That Christian Vlogger: Case Study of a Video Missionary Part 2 – How He Grew His Channel from 0 to 65,000 Followers
Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
How I grew my Channel from 0 - 65,000 followers
Let’s assume that you’re convinced about digital missions. In fact, let’s say that you’re ready to start a YouTube channel for your ministry, church, or as an individual! The question is, how do you grow an audience? Great content needs to be seen to impact the lives of your intended audience. Let me walk you through five key steps.
Step #1 - Commit to an upload schedule.
Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that growing an audience takes time. Over the last three years I have created over 350 videos. Some of those videos have been seen by tens if not hundreds of thousands of viewers, while some have fallen flat with just a few hundred.
The main reason why you want to commit to an upload schedule is because you learn so much more when you create so much more. Many people expect to release one perfect video and create an audience from that one video. Now, while I do not doubt the power of a viral video, you can never really create a deep and meaningful community off of one video.
When I first started my YouTube channel, I made a promise to myself that I would upload one video per week without fail (it turns out that I actually uploaded 100 videos that year). I am a firm believer that done is better than perfect. So many people get paralysis by analysis simply because they want to create the perfect piece of content.
News flash: your first videos will suck. That’s ok. Everyone’s first videos are terrible. The point isn’t that you create perfect content, but that you perfect the art of creating better content. With each video, you should improve on the one before.
For the purposes of YouTube, I suggest a minimum of one upload per week. If you have the additional bandwidth and skills to do more, that's great, but not necessary. One video per week will suffice.
Step #2 - Do your homework.
Now that you have committed to creating 52 videos in this upcoming year, the next question you should ask yourself is, what kind of content should you create? This is a key question for your ministry, and I go in-depth on this topic in the “How to Start a Video Ministry” course.
The TL;DR version is this. Find questions that people are searching for on the internet and create content specifically designed to answer those questions. Utilize tools like VidIQ or Google keywords and the YouTube search engine to know what popular questions people are asking.
Ideally, you want to find the sweet spot between super competitive searches and questions that no one is asking. If you target phrases that are too competitive, your voice will be crowded out and your videos will fall short. Conversely, if you target niche questions with near to zero search traffic, you may eliminate your potential viewers while eliminating potential competition.
One helpful exercise that I did when I first started was a broad search on YouTube of some of the more commonly watched videos in the Christian niche and I created a spreadsheet of what people seemed to respond to most.
To start, I suggest targeting questions or phrases that have on average 10,000-100,000 monthly searches on Google. Any more than 100,000 monthly views and competition is too fierce. Any less than 10,000 and you’re very likely to not garner attention at all.
Step #3 - Study analytics.
Once you have created an initial library of content (say, a dozen or so videos), it’s time to start studying your numbers and learning from your analytics. You can learn quite a bit of information from the numbers that YouTube provides.
Pro-tip: Some important metrics to take notice of are total views, minutes watched, and viewer retention.
The first two are pretty straight forward. Total number of views and minutes watched per video are obvious indications of what type of content is resonating with your growing audience. If you notice clear trends on which type of content is getting attention, dive deeper into that subject and create more content around it.
For example, if your video on “How to Study the Bible” has noticeably higher engagement over any other type of content, consider creating content around a related topic. Examples could include, “Which Bible translation is best?” “Where should I start when studying the Bible?” and “5 Bible Verses to Help with Stress.” The goal with creating families of content is to allow a potential viewer to binge watch three to four videos at a time. If you only have one video on an important subject, they can’t do this.
Viewer retention is arguably the most overlooked metric for most YouTube content creators. The longer you can keep someone on YouTube, the more favorably you will be treated by the YouTube algorithm. The simple fact of the matter is that not everyone watches the entirety of your video.
Consider the “Average percentage viewed” metric. A healthy benchmark to shoot for is above 50 percent.
You’ll notice in the picture that at no point are there significant drops in viewer retention. This is a healthy sign that the video you created was valuable to your audience and has done a reasonable job in addressing the question.
If you ever see sharp declines in audience retention, this is a great time for you to pull a lesson from it. Consider this picture:
You can see a sharp drop from 100 percent to about 60 percent retention within the first 60 seconds of this video. Perhaps my audience was not interested in the subject, maybe I did a poor job of introducing the content in an engaging way, or, most likely out of all the explanations: I took too long to get to the content. Studying your viewer retention can help you change your approach and delivery of your content.
