Phil Vischer made his first animated film when he was nine years old; by the age of fourteen, he was convinced he would be a filmmaker when he grew up. After a brief stint at a Bible college, Phil struck out on his own, looking for a way to integrate his faith with his filmmaking.
This quest led him to a tomato and a cucumber. The year was 1991, and Phil was a newly married 25 year--‐old with no financial backing and no idea how his vegetables would ever see the light of day.
Today, almost 50 million VeggieTales videos have been purchased and Phil’s faith-filled stories can be found in one-third of all American homes with young children. Although Phil’s original company, Big Idea Productions, collapsed in bankruptcy in 2003, Phil continues his creative involvement with VeggieTales through its current owner.
Phil also is actively developing new ways to integrate faith and storytelling through his new creative shop, Jellyfish Labs (jellyfishlabs.com). Phil captured the breathtaking rise–and heartbreaking fall–of Big Idea Productions in the book Me, Myself & Bob, which was published by Thomas Nelson. He is also the author of the popular children’s books Sidney and Norman and 47 Beavers on the Big Blue Sea.
Phil’s latest project is a 13-DVD series called Buck Denver Asks What’s in the Bible? That will take families all the way through the Bible–Genesis to Revelation. He also started JellyTelly, an interactive, online “mini-network” for children.
Phil lives with his wife Lisa and their three kids in Wheaton, IL.
David Staal serves as President/CEO of Kids Hope USA, a fast-growing, national non-profit organization that partners churches with public elementary schools to provide adult mentors for at-risk students. In addition to his position at Kids Hope USA, Staal serves as senior editor and columnist for Christianity Today International and chairs the advisory board for a state college. Prior to joining Kids Hope USA, he served ten years in leadership for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, following a 13-year corporate marketing career. Staal’s sixth published book released this year, titled Show Up (2016; Dust Jacket Press). He lives in Grand Haven, Michigan, with his wife Becky.
Chris Folmsbee is the director of discipleship at Church of the Resurrection, one of the nations largest and fastest growing churches. He is the author of more than a dozen books on topics such as spiritual formation, practical theology and effective models of ministry. Chris is also the founder and managing director of Burlap (www.thinkburlap.com | @thinkburlap), a ministry designed to help churches reach and engage Millennials. He lives in Leawood, KS with his wife Gina and their three children.
Nils Smith is the vice president of Social Media and Innovation at Dunham and Company based in Dallas, Texas. Nils most recently served as Social Media Pastor at Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas where he launched the ministry of OnlineChurch.com that grew to over 15,000 in weekly online worship attendance from more than 100 different countries around the world and a global Facebook community of over 850,000. Nils is also the author of the book, Social Media Guide For Ministry, and co-host of the Social Media Church podcast.
Steven Siwek Jr. is a Jesus freak. He founded Medical Marketing Solutions (MMS) when he was a naive 19 year old. Now, 6 years later, Steven continues to run MMS along with two other marketing companies he started. Steven is also the director of a documentary entitled Future of the Church. He lives in Phoenix with his precious wife Chandis.
Thom Schultz is the president and founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. He’s the author of many books including Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore and The 1 Thing, and he’s the director of the documentary film When God Left the Building. Thom is the founder of Group Cares, a non-profit organization that provides mission trips for thousands of volunteers each year. Thom’s blog, HolySoup.com, challenges the status quo.
Joani Schultz is Group’s Chief Creative Officer. She oversees the creation of Group’s resources, training, and services for children’s ministry, youth ministry, adult ministry, and church leadership. She’s the author of numerous books including Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, and The 1 Thing. She leads the teams that create Group’s Bible curriculum, vacation Bible school programs, books, magazines, conferences, music, and trainings.
Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Nesbit Sbanotto has spent over 10 years as a researcher, consultant, speaker, writer, counselor and educator. Betsy has co-authored a book with Dr. Craig Blomberg titled, “Effective Generational Ministry” and another with Drs. Heather & Fred Gingrich titled, “Skills for Effective Counseling.” Betsy and her husband Stephen live in Littleton, CO where they both have counseling practices and where Betsy serves as Assistant Professor of Counseling at Denver Seminary.
Tra’Vorus Weaver is a father and husband to a young family who shares a passion for ministry. They are currently planting Embark Church in Greater Boston (Worcester) area of Massachusetts. The Weaver Family also began a Lifetree Café ministry in the Worcester, MA in partnership with the central YMCA branch of Central Massachusetts. They have used Lifetree as a tool to open up community discussion, establish partnerships, and develop relationships within the fabrics of the city of Worcester. Tra’Vorus serves bi-vocationally in health care and as a lead church planter.
