scripture, but there's so many other scriptures that connect into the ideas that are relevant there. And so putting that into the, to the AI and say, give me more scripture references that have to do with this topic or these, these other passages and, and it, doing it in seconds, spitting these out. And, and I can obviously say whether things are relevant or less relevant, but it's, it's just basically it's taking all the books I have on my shelf and, and basically saying, here, let me find the info you need right now, rather than, you know, me spending half a day connecting those dots.

Ryan Dunn (14:00):

Hmm. Have you have you used it to like change voice or anything like that? So like, for example, like, you know, I'm a Gen Xer, I speak Gen X language. Like, can I take an article that I've written, plug it in to like, Hey, make this readable for millennials,

Shane Russo (14:14):

<Laugh>? Yeah. So nothing that I've put out, nothing that I've published that I've done that. But I did put on, I posted on Facebook, oh, I don't know, a couple weeks ago now. I had it rewrite the the birth narrative in I had one of the birth versions of the birth narrative in Gen Z language. And I was dying, man. I was rolling. It was hilarious. And I posted it and there were people who were like, this is spot on. And I'm like, dude, really? Cuz y'all, y'all really talk like this cuz it sounded goofy to me. But yeah. So I've messed around with it like that. And I, I think, I think there is where you could run into some, some issue with publishing things that you rewrite in a certain tone or a certain style Yeah. <Laugh>, because I could tell it to write me my own sermon like Andy Stanley would, for example. And it can do that. If I then pu push publish that out and make people think I write like Andy Stanley, you know, like,

Ryan Dunn (15:16):

Yeah. Mm-Hmm.

Shane Russo (15:17):

<Affirmative>, that's, I don't think that's a wise idea.

Ryan Dunn (15:19):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Well, and really that's, that's the whole limitation with the, the AI is that it lacks the, it lacks the personal creativity. So and, and that can come as a warning to us. And that, you know, if we rely too heavily on it, then it will in a sense devalue our own voices and experiences. So and there's Right, you know, tremendous value for that. We're called to be the ministers who we are because of who we are.

Shane Russo (15:45):

So I will say this though, in terms of voice, you can put in your own work, have it analyze that for style and tone and voice, and then have it create other content in that same style. That is not something I would necessarily use because then now it's creating things that sound like me, but that I really have no business I didn't create. Right? Yeah. But you can do that. And I think, again, there's another potential pitfall with how people, and that's where a really, it's an integrity issue, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> at that point mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, it becomes an integrity issue. But I could never have used it to write, even in my own style, like my ordination, like my commissioning paperwork. Oh, yeah. Because eventually I will have to defend that, and if I didn't do that work, so they'll know right off. And so that's where, that's where it'll fall flat. The, the expert will not disappear because of this, the expert will become more clear because of this, in my opinion.

Ryan Dunn (16:40):

Yeah. Well, and the ordination papers bring up a great point in that basically what it's doing, what the AI is doing is it's crawling the internet. It's like a huge ginormous internet crawler mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and it's pulling information. So as we start talking about like, points of view in theology and that kind of thing, like it definitely has a certain bent to it because there are, you know, there are certain voices that are just more prevalent in, in the internet than others. So you know, it, like anything that goes to a personally relevant standpoint, like it's just not that it, it can be helpful in providing a a little bit of inspiration, but yeah, definitely not

Shane Russo (17:24):

Even Well, and, and just in terms of like how the small church could use it, like the, the, the pastor who's

Ryan Dunn (17:29):

<Laugh> Thanks for bringing us back to point. Yeah.

Shane Russo (17:30):

Well, it's fine. The pastor that's at the end of their rope, you know you can easily, like, I could, I've preached this sermon this week. I have the scripture, I have the sermon itself. I could input that and tell it, create a Bible study off of this content, create a devotional off of this content, and I would feel okay using those things to piggyback off of, because it's using the content I gave it to, to, to sort of then flesh out in these other ways. And so, did I write that bible study? No, but how often does a passer actually write their own Bible study? Right. They're usually using a book Totally. Or a reference or something. So there's no difference in my opinion here. It's the only difference is, is I gave it the actual content from which to base that off of rather than just something that I bought somewhere or whatever.


