The future of tech & the church: Q&A with Judah Smith

21 Minute Read
Posted by Overflow Team on May 26, 2022

Tags: Drops

This conversation between our CEO Vance Roush and Judah Smith took place on May 12th on Instagram Live.

Judah Smith: You're pastoring in a community. You started a company called Overflow. Well, I'm blown away by your story. Braylon and I were talking after the event on my way home and getting your whole story. You went to Churchome. So tell me a little bit, tell our audience a little bit about your journey. Your smile is electric already. Oh my God. I haven't seen a smile like that since Magic Johnson.

Vance Roush: Likewise. So my wife and I went to the University of Washington – go Huskies – from 2007 to 2011. And so my wife, Kim, actually was a small group leader at the UD campus. I joined the church. My first Wednesday night was in 2010. She was already a leader at Churchome. You know, I was just coming in, but it was her domain, her territory. God spoke to me to go back to church. I grew up in the church.So God spoke to me to go back to church, and I ended up finding the Churchome UD Campus. I walked in. I came in early because I'm trying to be obedient to God, right? I came in early, about 10 minutes early. Worship hadn't even started. And this cute little Asian girl came up to me, made a beeline for me, and she said: "Vance, you don't know me, but I know you. You were the only Filipino on the Kentwood basketball team and you were area five DECA President. Okay, bye." And then she walked away.

JS: Are you serious?

VR: I'm serious. The next day I saw her in my marketing class and I asked if she wanted to study together. She thought she was going to land an A, but I just wanted quality time. Now she's been my wife for ten years. We have four beautiful kids, all under the age of six. So pray for us.

JS: Are you okay? Are you making it? You're treading water.

VR: Yes, treading water. It is full in the Roush household, but it's fun and it's been amazing. But Churchome has been a critical part of our story. We got married at the UD campus by Pastor Mark Venti back in 2011.

JS: Bro, that's incredible. You know, I have known Mark since he was in high school, actually middle school. This just makes me old bro. Like, all these incredible ministers, pastors, entrepreneurs like yourself are like, "dude, I was a kid when I came to your church." Tell me about the church you started, and tell me about Overflow, this incredible company that you built. All this, in a lot of ways, is news to me. So it's super exciting. For everyone out there, this is real emotion. I've heard so much about Vance recently, and am just excited about what you're doing. I know it'll inspire a lot of people.

VR: I appreciate that, Pastor Judah. The church we started with our lead pastors, pastors Adam and Keira Smallcombe (they're from Australia), is a church called Vive Church in the Silicon Valley. We started the first location of Vive Church in Palo Alto, right across the street from Google. That was back in 2012. [Classic] church planting story. You know, Pastor Judah, we started with seven people in a living room back in 2012, about ten years ago. And what God has done in these ten years is nothing short of a miracle. We have about 4,000 people now that call Vive church home, which is incredible. We have ten locations. All of them are bump in, bump out, you know, pop-up church style. We love that. Anything to facilitate the gospel of Jesus. So we'll do anything and everything to be able to do that.
But by the grace of God, we were able to purchase our first location so we can give some relief to our teams and actually fix stuff in place. So we bought a pretty iconic building across the street from Google. It's incredible. We move in this August. That's a little bit about Vive Church.

JS: Tell me, Vance, from your perspective, you know, so much is happening. The world's changing so fast. It's a very, very interesting time. The gap between generations seems a little bit larger right now. What a 30 year old has seen of the world in terms of the technological age and what this 43 year old has seen, or what a 53 or 63 year old has seen, is so different.
So how do you understand the landscape of faith, community, contributions, etc., with what you're building in Overflow? Tell us a little bit about the convergence or intersection we find ourselves in as communities of faith in the technological age. Since your building is literally across the street from Google, I think you're qualified.

VR: What's cool is how God has used all these intersections to really produce this culture of innovation we have in the spaces we live in, which has been awesome. Fast forward to the journey of Vive Church and church planning and building. Simultaneous to that, I [was] actually working at Google, where I started my career. And so I had this tech journey as well, kind of happening all simultaneously.

