Communications

Digital Parish: TikTok, pastoral care and puppets

Rev. Bradley Laurvick shares the story of a unique TikTok ministry, The You Matter Zone. Through the story, we learn how TikTok can be utilized not just for sharing information, but also for forming relationship. Pastor Brad also shares how this amazing puppet ministry, which has over 2 million engagements and over 170,000 followers, relates the to the ministry of his local church.

The Episode

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Show Notes 

You've got to check out Brad and friends are doing on TikTok. 

Also, see how the ministry is spreading beyond TikTok by visiting the You Matter Zone website.

If you'd like to read more on the origins of this ministry, this article from the Bucket List Community Cafe is helpful.

Bradley Laurvick:

But also now in my own lived experience, it's about relationship and community. It's not about virality. And so building that identity of this is our community and you are seen here, and this is how you're heard here and how you're a part of things that has been everything. And so I've had to learn that it's not about those spikes, those spikes don't give me long term relationship or people that stick around. You'll see a spike in

Ryan Dunn:

Reverend Bradley Laurvick is our adjunct professor in this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish, your resource for advice and connection for ministry in the digital realm.

New Speaker:

My name is Ryan Dunn. I had such a great time talking with Brad about pastoral care, TikTok, digital relationships, and the relationship between web ministry and the traditional congregation. You see Bradley Laurvick has a cool story to share in starting a ministry on TikTok while being a pastor for a local congregation in Denver, Colorado, the TikTok ministry started out of a communications needs of the local parish, and it quickly grew into a channel that's reaching well beyond the congregation and is meeting people on TikTok to the tune of over 170,000 followers. And over 2 million TikTok engagements, not a bad bit of reach for a local congregation, is it, the ministry is called the you matter zone and it's under the TikTok handle, Brad and the puppets and this TikTok channel features Brad utilizing the puppets that he originally got for his church's Nativity plays.

Ryan Dunn:

And he is offering encouragement and self care tips to TikTok users, the channel posts, daily videos and regular live sessions. I'm the gonna let Reverend Brad share the whole story and how the engagement on TikTok. Isn't just a presentation of information, but as a platform for community building. So let's meet Reverend Bradley Laurvick, our adjunct professor on pastoring in the digital parish.

Reverend Bradley Laurvick currently serve with Highlands United Methodist church in Denver, Colorado. His masters of divinity is from Iliff school of theology. We just talked with one of his former professors in Jeffrey Mayhan a few weeks ago.

New Speaker:

Of course, Bradley. We're interested in your expression of ministry with Highlands UMC, and we're gonna get into that some, but we're also really interested in your unofficial appointment to TikTok. So I'd like to start our conversation touching on that ministry if you're comfortable doing that.

Bradley Laurvick:

Oh, absolutely.

Ryan Dunn:

Cool. Well, if you had to say, fill out a ministry report to describe what you do on TikTok, what would you say? What would that look like?

Bradley Laurvick:

So the account is called Brad and the puppets, and I've been using puppets as a way to engage a space, to offer encouragement and support and joy, most importantly space for the real conversations of life. One of the things that's amazing about it is I've got, I mean, 175,000 followers on TikTok on a given week, I go live three, four times. I will see 60 to 80,000 unique viewers over the course of each week as I sit and have these conversations with folks. So it's an incredible th what amazes me is it's young people. I mean, I'm talking probably 13 to is really the sweet spot for the folks that are most active. Now I've got folks in their fifties and sixties that swing in and say, Hey, you know, there's lots of folks of different ages, but as someone who, I mean, worked on a book in seminary on young adult MIS ministry, as someone who did you know, I was the chair of the conference council on young adult ministries.

Bradley Laurvick:

I was involved in two campus ministry, a student pastor to Wesley chapel. I remember those days where you're like, Ooh, there's 12 people here. How exciting? You know what I mean? You're like the conference young adult event, it's we had 35 people come. And I remember like how big of a deal that was, and to sit here and realize I just went online for 35 minutes answering people's questions, talking about life and just saw 25,000 people that that's where it's become just this Inc. I mean, just it's reset the bar for what it looks like to have outreach and connection. So it's been, yeah, it's been amazing to get to be a part of

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah, that is nuts. And I think we'll get into the why of, of why people might be responding, but, but first let's kind of of outline the, the what. So yeah. When you are getting onto TikTok what is it that you're doing?

