Justin Trapp with Illustrationideas.Bible | Episode 003
In this episode of the Future.Bible podcast, Kenny Jahng sat down one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the Christian space, Justin Trapp of Sermonary and www.illustrationideas.bible. They discussed a new technology that could help Pastors with their sermons every week.
Listen as Justin shares his journey with Sermonary, starting from zero to over thousands of satisfied users.
Learn the secrets in reaching out to your audience, discovering their felt needs in easy and conventional ways.
Tune in now!
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Kenny: Greetings everybody. Welcome to Future.BIBLE Podcast. I’m Kenny Jahng, the co-host, my counterpart in crime, DJ Chuang is not with us today, but never fear. We’ve got a great conversation partner here today with me. I’ve got Justin Trapp, founder, entrepreneur, head chef over at sermonary.co, or is it certainly .CO? Welcome to the show, Justin first of all.
Justin: Hey Kenny, thanks for having me. You know, that’s a great question. I think I probably flip flop depending on the day and sometimes I say both like right after each other, just to make sure we’re clear.
Kenny: It’s almost like the GIF, a whole conundrum across the interwebs, right? Is it CO or .CO? But, anyway, sermonary.co for today. Tell us a little bit about the actual resource first and then we’ll zoom out and talk about story.
Justin: Sure, yeah. So Sermonary is a cloud based sermon writing platform. My co-founder, a few years ago, we were talking and we began to talk about all how technology has changed so much the last 20 years. I mean like 10 years ago you didn’t have Airbnb and Uber and Lyft and all these companies that are just change the way that we live and we started talking about sermons and how sermons, a lot of pastors, about 86 percent of pastors, write their sermons on Microsoft Word and how sermons have been written the same exact way for the better part of 25 years. And so we wondered is there a way to better this process because it’s an arduous process, it’s you know, 10 hours on average, but some pastors spent up like of 20 and 30 and so it’s a long journey every single week. And we said, can we better this long process for pastors via technology? And we felt like we answered that question with Sermonary.
Kenny: That’s very interesting. I think in our journey here, Future.BIBLE, what we’re trying to do is visit with people who are applying technology, right? The ever changing, evolving a fast paced world technology to the Orthodox, unchanging Bible. And this is one of those things that I think just cut to the heart of ministry, right? The foundation of every church service is that sermon. Now, one of the things that strikes me is that there are other sermon editing or writing type of tools out there. What is the difference? And there’s some unique aspects of Sermonary that you guys have ideated on in terms of that whole process. And I think looking at the system, It’s not just a Evernote system or a cleaned up Google Docs, or a bibliography collecting type of service that there’s more to it, and someone if can help characterize. What is the difference that you guys have done in terms of using technology to be able to pull that story together for every single Sunday?
Justin: Sure. So, we looked across the landscape and what we saw was good, like you mentioned Google Docs, Evernote, Microsoft Word. Those are the predominant way pastors write sermons. We did find something called sermon builder from like 1990’s or it’s like a mail a CD Rom in a box. But other than that there wasn’t really a standalone platform. We found an APP that looked like it hadn’t been updated in several years, so there’d been a few like tips along the way, but nothing that had really stuck. And one of the things that’s unique about Sermonary, we actually have two different editors. We have a classic editor for the folks that prefer the sort of Evernote, Google Docs way that I would say the main differences is the functionality is sermons specific, you know, because those are great for writing, but they have nothing to do with sermons. But what about 90 percent of our users prefer is our Sermonary editor, which is really a building blocks editor. It’s drag and drop and you’re building your sermon piece by piece, block by block, and then you can move it around. You can rearrange your sermon, within a flow and an efficiency that you can’t really do in any of those other programs. And so our users love that and then we have something called podium mode which is really popular utilized just for preaching, takes your notes and it has like a clock overlay or a countdown overlay and you can do several things in that mode as well. So I would say that’s the main difference that it’s sermon specific. Our editor is very unique and that we have that, that podium mode that’s basically as popular as our editor itself.