In 2019, a bunch of people in our church, who knew me as executive pastor, would come up to me saying, "hey, Vance, I love what the church is doing." Similar to Churchome, we partner with a lot of nonprofits and philanthropic initiatives in our community. And we had people, who maybe didn't even have the revelation of true generosity biblically, who wanted to contribute.

They wanted to be a part of everything that was God doing through the church. And so they came up to me saying, "hey, Vance, I would love to give, but the only way that I can actually give generously is through my stock portfolio or my crypto wallet." And this is a little bit embarrassing, but I didn't at that time even know how to receive those types of donations, Pastor Judah.

When I started hearing this more and more, I started putting two and two together. I thought "well, I don't know how to receive these gifts, but I know they work at Facebook, so I should figure it out." I went to the local brokerage shop, Fidelity, here in our town. I went into the branch and was like, "I need to open up a brokerage account. I think people want to donate stocks to the church."

They opened it up. It took about three weeks. It was a little bit painful, but we got it done. And then I gave this information to these prospective givers. And I waited six weeks. I [was constantly] refreshing the brokerage account. Nothing was coming in. And I'm like, "okay, this is really strange because at least 12 people I know told me that they wanted to contribute." They wanted to be part of what we were doing and the initiatives that we were trying to complete.

So I had a little bit of an awkward conversation with one member. I said, "Hey, remember that gift that you said that you wanted to give? Do you have all the information that you need? I gave you the brokerage account information."

And this was the initiation of Overflow. He said, "Vance, I'm so sorry. The information you gave me is great. I gave it to my brokerage account and they told me to download a form physically, fill it out and fax it in. I just haven't had a chance to do it. But I'll get it done."

That's when, maybe it was the spirit of God or the Thai food last night, told me that if you tell a millennial to fax in anything, it's just not going to happen. Right? If you actually tell anybody in an Amazon generation to do anything manual or inconvenient, it's going to be a lot more difficult.

So actually what I felt deeply in my spirit is, "Hey, if we could just actually remove a little bit of friction, maybe it would unlock unprecedented amounts of generosity." So we built Overflow in October 2019. In November 2019, I just said in an email [to the church], "Hey, I heard some of you want to give generously through different forms such as stock in crypto.

By the way, I've learned that it's also tax efficient to do it, so it's a win-win situation. You can actually do it now completely online. There's this new platform called Overflow." Pastor Judah, after I sent that email, about a thousand active recurring donors at the church at that time responded and we raised $1.1 million in three days.

JS: Three days, ladies and gentlemen. I've never heard this part. I've never heard this story. Were you blown away by that? Was that surprising to you?

VR: I was blown away. It wasn't actually even the amount, although that was a blessing. It allowed us to do a lot of incredible initiatives to reach the community. But I was blown away by this – people want to give. People are wired to give. And it's not that I need to twist somebody's arm or manipulate them or even try to convince them. I just need to invite them and remove every single barrier that I can so that they can fulfill what they were already created to do. And so since then, I've gotten so deep in the topic of generosity biblically, scientifically, spiritually. And that's what we're passionate about at overflow. So our mission is to inspire the world to give.

JS: How simple is that? To inspire the world to give. I got news for you, man, I can get behind that to say the very, very least. It's interesting. We always think that it's the receiver (the person that's actually in need, or the person who receives an answer to prayer) is receiving the most. But actually Jesus said, "you'll be far happier giving than you ever will be getting." Getting is fun and everybody likes their birthday. But giving is really where a lot of the magic and meaning of the human experience kind of unfolds. Wouldn't you agree?

VR: I agree. I love that scripture. We're based on scripture as well. Proverbs 11:24, "The world of the generous gets larger and larger."

JS: And the world of the stingy gets…

VR: …Smaller and smaller. UC Berkeley did a study called The Science of Generosity. They found that when you give financially, not of your time, that's great, too. But if you give financially, it releases a chemical called oxytocin. And that's the precursor to the feeling of safety and security.

