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We’re in a crazy time. We know that social media is necessary for the church in this day and age, but how do we use it correctly? What are the rules? Are there rules? We talked with Social Content Director Gavin Dees (Deka Social) on three tips and tactics to grow engagement on Instagram.
The following is an edited transcript.
Hey guys, welcome to the yellow box podcast where we’re all about developing creativity in the local church. We want to bring creatives together and help you know that you do don’t have to create alone and that you are developed for more.We are so excited to have you here, man. Today we have a guest, Gavin Dees, who is an incredible friend of mine! He has an incredible heart for the local church and he’s gonna tell us all about social media, and I am totally ruining it and what he does, but we’ll get into that in a second.
What I’d love to do is update some of you guys on upcoming events that Yellowbox has coming up, guys. Things are happening, Kevin! Things are happening.This is so fun. This is so, so cool. So upcoming events: we have Team Church Conference, which is right around the corner. That’s next week! We’re leaving Saturday. That is next week. That’s right. So for those that don’t know, Team Church is a ministry group that came out of the Champion Center out in Tacoma, Washington with pastor Kevin Gerald. He just had this heart for churches. He had this image of one body coming together and sharing resources and direction and coaching. He brought together this team for a conference. We’ve been attending for a few years. It’s been absolutely incredible. Such a great experience. And we’re going to be there. We’re going to have a booth in the main lobby. Right next to Brandon Stewart and Leading Second.
Actually Leading Second’s going to have their own space.
Oh my gosh. There’s so much cooler than we are. Golly. Okay. We’ll be there. So if you’re listening to this and we haven’t met in person, please come by the booth. Say hello. We’d love to say hi and connect with you and update you and talk in person, and you know, just chit-chat. It’s a chit-chat thing. And then the next week is actually the Arc intensive in San Diego and we’ll be there. Kevin, do you have the dates?
Yeah, the Arc intensive is the 13th of August through the 15th. And that is in San Diego. And so we’re meeting with church planters who are going through Arc Intensive process. Basically, they’ve decided they’re going to plant, they’re approved by Arc to plant. Now this is like, let’s get into the hard work of planning and making stuff happen. So it’s going to be a lot of fun.
That’s awesome. Arc has been a partner of ours for a while now and we’ve just just loved that. We also have been able to sew ourselves more into the fabric of helping them and them definitely helping us. So we’re really grateful for that. Also, I want to mention that, at the Team Church Conference, we’ll be actually on a panel for one of the breakout sessions.
Well, you will, because you’re way cooler. I mean, let’s be honest, y’all only listen to the podcast because of Trés Garner.
There will be a panel, a little breakout session where we’ll get to talk about our perspective on creativity in teams. So we’re all super stoked about that. The last one I want to talk about is the CRTV Church one day conference which is super exciting!
This is so dope.
Yeah, it’s September 10th.
That’s right. September 10th, the one day conference in Fort Worth. And we’ll put some more information — actually we have a Instagram highlight right now — if you want to check out more information of where that’s at and how to get involved. we also have a sign-up link in our bio on Instagram and we’re going to put that on our website and we’ll put it also on the link in this podcast article so you can connect with us (or sign up from there). But we are really excited. Check them out on Instagram. That’s where they’re most heavy handed. They’re a massive community of creatives that are doing such great work. So a lot of the time they’re showcasing graphic artists, designers, and videographers and motionographers there, but really — they have a heart for creativity in the local church, just like us. So it was a no brainer that we come alongside them.
Obviously, we were asked to be a part of it by Nick Goodner, the creator of CRTV church. He is such a great guy and we are honored to be there with them. So, thank you to Nick and we can’t wait to see y’all there and come say hi to us. So, at all of these events, please come say hi and we want to meet you. And that’s the best way to do that. Okay. Lastly, I want to bring up the yellow box community. So one of our big pushes this year is going to help build an online community — where creatives that work at churches, or maybe just have a heart for Jesus that love to create, want to help impact the local church.