 The devotional thing is another is, again, if I'm using the devotional as an in-house in church thing, and I'm not trying to publish that out to get money or something, I, I don't see, I, I personally don't see the problem with giving my church people some edification based off the content I gave it, it just organized in a different way. But that is, those are a couple of ways that would, because if I had to write a devotional every week or a series of devotional space on myself, or write a Bible study, organize it all, though, again, we're talking hours. Whereas in here, it takes me minutes and my church has benefited greatly from the ability to use this tool.

Ryan Dunn (18:56):

Yeah. You know, resources for the small church, really resources for any church is kind of a challenge, but for the small church, it seems a little more succinct. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, just because like, let's face it, a lot of times it comes down to the ministry of a solo pastor or a small church staff. So there just isn't as much human resource to, to kind of go around. We've lifted up kind of the ways that, that we can save time, so save some of that human resource. Are there other ways that we can save resources in terms of digital ministry?

Shane Russo (19:31):

I think so. I, I, I think so there, one of the, one of the drawbacks I think for some people in digital ministries is they think it has to be all big and flashy. Yeah. And really both either time, money person resource intensive. And I look at things like websites or systems out there like Canva, you know? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, I am not a graphic artist to, for nothing. I could, if I had to do that stuff from scratch, I couldn't. But a program like Canva allows me to create, you know very good looking images or bulletins or different things that again, would take a ton of time or outsourcing to do. Yeah. And I can, I can do that for free or for very little money. Again, saves a lot of time, but also has a, the, the quality of the product is pretty good.


 So that's, that's one thing. Another thought is you know, that you gotta spend thousands and thousands of dollars on either, you know, camera equipment or audio equipment to make any of this good. And when I came to the church I'm at, they had helped propo, they had gotten a proposal before I got there for an upgrade of their sound system of like 15 or 20 grand. And they could do that and it would improve things, but I also got it to do what it needed to do for like $500 mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And so that, I think the, there's a myth that you have to spend a ton of money to make digital ministry viable or good and above video, even above audio, the most important thing in digital ministry is authenticity and connecting to the community. The community is willing to overlook a lot of flaws in the presentation if it matters to them.

Ryan Dunn (21:26):

Yeah. Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

Shane Russo (21:28):

And so that, that is sort of my thing. Like, I go, I go community audio, video <laugh>,

Ryan Dunn (21:33):

That is my, yeah, that's

Shane Russo (21:34):

Uhhuh. <Affirmative> does it, does it matter? Can they hear it? Well? And then honestly, then it's a big third down the, the video. I want the video to be better, but it's not my primary goal because I get the same amount of views or listens or any of that in same amount of engagement. Whether it looks good or not, as long as it sounds good and it's relevant.

Ryan Dunn (21:57):

Yeah. Hmm. Yeah. And that's a great point. It's something that we've tried to embrace in, in our congregation, even in terms of just general in person worship, you know? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, because we are worshiping like 20 to 30 people on, on any given Sunday, like, that's not room filling. And, and to even try to go overboard on production with that small of a crowd feels super weird. <Laugh>. So instead, like, we just lean into the coziness and, and that living room feel. And, and for us, it's been great to just kind of lean into that in the digital space as well. So it's like mm-hmm. <Affirmative> when a camera gets knocked outta place or something to just walk over to the camera and even to like, you know, I'll, I'll address. I'll be like, Hey, the camera got knocked off. I'm gonna put it in the right spot now, <laugh>. And yeah, I mean, it just makes the people who are sitting at home feel like they're in the same room even though, you know, they're in their own space. And I feel like that's the big in invitation with any kind of digital worship is to not just provide people with a fishbowl experience of what's happening in the room, but to actually put them in an engaged place within the, the worshiping space.

