Bridgetown’s Pivot from Livestream to Local: Kenny Jahng & Rich Birch Discuss

In an era where digital presence is almost synonymous with accessibility, Bridgetown Church’s recent decision to cancel their livestream services stands out as a bold counter-current move. This episode of the unSeminary podcast, featuring a conversation between host Rich Birch and guest Kenny Jahng, dives deep into the implications and motivations behind this pivot. Here’s what you need to know about their insightful discussion:

The Announcement:

  • Context: Bridgetown Church announced it would stop its livestream services starting March 24th, transitioning to audio and video podcasts instead.
  • Focus: The decision underscores a strategic shift towards fostering deeper connections within the local Portland community.

Insights from Rich Birch and Kenny Jahng:

Understanding Bridgetown’s Decision:

  • Local Engagement: Emphasizing the importance of physical presence in building community and spiritual growth.
  • Digital Strategy Reevaluation: In a truly post-pandemic world, many churches are scrutinizing their digital outreach efforts and resource allocation.

Pros and Cons:

  • The Good: A focus on local ministry can lead to more meaningful community engagement and support Bridgetown’s vision of practicing the way of Jesus in Portland.
  • The Concerns: Reducing digital outreach might limit the church’s ability to reach those not ready or able to attend in person, possibly missing out on evangelistic opportunities.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Power of Presence: There’s an undeniable value in in-person interactions that digital formats can’t fully replicate.
  • Digital as a Tool, Not a Replacement: While digital platforms offer incredible reach, they should complement rather than replace traditional church functions.
  • Adaptability is Key: Churches need to be flexible and responsive to their community’s needs, whether digital or physical.

Looking Forward:

  • A Call to Action for Church Leaders: The Bridgetown decision is a conversation starter for church leaders everywhere. It prompts a reevaluation of how digital strategies align with their mission and community needs.
  • No One-Size-Fits-All: Each church must find its balance in utilizing digital platforms to enhance rather than overshadow the irreplaceable value of physical community spaces.

Rich Birch and Kenny Jahng’s discussion on “Bridgetown’s Pivot from Livestream to Local” is more than just a case study; it’s a prompt for all church leaders to reflect on their digital and local engagement strategies. As the church landscape continues to evolve, finding the right mix of digital and physical presence will be crucial for fostering meaningful connections and fulfilling the church’s mission in an increasingly digital world.

Episode Transcript

Rich Birch: Well, happy Wednesday, everybody. Welcome to a special episode of the unSeminary podcast. Super excited to have you with us today. We are having a conversation with my good friend, Kenny Jahng. Kenny wears many hats, but today we’ve got him with the hat on church tech. He’s also the founder of an organization called Big Click Syndicate. He and I served together at Liquid Church. He’s a great friend. Kenny, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Kenny Jahng: I am so excited about today’s conversation. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I’m ready, whether it’s a roundtable discussion, a battle of theologies and concepts, I don’t know. Let’s do this.

Rich Birch: Yeah, this is great. So, for friends that maybe didn’t read the show notes ahead of time, our friends out at Bridgetown Church out on the west coast, they announced earlier this week that they’re dropping their livestream as of here in March Twenty-Fourth, I think. And they’re going to provide audio and video podcasts but are no longer doing the live stream. So, we want to talk about that, and I thought, man, who could we have a conversation with but Kenny Jahng. We’re going to actually let you listen to the entire announcement if you have not listened to it. Let’s just take it. It’s a pretty long announcement, like 4 minutes, so listen in to what they have to say, and then we’re going to come back and talk it out.

[Bridgetown Announcement | Tyler Staton]

Hey Bridgetown family,

I want to share with you an important announcement for the life of our church. Sunday, March 24th, will be the last time that we offer a full live stream for our Sunday worship gathering. We will continue to offer the full teaching from every Sunday worship gathering in both video and audio format, so you’ll still be able to access, like you always have in the life of this church, every teaching from every Bridgetown worship gathering on video on our website or on podcast, wherever it is that you listen and get your podcasts.

