Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Guy Richards, CEO of Abiah and author of the book “Talkable“, via skype. We are both speaking at the upcoming Momentum Conference on May 14th and 15th in Chicago.
Guy’s focus is on creating brands that are “talkable”–meaning your audience loves to talk about what you’re doing, they automatically pass it on. Since the conference focus is on leaders within the christian church, the following interview is a blend of topics: leadership, branding, and communication.
Guy Richards Interview – “Doing Something Worth Talking About”
Matt: I’ve read your book “Talkable,” which I think can help businesses, help churches. I wonder if you could just tell me a little bit about your experience. You have a very cool story. What got you here today and what are the different leadership capacities that you’re serving in right now?
Guy: That’s a big one. Well, what got me here was I grew up watching how transactions make things. My dad’s a mechanic and he’s a lawnmower mechanic. I would watch him, how he would get lawnmowers out of the family business we had that would be sold cheap, fix them. Then, he’d have this whole word of mouth network going, where people would come and he would sell them. He always had cash in his pocket by selling these and it was all done word of mouth. He didn’t take out an ad, didn’t do a billboard. I watched these concepts take place and it helped me understand how big business works, or small business or anything, whether it’s an event, whether it’s a Sunday morning service, whether it’s your kids’ little league playoffs.
Guy: It’s when you talk about something and it’s worthwhile, people listen. Leadership capacities, well, I run Abiah, is the main thing. I’m on a few different boards, like the Christian Leadership Alliance and I’m on another one at my daughter’s Christian school. But basically that’s…
Matt: Yeah. You have two sides, right? At least, that is what I experience. You have doing your own things and being, like you said, on the boards, and there’s different capacities that you serve in. But you also witness a lot of different leaders as part of what you do, because you’re dealing with people in charge of organizations. Specifically, since the conference that we’re talking about, Momentum, is about church leadership, have you witnessed just in dealing with them as clients or speaking with them, what are the major challenges that they really face today with what they’re doing?
Guy: Well, to be blatantly honest, I think that these largest conferences are gaining so much momentum and that there is a large pull to be relevant, and what happens is, to put on a show on Sunday morning and so much emphasis can be put on that, that you notice that a lot of the four elements of the church that aren’t flashy, that really don’t draw people in…
Guy: …group like the one‑on‑one discipleship programs. Those things aren’t as emphasized. What happens is they’re not as important. I think in dealing with churches, I like to balance. How do you balance the core principles of a church that grow the community and that disciple people to make disciples and make it, in a sense, exciting towards nonbelievers to draw them in? The issues that I’m always trying to balance is how to be real with not selling out, or how to be relevant with not selling out.
Matt: I have a follow‑up to that. You say one thing is they try to be relevant and keep pace with the things that are currently going on. Do you think that sometimes there’s a struggle with definition of what it is that they do and who they serve best and really aligning themselves with that? Is that an issue or what do you think?
Guy: It could be. But I’d say most relevant churches are going to tell you that they care about the one rather than the 99. In an attempt to engage the one, they starve the 99. I wouldn’t say that it’s with all churches. I would just say that’s with a relevant church. I shouldn’t say relevant. Churches with smoke machines and lights and big bands…
Guy: You know, the whole thing that Bill Hybels and his research team wrote in the book on the Reveal Project.
Guy: The church was huge but the depth of the individuals that made up the church was low.
Guy: That’s kind of what I’m saying. Now, on the other side, you have a church who is not growing and focused on, we’ll just say the growth of the individual. I think it’s a balance between evangelism and discipleship. Then, you’ve got to create, how to create momentum, like dropping 10,000 pieces of candy out of helicopter on Easter.
Guy: The next thing you know everyone in the community knows about it. Or going into Starbucks to your local public school system and giving them out at the church. Those are awesome projects. Our church goes to, we’re right next to Atlantic City, all the casinos here.
Guy: There’s about 500 or 600 homeless people. What they’ll do is they’ll go in and they’ll hand out clothes and hot meals. Well, if those things are great outreaches, then I think it’s balanced. It should be balanced with a good discipleship program and a great group of elders and a prayer group. I think that’s the incorporate worship of what brings people together. I notice that there’s extreme on both sides and it’s just trying to find that balance where you just know you have a clear conscience and you feel God’s plans…
Matt: Yeah. I think that’s good. It kind of leads into the next question I had, which is that you’ve spent a lot of time through the work that you do, but also it sounds like even from early on, just thinking about what makes something “talkable”? Why do people talk about something positively or negatively? Of course you wrote the book about it. But when you talk about the projects, like dropping the candy out of the plane and the Starbucks idea and all that, so that’s all kind of talkable. What do you think this idea of “talkability” has for churches? Just in brief, what value, or relevance does that have for them?
Guy: Well, first of all, churches will have a smaller budget than what they want, for what they want to do with it. If George Barna and David Kinnaman are right, then two percent of people in America or in churches are tithing. That means already that the budget is down. I make an assumption off of the data. Then I’d say, so why does the struggle initiate? And it is, with anybody that wants to grow, a business or a church…
Guy: Then you figure out ways that you just think different that help you then maximize the impact that you’re having in reaching the people that you want to reach.
(Stay tuned for part 2 of 3, or download the full interview here )