Bradley Laurvick:

Okay. So I create five to six videos a week and I also go live three or four times a week. So video creation for TikTok for me, looks like usually a 15 to 32nd video. Those videos are that short because I know that folks usually only watch about eight to 12 seconds off of, and you really need to make sure to keep people's attention and connected for it to have greater reach.

Ryan Dunn:

All right. Have you tried longer form?

Bradley Laurvick:

I've gone as long as a minute early on. I would say actually my very first videos were all a minute long and I didn't know anything about TikTok. I didn't know how to tag trending sounds and hop onto other things like that. And I would just sort of talk for a minute or have a puppet talk for a minute. And you know, it was 12 views here, 15 views there. I was like, okay, that's kind of cool, whatever. But learning how to get things into that space, the longer conversations happen on live. So in a way I create the V videos to offer folks things throughout the week, but the real deep work is when I go live. And so by live, what that looks like for me is I set up the camera here and I bring the puppet in and I'm actually usually off camera.

Bradley Laurvick:

You only see about this much of me I'll pop in and say, Hey, but especially since I'm not a ventriloquist, there's something to just staying out of the way. And people, when the comments section begin to say, Hey, they'll check in with each other. And then there's a Q and a feature as well. And I will deal with, I mean, dozens upon dozens of questions. How do I, and mind you again, I've got a lot of young people, a lot of BT, Q I, a plus young people. How do I set boundaries with my parents? How do I tell my friends that I'm dealing with put difficult piece here often? And I I've never had a live where someone didn't say, how do I tell my homophobic parents? I'm gay, I'm scared. And we have that conversation. I in almost every single time I'm live someone say, I don't know if I want to live anymore and we stop everything.

Bradley Laurvick:

And we talk about that together. I mean, these are deeper conversations. I'm always cautious about what it looks like to pause and say, this puppet is not a therapist. Let's get, let's talk about referrals. I mean, I keep the, the suicide prevention hotline number and many different resources available. In fact, I'm even working with TikTok as a company to, to be able to flag and have follow up with folks who are in places of emotional need. Wow. working with their safety department in conversation that I could just make a quick note. And then they would say, Hey, someone noticed that you might need some support. Here's some resources that we can begin to offer that for more creators. I mean, some of us are lucky enough to have at least some training, so we know how to engage, but there's a lot of folks out there that I think would get overwhelmed in that moment.

Bradley Laurvick:

But, but these conversations and then other folks are like, how do I find motivation when I don't wanna get outta bed in the morning? Do you have any tips on how I can get my schoolwork done? I've got a big test coming up. How do I not get completely stressed and overwhelmed about this? These are the things that people are asking and the puppets engage in conversation with them. At least once minimum, every single, and this is my due, I do half an hour at a time live, maybe 40 minutes. And so at least once or twice, we'll stop and say, you know what? Maybe it's a good time for all of us. Just take a breath wherever you are. I want you, and we'll sort of just do a, a moment of guided briefing. Aspen, the frog will often offer a hug, you know, as zoom out there.

Bradley Laurvick:

If you'd like a hug, just, just it's I know it's virtual, it's the screen, but here let me offer, you know, just those points of connection. And so those are, that's some of the what, right? Like, so it's creating the videos and the videos offer ongoing connection throughout the week for people. They also, the more you stay relevant, the videos help TikTok in the algorithm find your people, right? What kind of person likes this content? And then when I go live, it sends the Hey, so, and so's live. Do you wanna check this out to those kind of people? Of course, I use the air quotes, cuz I'm, who's comfortable with the phrase that kind of person, but we know this. I mean, it's algorithm based. I always tell folks when they're on the live, I said, if you're enjoying this, if you think someone else out there, my might need what we're offering. I want you to tap the screen and, you know, tap the like button a bunch of times. Cause what that's gonna do is help us find more people like you. And we sure like you, so we would really like to meet people who are also like you, right? It's that invitation for folks to recognize that they have a role in helping us meet people who might be in need a

Ryan Dunn:

Fishbowled several of your live sessions in, as you've touched on, you get asked some really, really deep questions. Like they're the kind of questions that when I was in youth, pastor state, I might have said like, Hey, let's you and I set an appointment where we can spend some time with that, but you've been brave enough in that public space to, to dive into those questions and to invite them more. So with that in mind in dealing, knowing that you're going to deal with tough questions where people are in their most vulnerable states, do you have some hedgehog type principles that you fall back onto in order to answer those questions? Yeah. Or what gives you the ability to really answer those questions with grace?