Kenny: One of the things I like to characterize Sermonary or someone asked about it is, It’s really a tool that’s end to end. So It’s from the start idea thing, brainstorming back of napkin in Starbucks, right? You got your Ipad or laptop out in Starbucks all the way to, you literally take it with you on the podium on your actual Sunday morning and you’re actually using it. There’s no other tool like that, and that you’ve thought about that holistic experience from the pastors point of view instead of niche, trying to build a product just for the exegesis, trying to build a product just for the display a larger type while you’re preaching etc, that whole end to end experience I think is very thoughtful.
Justin: The other thing too that we have is I know a lot of guys like to write from scratch and I’ve done that as well. Some guys prefer a foundation or some outlines are some frameworks. One of the most popular resources, we have a resource area that pastors can purchase things and what’s unique about that is like one of the most popular things right now is our wedding templates. So there’s five wedding templates, you get all different kinds, but what’s unique is that when you buy that wedding template, you actually get that outlined prebuilt in the Sermonary editors. You can go in and add your own stuff very, very quickly. There’s nothing else out there like it where you can take pre-existing content and maneuver throughout it very efficiently with your own voice, your own unique communication style.
Kenny: With your spaces for you to own, add your own anecdote here, right? Or change out the illustration here, those types of things.
Kenny: The other unique part about Sermonary which I love, is that you started this whole process journey on Kickstarter, which is another, used to be a fad, but now it’s become a professionalized way to actually launch product projects. Tell us a little bit about that whole process and journey and maybe let’s work backwards. It seems like that you were one of the most successful Kickstarters out there. What are some of the stats that you have in terms of number of supporters and how long it took you to reach your milestone goal, etc.?
Justin: So we had launched, we created a Kickstarter and we had worked, we always hate to build a project like this, a bad way to build a business, right? The Iron Man approach from Iron Man one way he goes into the cave, he builds the suit and comes out and it’s here, he’s arrived. There’s always makes me nervous to build a business or build an idea like that, but we felt like with developing technology and the platform, you kind of have to do that. So we were really nervous. We had the platform about 85 percent done when we did our Kickstarter and we thought this could really appeal to no one, no one could be interested in this and we’ve been in this K for better part of it that this developing K for a year, and so that was our big concern. But so we had a date, the begInning of August and when I had this moment when I realized this is going to be special, it’s going to do well and it’s going to do really well and that was the day before the Kickstarter. I just had an abnormal amount of people emailing us, asking, calling in, and I actually had a pastor find my cell phone number. I guess he Googled it somehow, so if you need to get a hold of me, just Google enough because my cell phone numbers floating out there somehow. He called my cell phone number. He’s like from California, North Carolina, South Carolina, and he was like, hey tell me about this Sermonary thing. Really think zero South Carolina accent, I don’t even know if that was the South Carolina accent by the way. I think it was more like it’s Magnolia Texas accent.
Kenny: In Jersey, they still all sounds the same.
Justin: So he called me and I was like, man, this guy hunted me down. And so we were scheduled to release the Kickstarter campaign the next morning at 8:00 AM and I published our Kickstarter campaign a little bit before that, but an hour before it. And I just in case there was any snack foods with Kickstarter because I didn’t know it, so we were sending out an email lists to our the waiting lists. About 6,000 people had signed up to say, hey, let us know when this launches. And so when I published a Kickstarter campaign, I was driving to the office because I was going to get there, fire the email and on my way to the office I checked the Kickstarter and already had $700 raised and we hadn’t even announced it. So people were actually on Kickstarters website looking for Sermonary before we had sent out the live URL to our email lists. And so that’s when I knew, that was the moment when I knew this is going to be big and sure enough, we completely funded on our goal in two hours.
Kenny: Two hours? Do you expected to end even on the first day?
Justin: I did not. I thought it might take a few days, but I thought we could probably do this or we have a large email list and we feel like we understand what pastors, where they’re at, but we just had no idea. We actually funded like for over 400 percent of our goals, so it was pretty crazy. We had about 650 people back the project and it’s really cool.