We want to bring all you guys together. So, starting this week ,we’re going to launch a Slack channel. We’ve been working with freelancers all over the country, all over the nations. And we want to connect them altogether and we think the community can be a lot bigger. We think that, together, we’re going to be stronger. And so, we’re going to start inviting people and building this online community. We’re going to do that through our Slack channel. We’re pretty avid on Slack. We use that as an internal communications, but it’s an amazing tool that we’re really excited about.
And so, from that hopefully, we’ll build a community that not only talks about inspiration and best practices, but is able to post things like jobs get people involved and connected with churches so that you feel more equipped in your job and for your church. And that’s really the heart and goal of that. If you have any ideas for how that can work, and if you think you could play a part in that, or if you’re just interested in being a part of that — you can just send us an email email@example.com and put in the subject ”Creative Community. You can throw an exclamation point in there too. ”Creative Community!”
But we’d love to hear from you. All right. And with all of that out of the way — we’re excited about our events or more excited about Gavin Dees.
Come on somebody.
What is up, dude?
What is up, my man. Super pumped to be here with y’all.
You just sat quietly through that entire intro and that was so wonderful. What is up man?
Super stoked about all those events now. I’m going to go buy some tickets.
Oh heck yeah. That’s what I’m talking about with you guys. I love that. Heck yeah. For those that don’t know, I didn’t really give the best intro to Gavin and what his specialty is. So I would love to know a little bit about what you do now and, more importantly, the why behind what you do. So if you want to start there, I know that’s kind of a deep question.
Yeah! I work for DEKA and the social arm of the company. And our goal is to really help churches, help organizations connect with your city — locally through social media (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and stuff like that). And we’ve been doing that for just over a year now. And just helping churches grow like numerically within the attendance, like seeing people come onsite because you’ve connected with them on social media. Super passionate about that. Super passionate about helping churches grow.
Yeah, I think that’s obvious every single time. If you ever get in a conversation and meet up with Gavin and — you’re going to be at the Team Church conference, correct?
So if you come up to the Yellowbox booth at the Team Church conference, Gavin will be there, and you can have one conversation with him and you’ll know right away: this dude, not only does he know what he’s talking about, he cares what he’s talking about. You can get stuck there like in this wormhole that you’re like, “I have learned so many things.”
Just a side note for anyone who comes up to the booth: I’m an enneagram four. So, just so you know, we’re going dating.
Bring a notebook.
I love it. That’s awesome. This is also kind of a good timing, Kevin. Last week, we had this conversation about the depth that social media has on our lives, how it started affect the church in that way, and how the church is supposed to respond to something like that. This obviously ties in with all of that. Do you have anything that resonates with that last episode?
Yeah, I see a lot of churches spending money on all types of things to reach people. Social media is free and all you have to pour into it is time and engage with your city. There’s so many people within driving distance of your church that are on Instagram, that are on Facebook, that are on Youtube. They spend so much time on it. The average person spends about 30 minutes a day. And if you’re younger, it’s like an hour a day.
You do not want to see my — what is that called? Screen time accountability and a phone. Yo, listen, you hit that debut. It’s not bad. If you hit that week view and you see the double digits of hours he’s been on an app. You’re like, yikes. (laughter)
So yeah. So, so many people spend that much time on social media. So your church should spend that much time there–engaging with people, connecting with people, talking to people. Bottom line.
So it’s really just getting in that mindset that it’s not just a number and, having this view that there’s a real human being on the other side of screen.
Yeah. So tell us a little bit about your journey on becoming a social media specialist. You started by serving in a church and — we actually attend the same church, Elevate People in Houston — that’s where I’ve seen you develop this interest over the past like four years. But it started, I feel like, in the lobby: this idea of connecting and that’s where it all stems from. Can you talk about that?