Bradley Laurvick:

I, I mean it layers on a lot of different pieces. Having spent so much time in, in young adult ministry, there are conversations I'm not unfamiliar with. Some of the pieces. I also happen to be a community health educator in college. So I've done some of the work related to body image, gender identity wellness, handling stress the things that come up a lot in a young adult population. So, I mean, I had training and background and did professional work in that area for a little while. I mean, I refer back to I who would've ever thought I'd be pulling books off my shelf from seminary to be like, okay, how do we address this in a hu you know, in a whole person kind of a way to look at things right. Revisiting those pieces. Family systems theory is one of my favorite places to sort of land and remind folks about boundaries.

Bradley Laurvick:

And I mean, how often do we just need to remind folks? The only thing they can change is themselves, you know, we, these kinds of basic pieces. Mm. But for me at the end of the day, I mean, as someone who's seeking to, to follow and live like Jesus, everything for me is anchored in love, acceptance and hope. And that's what I wanna build around. Right. So if you're talking about like, what are, what are the cornerstones that's, that's it for me? Right. Everything in this work is about those, those ideas. And inviting people into that space.

Ryan Dunn:

I, I love that you just lifted up for us that you're going back to stuff that you learned in, in seminary, because so often in, in this space that we're working in, in the digital ministry space, there's so much of, of us lamenting that, oh, we just weren't prepared for this stuff in seminary. So it's reassuring to hear like, oh yeah. There's skills here.

Bradley Laurvick:

Yeah. But the technological side, I, I mean, I was, this is, I mean, I also worked for apple. I've got a background. I mean, I was podcasting before podcasting was a thing. Right. Like, and that, that was great in all those different spaces. So the tech side, you know, I've grown and learned my lighting has gotten better. My audio's gotten better. I've been taking puppet classes to make sure I can improve upon that craft. But what I think has made the puppets work well, isn't that, I'm a great puppet tier. It isn't that I have Ooh, really well cut videos with the proper transition and lighting effects is that they're authentic. And they're real right. One of the things I say is like, we're, we create space here for real conversations, who you are is valid. Right. And, and that's to me and my, let me name the channel is not a religious channel.

Bradley Laurvick:

We always will tell folks we don't do religion. Right? There's a lot of pastors on TikTok who are pastoring as pastors. This is sort of a different space where I'm not pushing any religious agenda, but I can't leave my values at the door. Right. So I mean, love, acceptance, justice and hope undergir everything. And when I look at Jesus and see someone who was just with people, who are you, how are you? In fact often I know your life story probably better than you do, right? I, I would, those kinds of spaces are authentic. And I think that's one of the things that people resonate when we go to our own story as people of faith, and to create that space for folks who have an countered it where someone can say, oh geez, I'm about to cry. And the response is that's okay, your tears are valid. Your tears are valid because your feelings are valid and your feelings are valid because you are valid. That to me, I is the core of my faith to create an honor who that person is and what they're experiencing this world as. So that, that, that is something I didn't just learn in seminary. That's something I learned from my Sunday school teachers and my youth ministers and, and all, all those people all the way through these are, these are deep skills and I appreciate them.

Ryan Dunn:

You've brought a story to each one of the puppets that, that you bring on to TikTok. What got you started working with pucks in the first place.

Bradley Laurvick:

So I throughout much of, most of my career have always used puppets, like say for the Christmas service, we had a children in family focused service, and instead of a 15 minute sermon, I would do three, five minute vignettes in the puppet, could ask some questions and I'd answer them. One of the things I always loved learning from folks like Jim Henson and especially Fred Rogers was puppets can be vulner in a way that people often aren't comfortable being themselves. So the puppet can ask the question everyone's wondering, but no one wants to ask, why are we lighting these candles? Why are we here? What does this song mean? It just puts that space out there in a way that offers this vulnerability. And so I've always loved that as a way to be able to explain the Christmas Eve service and what it, without talking down to anybody, they just get to watch this conversation.

