Ben Stroup on Leveraging Content to Move People to Action


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benstroup_smallToday’s interview is a first for the unSeminary Podcast … we have Ben Stroup joining us and he’s not a local church leader! Ben is an expert on leveraging content to move people towards action. Today’s podcast is perfect for church leaders who have ever thought about writing a book or putting together a content project to make an impact in their community. Like always … it’s packed full of information to help church leaders go further, faster!

Ben Stroup // [Website] [twitter]

Interview Highlights

00: 59 // What is a Content Activist?

01:40 // Churches are content publishers

01:50 // Taking a message or platform to the next level

02:15 // 3 phases of Ben’s work to share a message

04:17 // Ben explains the ‘Concept Matrix’

06:35 // What is a ‘jury box’?

07:25 // Josh Webb’s ‘passion’

08:25 // The 2nd phase: Development

08:50 // Minimal interruption of leaders natural work flow

09:55 // Thursday Night Gospel Hour

11:00 // The jury is made of up real people

12: 44 // Ben allows church leaders to share message without having to do it all on their own.

15:00 // The Godfather in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

15:40 // Self versus traditional publishing

16:25 // Don’t wait until you are ready to write a book

17:35 // Rich exclaims that churches sit on a content treasure trove

18:30 // Current content is an asset waiting to be mined

19:00 // Moleskin or Evernote….keep a notebook

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Online Resource // Evernote

Books That are Having an Impact //  “Necessary Endings” by Henry Cloud

Inspiring Ministries // Sophia’s Heart

Inspiring Leader // Tom Peters

What does he do for fun? // Eat great food, watch movies and go to the gun range.

Check This Out // Ideas for churches leveraging back content.


Interview Transcript //

Rich – Well welcome to the UnSeminary podcast.  We have got a treat today and a first for the UnSeminary podcast.  We’ve got Ben Stroup.  Ben is not a church leader but he’s one of those leaders that I want to make sure that church leaders, pastors, that listen to the podcast learn about.  I think he’s got a lot to offer and some great service that I want to make sure you are aware of.  So Ben, welcome to the show.

Ben – Hey Rich, thanks for having me here.  Excited!

Rich – I love your title.  Ben Stroup / Content Activist.  What do you do here at Ben Stroup Industries International?

Ben – That’s great!  There’s really two worlds that I have lived in and that I am trying to merge together and that’s marketing and publishing.  Publishing is all about ideas and systems and marketing is all about calling people to action.  And so I thought that was a really great way to describe what I do.  I try to help leaders, high capacity leaders create messages that inspire people to take sometime of measurable action.  And so that’s it, plus people ask me all the time what I want to do when I grow up.  I say I want to start a social movement I just haven’t figured out which one yet.

Rich – Nice, very cool.  Well I know one of the things, I’ve worked at multiple churches, and it seems like this whole idea of content publishing, obviously the church can be looked at in one way as kind of a content publisher, every weekend cranking out content.  A lot of pastors come to the point and say I want to take it to the next level. I wanna kind of extend my platform, or publish a book or that sort of thing.  So those are the things I want to talk about today, which is this whole idea of book publishing.  Tell me how have you kind of worked with other leaders, thought leaders in the kind of book space in the past.

Ben – Absolutely, so I’m typically brought in to work with a key leader, such as pastor or an executive director of a nonprofit or a CEO of a company.  Typically they already have a message or a platform and they are sharing it one on one, they’re sharing it at events. But what they’ve learned that to get to the next level is that sharing it one on one or at events is a very inefficient way to transmit ideas  So they really need a piece to precede them at an event, something to follow up with somebody.  They also learn that the people who are their biggest fans who want a souvenir to remember them by but then they also want something that they can pass onto someone else.  So I work with them typically setting out from the very beginning with a concept, and some type of content plan, and the actual production process, and sometimes the execution of that process, getting the book printed.  And that functions both in self funded ways but also in traditional ways, so publishers will come to me for part or the entire process depending on their workload.