Kenny: That’s amazing. And what I love about the whole experience from my entrepreneurial background, again, you want to get to market with your MVP, your minimum viable product. Lots of the software development, it just takes longer than you think to get that MVP set of features and functionality, right? And Kickstarter is one of those places that, I’ve heard so many pitches from entrepreneurs where they say, yeah, all my friends and family love it. They love it, love it, love it, but it’s not really market tested. Kickstarter allows you to have people really raised their hand, put their money where their mouth is and so, out of the gate if your idea actually resonates or not, and if something sells out in two hours with hundreds of people backing it, obviously you’ve got something that resonates with the marketplace. And so I think that’s fantastic, I think it’s also a testament to being able to launch Christian faith based products in a secular marketplace like Kickstarter is kudos to you for being able to do that and expose what we’re doing in the Bible-inspired community and saying I think there’s a PR issue at hand sometimes with Christians and pastors and churches that we’re not stodgy and old. We use cutting edge technology that there’s a whole segments of the faith based community that really understands and are applying best practices to, again, in the unmoving orthodox Bible where you have got ever changing technology and velocity that we’re trying to do together, so I love that story. One thing I want to ask about is after you’ve had, so how many people do you have on the platform right now?
Justin: We get about 2,000 users right now.
Kenny: I guess as a marketer you go to the market with certain features and benefits, right? You are guessing what their felt needs are and trying to figure that out. But then once you actually have users on board, that’s when you start to hear feedback both in just noise of the squeaky wheel, what parts of the things that are broken that you’re not paying attention to and that’s important, but also things that they really do appreciate and utilize, right? So like looking at your traffic or analytics, etc. What are some of the things that might have surprised you in terms of the platform, in how people are using it? Are there or, what they appreciate out of it?
Justin: You know, it’s really interesting because you can’t imagine. So we have another company called Ministry Pass and that’s pretty straightforward, like you get an account with Ministry Pass, you sign up for a membership, you go to the site, you browse, you download what you need, you go. With Sermonary, pastors are spending hours and hours and so it’s a utility based software, that’s a web App. So they’re using their browser for a long period of time and you just can’t predict how pastors will use Sermonary. Like for instance, we had one guy that was early on, we had a few bugs with some last sermon data, which was a nightmare in our biggest fear the whole time in development. Like we could never lose sermon. So we had a few angry pastors at one for a week or so. But we had gotten past that. And then we had this pastor and he was losing his sermon day like the last few minutes, he just kept losing it. So come to find out he was out in the middle of nowhere. He’s using Sermonary while he was deer hunting. He had used his phone as a hotspot, which he didn’t have great signal already. So he’s using his phone as a hotspot and he was writing his sermon from his iPad on Sermonary using this phone hotspot. You just, we could have never dreamed that scenario up. And so it’s really, it’s been really cool to see how pastors are you utilizing it. We had a pastor who planted a Spanish church in Sweden and was needing some technical help. So we actually hopped on a Skype call with him and he’s got a sermon in Spanish, but he’s planning a church in Sweden and his was wife was from Germany. So it was like, it was just cool to see like what God’s doing halfway around the world using our technology happens to be a part of it.
Kenny: The stories are amazing and I think they’re fun and I think there are stories that have to be shared with other people because it inspires and challenges and it really is something that I think, I don’t know, it’s just kudos to you for being able to help pastors across the world in such different circumstances. One of the things that I love about you, Justin as an entrepreneur, is that you are mission minded, right? And that you’re going beyond just from an entrepreneur standpoint multiple bottom lines. One of the passion projects I think you have is another site that you’ve launched this past year. You’ve been a very busy, typical entrepreneur. You’re not just sitting down and doing one thing at a time, you’ve want another site. Tell us a little bit about that site. What’s the purpose and what we can find there?
Justin: Sure, so because we have a large email list of pastors, I’m always doing surveys because surveys given me lots of great data. That’s partly how we came up with the idea of Sermonaries. We just saw something in the data and one of the questions that we asked a while back was what would be, where do you need the most help on your sermon this week? And we had a bunch of different multiple choice options, but the number one thing the pastor said they needed the most help with on their sermon this week was sermon illustrations and with others that’s really interesting. And of course, if you’re a pastor there’s a lots of sermon illustration websites out there, but the common complaint that we heard was that they’re all the same, they’re all free, but they’re all the same and a lot of the illustrations are old or they’re not really relevant. They just seem dated or they’ve just been used by pastors a lot. So, what we ended up doing is having our team create fresh news, sermon illustrations from either new stories, cultural events, just writing new illustrations based on passages and we created a free site for pastors is called Illustrationideas.BIBLE, and we post a new sermon illustration every single day, so you can go there starting January 1st of this year. We’ve posted an sermon illustration every day. We hope that is a blessing and helpful for pastors as you’re looking for sermon illustrations week to week. I would encourage you to check it out, It’s got some great, great content there .