Bradley Laurvick:

And so I've always enjoyed that. I mean, as someone who grew up watching Mr. Rogers neighborhood and Sesame street and, you know, loving all of the Muppets and Fraggle rock these kinds of things, I always had a, an affinity to puppets, but they were simply a tool I'd write the script. I'd be the human someone else would work. The puppet and boom, the Christmas service had something the kids liked when the pandemic hit, we were fully producing. We didn't do anything in person for a year and a half. And so Christmas Eve, we had our normal service and we did some fun stuff with that. We filmed all around Denver and it was neat, but I wanted something for the kids service still. So I decided to do a, like, we called it the puppet Christmas spectacular. It reminds me of an old Muppet Christmas special, right?

Bradley Laurvick:

The one where they all go to FO's mom's house kind of a vibe. Right. And mind you, I filmed it that way. Cuz it was, I could have three puppeteers that were in my pandemic bubble and we could edit it all together and we did it. And I thought, well, if I'm doing this stuff, we should, we should promote it online. And that's when I was like, well, I'll hop on TikTok and I'll do some promotion for it. And I did the advent word of the day. Thank you ever so much. You gotta love the folks that put that together. And that's what my first puppet videos were. I made one for every single day, all the way through advent: minute long on some theological word, some fun, cute stuff. But again, they weren't good videos. They might have been cute devotionals, but they weren't good videos.

Bradley Laurvick:

But then once I was doing it, I was like, this is kind of fun. I remember hitting, I remember hitting a hundred followers. I'm like, well, this is cool. And then I remember when I, I hit a thousand people like in January and I was like, I can't believe this. And I remember how significant, and it's important to remember those moments, right? When I'm like, I'm only, I'm only at 175, how come I can't seem to seriously the scale can get really warped in your mind when you're like, why am I not at a million yet? And so I will say what really took the puppets to another was when we began to do a lot more of the validation, support and care, basically Mr. Rogers for young adults, that's the stuff that really started resonating, right? The, you matter, that's where this whole, you matter zone came from.

Bradley Laurvick:

That's what we call the space with the puppets. It's the you matter zone and to remind folks that they do matter, they, they, you know, you matter to me and you matter in the world that line, I actually stole from my church's mission vision statement, right. The congregation had this beautiful statement about, and all people will know that they matter to us and in the world or mattered to God, to us and in the world. But like I was like, oh, well, that's kind of a nice, nice reminder. Yeah, right. So these things that I've just sort of picked up along the way, have all made themselves and to this. So that that's how the puppets became a part of it. And once I realized I was gonna do a little bit more, I used some of my professional development money and I signed up for puppet classes working with an incredible person out of the UK. But thanks to the pandemic, she was all online. And I got to take classes with her. She's actually the artistic director and the associate producer of a whatever her official title is. It's pretty cool for avenue Q on west end in London.

Ryan Dunn:

Oh, okay.

Bradley Laurvick:

So she's done some, I mean, amazing work and she's really helped me grow and develop and, and that's been wonderful too.

Ryan Dunn:

So did the puppets take off right away or it sounded like there was a, in a sense, a, a gradual growth, but did it spike at some point,

Bradley Laurvick:

What I've often found with TikTok is like early on, it was, you know, just a little bit, little bit, little bit, and then like, you'd have something go well and you'd pick up a bunch of people, then you'd pick up another bunch of, so there was a lot of like spike and then plateau and spike and plateau. What I will say for anyone interested in doing work on TikTok. Virality does nothing for you. It is not about virality. Okay. So you're like, oh, I just had a video, hit a million views. And I picked up 10,000 followers. 8,000 of those followers will most likely be gone in a month. They liked the one video and then they'll see some of the other stuff and they're not your audience. They're not your people. And it's tempting to wanna go for that big millions of people have seen it video.