JS: Oh my goodness.

VR: If you take if I were to take that beanie off your head, if we were in person. If I were to take that beanie off your head, it would actually release a chemical called vasopressin, which is on the same level of the precursor to the feeling of fear. The way God designed us and created us is actually to give more than we take. If we want to live a life of safety, security and peace over fear, we need to have a posture to be giving more than we take. Isn't that beautiful?

JS: So beautiful. I love that. It's so cool to live in the technological age where science and data and research is actually doubling down on the ways of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus and the lifestyle of Jesus, and almost the trajectory that Jesus introduces us to in life. And that trajectory is one of giving. And actually I've discovered, Vance, that even the planning and preparation to give can be exhilarating. It seems to release endorphins in my body.

The Bible actually speaks about how a generous man makes plans. Generous [people], they actually plan and prepare.
Oftentimes, it's funny. We plan and prepare for retirement. We plan and prepare for that vacation. We plan and prepare for college. We plan and prepare for careers. We plan and prepare for a number of different things in our life. But we often don't plan and prepare to be generous. But a generous person makes generous plans. And I got to be honest with you, even before I reached some of my giving goals – I've always had giving goals [throughout my life] - I have noticed I'm always a decade ahead. In some cases I've been two decades ahead because I really believe that God loves the partnership of generosity. He wants to show us his generous ways.

When [you] plan to be generous, first of all, you have a far better chance of being generous. Let's say you want to give $500 away, and maybe you only have 50 saved and prepared to give, but already you're starting to get the sensations that maybe you're talking about scientifically.

VR: Oh, I love that. That's beautiful.My approach to entrepreneurship has simply been to try to solve as many problems as I can to serve people. I think there's a lot of time situations where solutions can be running after problems. But actually the person that understands the problem and pain the deepest, as a byproduct will create the best solution. What I've been inspired by is your work and your team's work with the Churchome app, with Faithful, which you shouted out earlier. Marissa is fantastic, and phenomenal, by the way. I've become friends with her in the past couple of months. But I would love to hear your perspective on some of the problems you all are tackling and where you're seeing the future of technology and church colliding.

JS: Man, I feel like the answer is always people. The problem is always people. And the answer is always people, you know. It's what you and Kim are doing in your four beautiful children. So you're Filipino. What's your wife?

VR: She's Vietnamese-Chinese.

JS: You have the most beautiful children in the world. You and Kim leaning in and saying, "God, we're going to offer our time, energy, and effort to be a part of the solution." And nobody is a solution in and of themselves, only Jesus is the solution. But we all play a part. I just really want people to catch what you're saying. Because I think it actually is the answer to your question to me in terms of what's happening in the church-technology intersection.

I really just believe the intersection has to be filled with people willing to say, "I want to sit here, I want to live here, I'm going to be here. I'm going to be across the street from Google. I'm going to work for Google. I'm going to do church. I'm going to be an entrepreneur."

And I do think that we're at a really interesting place in church history where I think ministers are incredible women and men who are ministering, teaching, preaching, loving, leading in faith communities can also simultaneously live across from Google, work at Google, or have companies that are filling needs and meeting the painful and the sticky parts in our society.

I guess my answer would be that I think it's the likes of you and Kim, who are saying, "hey, I'll throw my hat in the ring and say, God, here I am, move my family, reorient my family, challenge me, push me, prod me. I'll be a part of the solution."
I saw a problem, which was that almost 97% of church growth in 2017 in the USA was just trending for growth. So we're just swappping Christians. We're not telling the story of Jesus for the people who are broken, hurting and lost, and yet to receive His forgiveness. And so I thought, "well, there's the problem. What's the solution?" And that's where innovation often happens, unfortunately, in the environment of pain.
I think that's what's happening for you and me. Like, we just saw: "wait, people can't give because it's so hard." Or in my case, "people can't hear the message of Jesus and feel like they belong." Because going to church is a lot like walking into a country club. Do I have a collared shirt? Am I allowed to wear a beanie? Barriers of entry are just being destroyed and being dismantled. And that's what you just said a moment ago. You are removing barriers of entry rather than telling people "You're not generous. No one is generous anymore and nobody gives any more." Well, I think part of it is just like, "dude I want to give. Homie, can you make it a little bit easier?" And that's what Overflow is doing.