The vision of our church is “in Portland as it is in heaven,” and so I want you to know the heart behind this decision is to continue to live in line with that vision. That’s always been our vision and it always will be our vision. There was a time in the history of this church as we navigated the complexity of a global pandemic when offering our full Sunday worship gathering on live stream was absolutely essential for us to live out that vision together. Thankfully, now safely on the other side of that complex time, a full Sunday worship gathering that can be viewed from anywhere and everywhere is no longer an essential toward living that vision.

Should it become again, would we consider re-offering a live stream? Of course, we would. This simply isn’t that time, and we’re grateful for that. So, this decision will affect different groups of people in different ways, so I want to address those different groups of people.

First, for those of you who are here in Portland, consider Bridgetown your church home, and might have benefited from this live stream when you’re traveling or just unable to make it to church that Sunday or something like that. Let this just be one more invitation to gather in person in local community on Sundays around the stage and midweek around the table in homes in Bridgetown communities. That has been the heartbeat of our church and the invitation from day one and continues to be.

It is our belief that the future of the church is ancient and part of the ancient way of God’s people is gathering together in person in local community to live out the way of Jesus. So, you’re invited to come and to do that with us.

And then, there will be those of you who have benefited from the Bridgetown live stream as a supplement to your apprenticeship to Jesus elsewhere. So, if you have found the teaching of this church helpful as you attend another local church in another city or something like that, first, I just want to say what an honor and privilege it is that something of what God is doing in our local community might be helping you follow Jesus where you are. And we hope that by continuing to offer the teaching, we can continue to supplement your apprenticeship to Jesus right where you are.

And then finally, there will be some of you who are gathering together in homes or smaller communities, and the Bridgetown live stream has actually served to be the primary expression of worship by which you have gathered together and tried to form community and apprentice to Jesus in a local group somewhere outside of the city of Portland. And again, I want to say first, I’m so grateful that something of the life of this church has helped you to follow Jesus and to form that type of community.

And I want to give you a two-part invitation. The first is the sincere hope that by continuing to offer our teaching, you would continue to be helped by the ministry of this church. But the second is a call to find yourself locally rooted in a community of Jesus followers in the local place where you are. I hope that our teaching will continue to help you follow Jesus, but that you will also live this ancient way in your local place by finding a local community with whom you can gather and live out the way of Jesus life on life with other people.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, blessing and peace to you as you seek to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did.

Rich Birch: All right. Well, there it is. Fascinating announcement. It caught my attention. I thought, man, this is something we should be talking about. I do think this is not a crazy question. People are wondering, here we are, four years out from the pandemic, are we still doing this? Is this still a thing? So, let’s start, friends. First of all, we love Bridgetown. We think they’re great people. They’re doing an amazing thing. The reason why this announcement comes on our radar is because this is a prevailing church that’s reaching people and helping people take steps towards Jesus. Just baseline, say that. So, anything that sounds like a criticism is all couched in a “hey, these are brothers and sisters. Let’s try to offer it in that spirit.” So, Kenny, let’s first start with the conversation on what do you think they pulled it apart. Let’s affirm it. What’s good about this? Why, from their perspective, do you think this might be a reason for churches to stop thinking about, or not doing, a livestream anymore? What stood out to you as they went through that?

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of churches are going through this decision process right now, reevaluating is this a place where we invest our resources, time, budget, volunteers, systems development, etc. And I think that’s where it kind of makes sense for many churches where they would say, we just don’t have the resources right now. Like, we’ve had a contraction in the attendance; we haven’t come back to the full COVID numbers and beyond. We don’t have a plethora of volunteers on the sidelines just waiting to get involved. So, I get it from a resource standpoint.