Bradley Laurvick:

And, and I've worked with a few coaches is, I mean, social media coaches, but also now in my own lived experience, it's about relationship and community. It's not about virality. And so building that identity of this is our community and you are seen here, and this is how you're heard here and how you're a part of things that has been everything. And so I've had to learn that it's not about those spikes, those spikes don't give me long term relationship or people that stick around, you'll see a spike and then you'll see it drop back. And so I've actually enjoyed, I get more viewers from my lives than I do for my videos or my more followers. Okay. I mean, I, I pick up almost a thousand people each time I go live. So we're talking three, 4,000 a week right now I'm growing. And that's people who then come in, see what you're actually about and say, oh, I wanna stick around for this. And then I know I've got, I've got a real relationship and long term possibility. Tell me about the puppets. Yeah. So love the puppets. I had a, a few that I've, every Christmas I would buy a new puppet. Right. Cuz I was doing these Christmas things. And so you'll know some of my puppet let's, let's just name this. I've got a star, a camel, a sheep, a donkey. Does this sound familiar to anyone playing at home? Anyone Christmas bingo.

Speaker 3:

She

Bradley Laurvick:

In there. And then I have a penguin because I just, I mean, Jim Henson's line was when in doubt throw England. Right? Like that was just a thing. And we did pick up some new ones. We were doing pre pandemic something we called puppets in the garage and I'd write puppet scripts much like children's time at church, but just values based that didn't so that it felt for anybody who wasn't, oh, I'm not a church person, but I want my kids to learn about acceptance. Well, it turns out that as a church thing, but you know, we, you, and I know this but they could come and be a part. Right. and so we did get a few more puppets and that's where we got Aspen. Aspen is one of the more popular puppets in the You Matter Zone. Aspen uses, they/them pronouns, which was an intentional choice on our part as a congregation.

Bradley Laurvick:

We knew we wanted more representation so that young people could see them selves in, in the work that was being done. And that's one of the things I will say, I think had a nice place in TikTok because there were a lot of LGTBQIA+ individuals who began to think, oh, you're making an effort to say there's room for me here. And, and that that's just been a key piece, but it's wonderful. Each of the puppets sort of has their own personality, right. Aspen is a little bit more quiet, a little more understated and talks about feelings. Pete, the penguin is this boisterous John Cleese-like personality with the British accent and has traveled the world and all, you know, but PD talks about motivation. Pete talks about getting things done. And then Cameron Cameron, the camel has this nice deep laid back kind of presence that I always just picture Cameron, just sitting there with a cup of tea, just like, no, no.

Bradley Laurvick:

Talk to me, you know, like that kind of a vibe. And then, then Lambert the sheep is plucky comic relief. Yeah. The really high, you know, fun kind of a thing. And then there's Carl and Carl's a humanoid puppet and, and Carl is our big question for anyone who does spend time on TikTok or grew up watching Anita size show. I mean, it's like puppet, Hank green is kind of the vibe we go for, right with the let's ask questions about the world. Is it like, clouds are amazing to think about how many millions of gallons of water are just floating up and they're like, that's, can we just, wow. Right. And, and I love that kind of space with Carl too. So there's a lot of fun with them

Ryan Dunn:

Because the puppets have a different personality. Each one of them does that then give you some inspiration for creating the content that you do, because it sounds like you're creating a lot of content.

Bradley Laurvick:

There is when I first started, I was doing three videos a day. That's some of the early advice. Oh yeah. Three videos a day and that's not sustainable. But the reason I think a lot of coaches will encourage you to do three a day is just so you have a ton and hopefully something stick. I mean, it is literally they throw everything against the wall and you're like, oh, I made 20 videos this week. And those two did well, I'm gonna do more videos like that. Right. So it's just create enough so that you can get some success and some failure and sift through. Right. Well we'll, we'll do. And so that's a neat piece. I do, I, I do subscribe to the content pillar strategy where you sort of look at what are key pieces. So for us it's encouragement, validation, boundaries, and motivation.