Yeah, I’ve been going to Elevate People for almost four years now. And it started with an interest of wanting to help out, serve, getting into that lane of ministry, helping out with social media and creative. And, even before that, I started practicing. Like leading up to joining the social media team at Elevate, I was practicing on my own personal Instagram and ended up growing it to almost 20,000 followers. And I remember God putting it on my heart. He said, “I want you to do this for the local church and I want you to do this for pastors.” And so, at the time I want it to be some type of influencer, #instafamous — whatever. And God just completely changed my heart. And so I started doing it for Elevate and started growing our Instagram, started helping out with pastor Brandon, who is the lead pastor there, and started growing his Instagram. And that started attracting new people within our city and they started attending our church, so it was super cool.
Yeah. You’ve already said a few times about growing in numbers on social media. So what would you say to somebody that is not interested in the numbers? Somebody that is like, “okay, we get it. You want your church to have 20,000 followers but you only have 600 on a Sunday. Kay. All right, very fun.” I’m playing devil’s advocate here. Where do these numbers come in and how do we kind of shift our perspective of what the followers mean?
Yeah, I would say the followers definitely don’t matter as much. And I have seen that even Elevate’s that way. I don’t know what we’re at, but we’re probably around those numbers that you just mentioned and it’s just like a first time guest. And there’s also a lot of the content we put out reaching people outside of our church. So we live in the online like church world in 2019. So that’s the super valuable. And some people keep up with our church through Instagram and Youtube and connect with us that way. So that’s the benefit to having 15,000 followers and maybe only having 600 on a Sunday. But, there’s a healthy way to view numbers and there’s an unhealthy way to view numbers. And Pastor Brandon has this phrase “from seat to soul versus soul to seat.”
And it’s really focusing in on the souls. That each follower on Instagram has a soul. So it’s really just getting in that mindset that it’s not just a number and, having this view that there’s a real human being on the other side of screen. And, maybe we can talk about this later, maybe those followers have been following us for three months. At some point, we can run some type of ad to them, inviting them to church. So maybe they followed you for three or four months on Instagram, but they’re on their journey. We’re trying to get those followers to end up coming to church, but everybody’s on a different journey. So they might be following you for six months, but then six months down the road they’re sitting on the front row and giving their life to Jesus. So that’s the benefit. That’s what I would say to whoever’s wondering about the numbers. There’s definitely a healthy and unhealthy way to view numbers.
No, I think there is for sure. And we’re not here to definitely solve that theological issue right here. But, in the perspective of our modern times and your church, people are going to see it online no matter what. And either you’re going to have a part of controlling that or you’re not. And so I think that that’s kind of where this idea of influences is. Do you want to influence on what people see or do you not?
Even the younger you get, the more perception matters. So, like my wife always tells me: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. So it’s not what you’re saying on Instagram, it’s how you’re communicating what you’re saying on Instagram. So if millennials or Gen Z (which is the generation after millennials) are looking for a church, they’re probably gonna look through Instagram first, not Google. They’re going to search churches in your city and they’re going to look at what it looks like visually. They’re going to look at the numbers. It’s just the world that we live in. So that’s definitely the value, also, for numbers.
Yeah, for sure. You mentioned something interesting earlier: Somebody liking a photo and then, The next sentence you said, them at the altar. And it just sounds like such an insane — this is not the right word but — like dystopian craziness. You see something online and you double tap and then, the next thing you know, you’re surrendering your life to Jesus. Like that is a crazy kind of perspective and scale there. But I’ve heard stories of it happening. This isn’t some sort of myth or selling tactic. Can you give us one or two stories where people have interacted online and it’s translated to them. Maybe it’s just coming to the church or it’s as far as the altar.
Yeah. So we’ve definitely had a few stories at Elevate. I don’t remember her name, but she had came and we have something called “Connect” (this is where you can hop in and learn more about the church). She had come and we typically ask the question, “How’d you hear about the church?” And it was like, “Your church is Instagram liked my photo of my dog. (laughter) And so it said ‘Elevate People,’ so I clicked on ‘Elevate people’ and ‘learn more’ about your church. Spent three or four minutes on your Instagram and then planned my visit to church.”
