Here are 7 ideas we would love to see churches explore when it comes to maximizing the potential of podcasting in 2018 and beyond.

Podcasts aren’t just for millennials anymore.

As of 2018, 48 million Americans are listening to podcasts on a weekly basis now. Compare that to the NFL’s Sunday Night Football 20 million viewers, and you’ll start to get a sense of how big podcasts have gotten in recent years. On a monthly basis, 73 million Americans are listening to at least one podcast episode. (Maybe you’ve listened to our podcast, Communicate Church?)

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Does your church have a strategy for leveraging this old-school-goes-new-school technology?

If you aren’t one of the millions downloading episodes of Serial, Startup, Revisionist History, Typology or any number of other podcasts, let’s get you up-to-speed.

Podcasts are essentially on-demand radio shows, most often listened to on a mobile device and downloaded through Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify, or another smartphone app designed to discover and play podcasts. They can range from informational news to in-depth reporting to brilliantly imaginative storytelling. They cover the gamut from fiction to nonfiction, from single-voice narration to highly produced panels and stylized interviews.

Churches have gotten in on podcasting, though they consist almost entirely of repurposed Sunday morning sermons. Which can be great for people who missed a Sunday morning or those who want to go back and listen to a particularly moving or interesting message. But are churches missing an opportunity by setting their podcasting strategy on auto-pilot? We would absolutely say yes.

Just like any communication platform or tool, you can use podcasts to tell stories, share your vision, and connect people in your community. Even if it isn’t your preferred platform for learning or entertainment, we would almost guarantee there are people in your community who are listening to podcasts every single week.

Here are 7 ideas we would love to see churches explore when it comes to maximizing the potential of podcasting in 2019 and beyond:

  1. Go beyond the sermon. We’re starting off with an easy idea here. Most teaching pastors will tell you they leave plenty on the cutting room floor when preparing a message. Sometimes the information is too detailed or requires a deep dive. Other times a rabbit trail would be fascinating for a portion of your congregation, but not everyone would appreciate the anecdote or detail. A podcast would be a great forum, once a week, for a pastor to share more insight, deeper context, or extend the sermon in a public but more casual format.

  2. Tell the story of your community. If you want people to care about serving in your community, you have to tell the story of what is going on in your community and why it matters. Set up interviews with local partners you already work with, weave together a short story about a specific service project, highlight the ways small groups are serving, or give updates on what is happening in your community. It doesn’t always have to be about what your church is doing - sometimes people aren’t even aware of the needs and the opportunities around them in their neighborhoods. A podcast can be a great way to create awareness that leads to action.

  3. Provide a spiritual practice. In certain traditions and denominations, there is a rich history of daily devotionals, affirmations, prayers, and meditations. Many people have a long commute or packed schedules, making it harder for them to sit and read a printed devotional or carve out mental space for reflection. Could you record a daily, 5-minute reflection, offer a prayer or blessing and affirm God’s presence in their life? A lot of podcast listening happens when getting ready in the morning, while driving, or while doing dishes. You could help redeem some of that time in someone’s day with a simple, audio spiritual practice.

  4. Tell stories of life change. Podcasts do not have to be a daily or even an on-going production. Many podcasts have taken on more seasonal formats (like a TV series). As you gather stories of what God is doing in the lives of your people, consider who might be willing to share their story into a microphone. Less intimidating than sitting in front of a camera, you’ll find most people get comfortable quicker when recording audio. This could take the shape of a conversation or a more produced story you might hear on NPR. Release them once a month or during a select number of sermon series. Over time, you can create a library of stories that document God’s faithfulness and activity in the life of your church.

  5. The tried and true “Q&A” format. Especially in larger churches, but also in circumstances where a person may not feel comfortable asking a question in person, a question and answer format can create a meaningful connection between the reality people are facing and the wisdom of your pastors, elders, and staff. Once a week or once a month, have two or three people sit down to respond to questions or tough situations people in your congregation are facing. Get the teaching or senior pastor involved, but don’t limit it to just that person. In a day-and-age where people are looking for understanding and direction, this is a safe way to engage individuals and benefit the whole community.

  6. Real life pastoral care. Really want to try something no one else is doing? Find individuals (or couples) who are willing to sit down and talk about their spiritual journey and current reality on a podcast. Podcasts like Typology and FunTherapy are wildly popular among Christians, in part because of the real people who openly talk about their doubts and struggles and questions with honesty and vulnerability. This is different than telling a story you can put a bow on and resolve by the end of the episode. The payoff of this format comes in holding a conversation in the midst of figuring out what it means to follow Jesus or have a healthy marriage or raise kids. You’d obviously need to do some solid vetting and proceed with care, but the power of hearing real people in your community talk with your pastor (or a trusted counselor) has the potential to spark increased vulnerability and a growing desire for authentic discipleship in your church.

  7. Build a city church podcast network. This really pushes the boundaries of what churches could do. The reality is, not every church has the capacity to add another thing to their plate. But maybe your church has the financial resources to invest in some recording equipment. Or maybe you have a couple of twenty-somethings who have been experimenting and recording podcasts on their own. Could your church become a resource and hub to host, edit, and manage podcasts for other churches in your city? Or maybe you could create a multi-church group of people who collaborate and produce a set of podcasts to meet specific needs that goes beyond any individual church’s vision. Ultimately every Jesus-following church has the same mission–and an idea like this just might contribute to the kind of city-wide church unity that creates a sea change in how churches collaborate in your community.

Don’t limit yourself to what is happening between the walls of your building or even what is going on in the people of your church. That’s a great place to start looking, but the church is a resource and a benefit for the whole community. Look for stories and ways God is working anywhere in your community. People love great stories and great storytelling, regardless of where it’s coming from. A podcast (or any communication platform) could be the way to build a bridge between your mission and the hearts and minds of the people in your broader community.

As you consider what podcasting could look like for your church, keep in mind that you may very well have podcast aficionados sitting in your services every Sunday. If you have an idea or a vision for leveraging podcasts, but you aren’t sure how or where to begin, remember there is an entire generation of digital natives who could very well take an ownership role in shaping how you engage with your people and the broader community through podcasts. Really, all you need to get started is an idea, a microphone, and a computer. What are you waiting for?

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