Step #4 - Engage in community.
It is absolutely crucial that you do not look at your YouTube channel as a one-way street. Too often we view the YouTube platform as a digital portfolio of our content. This is a misguided approach that will limit your potential for meaningful impact. You should regularly be asking your audience questions, encouraging them to share their thoughts in the comments, and intentionally trying to build relationships off platform.
A rule of thumb: every single piece of content that you create should invite conversation. The most obvious application of this is to actually ask your audience a question in each video. Encourage them to share what stood out to them, challenge what you presented, to both agree or disagree with you and to let you know why. Appropriate discourse and debate are hallmarks to a healthy online community.
Trolls: Create enough content and you will inevitably encounter trolls. Internet trolls are people who start quarrels or aim to upset people on the internet with the exact purpose of distracting and sowing discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community. The goal for the troll is to amuse themselves by provoking viewers to display emotional responses and by leading the community down rabbit holes.
There are a few ways you can handle internet trolls. All have merits and drawbacks.
For more guidance on assessing your response, download a helpful infographic.
Step #5 - Take risks.
I am a firm believer that you should constantly be reinventing yourself. There is a major difference between 10 years of experience and one year of experience repeated 10 times. Experiment with different styles of content, different approaches, and even subjects that challenge both you and the audience.
One series of videos that I continually take risks are on the issue of the LGBT community. I have done eight total videos on the subject of homosexuality in the Church. Each time I have invited an openly gay Christian friend as a guest to the channel. The videos were not centered around debate, but around empathy. My hope was to humanize the “other side” so that we could talk to each other instead of past each other.
As you can imagine, there was a significant cost to this series. In total, I have lost over 700 hard earned subscribers from this series of videos. If you look on the graph below, you can clearly see when these videos were initially released.
However, while I had lost a major number of subscribers in the short term, I still believe that this was a healthy choice overall. The type of channel that I’m creating is one where controversial topics can be discussed. I, personally, am hoping to create a space where people can wrestle with their faith and ask the difficult questions that churches often avoid.
My audience may not always end up agreeing with my particular stance on any number of topics, but they know that I will always treat the subject and my guests with grace, compassion, and love. This posture of humility and of an open heart invites a very particular type of viewer and has created a heavily engaged community willing to journey through life together with me.
Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
When it comes to reaching millennials, social media is a necessity, not a luxury.
With only 2 in 10 millennials considering regular church attendance important, it just makes sense to meet young people where they are, and in 2018, that’s online.
Millennials spend on average 18+ hours per day behind a screen consuming movies, podcasts, social media, and playing video games. If you think that’s crazy, consider this: when I shared this statistic at Andrew’s University, over 50% of the seminarians I asked said that this was an accurate representation of their day.
As a church, our first response has been to point out the inherent dangers in online media, and rightfully so. However, if we have any desire to reach the unchurched or those who have left the faith, running away from social media is no longer an option. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Rather than running away from social media, I believe God is calling us to run toward it, not as mindless consumers and gullible sheep, but as digital missionaries.
The digital missionary recognizes that “…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, NIV). But as Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15, ESV). The digital missionary is a faithful Christian who is committed to taking the gospel to the world, whether that means selling books door-to-door, hopping on a plane to a third-world country, sharing their testimony on Sabbath afternoon, or creating videos on YouTube.
So here are 5 of the most important tips that I’ve learned in my three years as a digital missionary:
Tip 1: Assume no one will ever come to your church.
When most begin thinking about digital evangelism, one of the first questions is, “How do we get them to come to church?” Respectfully, I think this is the wrong question to ask. After all, the mission given to us by Jesus was to make disciples, not to grow our local church. Stop treating Facebook or Instagram simply as advertising platforms for weekend services or midweek socials. Instead, ask yourself this: If the only teaching or discipling that my viewer receives comes from my online ministry, how would their walk with God look? Would their love for Jesus be increased? Would they be challenged? Would their faith grow? By taking the “disinterested benevolence” approach, always serving and never expecting, God will place us directly in the path of those who need it most. Sometimes that means our ministry will reach the shut-ins and disabled, the persecuted Christian living in a Muslim country (true story), or someone like Brook.