Kenny: I think very noble of you to be able to do that. My question is, where do you get all those ideas, that if they’re fresh and you have a team that’s actually, I didn’t can imagine it’s almost like the Saturday Night Live writers table that everyone pitches their idea, the best ideas go forward and you’ve got a contribution that comes out from a team?
Justin: Yeah, so our sister company Ministry Pass where a sermon series company, so we’re, we have a writing team that’s creating sermon series all the time and illustrations is a part of that process. And so what we’ve done is just, we’ve already worked really hard on creating that content in one place. We thought, why not just share some of that on the Illustrationideas.BIBLE site. And so that’s where that’s coming from.
Kenny: So what’s the future of that site? Is that just gonna continue to try to catalog and grow that list of different illustrations or is there any other future plans for it?
Justin: So what we’d like to do on that site is built out some more searchability, some functionality, tagging keyword stuff like that where pastors can go on in six months from now and we’ve doubled our illustrations database on there. But also just the functional aspect of it where if you’re looking for a sermon illustration on grace, you can find several very quickly, very easily. Now we do have a search feature on that right now, but we’re wanting to make that whole feature set a lot more robust. So I would say that’s the plan to keep plugging away everyday, but also make the user experience for that for pastors even better as we move forward.
Kenny: And then looking at the technology to do all this kind of stuff, how many times do you bump up the things that say, hey, other people have done it already, why reinvent the wheel again? Where do you really draw the line? What makes you take that initiative to push forward and actually light up a different project? Because I know you’ve been involved in multiple projects, this isn’t just the only one, two or three projects that you guys have done in your entrepreneurial minds in that decisions, that criteria, right? Because whatever idea we have to resource the church, there’s probably some form of it somewhere out there in the ecosystem. What triggers that final initiation that says, yeah, let’s go forward?
Justin: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think one of the habits that I’ve tried to keep is not existing in someone, not trying to build something in someone else’s box. So when we built Sermonary, Logos has a sermon editor. It’s like a widget inside. So I consider Logos as a research platform not a writing platform and we purposely didn’t actually look at their sermon editor a lot. I’ve looked at it once and we’ve tried to do that with a lot of companies that are out there including non church related, like in Evernote. We try not to copy them and exist in their box. I try to take a look at the data that we’re seeing from our email list, which a huge email list and it gives us great, I mean we’re having 1700 pastors respond to a survey. I’m looking at that data and saying, okay, here is a problem that I see according to this data and how can we help solve this? Not the way that anyone else has solved it. We’re not going to try and create a mirror idea inside the framework that they’ve established. We’re going to try to create an idea or a service that has helped solve this, how we see fit and so it’s, I feel like that we’ve done a good job in that regard where we’re not just trying to make a better mouse trap or just trying to look at the problems, say how can we fix this? And we’re starting there.
Kenny: Just a couple of minutes on that survey technique because that’s something that I prescribed a lot to our teams that we work with. And it seems like you’re using survey a lot. First of all, how are you literally using, what technology service are you using? Are you using Typeform, Survey Monkey or something proprietary Facebook polls? What are you using?
Justin: So we use Typeform, it’s really clean, it’s really easy. And what I always do, we do it the same every time and we always get great responses. We send out an email at 6:00 AM, we say enter in a contest to win a $100 amazon gift card. And then the email would say, we’re announcing the winner on our Twitter profile at 3:00 PM today. So we sort of have a really short window where a pastor feels like it’s not like an a contest where they enter today and they find out four weeks from now when they’ve forgotten about it. There is some low hanging fruit, if you will, or a carrot dangling where they get to find out if they went, so we do announce it every time that afternoon at 3:00 PM.
Kenny: So from the very beginning, you’re framing of there’s this sense of urgency, you’re going to participate, are you in or not? Let’s not just let you procrastinate and let it get lost in the inbox.
Justin: Yeah, and we also limited to three questions a lot of times and I try to make them multiple choice.
Kenny: So the average completion rate, that’s probably two minutes?
Justin: No, 60 seconds. It doesn’t take long.