Shane Russo (23:11):

And that's one of the hardest, I honestly think that is the hardest piece. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, especially when you're doing things like live streaming, if you're creating content from scratch, it's easier to do that cuz Yeah. You know, I can look at the camera, I can be right here. I can do all those things. But in the space that I'm in, it's a very big sanctuary. And our camera is literally all the way at the back of the sanctuary. And I forget it's there half the time because I can't see it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, it's not, I'm used to doing digital ministry where my cameras, I could touch my camera. Yeah. my, my microphone is right here. And so one of the hardest things is to is, is to engage the online worshipers. Not as an addition to the service, but the, they are an actual part of this.


And so reframing language that isn't location specific or even time specific for that matter, because some of these folks are not gonna be watching or worshiping on Sunday morning. They're gonna be worshiping later. And if you say Good morning, how is everybody immediately takes them out of the moment and re they remember they're watching a thing rather than experiencing a thing. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> you know, I, I constantly try to do either a general a general address that hits everybody, or I, or I specifically call out both groups to remind, like, it's okay to say we are two separate groups of folks doing one thing, but never to make the, the online worshipers feel that fishbowl experience. It's, but it's super hard when you're in a giant space. Yeah. Is very difficult to do that. And so if I had to say, if there's one skill that a small church could cultivate especially for their their live streaming service, it's to try to learn the skill of, of making eye contact with the camera, addressing the online worshipers and don't, don't refer to it.


I think Jason Moore says this all the time. Stop, stop referring to it as watching online service. You are worshiping with us. Yeah. because we don't want them to think they're, we don't want them to feel like they're just watching Netflix or, you know, whatever they are in the moment, in a spirit-filled way, embodied wherever they are in the digital church. And that's an important, that's an important tether they need to have. And that the, the people in the building also need to have this remembrance that what's going on is not just for them. They are a part of making this word bigger for everyone and mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. and so I could go on all day about that, but

Ryan Dunn (25:51):

Yeah. It may have been Jason Moore who brought this up in, in terms of putting people in the space about trying to put that online participant like in the second row pew or something like that. You know, how can you figure out how to give them Yeah.

Shane Russo (26:07):

That sounds like something he would say. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (26:08):

Yeah. If not, you know, Jason, feel free to like go ahead and roll with that. But and one of the ways that I, I figured out how to do that on our, on our limited church budget is I actually took people's old cell phones and have repurposed them as, as extra cameras. So, you know, that has the caveat that, hey, you need somebody to, to drive that system to do the switching between cameras during the course of the, of the live stream. But if you have somebody overseeing that, like there was no cost involved in doing that. So, you know, I took, one of 'em was my son's cheap, $10 old Samsung that we had replaced, you know, it was good for nothing, but it had a camera. And we're able to, to put that, and actually I have very strategically put that camera in the second row pew.


And so we do have that, that experience. And just have it focused on one spot in the sanctuary. Right now, I'm just using one of those in addition to kind of our, our larger room shot. But there's the possibility there for just having multiples of those. And that kind of gives the, the online participant the option of feeling like they're looking around the room a little bit, you know? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> our, I think one of the places where we fall short a little bit in terms of the online experience is being overly directive with where people turn their attention. So giving them the possibility of, you know, in a sense, looking around the room a little bit, <laugh> as we would normally do if we were in that space, opens things up and it immerses people into the, the situation a little bit more. Have there been some things like that that, that you've been able to use in, in your ministry context where you've like, repurposed something for digital ministry means?

Shane Russo (28:02):

I'm trying to think if I've done that here. I don't think I've done that here. I don't know, actually. No, I don't. I, that I, I think using those old phone cameras is a great idea. I, I don't know why I hadn't thought of that. Cuz I, we did see, what we did do was, we did a, a mission earlier last year where we had people bring in some of their mobile, like unused mobile devices to give to, to give to folks in our congregation who were like shut-ins and couldn't be there or whatever, but they also didn't have a phone or a tablet or whatever. And so we were able to give some of those out to those. But we still have some sitting around, like, literally we've got a whole studio worth of cameras sitting around not being used at the moment.


