The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 160
Does the world really need another podcast? It seems like everyone has a podcast these days–including The Malphurs Group! While starting a podcast isn’t for everyone, there is still plenty of room in the so-called “market” for your church to start a podcast. You don’t need to make the “new and noteworthy” or top charts for your podcast to be successful. You simply need to set the right goals, and put in the work to achieve those ends.
Despite the fact that there’s no shortage on new podcasts, the reality is that the podcasting market still has room to grow. According to Buzzsprout, 62% of Americans have listened to a podcast, but only 26% listen to podcasts every week. If you think of podcasts as essentially a form of on-demand talk radio, it’s easy to see that being a “national” brand isn’t necessary; you only need to have a loyal niche to make it worthwhile.
In the case of starting a podcast for your church, your potential audience will necessarily be smaller in scope (your congregation, your community, your city). Therefore, don’t get hung up on the download numbers. Envision a podcast as a way to increase your church’s sphere of influence within your target.
If you determine that this strategy is a good option for your church, here are five steps for how to start a church podcast.
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Step One: Choose a Format
The first thing you must do is determine what kind of podcast you want to start. You could have an interview-style podcast, dive into specific topics (like we do on the Church Revitalization Podcast), go deeper into your weekly sermon, or even do a locally-focused podcast (highlighting what’s happening in your community). I encourage you to listen to a few of the more successful podcasts and hear their various formats. Make notes about what you like, don’t like, and incorporate some of your original ideas.
There is no “right” format for a podcast, and you can always make a change if you feel like it would be advantageous to do so. Notably, the Business Made Simple podcast from Donald Miller used to be interviews with various experts. In more recent years, the podcast has shifted to a coaching interview format where Miller chats with a business owner and gives specific advice to help that business thrive.
The best kind of podcast for your church to start is the one that you’ll commit to executing! Pick a format, commit to following through for at least several months, and make adjustments as needed.
Step Two: Select a Posting Frequency
Determine how often you want to post new episodes. Like with the format, there is no “right” frequency–the best frequency is the one you will actually be faithful to follow. However, as a general rule, the more predictable your schedule is, the better. For example, our podcast releases every Wednesday morning. There’s evidence that a different day of the week might be better for our stats, but a weekly Wednesday morning release schedule fits our team’s workflow best. So that’s what we do. And we’re faithful to it.
Two hacks for maximizing your posting frequency without burning out. First, record episodes in bulk. While we mostly record one episode each week, when we have particularly busy travel schedules, we sometimes record four or five episodes in a week. This gives us breathing room and makes it easier for the whole team.
Secondly, you can record in “seasons.” Imagine you want to do a six-week podcast series on marriage, followed by a five-week podcast series on the book of James. You could take some natural breaks (up to a few weeks) between each “season.” Just be sure you communicate with your podcast audience on when the new season will begin. This will build-in some breaks without appearing like you’ve gone flaky.
A significant plurality of podcasts–43% on Anchor’s platform–have just one episode, and majority of the podcasts on Apple’s platform–77%–are inactive. These sad stats are a result of poor planning. Count the cost, pick a posting frequency, and follow through!
Step Three: Set the Right Goals
As suggested in the introduction of this article, it’s important to start a podcast with the right goals in mind. A podcast can do amazing things to drive people to your church, but it takes hard work and right-sizing your expectations.
From the beginning, let’s recognize the fact that your church’s podcast is unlikely to chart alongside Craig Groeschel or Steven Furtick or Cary Nieuhoff. I’m not trying to kill your dreams! I simply want you to understand how valuable your podcast can be to your church and the kingdom, despite the fact that it’s unlikely to match the tens of thousands of downloads the larger podcasts get (per week).
For context, The Church Revitalization podcast is not a large podcast in comparison to the “big” podcasts in the Christian space. But it has been a significant driver for growth in our non-profit.
Some key highlights: our email database has doubled in less than 18 months. Our audio podcast audience has grown 450% since we started two years ago, leading to tens of thousands of downloads. Our YouTube channel (which is a microscopic fraction of the audio audience) has grown every month despite the fact that we do nothing other than post a full video of the weekly episodes. We have plans to do more with YouTube in the near future (you can subscribe here to see how that grows!)
Most importantly, the majority of churches we work with mention that listening to the podcast helped their church and contributed to the reason they reached out to our team. Like your church, we are a non-profit. We’re not trying to make money off of our podcast. We simply want to use it to provide real value to the people we are called to serve: pastors and church leaders.
Set some hard and soft goals.
For us, we set some hard goals such as list growth. List growth for us is an “output-oriented measure.” Download stats are great, but we’re more interested in listeners who find value– enough to sign up for our email list and let us build a relationship with them. For you, hard goals might be the number of people who “plan a visit” on your website or fill out a “prayer request” form. This should be some specific number you can track, and track back to performance of your podcast and/or other web-specific outreaches your church is doing.
Set some “soft” goals, too. These are less likely to be things you can measure easily, but they’re just as important. For us, the feedback we get from listeners matters to us. These could be emails, comments on episodes, or interactions with leaders who work with us for consulting. Hearing how an episode impacts individuals matters to us.
I like to think that our audience isn’t the thousands each month who download the podcast–it’s the individual pastor or leader in their car, driving to church or to their kid’s school. How does this podcast episode impact him? That’s who I care about when we record each episode, and keeps me from putting too much value on our subscriber counts each month.