Kenny: People are conditioned to that now, do you announce that upfront so that people have never taken the service? Do you message, hey we have a 60 second survey or 3 questions on that?
Justin: Yeah. we say it’s three questions. It’ll take you 60 seconds. That’s all you have to do to enter the contest. And then we announce it with the church every time. So people love it too, they email me.
Kenny: So do you announce or come back with results? Do you publish the results? And then do you take what you’re building and progress and share some glimpses and connect it back to say because the review feedback we’re building this.
Justin: Sometimes we do, sometimes we withhold that just for our own development purposes. But a lot of times what we do is surveys and that data is like a mirror and we put pastors in front of that mirror and say, hey look, you are dealing with this issue and you’re not alone. You know there’s a lot of other issue. Like for instance, I’ll share this, there is a, we did a survey where we said, what is the thing your church needs the most help with right now? And there’s like 18 different possible choices they could choose from. We picked that a lot, right? All of the main things. Number two on the list, almost beat up number one, but number two on the list was leadership development. Pastors said, our church needs leadership development. That’s the thing we need the most help with right now. And then the second question is, do you have a system in place to develop the leaders at your church? And over 70 percent of those churches said no. So everyone’s saying, hey, we need help with leadership development, but they’re all admitting in the same survey, but we don’t have anything intentional about developing leaders. And so that’s one of those opportunities where we can put the mirror up and say, hey, like we as a church and pastor we need to do a better job. If this is the pain point, let’s figure out a way to be intentional and we didn’t actually create a product or a service for that. We just sort of say, hey, let’s, let’s start this conversation and figuring out what this looks like. Maybe somebody else is listening to this will go out and create something that can help churches develop their leaders that would be awesome.
Kenny: Yeah, it’s ironic when we’ve got leadership materials everywhere, but I think building the systems and processes, the resource itself to do it I think is missing. Our friend, Brian Beauford at Ministry Bible, one of the very few resources I think that are trying to serve that specific need instead of just generically leadership period, leadership book, leadership conference etc. I love your follow up questions in the survey. That’s what you’re learning, that they need systems and processes for their staff, right?
Justin: Yeah. Scott Magdalein with Trainedup Church as well, they’re doing some good stuff as well.
Kenny: Yeah, that’s another good resource. But far and few between, right? The market’s not saturated. Let’s talk about the survey then after that, how often do you actually survey your people?
Justin: I’d say we do a survey about five times a year. Five, six times. Probably five times a year. We’ll do a survey.
Kenny: And you’re getting similar response rates. Again, my question as a communicator is that you’re not fatiguing your audience and people not looking at it as spam.
Justin: Yeah. And I think a minimum we’re getting a thousand responses and maximum we’re getting like 1700, 1800.
Kenny: Yeah. I love this formula. It proves to me that you’re able to do it on a consistent basis, you’re able to do it in a way that positions that it’s short and sweet sense of urgency, high reward for very small output, right? That’s, you’re asking them for 60 seconds and they can get some prize or reward. One of the things that I read recently is that Amazon gift cards and coffee gift card Starbucks are the number one most requested or desired giveaway gift outside of like, people don’t want Ipads and things like that. They’d rather have something much more practical everyday. Like literally an Amazon gift card or a coffee gift card. So that’s another interesting to that whole conversation.
Justin: Yeah. And it’s always a $100 amazon gift card.
Kenny: Oh, have you tested that or why 100? Why do you think 100 is the magic number?
Justin: I don’t know, it was just a number, I’m the guy that’s like if it’s not broke, do not try and fix it. Right. So it worked the first time and we’ve kept it .
Kenny: I like that formula. So what’s in the future for you is in terms of seeing technology and Bible, one of the things that we’re asking everybody is, you know, if you were looking into the looking glass for five years from now, what’s one area of Bible engagement, scripture engagement that you think the church either needs or that we’re going to start to see? Like is it VR, AR, is it better sermonizing? Is it a video stuff? What’s one area that you think in a forecasting where we should be looking at in terms of technology plus the bible? What’s one area that you could put on the chop board for us?