And now she’s through our Grow track. She had been looking for life-giving church and she, literally, went to the college right around the corner. And so now she’s involved. In a nutshell, you’re just engaging and — I think we’re going to talk a little bit more about this — but you’re engaging in their world. Whether it’s a picture of their dog or food or their sporting team that they love, you’re liking that stuff through your church’s account. And that’s driving traffic back to your Instagram page, which is driving traffic to your website, which is getting people to plan your visit. And now they’re coming to check out the church and people have given their life to Jesus. And then we learn how they heard about Elevate. And you just liked my photo. Oh, that’s crazy. All right. That’s insane. That isn’t — we were not thinking about that five years ago.
I was a youth pastor when social media first came out (I miss MySpace) and I think about how much things have changed since then. But the reality of it is that this is a recurring pattern that we need to get ourselves into. We need to realize that we can’t settle for “this is the way we do things” all the time. We need to get into the practice of looking ahead, seeing the curve, and building a process for those curves. And that includes communicators involved in building creativity in the local church. That also involves reaching down to Gen Z, like you mentioned, and recruiting from there, right? Like my daughter who’s 13, just got recruited to start working on stuff for Highpoint Church and their teams.
So she’s gonna start taking photos and stuff on Sunday. But I’m like, this is how we all have to be thinking. We can’t be thinking like “we have to wait until they’re young adults to start serving,” and start thinking about how they’re going to help us build our processes. We’ve got to reach down because social media change, and internet technology change, is happening so quick that these are the mainstays. We’re going to talk about Instagram a lot today, but it won’t be the mainstay forever. It won’t be the mainstay maybe a year from now. We don’t know. That could happen so quick. I mean, everybody’s doing this TikTok thing now and I’m like, “this is so incredible.”
I was watching Judah Smith on TikTok. It’s insane.
Oh my gosh, I love it.
But, yeah man. It’s super crazy to see people started with a double tap and then now they’re giving their lives to Jesus and serving and tithing. So yeah, it’s crazy.
And if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “man, we’re so far behind. We’re not even thinking about this kind of stuff.” It’s never too late to start starting now. Ask the questions now. Dive in, reach out to us. We’d be glad to get on the phone with you and talk through some stuff. We have an on ramp for you — no matter where you’re at in your phase. Maybe you don’t have anyone on your team who is capable of diving into this because of their bandwidth, maybe because of their experience, whatever that is — don’t let that stop you from doing this because the reality of it we’re talking about here. It sounds so weird. I agree. It’s, it sounds very much like a dystopian future, right?
Because someone is looking at a screen and then three weeks later their entire life is changing.
But this is the world we’re in and, if we don’t engage in that generation, we’ll miss that generation.
And I think simply it’s almost like — I’m not trying to oversimplify it but — meeting them where they’re at.
Exactly. That’s an easy way to put it.
Like where are these people? Oh, they’re just scrolling through Instagram (like we mentioned, at least 30 minutes a day). Okay. I’ll say hi.
Unless you’re Trés Garner, then it’s like 12 hours a day.
And think about the return on investment. Like — you double tap one photo or two photos and now they’re at your church giving. How much time and energy and money did you put into that and now how much are you reaping from that? So powerful. And to speak to what Kevin said, there’s a quote like: “hold tightly to the message but hold very loosely to the methods.” Methods will change monthly now. They’re going to change faster and faster.
Also something that Kevin just said — and what you’re saying — reminded me that like it could all be different next month. Correct? Right now, you’re also so early on Instagram. Like Instagram is changing so many things to where, every day, it’s capturing a whole new crew of people that have never been there.
It’s on their home screen. It’s so strange how this works because it’s like Instagram has been around for so long and they have so many users on it. That’s what they thought about Facebook and then they built a different kind of element to their platform that roped in a younger generation. And I think Instagram’s doing the same thing but for an older generation. They’re starting to include features that reach a different generation. And there’s like 600 million people on Instagram. I guarantee you there’s a hundred million 50 to 70 year olds that don’t have Instagram. And guess Instagram wants? Them on Instagram. There are so many layers untapped on Instagram. It’s never too late to dive in.