My passion, man, is to highlight incredible entities and companies and movements like Overflow, which can dramatically increase people's overall wellbeing. If people give more, they're going to be alive more. I love the concept of being fully human. I want to truly have the full human experience. If you don't have generosity, as a recurring exercise in your life, you won't have the fulfillment that you could have. Wouldn't you agree?

VR: I agree with that. And I love the spirit of what you're communicating, because it's this Spirit of God, I believe, where we're breaking off limitations on the church. We're breaking off any sort of limited mindset. If you think about it, we can take really great chapters from really big corporations like Amazon – great Seattle Company, by the way. Go Hawks. By the way, Russell Wilson, I'm hurt.

JS: Well, Vance, I must say, I always did love the Broncos. Okay? I just started loving the Broncos, but I'm a huge Denver Broncos fan now. Go Broncos.

VR: Oh, that's so funny.

JS: We can take a chapter from big entities like Amazon and Apple. And what I take the chapter from is this. They're based on first principle truth, right? That's why they become ubiquitous. So what is Apple based on the first principle truth that humans want things simple. So that's why we have Apple products. The first principle truth that Amazon is built off of is cheaper and faster. As long as humans exist, they're gonna want things cheaper and faster, so they become ubiquitous.

At Overflow, we believe that people are built and wired and created to give. And so as long as human beings are around, they're going to need platforms and technology to be able to unlock generosity in their life more and more. And I think the thing about the church, which we can just break limitations off of, is at the end of the day, people need Jesus.

If we can take the same approach as some of these successful models with the Holy Spirit guiding us – you know, that secret advantage, that secret weapon that we have. But if we can break off limitation and understand there's a first principle truth that every single human being on the planet deserves to hear the message of Jesus and his grace and his love, whether it's through an app, whether through an in-person gathering, whether it's through a hybrid model, whether it's through the metaverse, I don't know. Let's get NFTs in, I'm not sure. Whatever medium it is, let's break off limitations and let's exist in those spaces.

JS: Oh, my gosh. I love what you just said. You said, "I'm not sure." And I think people are waiting to be sure to do anything. And guess what? In today's society and world, you're never going to be sure. You're never going to be sure. And I don't mean to be crass or crude, but if I could just talk to white people. I love white people. But I'm telling you, white people, if you're waiting to be sure to understand what it's like to be a black or brown person in this country, to have conversations, if you're waiting to be sure and fully confident, like you're never going to enter into another man or another man's world.

[Same with] technology. if you're going to wait until you're sure about technology, technology is changing at a degree that you'll never be sure. So we've got to lean in, even when we're unsure, even when things aren't completely clear, even when we don't understand it all. The truth is, we don't understand each other fully and completely and what each other's journey is going to be like. But man, isn't this so exciting? We can put Jesus at the center of it all and say, "let's jump in headfirst and let's start having the necessary endeavors and conversations and engagement to do that."

I want to have a very candid conversation. How is the church doing? As an American Filipino man – by the way, I love the Philippines. I've been to many times. Ladies and gentlemen, I will go on record to say that the Filipino people are the happiest, most gregarious culture and people I have ever met in my whole life. And Filipinos have changed my life. I really mean that. I have had so many encounters with Filipino men and women that have encouraged me. I mean, your smile is epic –

But can I ask you, how are we doing? How are we doing? Your wife's unique journey. Your unique journey and looking forward to your kids' unique journey with their heritage and background. How is the church doing in that regard?

VR: We have a lot of work to do. I will say this, that there's also a lot of hope. I stepped into a community at the University District on Greek Row. Which is another element in and of itself. I came into a community that I felt welcome and accepted. Yeah, it was another Asian girl that came up to me specifically, but generally I felt welcome in that community. And there are communities like that. The community that we're leading at Vive is one of those.