Kenny Jahng: I think there are other reasons why you would say that livestreaming is not necessarily the tip of the sword now. I will say, Rich, this is the one thing I think they’ve made a good distinction is they’re making an intentional decision to stop livestreaming the entire Sunday worship experience end-to-end, but they’re not abandoning the internet or posting videos or streaming videos. So, let’s just put it out there first. This is a very thoughtful, intentional plan that Bridgetown is actually putting out. Tyler has thought this through with his team, for sure.

Rich Birch: Yes, definitely not a knee-jerk. I love their focus. Like, in fact, he starts the video by saying, you know, we’ve got an announcement for our Bridgetown family, and you know, they say the word “local” nine times in that video. It’s like it starts, he says “local,” and then by the end, literally in the last 30 seconds, he says it like “local, local, local, local.” They are committed to practicing the way of Jesus in Portland. They are trying to reach people in Portland. If you were to drive by their website, it says “as in heaven, in Portland.” They’re firmly committed, which I love. The thing I think that’s something we can all learn is how do we have such a crystal clear vision about what God’s called us to do that our church is going to look different from other churches, and I think that’s a very good thing that we should take from this.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, I just want to highlight, underscore that little thing you said, the nuance is that they see themselves as a local church. For a church that’s as prominent as Bridgetown, I think it’s a very intentional decision that they say we are, at first, primarily a local church. It’s kind of like when we were at Liquid, we shifted our church online strategy to go from “hey, we’re just gonna try to light up Christians and disciple people globally,” but we have to put church online as a ministry that’s subordinate to the mission of the church proper, and the mission of our church was to saturate the state of New Jersey with the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, there was a significant shift in ideology of saying, “hey, our primary audience is people within the zip codes of our local campuses.” And so, I, for me, that resonates very well in terms of that focus and that intention on it because I think you can do so many things with that, even if even outside of live streaming your church. Again, I think the decision is to stop livestreaming your worship services end-to-end. It doesn’t mean that you’re gonna stop livestreaming and doing other things on the internet. And so, while it is a marker for something very significant, I think the doors are open to serve their local Portland community in different ways in digital ministry.

Rich Birch: Yeah, it’s true. Love it. Similarly, in that conversation, friends, it would be good for you to look on, you know, ask whoever the minister, web ministry, internet ministry, streaming person is at your church to look into the statistics around. Can you tell where people are coming in from? And, you know, lots of times, and I’d love for you to comment on this, Kenny, if this continues to be the truth. The churches I’ve interacted with, when we’ve actually looked into this, it’s like 50% or higher of the IPs that we can track people are coming from within driving distance of our church. It is a local front door. It’s, you know, we dream of like, and we, and listen, I love lots of lead pastors, but they tell these stories of like, “well, there was a guy in Papua New Guinea who came to our livestream,” and although that does happen, that is primarily a local expression. Are you still seeing that in the churches that you’ve interacted with, that there is like a tilt towards a local, you know, for most churches? Are you seeing that, or what do you think? Does it vary?

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, again, I think there’s a whole spectrum, and I think it really depends on how agile they are on the digital marketing front, how agile they are on the positioning and content marketing side, etc. Are they using keywords? Are they publishing outsider content on YouTube? So, there are all those things, but I think, as a general rule, you’re right, that churches are livestreaming for the local service, for their people in their communities. And I think that’s honestly why many pastors are discouraged post-COVID because, during COVID, if you had an average church of 100-150 people, they would see 300-400-500 people or more attend their livestreams during COVID, and now we’re back down to, you know, double-digit attendance sometimes, maybe triple, but it’s a really small number. And so, they feel discouraged by the absolute number of people showing up for their livestreams. I think Pushpay put out a report; 91% of churches were livestreaming worship services, and but the thing though is, in 2024, that has shifted where only 42% of the churches that they surveyed felt that livestreaming would play a key role in the church in the coming years. And so, that shift from “hey, we were all in” to, you know, it’s less than 50% that are now excited about livestreaming and reaching people over the internet, I think that says something. But I think you have to reverse engineer why that’s happening, and I think it’s because of that local audience. I think it’s because they’re not seeing huge numbers, and so they’re saying, “hm, the ROI is just not there.”