Is that why that Face app was such a hit because everybody was going after old people, and we just wanted to make ourselves look old? Better at 70.
We want to leave here with something practical, right? Something that you can apply right now for your church and a little bit insight. So Gavin: how can we activate our Instagram followers? How can we turn these likes into people at our church?
Yeah. So I’ll give you three quick, really quick, practical ways. So grab your phone, open up your Instagram app and then, click the search and search for things in whatever city you live in. You can search a local sporting team, you can a local coffee shop, or a local hashtag. And then you can also target based on location. There’s a really popular part of town, or a big park, or some location that a bunch of people gather at. You can take that location, go there on Instagram, and then see all the pictures that people have posted. So now you go to your search search, whatever that is, and then start liking their photos. And the cool thing about likes is they might be small, but you can do a lot of them. So you can do up to like 400 likes a day within the Instagram limit. Anything above that is really pushing the limit.
Would you say that’s probably the first level of integration?
Yes. That’s a baby step.
So cool. What is the next level into that?
The next step is comments. This is where you, in your communication, can really start engaging with your city and actually putting words to it. Talking to them. Speaking to them directly. So again, you go into the search, go into the the hashtag, or location, or accounts, or whatever. But the difference this time is you’re actually gonna make a comment and I want to have a disclaimer here.
This is not where you invite them to church. This isn’t where you talk about Jesus. This isn’t where you talk about God or any of that. You go to somebody food photo, or their sporting teams, or their family photo, and you comment on that photo. So don’t go, “Hey, I would love to invite you to church on a cheeseburger.” Talk about how awesome that cheeseburger looks or how hungry that makes you feel. But do it through your church’s page, or if it’s a sport’s team, talk about how the record’s going awesome this year.
Like for us here in Houston, you can go comment on thousands of people who are Super Astros fans, “go Astros!” And then, if your church comments on the Astros like “go Astros,” those people are gonna associate your church with an Astros fan.
And this is an actual organization, so it’s really powerful if somebody who, loves the Astros, associates your church with something they love to do. Yeah. And you’re stepping into their world. It’s very biblical. You’re stepping into their world, talking to them where they’re at. That’s huge. So don’t go invite them to church on their cheeseburger or their sporting team or their family photo or their dog. Don’t do it. Kevin: (24:23)
What do you do if they’re a Rangers fan and they’re in Houston?
You still write: Go ‘Stros.
Go ‘Stros. I don’t have to like you, but I do love you.
That’s really good insight. It sounds so obvious yet so foreign. It’s like, “Hey, make your church sound like a great person and someone you want to hang out with.”
Just humanize it. You’re engaging with them in non-spiritual things. You’re not talking about Jesus 24/7. You’re going to the Astros game, you’re going to the sporting events, you’re going to eat at the restaurant.
That’s how like discipleship starts: a common interest.
Yes. An example is like, if you’re talking to somebody on a Sunday ot at a cofee shop — you don’t just immediately go to Jesus. You just talk to people. That’s it. Bottom line: you’re talking to people and connecting with people in their world, what they like.
That’s what Jesus did. Jesus met with people where they’re at and talked with them about their situations.
Okay, next, what would be the next thing? What’s the next layer?
So the next layer, and — I would say the most powerful layer — is the DMs. . DM stands for direct message. So you can talk in the most power. The reason it’s most powerful is it’s one-on-one. You’re talking one-on-one, you’re opening up a conversation with these people. So you can take someone that you’ve commented on, or maybe somebody who followed you back based on like some of these actions, now you can connect with those people via one-on-one. You can talk directly to them. So if Joe or Susie follows your page based on a comment that you put about some food, and now they’re following you back — now this is where you can be a little bit more intentional with how you’re talking to them. You can invite them to church because they know that you’ve cared enough on social, maybe to comment on a photo that’s really thoughtful, and now they followed you back cause that spoke to them.
