How Concordia Lutheran Church Does Online Church

I interviewed the Online Pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church about how they leverage online ministry in their context. I ask TJ Winters about how they strategically use online church in their model of ministry, a little bit about the history of their church and online ministry, how much time he gets to focus on this ministry, what platforms they are using, and few other fun questions. Listen to the interview or read the transcript.


Transcript of Interview:

Jay Kranda:     Thanks for checking out this interview might name is Jay Kranda and I'm here with TJ Winters. TJ, you and I are friends so thanks for hanging out and taking time out to talk about church online.


TJ Winters:      Yeah, my pleasure, thanks for having me Jay, I appreciate it. It's going to be a good time.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah, okay, so let's get into it, so real quick, I think this is really helpful because we were talking about this kind of right before we were recording, when you're doing an online ministry you have to figure out so many different things and you're in a unique place, and I actually think you are one of the only people in this space that have to deal with this extra layer of denominational stuff, and you guys have figured it out and I know you go, "Nope, we are still wrestling with a lot of things." But on the outside I think you guys have figured out a really good middle ground but tell a little bit about Concordia, you guys are a very large church and I think one of the largest churches, Lutheran churches, if not the largest in America. Tell a little bit about your church and we'll kind of go from there.


TJ Winters:      Yeah, so I'm at Concordia Lutheran Church, San Antonio, Texas. I don't want to overstate it, we are one of the largest Lutheran churches, at least LCMS, I don't know ELCA numbers, but Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, we are one of the largest and we've been around since 1951. Planted in San Antonio, church plants, and then it's just grown from there, but it's been great and we've got an awesome congregation, just a lot of faithful people, have a passion for Jesus, passion for the community and open to ideas like church online and like some of the other things we've done. So it's really cool. It's a great place to be, great place to partner with, and ministry with people.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah, and I've been there. It's an amazing campus location and I met a bunch of your leadership, and you guys are really forward thinking, but also theologically care about some of this stuff. So I know there's been a lot of conversations probably beyond that. So talk a little bit about how you guys, you are the online pastor, right? So you get to focus full-time. So talk a little bit about and I know even as I say that, there's other things you do so it's not as clean as that, but tell a little bit about how you guys position your online ministry within your guy's church strategy.


TJ Winters:      So right now it is a huge part of our ministry because it is used in multiple ways so one, its used for our people, in fact that's how it started was we are going to start streaming our church services for our people. And Jay honestly we've been streaming, in the beginning we really didn't call it church online or even think of it that way, but we've been streaming our services since 2005.


Jay Kranda:     Wow.


TJ Winters:      So that was before the iPhone, that was Windows media video, and then when the iPhone comes along and then you can stream to mobile, there was like this whole thing to figure out I remember setting up a Wowza server, talking to people at Northpoint, and going through all these different settings in these instances and having to monitor our bandwidth and the server time, I mean it was complicated. For those of you starting a church online, right now ... An amazing place, like we are in an amazing spot where you've got an iPhone and Facebook live, it wasn't always like that. So, says the old man in the room.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      But we've been streaming since 2005, and it's just grown from there. Our folks have used it as a place to be able to join and connect with their church family even when they're sick or they're out of town, can't be here. I remember in the beginning, we'd get pictures of people's cell phones mounted to their dash, while they're driving across the country and they're listening to church while they're going across trip. So it's been really cool, and then it's just grown from there and eventually we thought "You know what?" And we talked to a mutual friend of ours, Nils Smith. Talked to him a little and said "You know we need to take this to the next level. Not just stream our services but what are we doing here? Let's do this church online thing, and make it an actual deal". So our people love it, it's used every weekend locally, nationally, globally, it's been a great blessing for a lot of folks.


Jay Kranda:     So tell a little bit, what does it look like, in your model? I know we talked about this awhile back where you also have a lot of people that as they are thinking about coming back to church, they may have grown up Lutheran or had some kind of experience and so this is where even with your presence, you've had a lot of that, you've had a lot of people when they're Googling and they're searching, they find you, right? You have that demographic as well, part of your online community.


TJ Winters:      Right, we do and we've got some of those folks that are coming back because of watching online first, and then maybe they've grown up with a little different style, a different kind of Lutheran church. But we've got a lot of folks who are ... What we're finding in fact, I just preached last week for our lent service, and a guy came up to me afterwards, and said, "Hey, Pastor TJ, I just want to put a name with the face. My name's John, and this is my username on the chat." I'm like, "Oh hey, good to meet you in person." He's like "We live up in Cincinnati, and we were considering moving to San Antonio, and so we were looking for churches, and we found Concordia, and we were watching online for months before we moved. Then when we moved down, we knew where we wanted to go." We'll hear different stories like that from folks that-


Jay Kranda:     That's awesome.