Bradley Laurvick:

Right. Those would be like my four key pillars. And when, in doubt I say, what's something I could do around, you know, validation today. Great. And then great. What pillar haven't I used recently, I haven't done a boundary video. Great. What's something I can talk about about, okay. I don't have to accept your baggage. I can hear your feelings. I can, you know, so we, I can go through those different pieces. And so there's the general, I would say what I've learned from the folks I've been using as mentors and coaches is to, to pick those three or four key pillars and just rotate through them. So you've always got something ready for you. And for me, each puppet is a pillar. And so I do, I rotate through puppets. So you get to see, you know, a bunch of different ones, but it also gives me, well, I've done that video four times this week is not the energy anybody wants, including our audience. Right. So that gives us space for, for that kind of opportunity. And then I'll hop on a trend now. And then every once in a while, cuz it's just fun to watch the puppets, do the silly things, everyone else on the Internet's doing.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay. Ha have you ever hit a wall

Bradley Laurvick:

Many times!

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Bradley Laurvick:

Many times. I can think of three or four distinct times where I was just like, I, I think I have nothing left to say, but I've also had that happen with my sermons. Right? Like I've had that happen in my, so I mean I, this isn't some sort of unique problem now there's a lot more, cause what I will say is every video, you know, that 15 to 30 seconds is that one sentence and a sermon that you hope everyone will remember. That's what my videos are, but I gotta come up with one of those every single day. Yeah. And so there's some of that I, I will say when I have, when I do hit a wall, I go back to my most successful video and recreate them with just a little bit more learning, like one of my videos that did really, really well where, you know Aspen just says, Hey, in case you haven't heard it recently, I'm proud of you, not cuz you did anything special, but just because you're you, right.

Bradley Laurvick:

There's nothing wrong in the social media space with recreating content that's done. Well, I just make it a little bit better now I've got better lighting. I can make it a little bit shorter. I can, you know, whatever it is. And so there are days where I will just go back and do that and it's completely acceptable. It's actually even encouraged at times as you hone your work. So when I do hit the wall, I've got some stuff to pull on. I've also had to learn to do batch creating. So I will sit down and crank out like five to seven scripts and then just, it's just practically easier to set up the lighting and get the, the mic out and do all the stuff and just do all of 'em at once. But then if something happens in the middle of the week and you get that phone call and you're emotionally drained after working with somebody or if you know there's a crisis and you're you, you do, I've already got a few things in the can and I can just quick pull one out and send it.

Bradley Laurvick:

Okay. I've also learned to try to always keep a couple ready to go. So like it's like kinda like you know, when I was an associate, my, my boss always was like, I need you to have an evergreen sermon ready. So when it doesn't matter what Sunday of the year it is what liturgical season, you could just preach the sermon. It would be fine. I try to keep a couple of those in my drafts so that if anything comes up and I'm like, okay, I've also had to learn, I don't have to publish. I cannot put something up today and it will be okay. A lot of us become behold to the algorithm. No, I have to publish every day at two 30 or I'll sell you, you start to tell yourself, you know, how to game the algorithm and you don't, but it is good to have a few of those things just when I'm in, when I'm in a groove. When I do feel inspired, I will write a few extra, I will save a few extra and I use those to get through the rough spots.

Ryan Dunn:

I think it's important to note that you're doing this while you're in a serving in a full-time ministry appointment. Right.

Bradley Laurvick:

I am, I've got a full-time appointment here serving the people of Denver with Highlands United Methodist church. I'm also an elected official in Denver serving on a school board overseeing 90,000 students and 15,000 employees. Okay. Like I there's, there's a lot happening and I will say amidst all of it during the pandemic when other things were hard, the puppets were kind of my happy place. You know, that little passion project that you're like, I know there are, I know I gotta turn in my reports. I know have to do these visits. I I'm gonna do this. Cuz it makes me happy. That was that's one of the reasons the puppets were such a part of my life for a little while because they were my, I do this almost for me kind of a project.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, you mentioned that the congregation got involved with creating Aspen and in giving Aspen's pronouns, has the congregation at how islands gotten behind the, the TikTok expression of ministry?