Rich – Ok, so let’s say you are going to sit down with a pastor and they have a core message, a lot of times teachers, pastors they have something that God put on their heart and we’ve got to tell the world this thing.  What would you say, how would you help them start that process?  Maybe they have a series of messages, some talks, what would be some of those initial steps that you would work them towards starting to package that up, to leverage that in other environments.

Ben – Absolutely.  So the process is divided up into three different phases.  First is the concept phase.  Then the development phase, and then the production phase.  And the concept phase if very, very important. It’s really geared toward what I refer to as the concept matrix.  And so the concept matrix is derived of three things:  Context (Who it is that you are talking two? What questions are around them?  How can you uniquely help them?  And most importantly what are their unique content consumption habits? And then the second thing we talk about is messaging.  What we know is that leaders are great at creating messages.  The problem is there is often a huge lag between when the message is created and transmitted and the message actually makes an impact on the other end.  So that’s why repetition is so important.  Something that the traditional advertising world has really traded on and that is impressions.  The idea that we need to hear things over and over again and we have to be exposed to something a number of times before we actually hear it so that’s important for us to really condense the number of messages that are created to where we really hit the white hot center of potential and the biggest ideas possible.  And then the third part is what I call connections points or you could also call it distribution channels.  And a book to me is one distribution channel.  It’s one way to focus a message to a particular group, for that particular segment in a group.  So even in a niche there are multiple segments that you are trying to reach and they are going to all have different consumption happiest.  So going back to concept depending on what the consumption habit is, that’s where you want to make sure your messaging is going that way.  Because unless you are the federal government or the IRS people are going to maintain their preferences.  They are not all of a sudden going to switch their consumption channel just because you are there, and that’s the most efficient way.  A great example, just in a church context,  announcements form a platform.  That’s a very efficient, organizationally efficient process.  But what happens in a church when people are there 24-26 times  year, instead of 50-52 times a year? Well that means that it is possible that you can say something once and half the congregation never here.   And so while it’s efficient for the organization it’s not necessarily efficient when you are creating action.  So the concept phase is very critical to the process.  There are some specific exercises that I do with the leader to really hone in on.  The first one of is what I call the jury box.  So we actually sit in front of a big pad or white board and define 12 people that they know, that they could call by name and we go through those things.  What questions are they asking?  What problems are they facing?  How can they uniquely benefit from this?  Because when you are really focussing the message, it’s really hard to say, I want to say this to the world.  But that’s what all leaders want to do, right?  The whole world isn’t going to be plugged into what you want to say.  You want to hit the people that embody or personify, are the people who want to gain from what you have to offer.  So then it becomes much easier in the development phase to ask ‘How would I say this to Suzy?  Or how would I say this to Sam?  Whatever those names are?  The second part, and I totally stole this from a friend of mine, Josh Webb, who leads a group called Route Radius.  He calls it passion vomit.  He actually wrote an ebook about that on Amazon.  When you talk to a leader they are often so excited about what they are doing, if you ask the right question, they will literally vomit every idea they have on it.  You have had those conversations right?  So it doesn’t necessarily make sense. It doesn’t necessarily follow a logical pattern and there are a lot of assumptions to be made, but they are just unloading.  So once we figure out who we are talking to, I just let them unload.  And that is really for me to let them do two things.  One, it’s to let them unpack. Make sure everything is on the table that needs to be on table.  The other thing is, it helps me to see the world through their eyes.  And that’s just one of those unique gifts that God has given me to get inside of someone’s head.  If I can figure what you’ll do, and how you think and what values you have, then I can anticipate how you will say something which is going to be very important for the development phase.  So then at the end of that, there’s 2-3 days that we spend together, I come back with a concept paper and that is your game plan, it’s your business plan.  It’s kind of half book proposal, half marketing plan, half business plan on who we are talking to, how’s the piece going to be used, how is it going to be organized.  And then every one knows what that’s going to look like from beginning to end.  So many of the people that I work with are so busy, and the reason that I am there is because they are busy.  And so if I created them a process that required them to be involved in a big way, it would never get done.  So the way I describe it is, this process is designed to have the biggest amount of impact with the least amount of interruption to the natural work flow of the leader.  So once that’s done, and agreed to, everybody in the process, whether it’s the publisher or a self funded project or if there’s two or three other people involved, and myself and the author, we all know where we are going, how we are going to get there and how long it’s going to take.  So then I disappear, and I come back with 30 thousand, 50 thousand, 75 thousand, whatever the amount of word count is.  And then we toss it back and forth a few times and then it goes into the final phase production of the editing, interior design and the book cover and those kinds of things.  And of course I always tell folks that a book is one distribution channel getting us something that hopefully creates a much more layered communication strategy.