Rich Birch: Yeah, absolutely, and there could be a way to leverage this. Like, you know, my coaching would be, “hey, let’s try to leverage the livestream to point towards this in-person and try to show off that kind of stuff.” And like, “hey, let’s host from our kids’ environments. Let’s try to do videos that show around the room. What if we try that for six months or a year first before we pulled this kind of, you know, we pulled the plug on it. Is there a way to move people down the pipeline?” I was talking to, you know, there was a segment of people that I frankly, it’s just not me. That I hadn’t thought of, but recently I was talking to a church leader about, we were talking about similar kinds of issues, and they were reflecting on people at their church, and there were some folks that were attending pre-COVID that weren’t attending in-person anymore, were attending their livestream, and they were trying to get a meeting with them. And these people came out of COVID with a tremendous amount of anxiety, actually, to the point where they wouldn’t come to an in-person meeting. These people live in their city. You know, they wouldn’t come to an in-person meeting. They finally agreed to do a Zoom call, but upfront said, “I’m willing to do a Zoom call, but I need to have the camera turned off because of the anxiety that I’m feeling.” And I’m like, “man, we want to foster more inclusivity in our churches,” and the livestream is helping us do that. There are people where kind of social anxiety stuff drives them, which is not church leaders, right? We can’t identify with that. Someone who’s given their life to stand up on a stage somewhere doesn’t have the kind of anxiety that would be debilitating anxiety or let alone other types of, you know, disabilities that would stop you from actually being able to attend. A livestream gives you an opportunity to reach those people and create an opportunity for those, and again, that was a category. And I’m like, “and people are still living in the anxiety from COVID.” I’m like, “this isn’t over yet, friends.” But there are, yes.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, I mean, it was, for, I mean, even before COVID, I don’t know if I ever told you this story, Rich, when I was Church Online Pastor, we, one Christmas, I met these three couples in the hotel that we were having services in, and they were so excited to see me. They hugged me as if I was like their second cousin or something like that, like I didn’t know who these people all of a sudden accosting me, and they were our church online family. And what happened was, this is a crazy story, Rich. They, one couple started watching. Their friends found out they started watching separately, and then a third couple started watching on church online, and then they started, they found out that all three couples were watching, and they started going to one of their houses because they’re all friends. And they started watching together, kind of like what Jay does, a satellite. Jay calls himself a pastor of small groups, not a pastor of church online. So, they were basically having their small group watch online, and then it took them two and a half years, and this is what one of the wives said to me. It’s like, “we did not ask each other. It didn’t come up in conversation for the two and a half years that we were watching together. Finally, this year, I took a risk, and I asked the other couples, ‘hey, would you want to go to the actual Christmas services together in person?'” And they made the decision to come together. You know how far they were living from the church? Fifteen minutes, Rich. It’s not like they were an hour, fifteen minutes away. It took them two and a half years to take the guts to ask their friends that they’ve been watching together with for over two years to say, “do you want to go down the road fifteen minutes and go in person?”