TJ Winters:      Finding church online, and then recording and coming. Yeah, it's great.


Jay Kranda:     That is super. I love that, I love that first impressions type of model where people are experiencing ... I'm curious, what's your thought when they go, "I've been watching for months." But they never reached out, what do you think as a Pastor? Are you like, "Come on."


TJ Winters:      Yeah. Yeah, honestly, I want to hear from these folks. Percentage wise, I would guess, we're not hearing from most, right?


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      So, I really want to hear from them, and so that's kind of the process. Also, think if it was my job, what could I do to make that happen? But at the same time, I'm glad they're watching, glad they're joining. But yeah, love to hear from them soon.


Jay Kranda:     So talk a little bit about your job, because a lot of people ... I'm kind of working through this, but I just surveyed some churches, and I'm working on crunching this data to make it more available. But, you know 27 percent of churches streaming. Most of them, only 27 percent have a full time online Pastor. So with you, you get to do that. I know you probably fill in different roles. How are you positioned within your organization, like as a staff member?


TJ Winters:      So yeah. I'm one of the Pastor's, I'm also a Senior Director. So I have the IT staff under me, and so to give you just an idea of the levels of Senior Director's, you've got Senior Pastor, and then we have two executive leader's and then Senior Director's under them and the rest of staff. I'm a peer with our marketing person, with our worship leader, with our Director of Children's ministry. We have a school and a child care center with a principal, and the Director of the childcare center, and then our Business Manager. So, I'm also one of the Pastor's. So the IT department falls under me. Now, I'm not the smartest guy by any means with the IT stuff.


Jay Kranda:     I don't know man, you were just talking about Wowza, and setting up stuff, I don't know about that.


TJ Winters:      Lots of googling. The Director of IT works for me, and he's amazing. He takes care of most the stuff. But he and I will talk through a few issues, or work on some of the big picture planning, and things like that. So, some of my time is spent in meetings, or conversations, or even doing some set up if he's busy with something. We had something yesterday, I ran some network cable to help out because he was doing stuff. That's fine. So that stuff pops up and interrupts the day, every week.


Jay Kranda:     Of course.


TJ Winters:      Lot of managing attendance, or responding to people, its part of my job as online Pastor. I used to be one of our worship leaders. So I still have my toe in that pool, and with Palm Sunday coming up, we do a big show for Palm Sunday, and then Easter big band. I'm playing for both of those. So right now I'm programming an Ableton and stems and loops, and main stage, and doing some key stuff and doing some key stuff and working on all that. So, depends on the season.


Jay Kranda:     I know, I logged on one of your Facebook Live's recently, because we're friends I saw it, and I saw you on the stage. I was like, "Oh, look at that." Yeah, so I love that. Every once in a while. So talk a little bit ... You guys are using the church online platform, correct?


TJ Winters:      Yeah.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah, and who do you guys use for streaming right now?


TJ Winters:      We use Stream Monkey right now. I'm working with them, they've been great. They do a good job, and I'm always testing out other companies. I've looked at, they're good. I’ve looked at Vimeo and trying that. Since they acquired Live Stream. Always testing it out. But right now using, and they're great folks over there.


Jay Kranda:     I've been using them for some side streaming stuff that I've been doing with events, and something that, it actually scared me at first, but when you log in, and they give you the report, the visual graph of ... It actually said, "We're partnering with Saddleback Church." I was like, did they put my church's name on the website? Then because I was like, we can't do that, then I was like, oh no, this is a visual interactive type of infographic of our data. This is kind of cool. I was really impressed with it.


TJ Winters:      Yeah, they do a good job. They've worked with us because we have a few different streams. We paired it down, but we've got a separate stream for our T.V. audience, because I want to track those number separately.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      Let's see who's doing TV compared to Facebook, compared to computer.


Jay Kranda:     That makes sense. That makes sense. So the next question is, so tell me a little bit about your kind of crowd to core strategy. What does it look like for somebody to watch, and what do you do? I know there's a first impression's thing, where you lead them to your church? There's also, what do you with somebody far from your church? What generally does that process look like?