Bradley Laurvick:

Yeah, so, so I was at an SPR meeting, staff parish relations for anybody who listens to church podcast, but doesn't know church lingo. And and I was mentioning, I wanted to be clear to my, to my, to my HR team there. That, I mean, I would say I spend about an hour a day doing stuff specifically within for the puppet. It's not counting my own scrolling through TikTok cuz it's addictive. But when I was, and I just wanted to let you know yeah, yeah. It's well, my, my wife was like, it's not all research stop. Like the first step is admitting I have a problem. And there are, I will name, there are some dangers in working so much on social media that it's very easy to get sucked in. Very easy. Yeah. so I, I shared with them, I said, I'm, I'm spending about an hour a day doing this puppet at work. And I don't know if there's anything else in my ministry I spend an hour a day doing. And so I want you to be aware of this, that I consider this part of my work here. These folks are never gonna put a dollar in the offering plate. They're most likely never gonna walk through our door because they're all over the world. They'll, I'll be honest. I don't think they're walking the folks that are in my space that I'm caring for. I don't think they're gonna walk through anybody's church door, right. The building door.

Bradley Laurvick:

But I want you to know that I so want to put that little test balloon out there to see how they responded. And, and my chair of finance, my project manager really focused, great guy, but you know, always a little hermaneutic of suspicion, let's say okay. He goes, okay, so you spend an hour a day. I said, yeah, what do we need to take off your plate? So you can do it for two. And it was a really, really neat moment to have that conversation when they were looking. And this was back when I was like, I've got 6,000 people or I've got te you know, like it was even so much smaller than what their comment was. This is, this is what we want you to do. And so it was really neat to have congregational leadership whose comment was, these are people that need what our church offers, right? This love, acceptance justice and hope thing. Our, our phrase at, at Highlands where I get to serve is we're building a home where all belong, right? That's, that's our identity. And they're like, this is, these are people who need a home where they belong. Go do that. And so I've been really, really honored that my congregation would be so supportive.

Ryan Dunn:

Does Highland itself have a TikTok channel? No.

Bradley Laurvick:

No, it's just mine. I mean, it's been interesting. We talked about what that looks like, but I think there is something to keeping that space that it's the puppets or the puppets and the congregation is the congregation. And there are some folks that, you know, I, I never hide that. I'm a pastor. I will always offer a couple disclaimers because I will say there are a lot of people with, with religious baggage. Our tradition has traumatized a lot of people. And so it's always nice. But how many of us as clergy people have had this happen in our real life too? We like, I want 'em to know I'm I want 'em to get to know me as a person before they find out I'm a pastor. Right? Like that's just helpful. So it's nice for them to feel at home and then to have, 'em go wait, you're a what? And that's always a neat moment too. When I get a note from someone that's like, I'm so glad to find out you're a pastor because it gives me hope that there might be a church and other people in my community that will love me for who I am. Right. Like, and, and so there's a reason I'm not ever hiding, but I make sure it's not my first thing.

Ryan Dunn:

Do you, you do then have some, I guess, personal contact with some of the people who you are engaging with on TikTok.

Bradley Laurvick:

Yep. So a few different layers of that. I read every single comment that gets posted. That's just one of my own commitments. I don't reply to every single one of them cuz someone's like, Hey, that was great. You know, thanks. But, but the other thing is folks from the live videos I'll often say, Hey, I didn't get my question answered. And they go to the videos, they leave it there and I'll try to leave short the answers, you know, for everyone. So they feel that connection and a little bit of validation that they were seen and heard. When you, someone mutually they can message you. I'm always a little bit more cautious with messaging because it's in a more private space. And some of the folks I work with are under 18. And so I try to keep things very, very strong boundaries there, I guess would be the biggest thing to say, you know, thank you for sharing that.

Bradley Laurvick:

Here are some resources for you, those kinds of things. But I don't, I don't ever try to do deep pastoral care in that way. A few different times. There were some folks that I knew needed a little bit more. And so the agreement was we could set up a zoom and we can chat. If you have an have a parent or, you know, loving adult, your, your guardian show up with you at the beginning, they meet me. I tell them what we're gonna talk about. And then they give me verbal permission while we're on screen together that they, you may continue the conversation with me. I've done that a few times. But that's not a regular part of this. I mean, I, I, it is, it's a different level that we are able to engage in that social space. But every once in a while, you know, someone drops a note in, and they're not even asking for anything, but you sit there and you read this message, come in about what they're going through.