Paradoxically, by making this assumption, people do show up at church. In fact, this past month Helen dragged her husband and all four of her kids to church when she found out that I would be speaking at a local Adventist church only 2.5 hours away. She may not be baptized yet, but as someone who has been convinced of the seventh-day Sabbath, Helen is doing the hard work of wrestling through these difficult questions. Thankfully, she doesn’t have to do this on her own.
Tip 2: Numbers matter, but not in the way that you think.
As a digital missionary it’s easy to believe two lies when it comes to “numbers.” On the one hand it’s easy to get proud when a video “goes viral” and the subscribers start rolling in. Conversely, it’s easy to get discouraged and think it’s not worth the effort when only a dozen people watch a video that took you five or six hours to create. In the same way that God values the small local church of a dozen members and the mega church with tens or hundreds of thousands of members equally, the same is true for the online video. It doesn’t matter if your video gets millions of views or dozens; God values it the same. After all, what matters to God most is the impact on the individual. It can be so easy to forget this simple fact, leading us to start interpreting views as a simple metric instead of what it really represents: actual real-life human beings who have taken the time to watch your content.
No Bible worker would for a moment feel ashamed when only a dozen people showed up to their Bible study. No pastor would ever consider the many hours in sermon prep a waste if he only got to preach to 50 or 100 people. The same should be true for digital missionaries. Why? Because each view isn’t actually a view. It’s a person
Tip 3: Teach what your viewers are looking for, not what you’re interested in.
One of the most overlooked facts about YouTube is that it is the second largest search engine in the world. In fact, every month, YouTube sees over 3 billion searches! “How-to” videos are growing 70% each year. We know this intuitively. After all, what do we do when we need to learn how to change a tire? We YouTube it! Need to learn how to tie a tie? YouTube it! Trying to learn how to install a piece of software on our computer…YouTube it! The same is true for spiritual questions. Over 100,000 people every single month are searching for answers to questions like, “Is God Real?” “What happens after death?” “What is Faith?” and even…“What is a Seventh Day Adventist?”
Instead of uploading an hour-long debate on who the King of the North is from Daniel 11, try targeting what people are actively searching for. Here’s a pro-tip on how to discover what people are looking for online. Open up YouTube on an “incognito tab” on Chrome (if you don’t know how to do this, ask a 13-year-old in your church). By doing this, you won’t allow your personal search history to influence the auto-complete in the search bar. Start typing phrases like, “What does the Bible…” “Does God…” and “Why does God?”
Pay close attention to what shows up. YouTube is telling you that these are the most commonly typed questions by YouTube viewers from all across the world! This is where you should start when creating online content.
P.S. Use free tools like VID IQ, Google Ad Words, or Tube Buddy to get more in-depth information on specific questions many people are searching for.
Tip 4: Remember, community matters most!
Most of your viewers will be casual viewers: those who watch one or two videos only to wander to some other part of the internet. Don’t be discouraged by this. Jesus mentioned that there would be different soils each time we try to plant seed. Don’t be easily discouraged when it seems like your audience is highly transient in nature. If you are consistent in creating quality content, never “grow weary of doing good.” The promise is that, “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).
Building deep community takes time. This is true of digital missions and IRL (in real life) ministry. People may visit your church dozens of times before they truly engage with the community and get involved through service. When I first started my online ministry, I asked myself how I would define “success” if I were planting a church. After 12 months, would an engaged community of 50 people be success? 100? 1000? Apply this same long-term mentality to building an online community. Don’t get impatient.
Other than creating consistent, quality content, there are many more things that you can do to build community. Respond to every single comment. Yes, all of them. Every comment is an opportunity to build community. Think of every comment as a real interaction (because that’s what it is). How would you respond if someone had something complimentary or critical to say to you after church? What would you do when a visitor had a question to ask the pastoral team? Respond to every single comment. Even the haters. Some of the most meaningful interactions that I have had online actually have come from people who were initially, “haters.” When fellow YouTuber, “The Raging Atheist,” made a very colorfully worded and angry video focused on attacking my channel (http://bit.ly/2NVbTrU - sensitive ears beware), instead of getting defensive, I tried to reach out.