TJ Winters:      Yeah, far from us, so ideally they fill out a connection card. I just talked about this a few weeks ago to some folks I was presenting to on church online in Phoenix, and we used to make attendance, at least in the Lutheran church, attendance is a big deal. We're not looking to always just say, "We want to grow this number at any cost, regardless of accuracy or all those things." It's not about just the number, but the number does represent people. The number represents souls. But not only from a church management standpoint, but a lot of the members, man they want credit for that attendance.


Jay Kranda:     Oh, interesting.


TJ Winters:      So when some of our folks, especially some of those who've grown up Lutheran, if they're out of town, they'll either have the church email us that they attended, or they'll email us and say, "Hey I attended at such and such church." So, I've just known, because I grew up Lutheran, I just kind of know, attendance is a thing. So we would bombard, and honestly the first thing people saw, only that they saw, was an attendance thing, and I'm going to cover up my camera here a little bit, but it was kind of like, this is what you would ... You'd see the church online behind you, but this, my hand there is the attendance.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      And you'd have to fill it out, or fill out false information and just hit cancel or go, or whatever.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      People did that all the time too. We've had many folks watching with a million other people.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      And just after a while, we thought well, how can we be faithful in attendance? But not limit people from seeing the video, which is what we were doing, and not feel like for visitors, because that may be fine for the regular attenders, but for visitors, it's like hey, welcome to church, give me your information.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      So, to kind of balance that, we put up a connection card, which is first. It's in line, it's next to the video. If you're using the church online platform, it's one of the tabs that pops up first, next to the actual video, in the large template.


Jay Kranda:     But you did some custom stuff there right? Like you had to mess with it a bit?


TJ Winters:      I did, and I've started to write down those directions, but its weird. I'm not even quite sure what I did right, to make it happen. So I'm trying to replicate that.


Jay Kranda:     I just recently, because we're using the church online for our events page for our online community. Yeah, and we've been messing with it, but we use Wufoo, and I know you're familiar, I couldn't figure out how to get the scroll button to work within, and I was googling, I got this code, and for some reason, default, the scroll wouldn't appear, and I figured it out, but it was like that. It was weird. If you asked me now, I was doing a lot of HTML stuff and eventually it showed up, but it's a little wonky.


TJ Winters:      It is. So that's exactly what we use too Jay, is Wufoo. So that forum is there, and the goal is, our people, they've got a few questions, I want to know more about trusting Jesus for the first time, this is my first time at Concordia, and then that goes to our Wufoo forum, which is connected to MailChimp and that goes to MailChimp, and it'll send them an initial email, sends me an email to contact them, and so that starts that conversation.


Jay Kranda:     I love that, and yeah, you have different emails that send over time. Do you point people to your part of the Missouri Synod? Do you do something to connect them to local? How do you recommend churches that somebody is, generally?


TJ Winters:      Yeah, we have, through the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, we can find a church. So there's a guy in Canada, who is looking, and he said, "Hey, I have questions, I want to meet with a Pastor, but I'm far away, do you know of anybody?" I didn't personally, I looked it up. Connected him over email with this other Pastor.


Jay Kranda:     So cool. I don't think people realize that stuff. Sometimes they get in the space, and they think, "Oh, you're preventing, and all these things." I feel like the church generally has gotten better at that conversation. But that stuff is awesome when someone can come to you, and you actually connect them to a local body. It's awesome. So, question. My next question is, what online tool do you wish you had when you started online church? That you're using now. What do you wish you would have had from the beginning?


TJ Winters:      You know, I think, gosh there's too many. I think something like MailChimp. But that funneling stuff wasn't around in 2005. So there's MailChimp, HubSpot, a few other ones that do that. That kind of thing is a valuable tool, and even something like Wufoo, just to make a forum. You can make a Google forum, but it's not as powerful. Those online tools are just vital.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah. It can be hard. I know, we're part of a Facebook group, with other online Pastor's. If you're an online Pastor, and you want to know about that comment below and we'll get you into that. But I've been on this bent a couple times, where I want to implement a help desk software, so all of our response cards go in. Mainly because most of it's being done via email, and it's by me, and some other team members that forward, and I'm like, "I wish, I want to see response rates, on how long does it take." It's like that thing I got to do, I know. I just commented in the Facebook group, what do you guys use? I know Live church has been using something, and they commented, I think it was Desk dot com, and they do a Hubspot integration, but it's one of those things that I know when I do the work to implement it, it's going to be worth it, but I keep delaying it. I've got to figure it out, because learning a new tool, like learning Wufoo, learning MailChimp, there's a learning curve that you got to spend a week figuring it out but it's worth it in the long run. At least I hope it's going to be worth it. I hope whatever I'm going to do, it's going to be worth it. I actually had another question, kind of, you don't know this question, but I'm going to throw it on you. Because I feel like this is something I get asked a lot, and we've talked privately in text messages about, how do you handle Facebook Live within your metrics? Because I feel like there's this general issue people are having where, people are streaming, they're seeing, because the numbers are public, people are like that's so huge, and then you get your church online platform and maybe, you know, you have tv apps and a couple other ways people are watching, and people are thinking, "This is so much bigger." But it doesn't always make sense because the numbers aren't the same. How do you report Facebook Live in your model?