Bradley Laurvick:

And you say, is this something you'd like to talk more about? And their answer is I've been desperately looking for someone to talk about it with, right? And so that's when I've been able to find those spaces, but again, always looking for parental consent, having them on video understanding. So that there's, I mean, it, I will say just as part part in the tangent on this, it also, for me is an opportunity to teach young people, boundaries and social media. Like you shouldn't sit and chat with some random dude you met on the internet without your parent. Like, I want them to know, no, your parents absolutely should know who I am. They should ask me questions. They should know my back. Like expect that. And if someone doesn't offer you that you should be cautious, right? It, it, I think that's a, a helpful modeling for young people of what it is to engage safely in, in virtual space.

Ryan Dunn:

Do you have some dreams for what comes next with the puppet ministry?

Bradley Laurvick:

I've really settled into a groove at the moment. And I would love for it just to be able to like this, you know, lots of people showing up good questions, getting asked those kinds of things, you know, do I have a little dream that maybe somebody who's watching is like, Hey mom, check this out. And mom happens to work for Netflix. Yeah. I'd love that. That would be cool. But, but really for me, it's about continuing to build those relationships. I, at some point I'd like to build a team. A lot of people ask, well, why don't you have any, she, her puppets for me, honestly, it's because the puppeting space has been so male dominated for so long. I mean all of like all growing up, all my favorite female puppet voices were all men in falsetto. And I don't want to take another space.

Bradley Laurvick:

So I'd love to build a team, find a, find a puppet tier who could do a, she, her puppet with authenticity, right? Like as a woman herself voicing a female puppet would be wonderful. I'd love to build that kind of team as it continues to get larger. The idea of building a network of folks who under the Brad and the Puppet's handle. Right? So it's that official space. But folks I know have the background that could go help answer some of the questions. So people get a faster response. I'd love to have a team where someone so says, Hey, it's Tuesday. I'm gonna, I'll make sure to answer all the comments today. Like that kind of a team would be a really neat thing to build. So at the moment I don't necessarily, I mean, I'm, I'm growing and that's great. I wanna make sure I've got the undergirding. So the, as we grow it, doesn't all collapse. Cuz people say, oh, this used to be nice. They used to get back to you. They used to read your comments, but now it's not now it's just so big. And then, then, then it just collapses interesting parallels to church growth as well. Right. We see that too, when people are like, well, the pastor used to visit me all the time and now it's the associate that just calls.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah, absolutely. Right. Well the the TikTok channels, the you matter zone, correct?

Bradley Laurvick:

It's Brad and the puppets, we call ourselves

Ryan Dunn:

Brad and the puppets. I'm sorry, the you,

Bradley Laurvick:

But the handle is at Brad and the puppets on both TikTok and Instagram.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay. And is there a website alongside that/

Bradley Laurvick:

It is the YouMatterZone.com

Ryan Dunn:

That's the you matter zone. Okay. Well, well Brad, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Oh, it's, it's

Bradley Laurvick:

Great to get to talk about. I appreciate it. It's been fun. Not just chatting with you, but as others, you know, a few other conversations about it to realize this is neat to talk about. And it's, it's a really special moment and opportunity. So thanks for sharing it.

Ryan Dunn:

The TikTok channel is Brad and the puppets. The website to check out is HighlandsUMC.com/puppets. See what Bradley Laurvick and the team are up to there.

New Speaker:

My name is Ryan Dunn. Pastoring in the Digital Parish is a resource from resourceUMC.org. The online destination for leaders throughout the United Methodist church and beyond, I'll say.

New Speaker:

We're gonna have a new session next week, but in the meantime, if you would like to learn more about out TikTok and digital community building, then check out building community through TikTok with Joseph Yoo, or you can check out the session called digital community as a fresh expression of church. This has been fun. If you have a question or suggestion for the podcast, go ahead and send me an email at [email protected] Thank you. And I'll talk with you soon.

Peace

 

 

 

On this episode

Rev. Dr. Emily Peck-McClain

Rev. Bradley Laurvick currently serves with Highlands United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado. His Masters of Divinity is from the Iliff School of Theology. Brad ministers to TikTok through the BradAndThePuppets channel, which has over 170,000 followers.

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.