Two more VERY colorful videos and several months later, “The Raging Atheist” not only considers me a friend but is actively encouraging his atheist subscribers to go and subscribe to my channel. To hear the full story, check out the Restore podcast by Javier Diaz.
Make it a practice to reach out to your viewers. Connect with them on other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ask them questions. Offer to video chat or call them when they have questions. Respond to every email as if they were a person knocking on your church door, and over time you will build a deep and meaningful community.
Tip 5: Prayer is not enough. Educate yourself and collaborate with others.
Don’t get me wrong. Prayer is not only important, it is necessary. Any success that we will have in ministry, digital or otherwise comes as a direct response to prayer. But a digital missionary must combine it with an active effort to be informed and competent. Social media platforms change about as often as Apple releases new iPhones. As such, it’s important to continually invest in education and mentorship.
I’m writing this case study having just gotten back from Las Vegas. No, I wasn’t trying to make it big at the casinos. Instead, I had just invested three days with some of the industry’s leading experts on social media marketing.
Side note: many of the most proficient experts in social media are fellow believers seizing the power of social media for kingdom growth!
Over the last three years, I have spent over $10,000 on online courses, coaching, books, conferences, and mentorship. Now, I realize that not everyone is in the position to invest this type of money, but there are so many free resources available to help equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to succeed as a digital missionary (thanks to the NAD for partnering with me to create a FREE course on how to start a video ministry.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about digital missions is that social media actually rewards collaboration instead of competition. Whether you are looking to launch a YouTube channel, podcast, blog, or Instagram account, there is much to be gained from partnering with like-mission-minded people. Connect with other digital missionaries. Learn from their experiences, both the successes and failures. Seek to bolster and support their efforts with the heart of a servant.
Here are some examples of fellow Adventist missionaries & resources:
P.S., if you’re still doubtful that digital mission work really makes a difference, this is Michael Troyonasky. He became a Seventh-day Adventist because of a YouTube video. Yes, it makes a difference.
Digital Missionary, That Christian Vlogger.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
Recently, advertisements sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began running on prominent YouTuber Justin Khoe’s videos. What makes this surprising is that Justin is a digital missionary for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For every advertisement that runs on his videos, Justin gets a percentage of the revenue. In other words, when the Church of Jesus Christ targets their ads to subscribers of his channel, they are financially supporting his ministry, an Adventist ministry. Before we get into why this strategy makes sense and what it means for Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic methods, let us share some background information.
Who is Justin Khoe?
Justin Khoe is a digital missionary. Known online primarily as “That Christian Vlogger,” Justin runs a Christian YouTube channel with over 65,000 subscribers (as of October 2018) that seeks to have a positive impact on those searching for spiritual answers online. His YouTube videos have been seen around the world by over two million people. With over ten years of preaching, literature evangelism, and teaching experience under his belt, Justin’s current focus is leveraging social media to help reach unchurched young adults. Co-hosting the show with him is his wife, Emily. Justin and Emily aim to encourage young adults to have a stronger and deeper relationship with God and to help them discover who God has created them to be. They call this way of living “experiencing faith in the first person.” In the past year, Justin has created an interactive Christian community and received 2,334 requests for Bible studies.
How YouTube Advertising Works
Advertising on YouTube is simple and straightforward: pay Google a set amount ($0.20 per view, on average) to insert a commercial to play before a particular video. The revenue from this advertising is split between Google and the content creator.
With over 1.8 billion people watching videos on YouTube each month, it’s easy to see why advertising on the platform is attractive for businesses looking to reach a wide audience. And they are coming in droves; in 2018 alone, advertisers are expected to spend an astonishing $3.9 billion dollars on YouTube advertising.
It’s makes sense. Armed with an endless supply of targeted data from Google’s immense user base, companies can now target prospective customers with pin-point accuracy. Travel agencies can target young families with an interest in exploring South-East Asia. Makeup companies can target 13-17 year old girls from the United Kingdom who have recently searched for specific brands of lipstick. The examples could go on and on.
Opportunities Beyond Profits
But YouTube advertising isn’t the exclusive domain of makeup companies and travel agencies looking to turn a profit. For many organizations with non-financial motivations, YouTube has become an ideal platform for influencing targeted groups of people. Using Google’s powerful targeting tools, politicians use the platform to target key voter segments, nonprofits use it to target likely donors, and—most recently—churches and other religious organizations have begun using it to target spiritually-interested people searching for answers to spiritual questions.