And so that's a, that's just a great idea that I just, why didn't I think of that? But I mean, honestly, I have the, the only way I can think of, of having repurposed something like that offhand is is, you know, there's like, actually my background, my office, like this, this space used to be one of my kids' rooms. And when we, when Covid hit, I turned it into an office for me to do all of our all of our live streaming out of my house and, and stuff like that. So I didn't even have to go into the building, which for some folks was, ugh, we wanna see the sanctuary. And so I did sometimes, but I, I really started to cultivate some of my digital ministry chops during covid and how to create digital worship experiences from the ground up for digital natives, not folks who needed this, this church sanctuary fix. And so you know, everything that I used up you like during Covid was literally my phone <laugh>, you know, an old microphone I had. So like, it was a bunch of stuff like that. But in the church setting, I can't say that I have done a lot of that. I've inherited a lot of things. Mm-Hmm. but that's, that's that's a really good idea that I'm probably going to steal. So you've got, you've got, we've shared now we've given each other

Ryan Dunn (30:12):

Yeah. New ideas. Yeah. And I'll put the link in the show notes. So there's a actual app that I use that kind of turns the, the phone into like a mini server. I mean, it's mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, that's, it's emptying the feed to an to a webpage. And then what I'm showing on screen is, is that webpage. But yeah. Yeah, I'll excellent. I'll link to that piece of technology. So yeah, I mean, you need a, you need kind of a video driving system that will allow you to be able to show the video feed from the webpage. But

Shane Russo (30:46):

Yeah. And the, my first most

Ryan Dunn (30:47):

Places are using that. Now,

Shane Russo (30:49):

My first experience back in like 2000, what was it, 15, 16? Well, actually it was probably 2015 w when I first started learning about how to do anything in digital ministry, truly because it was part of my job at the church that I was working at as a secular hire. They had, you know, like they had three mounted cameras in the sanctuary, and they had a big old switcher and they had this big old soundboard, and it's like, like this whole big production. And it wasn't a giant church or anything, but they had spent a lot of money on all of this stuff. And then I immediately end up at a church that had almost like, their internet didn't even reach the sanctuary, and their sound board was like this mini board with like one wire and these speakers from like the 17 hundreds <laugh>. It was like, you know, so, so they,

Ryan Dunn (31:37):

So they have horns actually. Like they, yeah, they horns and Yeah.

Shane Russo (31:40):

So actually now I'm thinking about it. When I was there, I would, for, for the longest time, my wife would use her phone from the, from the pew to livestream to Facebook Yeah. Service. And it was terrible quality because again, the, she was using, like, she was using the data plan, not wifi or anything, because the wifi didn't reach that far. Yeah. so we've, yeah,

Ryan Dunn (32:04):

That's very

Shane Russo (32:04):

Too. So we've done that. You know, I guess that's a repurposing, you know, that's, but that's where, that's where if there's a, a, a small church pastor or layperson or whatever that wants to do this digital ministry and they think, oh, I don't have, we don't have that kind of money. Our church doesn't have internet or anything like that. If you have a smartphone, which the vast majority of Americans do now and not everybody, so that's not a blanket statement, but the majority of us have the ability to access the internet on in our pockets. You can do just about anything in digital ministry that is worth doing from your phone and from your data plan. You know, like, again, there are limitations to that, but not many. And again, it goes, if it's relevant to the people, the quality is secondary. Mm-Hmm.

Ryan Dunn (32:52):

<Affirmative>. Yeah. That community part is so big. And that actually touches on I think a barrier that a lot of us feel in terms of getting started in digital ministry and that we feel like we need to create these spaces and adopt this new tech where, where people will relate just in the, the digital ministry space. But I feel like the first access point of digital ministry truly is actually just giving people the opportunity to, to get to know who your community is. <Laugh>, like, on the basis level, like our first step in the digital ministry is not creating a community space for people to relate there, but more or less it's just using the things that are available already for people to get to know who we are.