Justin: You know, I think one of the areas that I see that we’ve been sort of experts have been forecasting for a long time and I think you’re starting to see the convergence of this is audio coming back very strong. Like Podcasts are really popular and then they took like a dip and then they’re huge again. I don’t know like they’ve been huge for several years, again, it was sort of interesting like the GIF, however you say it was like really popular and then it died out and then it’s like super, super even more popular than it’s ever been. I think audio is going to be really huge. I think the guys at Dwell, they’d be a great interview to have on the Podcast. They just released the Dwell Bible Listening App and it is absolutely a beautiful experience. It is just magical honestly. And I think they are ahead of the curve in that regard. And I see audio being really big, I think VR is really cool, like a museum of the Bible. I interviewed Michael McAfee, from the Museum of the Bible on my Podcast and it’s the most technologically advanced museum in the entire world.
Kenny: In the world, not in the Christian circles.
Justin: No, in the world.
Kenny: The most forward thinking and you’ll see when you visited Washington DC, right? It is just chock full of tech.
Justin: Yeah. I can’t wait to go. So I’m hopeful that there will be more innovators and more entrepreneurs and more technologists that will hop in and say we have this timeless message, let’s present it in a way that where culture is at from a technology standpoint. And I think I could see as the websites evolve, our user experiences evolve user interfaces. I see people doing some really creative things and there’s a site right now I just saw the other day that had a really cool way of displaying Bible data. And I can’t even think of it right now, I’m sorry, I’ll send it to you later. I’ll look for it.
Kenny: We can put it into the show notes for this Podcast for sure.
Kenny: But one thing’s for sure, Innovation is definitely alive and well for the bible and tech and then we have the best to come. Justin, thank you so much for sharing, just your two stories here with illustrationideas.BIBLE and Sermonary.co, really appreciate all the things that you’re doing for the kingdom here and spending some time with us today. If someone wants to get in touch with you directly after listening to the show today, what’s the best way that they can do that?
Justin: You can follow me on Twitter. I’d love to connect on Twitter @JustinTrapp, that’s two p’s and that would be great. That’s probably the easiest way to get a hold of me. I’m very active on Twitter every day, I love the platform.
Kenny: So here’s, I cannot let you go because Twitter is my favorite platform, right? I guess we’re one of those old school classic social guys. A lot of people say Twitter is dead. Tell us just what’s your opinion? What do you use Twitter for? What’s that sweet spot and what’s the future of Twitter?
Justin: I love Twitter because, Twitter is so much fun for live events, like if you’re watching an NBA playoff game or the Grammys, to me Twitter is the best platform for live events interacting in real time. They do have an algorithm but I feel like their algorithm isn’t as stubborn, if you will, as Facebook or Instagram where you’re seeing some posts like three days later, or from three days ago that’s popular. Twitter seems to be a place where you can go and I love their moments, especially on the phone, there are moments where you’re swiping to the right reading news articles and stuff. It’s just a beautiful experience in my opinion.
Kenny: So again, Justin Trapp is a great way to connect with Justin on Twitter. My handle is @KennyJahng. Thank you so much for joining us today for this episode of the Future.BIBLE Podcast. Next time we come back, DJ Chuang will be joining us again and make sure to visit our website www.Future.BIBLE. Justin’s got one more thing for us.
Justin: Yeah, I found it. It’s VIZ.BIBLE is a beautiful site. Just finding creative ways to display data from the bible. It’s a great, great resource.
Kenny: Yes, VIZ.BIBLE in fact, we’re going to be seeing VIZ.BIBLE, I think you as well at the November conference coming up in Nashville, right? The Faith Leads Stop Tech Conference.
Justin: Yeah, I’ll be one of the speakers there. Me and my co-founder, we have a session together, we’re the only ones that are doing a session together, so that’s gonna be a lot of fun, I’m looking forward to it.
Kenny: So another way to catch up with us and help join us in community. So visit us a Future.BIBLE, www.Future.BIBLE, where you can subscribe to the show on Itunes and Stitcher and Google Play, and even on Alexa talking about voice apps and while you’re at it, if you found this valuable for this show, we’d appreciate if you do put in a rating on Itunes or if you’d simply tell a friend about the show that would help us out too, as we spread the word and discover on our journey that the bible is very much alive in terms of being relevant and using your innovators using technology being applied to the age old bible to remix it for real life change as we further scripture engagements together. I’m Kenny Jahng, thank you. So here next time on the Future.BIBLE Podcast.