This last scenario is one that should be of particular interest to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As mentioned above, a religious organization has recently begun running ads on Justin Khoe’s (aka “ThatChristianVlogger”) YouTube channel. One ad in particular describes the conversion experience of Richard, an Asian-American atheist who became a Christian.
The approximately three-minute video describes how Richard was unhappy with his life and how he began to search for a greater purpose. Richard ultimately found, not only a faith that could fill his need for purpose and meaning, but also one that appealed to his need for logic as a scientist. Eventually, Richard met with some missionaries and decided to join a church that loves and welcomes him with open arms.
A Neglected Field
The crazy part of this story lies in which organization is sponsoring these ads on a Seventh-day Adventist YouTube channel: The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ, known for their evangelistic zeal, have recognized—better than most churches—that when young people have questions about purpose and identity, they don’t turn to pastors and teachers as they did in previous decades. No, they turn instead to social media—Google, Facebook, YouTube, and the like. In fact, Generation-Z can’t live without YouTube, with 95% of them using the platform and half stating they can’t live without it.
Gen Z prefers to watch, rather than read. They view digital video and short-form clips almost six times as much as they read traditional digital publishers/blogs. Social influencers play a significant role in defining what youth audiences like, view, and buy…This is particularly true when marketing to Gen Z, who grew up with the internet and are not only demanding that all brands entertain them, but also that entertainment shifts to behave like a friend—it’s also why influencers are so effective in selling to this generation. —Maude Standish, Vice President of Programming Strategy, Fullscreen
Rather than ignoring this trend, or attempting to counteract it, the Church of Jesus Christ has made the evangelistic leap that all churches seeking to remain relevant in the 21st century will have to take: they became digital missionaries. They found an existing online community of spiritually interested individuals (built by Justin Khoe through his YouTube channel), and then paid Google to spread their message to that targeted audience through advertising.
As a result, a Seventh-day Adventist digital missionary—Justin Khoe—finds himself in the ironic position of being sponsored (via YouTube advertising) by the the Church of Jesus Christ, because they recognize the immense evangelistic value of the audience he his building, and the need to target the next generation on the digital platforms where they are searching for answers.
Supporting digital missions can take a variety of forms. For the individual, this may mean leveraging your own digital influence for the gospel or supporting your favorite Adventist influencer financially. Encourage friends and family members who feel called to the digital mission field, especially when they are frustrated and have doubts. When you don’t understand what they are trying to do, ask questions and never dismiss their ideas due to their “youth.” In my experience, most principles gleaned from the physical mission field have application in the digital one. If you have evangelism and discipleship experience, be a guide and a mentor that encourages young people’s ideas. You may not be a content creator, but if you’re on social media, you can share their content to help expand their reach.
This will take a cultural shift at every level of our Church to recognize, encourage, support, and assist our youth, who are the best suited to reach their own generation. We must recognize digital missionaries as legitimate missionaries. This means not only making room for digital evangelism and discipleship in our churches, but preparing our youth for this mission field by equipping them with the right technical skills. We, as a denomination, must value the tech-savvy and social influencers if we are to accomplish our great commission in a digitally-focused society. It’s time to invest heavily in digital missionaries, platforms, technologies, and advertising strategies at the corporate and local levels of our Church.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church began as a grassroots effort that became a global movement. The explosion of digital technologies is affording us the opportunity to once again unite in a common purpose to expand the gospel. We are more connected than ever before, and the mission field is huge. I believe the next great awakening will be a digital one. I am challenging us to another grassroots movement of skilled individuals using their different talents (blogging, video, design, podcasting, IT, preaching, writing, healing, etc.) to share one message. I know there are thousands of faithful believers with the skills, expertise, and faith necessary to take our message online en masse. There is a place for everyone in this movement, but it will take everyone working together. The wisdom of traditional evangelism combined with the technical fluency of the youth could preach the three angels’ messages with a loud voice to the ends of Earth. This is possible if we seize this opportunity before it’s too late.
Follow Justin Khoe on YouTube
Support his ministry on Patreon