Rich Birch: Yeah, it’s crazy, crazy. No, no, yep, yep. Right? Yeah, totally. And we want to absolutely, and yeah, and this obviously isn’t Bridgetown’s heart by any means, but like, you know, there is a broader, I would say, I would be concerned about a broader movement in kind of evangelical circles that is retreating from culture and again, this isn’t Bridgetown, but it’s kind of an adjacent issue that is saying, like, “hey, we’re, what we should do is be, you know, kind of monks on a hill somewhere disconnected from our culture.” And, friends, like, you got to just look at Christian history. There have been lots of movements like that over time, and it has not ended well for the message of Jesus. Yes, you can kind of retreat into some sort of aestheticism that is, yeah, all about you and your relationship with Jesus, but then the broader culture suffers. And so, again, that’s not what’s happening here at Bridgetown, but it’s kind of connected to that, that, you know, or it’s adjacent to that. Man, we, personally, I think, man, we don’t want to give up any tool that we have. Sure, maybe we want to reduce the, you know, the cost. We want to find but better ways to do it. We want to think carefully about who’s attending, work carefully to move people towards our in-person. All of that’s fine, but I would be very cautious about dropping it at this point in our life. In the same way, listen, friends, I was at the peak of COVID when dear friends, who are not on these calls, were, well, maybe Kenny was, was jumping from, you know, the mountain tops, but we had those people at the height of COVID that were like, “in-person church is over. No one’s ever going to go back to an event. It’s all going to be online. You know, we’re the new dawn of, you know, church online is here.” And I, at that point, I was like, “I don’t think that’s true. Like, I don’t, you know, so now I find myself on the opposite end of this conversation,” which is, “hey, friends, don’t give up church online. Let’s not give up the livestream, for sure.” Anyways, I’d love to give you the last word, Kenny. What are you thinking, and what advice, coaching would you give to church leaders that are listening in today?

Kenny Jahng: And I think it’s worthy of a discussion. So, this is a great conversation piece to take the recording that Rich played, that announcement, play that in its entirety for your team, and then discuss it and figure out what is appropriate for your own ministry because I think every decision that we make in terms of investing in the ministry front, it should be defensible, and we should be willing to give it our all. And it’s the same thing that we say in our coaching, in our social media for churches Facebook group. This is a recurring thing where people are overwhelmed. I always say that churches, communicators especially, feel like they’re on the dreadmill of death, not the treadmill, the dreadmill of death, right? The content beast just demanding content twenty-four seven, and the way to win in today’s world is not to try to do everything all the time. It’s to pick one, two, three channels and do it well, do it with the excellence that God deserves. And so, in one way, I really respect what Bridgetown has done and say, “hey, maybe you need to figure out. Let’s get our house in order for our basic fundamental mediums of how we engage our community.” And then, incrementally, you can bring it back and figure out what works with you. But I think that if you think through with intentionality, I think you will figure out what is the best mix. And again, the last thing I would say, Rich, is no decision is permanent, right? You could always alter it and evolve it, and time marches on. And so, I think that’s the other thing, like, you should give yourself permission to actually ideate and evolve your ministry as you go forward.

Rich Birch: Love it. Well, Kenny, I appreciate you. I want to make sure people check out Talk to us about ChurchTechToday. You know, what kind of resources do you provide there? This is an incredible resource, friends, that you should be subscribed to, follow everything that Kenny does, but talk to us about ChurchTechToday.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, it’s, we’re trying to be the number one place to help you build the perfect tech stack for your church. There’s so much digital happening, and the opportunity of digital ministry is available for every single church today, right? Technology has democratized so much of what we can do in our communities, and so we’re just trying to be a resource for you guys to build the perfect tech stack for your own church, learn about resources, how to deploy them, build out the strategies and tactics. And so, I invite you to reach out and let me know what you’re trying to learn about, what you’re trying to put into place, and we can actually help you build more resources to get you there faster.

Rich Birch: Yeah, love it. So, like, even just some recent articles there, “What’s Happening in the World of AI March Twenty Twenty-Four,” “Ten Creative Ways to Use QR Codes for Easter Promotion,” “Moving from Metrics to Ministry Intelligence for Impact,” just so many good things. You know, just lots of great stuff. So, You’re going to want to drop by there. Thanks so much, Kenny. Appreciate you jumping in and weighing in on this. And again, yeah, Kenny put that out there, but let me say it explicitly. We love our friends over at Bridgetown and would love to get on a call with them and talk through, would love to hear the insides if they’re interested. More than happy to jump on a call and talk about it. So, thanks so much. Thanks for being here, Kenny.

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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.