Rich – Very cool.  Well there was a lot packed in there.  Clearly you are in the content business.  I was like, oh my goodness let’s stop and talk about that.  It’s interesting what you said there about the jury box.  One of the things at our church Tim Lucas our lead guy, and Tom Kang who is one of our campus pastor and also a secondary teacher.  Every week they do something called Thursday Night Gospel Hour.  And what that is is they go over the message on the weekend and whoever is preaching, preaches it.  And they pull the whole thing apart and our graphics guys are there and they make up all the slides, graphics and all that.  It’s a long process.  It’s a 7-8 hour process that they go through.  It’s amazing.  But one of the things about that process, similar to the jury box is they talk through who is this message for and I think there’s something to that.  It’s not just like this theoretical ‘I’m preaching to mom’s today’.’  No, no, no, it’s like ‘there’s this woman Christine in our church and she’s really struggling with her kids and this has got to really connect with her today and we are really hoping this will…’  When you are thinking the jury box, are you moving towards actual people or are you thinking about theoretical constructs?  What does that look like?

Ben – Oh, no, no…actual people.  Because leaders are so used to dealing with individuals, they know how in a conversation, it’s how God’s gifted them, intuition  of how do I say this to a person in a way they will receive it, the way they intended to.  So these have to be real people.  And that’s where it really becomes sticky, it is hard sometimes and it’s probably the longest part of the process, to be honest with you.  But it’s critical because if we are talking demographics or if we are talking to statistical analysis or that it’s really hard to overcome ending up sounding really impersonal and so you either sound like either…of course if you write something for everybody, it reaches nobody.  And the same way from a preaching standpoint, so you want to preach to those people.  It also personalizes the process.  The leader who typically tends to be really strong orally, to translate that down onto paper is a completely different discipline.  So when they try to do that themselves, they go from being highly personal and relational to highly impersonal.  And so that jury box really becomes an accountability point…no, no, no, we are going to keep the conversation as personal as it would be as if you were having a cup of coffee with me across the table.

Rich – Ah, that’s very good.  Where have you seen the process, is there a common sticking point, again I am thinking of a church leader that might be thinking about writing a book,  and they are like ok there is this one point in the deal where leaders seem to get stuck.  Is there a piece of that that you see particularly?

Ben – You know, I think where leaders get stuck, and particularly church leaders, is they feel like that the only way to get this done is to do this themselves.  And when you add this layer on there, this is such a personal, one-on-one thing that’s really easy to shove off to the side because you’ve got hospital visits to make, you’ve got staff to lead, you’ve got vision to speak to and you’ve got all the practical realities of begin a leader of a growing, dynamic organization.  And keep in mind, people that are typically going to engage with me are high capacity leaders who are leading in growing situations.  Growth is not a time for a lot of leisurely activity.  Growth is balls to the wall, right? I mean its just hunker down, go, make it happen.  So time becomes an internal conflict of how much should I be doing this, and how much should I involved someone else?  So once somebody realizes that it’s more important that this message gets out than it is that I am the one who puts every word and sentence on the page then all of a sudden they see a process as an assistance.  A way for me to come along side and accelerate what they are doing, not a way for me to highjack what they are doing.

Rich – Right, definitely.  Sidebar, I think part of what I appreciate of what you said there is just the connection point, trying to find and use the distribution points that your people you are trying to reach are using.  But a question around the traditional publisher, self publishing, all of that, obviously you work with whoever.  When you think of your average pastor who is leading a growing ministry.  The type of person you are talking about there, maybe not the average pastor but the pastor that is leading a growing ministry…which way would you steer the conversation with them?

