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When my team fielded the groundbreaking series of studies on Generational trends at the intersection of leadership, technology, and faith, we were astounded by one stat that we knew would cause a ruckus among many Faith Leaders in America. In fact, every time I bring it up many Church Leaders have a violent reaction. What's the stat?
I will tell you in a moment, but first I want to lay a little ground work.

Why This Stat Matters

A few years ago– eight to be exact– I began to ask a dangerous question: What if my church didn't have a building? The first time I brought this up to a group of Boomer pastors I was laughed out of the room. It's not their fault, They had no context for it, but I kept realizing the culture shift in my generation (I'm a Millennial) and I realized people weren't coming to explore our little church replant until they were totally familiar and trusted my wife and me. We would host Muslim refugees in our apartment for dinner. We would serve the complex we lived, which was a section 8 complex in downtown Omaha, and we would have many coffee conversations with young professionals in our city (most who were attracted to us through my wife's job cutting their hair or our community service at the apartments). But I couldn't seem to get them to come without longer relational trust than previous years in ministry or places (I was used to the Bible Belt).
I kept thinking we needed a different approach, and I wasn't sure what it was. But asking them to come to church too soon always seemed fruitless. That's when I began to go down the “digital rabbit hole.” I wondered how Church might operate if they were decoupled from the building and on mission in their city. I wondered how might I engage with someone in a way they could build trust with me without a hundred coffees. Could there be a way where The step into Sunday morning in our building was just another step of a series of steps they had taken before. When I began looking for answers only Life.Church had any answers at the time (according to google anyway) and no church talked about anything other than streaming. So, I started taking my queues from the digital business world. And it was a vastly different environment than what I was used to as an entrepreneur (construction) and a church leader. I learned about Funnels, Social Media Marketing, Content Creation, and what might be the most important aspect of them all: Personal Branding.
What I learned opened my eyes to the function Web 2.0 plays in helping people build relationships and trust with brands, businesses, influencers, and leaders. It was so illuminating to me about where the Church would need to head that I spent the equivalent of another college degree on learning Personal Branding from some of the best in the Digital Business World. Then Covid shut the world down, and I began teaching and coaching Pastors and writing about Digital Ministry. And when I mentioned Personal Branding is important and necessary for the relevance and reach of local churches, I would receive such backlash (even from other digital ministry leaders) that I began to keep it in my back pocket rather than lead with it. I felt there needed to be academic rigor behind what I was anecdotally experiencing and sensing.

The Gen Z Stat That Will Scare You

That's why I partnered with some friends to create the studies. And it confirmed what I exprienced.

More than 2/3 young faith-open (willing to explore Christianity) Americans (16-40 year olds) think it is important for Christian faith leaders to use personal branding to reach and connect with young people.

But that's not all, My Personal Brand Coaches at Brand Builders Group also commissioned an in-depth study on Personal Branding and here is what they said about it: Americans are most likely to trust (61%), buy from (60%) and recommend a company (59%) whose founder or executives have an established personal brand. The higher the requirement for trust, the more important having an established personal brand becomes. You can download a full version of their study for free at BRANDBUILDERSGROUP.COM/STUDY.
This is not a fad… But I hear the objections.

Answering The Big Objection

And I want to answer the biggest one here. The most popular objection I get is, “If God wants us to have a platform he will give it to us. Those that intentionally build their brand are narcissists, and these personal brands are what's wrong with the church in America.”
Well, here is my rebuttal. If people don't know you how can they come to you? Paul asked the same type of question:
First, How will people hear without a preacher? We must open our mouths and we do that online now more than any other medium– even face-to-face, and if they don't see you there they begin their relationship with you with skepticism. Yes, God controls the growth, but you have to post.
Second, Influencer and Narcissist aren't mutually exclusive. Look at the Good ones: Carey Nieuwhof, John Mark Comer, John Tyson, Mark Lebrun. You don't have to be self-centered to have a brand… in fact, if you do, you're doing it wrong. When you're doing it right it's not about the messenger it is about the message.
Finally, shouldn't MORE of the best be online drowning out the narcissistic leaders anyway? The answer to bad personal brands that take over our “Christian-Famous-Pastor-Falls-From-Grace News Cycle” is more great leaders that put the message above their ego, not less. The less we have the more failures look prevalent in our community because the good leaders among us decided to stay silent in the public square.
I know this is a sensitive subject, but when we have the only message that transforms don't we need to do whatever it takes short of sin to help people meet the God who saves? So, I leave you with this question: If Jesus or Paul were alive today, would they use technology to build relationships and reach others to accomplish their mission? Think about it… and maybe I will see you on YouTube sharing your unique message with a world that needs to hear it.

How Do You Lead A Church Young People Love?

It all starts with the leadership and ensuring your church is healthy enough to make the shifts necessary to reach them. This occurs through intentional, strategic planning and then executing that plan. But where do you start? You begin with clarity on where you are today so you know the gaps between here and where you want to go. This Free Church Health Assessment will help you assess your organizational health and  will give you an opportunity to schedule a complimentary coaching Zoom call with me to game plan your way forward.

Chestly Lunday

Chestly Lunday

Chestly Lunday led two pioneering national research studies on emerging generational trends in technological engagement and faith to help faith-based organizations shift their practices to reach young people. He is an expert in Organizational Leadership, Digital Transformation, and Intergenerational Team-Building and a sought-after international speaker. Chestly was an Airman in the Air National Guard, has started two non-profits, and three businesses. Currently, he coaches entrepreneurs of young, fast-growing business with 10-50 employees to grow their time, and team and profits without burning out. Chestly's insights have helped many leaders grow their organizations in a disruptive time of generational and technological change.

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