Step Four: Get Your Equipment
This article is not intended to be a comprehensive technical guide to starting a podcast. There are better sources for that. For example, watch this video from Pat Flynn on YouTube. He’s got fast, solid advice on the technical basics for beginners.
I simply want to contribute what we use on our podcast, and hopefully it helps you. Before I do that, remember that your church is likely already better set up for a podcast than many beginners! Why? Because you may already have decent microphones, lighting, recording equipment, and even cameras! While you may want to set up a specific podcasting studio, you could also set up a recording area on your stage and re-use your Sunday worship equipment to record a podcast (perhaps to get started, and expand later).
For us, we recommend…
A good microphone
A.J. uses this USB microphone from Blue. Scott uses a more standard microphone (this AKG Perception) with a USB Audio Interface (this Presonus Audiobox USB96) that connects to the computer. There’s no right solution here. Listen to the podcast and decide whose audio sounds better, and try that!
A good camera
If you’re going to release a video version of the podcast, have a good camera. You may already have a decent PTZ camera setup you can use for livestream on Sunday mornings. We use Canon EOS M50 cameras, connected as webcams to Zoom. We’re not getting the full resolution out of these on Zoom, but we’ll be stepping that up in months to come. Like us, do what you can to start, and you can always upgrade later! Cameras will, by far, be your most expensive equipment to purchase. You can always go audio-only and avoid this expense entirely.
If you’re doing video, add good lighting. We use these Neewer lights for a lot of our projects, but some cheaper lights can be found elsewhere on Amazon.
Good editing software
I edit the podcast on Adobe PremierePro. Because we are a non-profit, we have a discounted Creative Cloud subscription through TechSoup. I edit the podcast once, and can export as a video and just the audio separately. You can use free software like Audacity (for PC or Mac) or pre-installed GarageBand on a Mac.
A Podcast Hosting Platform
You’ll need to decide where to host your podcast. There are lots of options, and honestly they’re all about the same. We use LibSyn. We chose this option because we liked the depth of statistics it gave us. But there are free options like Anchor (now owned by Spotify) and low-cost options like the paid plans on Buzzsprout. Honestly, you can always port to a different host later. Starting with a free option is likely your best choice.
Outsource, Outsource, Outsource
Running a podcast takes more time than just what it takes to record the episode! You need to edit the episode, create show notes, upload to various platforms, create meta data, design artwork, send out social media and email posts about each episode, etc. It’s a lot of work! We recommend outsourcing what you can afford to outsource. For us, we have a marketing contractor who helps us design artwork, post the show notes, post the media, and send an email. She’s the one who put the article up that you’re reading right now! (Thanks, Christine!)
Christine is a contractor for us just a few hours each week, but it takes a huge pressure off of our team. You may have someone on your staff that can take on some or all of the post-production work. But you could also find help on a place like Fiverr to edit your audio podcast. If you want to sustain the podcast for the long haul, you’ll need help. I estimate that prepping, recording, editing, and posting a 30-45 minute weekly podcast is a minimum of five hours of work each week (often more). Therefore, be sure you can spread the workload on your team to get it done.
Step Five: Launch and Promote
Finally, it’s time to launch and promote your podcast! First, we recommend having at least three episodes ready to go from the beginning. Just think, if you release three episodes to start, you’re already beating the 44% of Anchor podcasts that have just one episode! But also, it shows listeners that you’re serious. It gives them something more to listen to, if they liked Episode 1.
Next, remember that just because you built it, doesn’t mean they will come. Like your church, The Malphurs Group already had a somewhat built-in audience. We had thousands of email subscribers, so we were able to get an ok-sized audience from the beginning. But growing that audience by 450% in the last two years has required real work.
We write an article each week (you’re here!), which includes an embedded version of the podcast and links to subscribe on various platforms. It also includes the YouTube version for those that like to watch (which isn’t many, compared to the audio version). But this article is critical. It’s SEO optimized so that people searching the internet for “how to start a church podcast” will find it. They might then subscribe to the podcast or our email list.
Then, we communicate each week via email about our newest episode (maybe that’s how you got to this article). We don’t want to spam our email subscribers. We love them, respect their time, and genuinely want to provide value. So we send one email each week (only occasionally it is more–and only if we feel like it’s really important), and we try to keep it short and to the point. We also let folks know on social media about our most recent episode.
Likewise, if you want folks to find your podcast, you’re going to need to think of the podcast as just one element of a broader online content strategy. The article, podcast, search engine optimization, YouTube video, social media posts, and email blasts aren’t individual items–they’re an integrated part of a singular strategy (or they should be). If you’re not thinking that deeply about your online strategy, you need to.
Why do I think your church should start a podcast? Because when people are experiencing pain and tragedy, they’re unlikely to turn to a church first. They’re likely to turn to Pastor Google. They’ll hop online and doom scroll their problems.
If you want to impact people in the 21st century, you need to be answering questions where people are asking them: online. Your podcast could save a marriage, keep a person from committing suicide, or help them say yes to Jesus for the first time.
If you want to start a church podcast to get famous, this isn’t for you. But if you want to grow the Kingdom, reach people in your community with the Good News about Jesus, and raise awareness about your church in your city, starting a podcast is an incredible vehicle to increase your impact.
BONUS: Watch this episode on YouTube.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).