Ben – Well it really depends on what their goals are.  So for intense, sometimes I work on a book project in advance of a fundraising campaign.  So i am think about one I did last year for a church down in Hattiesburg Mississippi.  80% of the church going into the campaign was not part of some of the significant transitions that had been a part of the churches history.  This is a church that went from a downtown stately church to moving, and by the way every pastor who tried to move this church before this particular pastor, disappeared or died.  It’s really unbelievable, it’s The Godfather all over again.  So they actually ended up moving the church, rebirthed it, now 80% of the people who are there, now it’s three times as big as it was downtown, 80% of the people who are there had no idea of what the common story was.  And so this was a way to say, this is the story of us.  We have been to the brink of impossible and God has brought us over it.  So in that kind of context it makes sense to do it yourself because of speed, time and because you have more control over the process and it’s for a very specific niche.  When you go with a traditional publisher, they are looking for a broad audience, and from a timeline perspective, you are probably looking from the time you sign the contract to the time it hits the book shelf, 12-18 months. And so when you have particular events that are driving the book, then you are going to want to have a little more control over the timing of the process.  So I’d like to tell leaders to look at it both / and.  Stop seeing it as either or, it’s both and.  And the other thing I would say is don’t wait until you are ready to do a book, you are creating a mound of content every single week.  Look for ways and systems to capture your ideas  and to build on that, and what are those inflection points when you know you can take those.  For instance the average pastor in one stream might be why not take a sermons series and at the end of that you have already developed the art the transcripts from the message if you haven’t done any writing on it and develop a small group study on it for your folks.  Develop a personal study for your folks. Build up your own church digital library for your church of resources that fit the context of your church.  Then based on that, see if you see some larger themes and see if you see some common themes and maybe do a series of ebooks.   And then take the feed back that you get from that and see if you can print it and develop it into a book. So look at it as a commulative effect, not just one time, but many times which will help you.  And then every once in a while you will find those opportunities where you will have some massive message that can be received by a mass audience.  Not necessarily only event driven, but a traditional publisher might be interested in.

Rich –  Very cool.  Again, a lot packed in there. I know we have talked about this in the past, I think there is this great shame in churches that we are sitting on this content treasure trove of past messages. My experience with a lot of the folks that preach that are gifted communicators is that they are always thinking about the next thing.  They aren’t even thinking about current stuff, they are thinking about 2-3 series down the road, that’s where their creative energy is going.  And so by the time they kind of land the series, they drop it out, land and they move on.  And unfortunately I think there is a huge opportunity there for churches to say I think we should use that content…because it’s great content.  People would love to interact with that for sure.

Ben – Absolutely. I look at it like an investment account.  So I think churches, bloggers, folks who are creating these mounds of content and what are we doing with that?  And if we aren’t doing anything with it, we wasted it.  And so it’s an asset waiting to be mined.   What we need to do is take that latent content and figure out a system that will work for the leader and whether the leader is touching it or not, so it can be used on a continual basis, and get life from it.

Rich – Before we jump into the lightening round, anything else you want to say a pastor who is maybe thinking I have a book in me, some stuff to think through?  Anything you have got to say to them?

Ben – One of the things I think is a great discipline is just keeping the habit of finding some space to record what you are thinking and process through it.  As you have conversations with folks, you keep getting similar questions, write those down and periodically review that. Somewhere, somehow, whatever is convenient for you…if it’s writing it in a moleskin notebook, or putting it in an Evernote notebook.  Looking for themes because sometimes it is very difficult…you know clarity never happens looking forward.  Clarity always happens looking back.  If you find a discipline of 10-15 minutes, and this is different from a journalling exercise, this is observations, what are questions, what are things that I am reading that are resonating with me, what are quotes?  Find a way to collect that.  Not only will it help focus your thoughts, but over time you will think, this is something I really need to speak to, this is something people are coming to me for so I should find a way to write about it or share about it so even more people can benefit from it.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.