A Christmas Letter from Our Founder

Larry WitzelLife Lessons

Larry Witzel, Founder & President

“Larry, what is SermonView doing for young pastors like me who don’t believe in public evangelism?” 

The question caught me off guard. We had just wrapped up our first Propel Conference, where pastors and church leaders came to learn how to be more effective at reaching their communities for Christ. 

I was debriefing with one of the few young pastors who attended, when he asked me the question that stumped me. The thing is, we know that public evangelism continues to be the most effective way to grow a Seventh-day Adventist congregation. Almost all of the fastest growing churches in the North American Division include public meetings in their evangelistic strategy, and the vast majority of current Seventh-day Adventist members made a decision to join the church at an evangelistic meeting.

But today, there are hundreds—maybe even thousands—of Adventist churches who simply won’t do evangelistic meetings anymore. They would rather die than hold meetings. So my colleague’s question got me thinking: If public evangelism is off the table, then what else can a church do to grow? What’s second best? And how can SermonView help churches do that really well, too? 

Welcome to my annual Christmas letter, where I document the current state of SermonView and reflect on the ministry environment in which we operate. I write this mostly for myself, but you’re welcome to listen in. In my 2021 letter, I shared about a really tough year for me personally, and last year I talked about our 4 areas of ministry emphasis. This year, I want to talk about the future of evangelism. But first, let’s review 2023.

2023 Highlights

It’s been a pretty incredible year of growth for the SermonView crew. We started the year with 9 staff, but we’ve grown to the point that we’re adding our 13th employee next month, with 2 more open positions.

Over the last 12 months:
  • We ran 438 marketing campaigns, for both evangelistic events and to find Bible study interests for local churches.
  • We reached 8.5 million people through social media advertising and direct mail, with ads for our churches seen over 10 million times.
  • In InterestTracker, 56,603 new interests were added this year. Nearly 1,700 churches are now managing over 156,000 interests.
  • Since we started offering church websites in 2021, we’ve launched 52 new church websites. And as part of this service, the Google Ads we’re managing for these churches have received over 150,000 impressions leading to 6,564 interactions.
  • In May, we held our first Propel Conference, offering inspiration and training for church growth. Though it was a small start, with just over 100 people attending, the resulting Propel Podcast has a growing subscriber base, with nearly 1,000 episode downloads in 6 months.
  • Since July, when we started offering YouTube advertising, ads on behalf of our churches have received 1.2 million impressions, leading to over 200,000 interactions.
  • In August, we launched a new school marketing program, focusing on the benefits of Adventist education. We’re running campaigns now for 2 schools, with more in the works.
  • We love connecting with you in person, and our team has been out in the field attending a number of events this year. These included Adventist Ministries Convention, NAD eHuddle, NAD Pastor Evangelists BootCamp, NAD Educator’s Convention, Society of Adventist Communicators, Southern Union EC3, Pastoral Evangelism Leadership Council (PELC), and, of course, the Propel Conference.

Where We’re Headed

This brings me back to the conversation I had about helping churches who no longer recognize the value of public evangelistic meetings. If public evangelism is off the table, then what else can a church do to grow? What’s second best? And how can SermonView help churches do that really well, too?

YouTube Ads for Evangelism

In May, I heard Hiram Rester speak about the success he saw using short, concise YouTube ads to draw Millennials and Gen Z to public evangelistic meetings. I read his doctoral dissertation, then read it again. That led us to develop a new service for churches, handling all the technical details of YouTube advertising. In August we did a webinar with Dr. Rester on how to create engaging video ads. And we’ve now run a couple dozen campaigns over the last 6 months, getting our methodologies dialed in. I believe that in the future, online video advertising will be more effective at reaching people than direct mail, and it’s already found an important place in a comprehensive marketing plan.

Digital Transformation

As I’ve been working on my PhD, I’ve come to realize the profound change taking place all around us. Society is undergoing a rapid, radical shift, what Thomas Siebel calls the digital transformation. Yet churches continue to do things as they have for decades. Churches are now analog islands in a digital sea, and emerging generations find our expression of church community to be completely foreign. It’s not that we’ve lost the young adults in our church. We never had them. (If you missed it, watch the webinar on the digital transformation of ministry we did last month.)

So we’ve been exploring what the digital transformation might look like for church ministry. We’re working with 2 pilot churches on significant projects, integrating some of our existing tech and creating new tools. I’m really excited about where this is headed, and you’ll hear more soon.

Generative AI

When ChatGPT blew up last year, I wrote it off as another fad. But not anymore. In 2024, the entire SermonView crew will be doing systematic training in generative AI, looking for ways to leverage it for ministry. Frankly, I have no idea what that looks like, but I’ve seen enough to know AI will be a game changer. It has the potential to improve our production workflow, allowing us to offer our services at a lower price point. It might even drive an entirely new category of products that will help churches be more effective at ministry and evangelism.

Doctoral Studies

Let me close by talking about school. For the last 2 years, I’ve been working on a PhD in strategic media at Liberty University. This year, I found myself so sick of school that I decided to double up my class load to finish sooner. So I’m on track to enter the dissertation phase in May 2024, and, God willing, graduate in May 2025.

I’ve been amazed at how much direct application my doctoral studies have had to the needs of our churches. In my research, for example, I’ve found that uncertainty reduction theory offers a framework for effective church websites. Parasocial relationship theory explains the rise of social media influencers, and offers a methodology for using video to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise set foot in a church. And the digital transformation? That’s the future of church ministry, the foundation for SermonView’s future growth. We can clearly see how churches will be able to reach new people through digital communication channels, and our entire SermonView crew is excited to be part of the digital transformation in local churches.

I love my job! I’ve been blessed to connect with many of you at events this year, because I love seeing you and hearing your stories. I’m so grateful to you for the support you’ve given the SermonView crew over the years, and for allowing God to use you to reach your community for Jesus. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do in your church in 2024.

Thank you for letting us be part of your journey!

Merry Christmas,

Larry Witzel
Founder & President
SermonView Evangelism Marketing

P.S. What are your big dreams for 2024? I’d love to hear what God is doing in your church!