Shane Russo (33:40):

Right. And the, cuz a lot of times that barrier is for folks. My people don't use this mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, so we don't need it. But Dave Adamson, so here there's another big name of Yeah. One of basically my digital ministry crush, if I'm being honest, <laugh>

Ryan Dunn (33:58):


Shane Russo (33:58):

Dave Adamson, who wrote the book Metachurch, and he's got a course out now based on the content of that book, which is, is good. But he, he said this, he said people will, people will connect with your church before they connect within your church. Mm-Hmm. And so this idea that pe that if for no other reason than to give people an entry point that isn't the front, literal front door of your church, you need to be doing some kind of digital ministry because u unless you are so self-focused that my people don't do this, so I don't need it. Well, if that is your mentality about everything and, and you're not doing any mission at all, then sure. Then don't do it. But if you have even the smallest inkling of reaching people beyond your four walls, then you have to be doing something.


Whether it's putting out the sermons, whether it's even just posting yourself things you know, as a representative of the church. Like, it's, it's the, and it doesn't, again, it doesn't have to be all this big grandiose stuff, but the, the men, the mental flip from inside to outside digital ministry in every way is an outward oriented or should be an outward oriented reflection of your, the community that exists. And if you want folks mm-hmm. <Affirmative> to enter into that community and be a part of that, then you have to give them a reason to the longest walk for a human being is the walk from the car through the front door of a physical church. Mm. across that parking lot. In today's world, people aren't making that walk unless they've already kind of know what they're walking into. Yeah. No, nobody's walking into a church having zero idea of what goes on inside those walls. No way. We don't live in that world anymore.

Ryan Dunn (35:44):

No. <laugh> I mean, that's not even true for that is true for church, but that's not the only place where it's true. Like, oh, that's true. The last time that you like went to a restaurant without looking at the reviews first, you know,

Shane Russo (35:56):

So, so Dave Adamson uses a great example of Home Depot. Home Depot when, when they hired their, that their new c e o way back, and I can't even remember what his name is now, but he, but basically he decided to, instead of opening stores all the time, like they were opening source at an astronomical rate, instead of doing that, take all those resources and invested into their online store. And people were freaking out at the time, like, oh, nobody's gonna come to our stores anymore if we do all this online. And what they, what he knew then, and what they've realized since, is that they actually have more engagement in their physical store because of their online store. Because people come to get their things, or they look it up online and then they come by it in the store cause they don't wanna wait or they don't wanna have it shipped.


So this idea that, that the digital is going to replace the physical is just a fallacy that doesn't exist. And that is especially true in the church. And so if we can get past that and start to leverage this thing, right, it can have an actual impact on what happens on site when we view it as a, a part of what we are in total and not this competition for what we are, if, you know. So it's just, it's a re-imagining of what's possible, but the secular world's been doing this for over a decade. Yeah. You know, longer than that, you know, so Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (37:17):

And it's just kind of being present in that digital space and letting people get to know <laugh> who they are and what they do.

Shane Russo (37:23):

Right. Yeah. I will never walk into a, a store having, I will never walk into a store to buy something that I didn't look up already somewhere.

Ryan Dunn (37:32):

Yeah. You know what

Shane Russo (37:33):

I mean? And that in church, I don't know why the churches think that they're any different. In fact, they're under more scrutiny to have an online presence again, because it's such a personal thing. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (37:45):

It's so personal. Yeah. It can be a very intimidating space. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Shane Russo (37:48):

Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. And this is, this is like the, this is the minimum way to lower that barrier.

Ryan Dunn (37:54):

Yeah. So what was it, we're already pushing time here, Shane. Dang it. Ah, sorry. What? <laugh>. No worries. No, this is all good. But what what maybe is one of the first ways that you helped to lower that barrier through digital ministry for your congregation? And if I can also tag onto that, then what is maybe one of the most successful ways that you've helped to lower that barrier for your congregation?