You can do the same things on all these platforms and it’s free. It just takes time. It takes intention. It takes you. it’s a tool so you just have to use it.
And now you’re connecting with them by inviting them to church. You can put your address; you can say, “Hey, how can we pray for you,”or let them know, “Hey, we’re thinking about you and we’ve prayed for you,” or whatever it is. Just connect with them intentionally. And the only thing I will say about this is, when you’re messaging somebody you’ve never messaged before, the most important thing is to state your intention. State your intention. You’ve never talked to them. When you’ve never talked to somebody or someone enters the room, you immediately think what’s that person’s intention? And as soon as they know your intention, the walls go down and now you can talk to them.
Yeah. Usually when someone’s sliding into your DMs, the intention is like, “Hey, let’s go on a date” or something, or “try my product because I sell multilevel marketing and I have advocare and you need it,” or “this weight loss product is going to change your life.”
“Oh my gosh. Didn’t you know drew Brees uses this?” (laughter)
So getting back on track — what do you mean “state your intention?”
Yeah, a real practical way is to just thank them for following you: “Thank you for following us and connecting with us.” And share your heart. A good easy way is to state that you “have a heart to connect with people on social media.” You could literally use that verbatim and then while you’re messaging them, we would love to have you and your family out to church this weekend. We think you would love it. We would love to meet you. You can say, “Hey, always thank them for following you.”
Practically just thank them for following you. Another way is to say: “Hey, we would love to learn more about you and to connect with you. We would love to help if you need anything.” That’s, practically, how you could state just always at least thank them for following you.
That’s awesome. In terms of of Instagram, specifically, there are three layers on how you can engage and activate those people that are into the community or your followers already: likes, comments, and then, the DM.
Yes, correct. And this is true for Facebook. This is true for Youtube. You can do the same things on all these platforms and it’s free. It just takes time. It takes intention. It takes you. it’s a tool so you just have to use it.
That’s awesome. Uh, Gavin, any, any last things? What’s something, what’s a horror story of her? Of someone?
A horror story. Okay. This is a horror story.
He was quick on that one. He was like, yeah, I got something.
So, they’re called trolls. That’s what they’re called. So you have these (and I would use this term loosely) super saved people. They’re coming at you and they’ll DM you “You’re just trying to get Insta famous.” Yeah. By inviting people to church. That’s exactly how I’m trying to get famous.That’s the most common horror story. People thinking you’re just trying to grow followers and have a very shallow view of social media.
(laughter) Look at us. We did it. We made it through. Gavin. Thank you. Appreciate it, dude.
It was such an honor to be here.
We’re going to have you on more for sure. Like you said, this is always a changing landscape. So we need to continue to be updated on it. If have you found anything helpful from this podcast today, let us know! Send us a DM on Instagram. State your intention first and we’d love to hear from you on what you liked and what you didn’t. I think it has been really, really helpful.
just don’t be a troll.
Yeah, they have a button for that. I will block you.
(laughter) Also, you can go on yellowbox.co and look in the articles section. We’re going to post a downloadable pdf, that has some of these tips we’ve written out for free! And of course, if you have any questions at all, you reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can connect you with Gavin.
Also check out DEKA: deka.solutions and deka.social. They are incredible partners of ours. DECA helps with a payment gateway for churches and allows planting churches or churches that have been around for 40 years, revolutionize their giving solution. They’re awesome. And then, obviously, this arm of it with social super, super important. So it’s really powerful. It is. Yeah. We love it.
I will say this one thing as a closing thought on the power of social giving you a bigger context: within three months of a church, just really doubling down on social likes, comments, DMs and buckling down on social media — they had 38% growth in three months and attendance. There we go. Enough said. All right, thanks so much.
Next week is the Team Church Conference. We’re going to upload something a little different than the podcast, so come say hi to us there! Have a good week. Peace.
Let’s be friends.Reach out and we’ll make something happen together.
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