So there's a lot of work, but I believe there's a lot of hope. I really am excited to see people leaning into that more. One thing I'm personally proud of is that I haven't met a ton of Filipino-American, generally Asian-American pastors. And I'm not a lead pastor, but I serve on the pastoral team of a church that is multiethnic. Some Asian-American pastors that I know or some Asian pastors that I know are leading predominantly Asian churches. I do think that part of it is the intentionality around leadership development. And leadership opportunity is something that we don't take lightly in our community. And I've seen an intentional effort from communities like Churchome as well, which is why I think there's also a lot of hope while still needing a lot of work to do.

JS: Why do you think that oftentimes in this case, ethnicity is almost ignored, or [we] pretend like it's not there, when it's right there in front of us? And it was intended to be right in front of us because God made it beautiful and wonderful and all the differences and diversities, and culture, and food, and hue, and melanin – all of it is like God just telling us who He is and all of his beautiful ways. Why do you think we ignore it? Are we scared?

VR: I think you just nailed it. Fear of the unknown. My pastor says this, that the reason why there's fear is because you're in an unknown space. But what's so interesting is that's also where faith resides. In that unknown space. So if you think about it, your fear and faith reside in the unknown simultaneously. Which will you choose? Why will you choose?
That is a pressing question that we need to continue to ask ourselves. Are we going to lean into fear or are we going to lean into faith even in the midst of fear? I actually think faith is not having doubt. I think it's choosing to believe in the midst of doubt.

JS: It's interesting. There are often those moments in life where all you can see is fear. But just as relevant and prevalent is the faith that's available to you to trust God. But what we don't know or what we've never experienced, we don't understand. We get afraid and we miss out on a depth and dimension of life. Once again, getting back to being fully human and fully alive.

Oh, God. Help us to be truly, fully alive and to be truly fully alive is to welcome and embrace, move towards all of the beautiful differences in our world, specifically different human beings. What an honor and what a privilege it is.

I want to thank you for your leadership. I want to thank you for your courage. I want to thank you for your fortitude. I want to thank you for your stick-to-it-ness. I want to thank you for your tenacity. And I want to thank you for your faith and for your risk. I want to thank you for marrying Kim. I want to thank you for taking care of those four babies. And I just want you to know that we're really, really excited about the community you're leading. We're so grateful for Overflow, man.

I hope people will take two things away from this call. And that is, where there is pain, there's an opportunity for innovation and an opportunity to meet a need. And that is our privilege and our honor to do so. And secondly, none of us are completely sure. We live in this unsure space where we just keep trusting God.

And I want people to access Overflow and look into Overflow. I think every pastor and every community and every church out there should literally ask themselves, "Are people able to give through their portfolio? Things like crypto?" I want to say it one more time, it's wild. In three days, 1.1 million was given and raised, and that's incredible. I love you man. How old are you?

VR: Pastor Judah, I love you. I receive all of that. Over a decade ago you led and empowered other people to lead a community where my wife and I really started our marriage and our relationship. And it's blossomed into something we believe is really, really special. But that was our origin story. So we appreciate you and we're inspired by everything that you're doing.

JS: Thank you. I hear that and it means so much. It also means I'm not as young as I think I am.

VR: No, no. You were young. You were the first person I saw wear white pants to church. That was the first time I saw it. I was like, "this is home."

JS: You were like, "this guy's not well, he's wearing white pants in the Northwest." Oh, yeah, bro. I appreciate you. I saw Kim here.. Kim, we love you. And thanks for hanging out last night at Bel-Air Church. That was so fun with Chad, Julian and Zoe church. What they're building at Zoe church is just absolutely incredible. I respect you. I love you. And let's connect again soon, man. Thank you for having this conversation. It means a lot, and I hope everybody out there is encouraged.

VR: Likewise. Love you, Pastor Judah.