Shane Russo (38:24):

Yeah. I'd say which, so probably the, one of the first ways here at my current space that I, I did, that lowered the barrier is that I remembered that I am a representative of the church community and not just a repre. Like I have a unique position of being like the eyes, like the people, the face of the community. Yes. You know, as the pastor. And so I have a extra responsibility for the content that I put out there, but I, I constantly use my personal space to invite people into or to represent the church community as a whole. And I try to get the rest of the congregation to do likewise. Because the funny part is, is a lot of them come on Sunday and then if you look at their social media feeds throughout the week, it's like, did you even listen <laugh> to what I was talking about?


Right. And so get getting them to getting them to integrate their whole lives, including their social media presence. I start by the example, but I'd say the very first thing that that one can do to lower the bar in digital ministry and lower that barrier for entry for others is to integrate whatever social media they use. And again, the stats show that most people are on some form of social media. You, you don't have to use that to act like a crazy person on the street corner with a bullhorn. Right. <laugh>, you see that too. Yeah. But, but to, and you don't even have to be overtly faith-based in it, but to remember that what you show there, people equate with you and your church. Right. So using your social media in an integrated way as an integrated part of your life to share the joys, the struggles, the concerns, the fashions, the fire, the arguments, like all of it, you can do that while also centering that on your in your faith.


And so that's what I try to do. I don't always succeed, but I, I try to do it. And some of my platforms are used a slightly different effective reach, different audiences. But that is the first thing that I did here. And it, and it amplified both our church presence the, the web presence the Facebook page. You know, like people started interacting with that more and they also interact with me through it more. So that's the first thing. The second thing truly, again, connected to connected to social media use is don't just use it as a broadcast tool Hmm. To broadcast your services to say, these are the things going on, but to also use it to help your people engage with people outside the church. Yeah. You know, like and get involved in community groups. Like back in the day you would be part of Rotary or you would be part of city council or you would go to city board meetings and you can still do all that.


But so many of those things are online now. And Facebook groups Twitter hashtags, like all these subgroups exist being involved in those. And, and again, not in a con consum not in a way that you're consuming them, but like being a part of them. And then, you know, when they get to know you and that relationship becomes authentic and then they start to wonder about other things, then that's when, that's when you share that stuff. But like, I'm a part of many of, of the community groups talking groups in our on Facebook in our location and, you know, the people have come to our church because of my interaction there.

Ryan Dunn (41:55):

Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Shane Russo (41:56):

<Affirmative>. And so those, those would be the ways just be, be present if you wanna, if you wanna be present in the community or go where the people are, then literally go where they are.

Ryan Dunn (42:05):

They are online. Online.

Shane Russo (42:06):

Yeah. <Laugh>, they're online. Interact. And don't just be arguing all, don't, do not use Facebook as a, or social media as only a broadcasting tool or only a way to act like an expert in everything. Yeah. Stop trying to argue with everybody all the time. Listen, I love to argue with folks online, but it's, it has its <laugh> Listen, it's got its limitations and it certainly is not a good evangelistic tool.

Ryan Dunn (42:28):

Oh, right on. Yeah. Been

Shane Russo (42:29):

Used that way.

Ryan Dunn (42:30):

Yeah. But I think it's important to know it, like, as you are interacting in those groups, it's important for our presence to be beyond just what we're trying to get out of the group as well. So Yeah.

Shane Russo (42:39):

The return on investment me mentality has got to get out of your head. Yeah. Like, churches only do anything if they think they're, it's gonna get a butt in the seat and that, and people sniff that crap out fast. Yeah. They don't like that. If they know you're just trying to again, use them as a resource rather than view them as a person, then they're going to, they're not gonna wanna be involved. And so and that's not just online, that's everywhere. And I think churches do a, have historically done a very poor job at just being present with people and cultivating mutual relationships rather than just saying, how can we go get more people in the church? I'm not interested in getting more people in a church. I'm interested in taking the church mentality to folks. And you know, like, again, I don't, I want people to experience Jesus through us mm-hmm. <Affirmative> before they ever step foot in our church. Cuz they never will otherwise. They're not gonna just come Yeah. You, they gotta have a compelling reason. And that is Christians not being jerks, but heaven forbid being more like Christ. Oh my goodness. What? And I, and digital church is especially susceptible of non-Christian like behavior. So Yeah. So