TJ Winters:      So, yeah, first going back to this conference that I was presenting.


Jay Kranda:     Oh, yeah.


TJ Winters:      Somebody's like, we started streaming to Facebook, we got 4000 people watching. It was awesome. I'm like, "Sorry to burst your bubble."


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      Guess what, those are 4000 scrolls over time, and so, the terms might escape me, unless I get on my browser and start looking, but the idea is first of all, you have to go into it knowing it's not a science. You're not going to be perfect, and Jay, you and I have had this conversation, and you're great on this is say, "Choose something that you think is faithful, and that you think is good, and pretty accurate, and measure that over time. Stay with that, so that you're at least measuring the same thing." So that's exactly what we do. So, Jay, I try to be as scientific as I can. So we broadcast the services, we have three Sunday morning services. We broadcast all three of them at different points. We don't always broadcast the full service, sometimes just the sermon. Then the next morning, Monday morning, I give it about 24 hours. Monday morning, around 9:30am central time, I'm logging in, and I'm checking. I try to make sure even the time I'm checking is right, and I look at the video views first of all, not impressions, but video views. Let's say that's 1000. Then I go down to the average watch time. That is a very disheartening graph. It starts up here, with hundreds of people, then instantly like the slickest hockey curve you've ever seen, it goes down, and so I do that when it's very flat and go to about half hour into the broadcast, it gives you a percentage, and that's anywhere between half a percent and three percent. Depends, for us at least. So then I'll take that, let's just say two percent of 1000 people, and you're looking at 20 people, and the reason I came up with that is because I tried different things, and I realized, that's about what I saw, in person, on Facebook in real time, when I watched it I thought there's about 20 people watching. So that seems to be a fairly faithful number factoring in 24 hours of replays, factoring in people jumping on and off, it's hard. I would love to find a better way that'd be more accurate. Really difficult.


Jay Kranda:    Yeah. No, that's a good way, and that's generally how we do it, and I've had the same stuff where, yeah, it's an interesting thing, and it's crazy. I'm always surprised how many people just don't even track anything, and yeah, I'm like, you're never going to grow your team or anything, but I generally do the same thing. We kind of have the same thing, where it's around the one percent. It just depends, and it's like, yeah somehow 10,000 or 15,000 turns into 100 people. It's like, oh okay, then that's perspective, but okay last question. What are you dreaming or scheming about with online ministry right now? What's the thing that you kind of were just like, oh that's right there, and we want to get there. What's the thing that's getting you excited?


TJ Winters:      Yeah, so I want to capture these communities where people are watching. Where we have multiple people watching, and I know you guys are doing really, really well at this. Getting these folks to communicate, and congregate, and having them watch church together. To create that community, especially for these folks like this lady in this small town in Texas, who has nobody, and if she can watch with one other family, to me, that's awesome.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah.


TJ Winters:      So that's our next focus.


Jay Kranda:     I love it, I love it.


TJ Winters:      Also, online membership.


Jay Kranda:     Yeah, online membership. Yeah, I know that's been something. I'm seeing that a little bit more. I've gotten a lot of questions about that just privately where its like, how do you do that? I know even for us, I remember when we first launched it, I was getting the pressure. I didn't have enough people wanting to do it, and I felt that pressure of, we fought for it, and then figuring out how to roll it out. But now the big thing for us was the platform. We had it on the wrong platform. It was just too hard for people to watch it, and we're doing it on teachable, hosting our class and we're really liking it, better engagement. Okay, TJ, thank you so much man, really, you guys are killing it. Check out what they're doing. I love the strategy, you guys are thoughtful about it, and I'm really curious especially with membership and all this other stuff, keep rocking and thanks for giving up time, and answering some questions.


TJ Winters:      Yeah, appreciate it. Appreciate you having me.