Ryan Dunn (43:52):

Yeah. But that's one of the important things that, that we've tried to implement as well. In marketing, they call it brand <laugh>, the enlisting people to become brand ambassadors now. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, you know, we're not doing that. We're just trying to be like, like incarnation representations of, of what it is that we believe. And so like, just being purposeful in inviting our, our people to do that. So like one of the ways that we did that at, at Glencliff is we have community groups that we participate in online Facebook community groups specifically. And it's just like, well, rather than like posting about an invitation from the, the church account, like let's enlist one of our actual people to do that. And actually we're kind of running an ab test right now to see like, okay, so one other person has posted an an invitation to something, I'm gonna post the same invitation from the church account, we'll see what garners more interaction. It's probably gonna be that, that other person.

Shane Russo (44:49):

And yeah. That will almost always be the case because, and, and that's not just churches. I think people are, are much more likely to respond to a personal, a personal invite or a personal connection than they are a corporate one. Yeah. and, and with, because we're so inundated with advertisements, right. We Yeah. We see thousands of them every day that we see something that looks corporate. We just skim right past it.

Ryan Dunn (45:14):

Yeah. But

Shane Russo (45:15):

Well, but if Shane says, Hey, check this thing out, they're at least gonna pause, you know?

Ryan Dunn (45:23):

Well, and the platform algorithm is built that way too, so. Oh,

Shane Russo (45:26):

It absolutely is. It's it is, it is built to, well, especially Facebook's Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (45:30):

Facebook filters.

Shane Russo (45:31):

It is mm-hmm. <Affirmative> built to, to squash down the corporate, which is funny because they're pretty darn corporate <laugh>, but Right. Yeah. But

Ryan Dunn (45:38):

They, well unless I wanna pay for it. But <laugh> well

Shane Russo (45:41):

Absolutely. And that's, that opens a whole other can of worms.

Ryan Dunn (45:44):

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But I, I think that's just like a great first invitation in, in terms of overcoming that initial barrier for the small church moving into digital ministry is just to be thoughtful about how you are making it easy for people to get to know who you are and how you, yourself and your people are representing themselves in, in digital space. And <laugh> it. When you were talking about like, whether people were listening to what you were saying on Sunday, have you ever seen that viral video? It's, it's probably like a decade old now, but it's the, the honest pastor skit where he's standing up in the pulpit and he's like, you guys are making me look bad in front of God.

Shane Russo (46:25):

Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I have

Ryan Dunn (46:26):

Seen that <laugh> such a classic. Every now and then I go back to that one because it's like the sermon that wells up in anybody <laugh>? You guys

Shane Russo (46:34):

<Laugh>. Yeah. So I just wanna, I just wanna say one more thing about, about, and, and my, cuz I have such a heart for small churches that think they can't do digital ministry. Like again, I'm trying to, I'm trying to plan a digital church and Yeah. And I know the limitations of some of all of this stuff, but, but it, it's such an added stress to those pastors and those clergy or those lay people who are trying to do to see the value, but they don't know how to do it or what they're doing. Yeah. I, I just wanna affirm to all of my siblings across the connection and beyond that every post you make is digital ministry. Yeah. Every effort you take to post that picture and let people into your life or into the life of your church, that's digital ministry. Anytime you do anything online, which we all do a lot of things, it is digital ministry.


And so don't think it has to be this specifically structured thing to make it happen. You are doing it. You just have to know that you're doing it. And then you take, you'll take that knowledge and then you'll start to do a mental flip and realize, hey, this thing that I'm doing can reach some folks. And that is digital ministry and it's authentic and it's good and every single bit of it counts. Yeah. But if you do want a more organized fashion to do any of that stuff, I highly recommend David Adamson's book. Metachurch Metachurch. Okay. He, he has, he outlined so much of it. And like, if I ever get to meet that dude in person, by the way, I'm just putting that out there, Dave ever. If I ever get to meet him in person, <laugh>, that's, that, that will be a, a bucket list for me. That'll be awesome. But he's great. His stuff is good.

Ryan Dunn (48:17):

Hmm. Okay. Well, hey, for people that are like, Hey, I wanna, I, it's my dream to meet this Shane Russell Guy. And they should

Shane Russo (48:24):

Be, honestly, if we're being honest, they, they, they, they, why, who wouldn't want that

Ryan Dunn (48:29):

<Laugh>? Where, where's the access point for you, Shane?

Shane Russo (48:32):

You can, so I'm easily found on most social media platforms. You on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, TikTok is one of my favorite lately. Instagram, you can either look up my name Shane Russo or some version of Stained Glass Rebel. Sometimes it's stained glass with a Z but you'll, I'm all around there. We can even if you wanna put those links in the show notes or whatever, we could do that. But just, if I, if it's a social media account, you'll probably find me in some way Stain Glass, rebel Stain glass Shane Russo. But I, I highly recommend either Facebook or TikTok or you could look up the church that I'm serving Nile's first United Methodist Church on Facebook or Niles first

Ryan Dunn (49:15):

Yeah. Well, and I got your link tree up in front of me here and that might be a great spot. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, that is a great, and, and it's something that I need to get on cuz I feel like this is like a great introduction for pastors just to like put a link tree together for yourself that, you know, will link all this stuff where if we wanna make ourselves easy to know in digital space, like we just need to let people know where to find us.

Shane Russo (49:38):

So Well, and the link tree is great and there are other versions of that, but the Link tree really is cool because instead of having a bunch of links everywhere out there like mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, this is just one link that takes you to, to the mall and whichever platform you wanna be there, there you are. And so that actually just the link tree is the best way to do it. And you can post videos, like direct links to videos and all kinds of stuff. So yeah, that's another great tool. Link Tree, look it up. Yeah. Utilize it because it will streamline all of that stuff that you're already doing.

Ryan Dunn (50:10):

Yeah. And especially if you weren't a forward thinking person. Like I was not a forward thinking person and like gave yourself this same pseudonym on every platform. Yep. I did not do that. So <laugh>

Shane Russo (50:22):

Well, and either

Ryan Dunn (50:22):

Did I

Shane Russo (50:23):

Actually place, and I've been trying to go back and retroactively fix that, but it's still kind of a mess. Yeah. Right. So as I do the church plant moving forward, that's one of the things to be cognizant of. It's all gotta be the same across every platform or else it's confusing for folks.

Ryan Dunn (50:37):

Yep. Yeah. <Laugh>, right? <Laugh>. Oh, cool. Well, Shane, super awesome to talk with you. Thanks so much for joining us.

Shane Russo (50:44):

I appreciate it. This was, I've been looking forward to this and right

Ryan Dunn (50:47):

On. Yeah. Yeah. Visit with [email protected]. Pastoring in the digital is where you can find more episodes and show notes. If you were into this conversation, did I really suggest checking out, quote from viewers to members end quote, that's the title. That's when I talked with Steven Adaire about how digital ministry brought revitalization to his congregation. And that episode came out in October of 2021. Shane mentioned his fondness for the episode on AI uses for digital ministry, which we did in March of 2022. And actually, I need to update that episode because it was done with the beta version of chat G p T, and we should revisit with the whole thing out. Now, while you're doing all that listening, drop a rating or review on your podcast listening platform of choice. Thank you in advance for that. Again, I'm Ryan Dunn. I'd like to thank resource, the online destination for leaders throughout the United Methodist Church. They make this podcast possible, and of course, they host our website. Again, that's pastoring in the digital, where you can find more online resources for ministry. If you wanna connect, check out our pastoring in the Digital parish group on Facebook. You can also send me questions and ideas for future sessions at digital [email protected]. Another session comes out next week. In the meantime, peace.





On this episode

Shane Russo on Pastoring in the Digital Parish

Shane Russo is the curator/creator of the Stained Glass Rebel blog… He’s a local pastor of the United Methodist Church, a dad, a husband… and fellow digital ministry pioneer

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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