Father Evan Armatas is a Colorado native is the parish priest of Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Loveland, Colorado. Father Evan received his Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from Boston College with an emphasis in business management and Christian apologetics in 1991. He earned his Master of Divinity from Holy Cross in 2002 and served as an assistant priest for five years at Saint Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Greenwood Village before being assigned as St. Spyridon’s first full time priest in August of 2007.
Charlotte Todd graduated magna cum laude from the University of Denver, where she earned her Bachelor of Music in vocal performance. She married Marine officer Brian Todd in 1984 and lived in many places as a result. She began chanting in 1998, and has attended numerous music and chanting workshops at the Sacred Music Institute at the Antiochian Village. Charlotte homeschooled their six children and several of her daughters have become active in chanting ministry with her. Charlotte has been active in several choirs and vocal ensembles over the years, including the Denver-based Orthodox Octet directed by the late composer Richard Toensing.
Pastor Shorty has been preaching at the Kersey Cowboy Church for 17 years. He has a huge heart for the Lord, his congregation, for his community, and for everyone his path crosses. He has two other cowboy ministries, and he leads a bible study on Wednesday nights. He has been a youth leader and a worship leader as well. He is married to a beautiful lady, has two daughters, two son-in-laws, and 4 wonderful grandchildren.
Jason Valderrama grew up in Colorado’s Front Range and attended Colorado State University. Jason completed the Pastors Institute at Mountain View Community Church in 2008 and has since felt a clear call towards bi-vocational pastoral ministry. With 10 years in ministry, he’s as passionate as ever to seeing people grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ through the avenue of biblical community. He currently works as a Physician Assistant in Loveland, and serves as a part-time Pastor of Redemption Church.
Norm Wakefield spent 24 years as professor of pastoral theology at the Phoenix Seminary. Prior to his work with ministerial students, he spent 12 years in church ministry as a pastor. He has authored or coauthored over 12 books including, Men Are From Israel, Women Are From Moab: Insights about the Sexes from the Book of Ruth. Norm is also a frequent speaker at conferences and churches in the area of family and interpersonal relationships.
Rigo Magana is an invigorating leader filled with desire to reach people for Christ. He and his wife have been serving as lead pastors at New Hope Greeley, CO, a predominantly Hispanic congregation, since 1995 and is well known for his passion for missions.
Steven Dilla Steven is the founder at AspenVentures.co, which provides research and consulting around responsive content architecture, omni-channel strategy, UX, deep neural networks, deep belief networks, multi-layer metadata taxonomy, bioinformatics and more. He is also the author of TheParkForum.org devotional, which explores faith in culture. Previously Steven lead a church plant in Manhattan, was a designer for Incredible Islands, and the creator and producer of Elevate Jr.
John Bucher owns Sideshow Media Group, a culture communications company. He has produced film, television, and video programming in more than 330 countries. He’s a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and lectures on story, film, and pop culture around the world. Currently, John teaches at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Katie.
Doug Pollock is an author, a speaker, a chaplain in the YMCA, and a reflective practitioner whose focus is to help Christ followers worldwide increase the quality and the quantity of their spiritual conversations in practical, doable, and authentic ways.
Rick Lawrence is an author, ministry leader, and the longtime executive editor of GROUP Magazine, the world’s leading youth ministry resource. He leads The Simply Youth Ministry Conference, the general editor for the Jesus-Centered Bible, and is the author, co-author, or editor of 37 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life; Skin In The Game: Living and Epic Jesus-Centered Life; Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry; Shred: Daring to Obey the Startling Command of Jesus; Shifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand; 99 Thoughts On Jesus-Centered Living; and the small group curriculum In Pursuit of Jesus.
Bob D’Ambrosio is a 25-year veteran of church ministry and now serves on Group’s church leadership team. He’s the training director for the Equipping Institute, volunteer blogger, and supervises the team that provides background checks and regional training events. Bob is a contributing author and general editor of Better Together: Connecting With God and Others and Leading Out: Connecting People to Purpose.
Travis Collins’ service as Director of Mission Advancement and Southeast Regional Coordinator brings together his calling and experience as missionary and pastor. He serves as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama and was previously pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. His twenty-five plus years of ministry have included missionary service in Venezuela and Nigeria. He is a graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and earned the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Directionally Challenged (2007), Tough Calls (2008), and From the Steeple to the Street (Seedbed 2016). Travis and his wife, Keri, have three adult children.
Brian Abbott’s work in the advertising, film, and mobile gaming industries, combined with ten years in full-time ministry, provides him a unique perspective on engaging people and fostering relationships through media, digital devices, games, and apps. He has founded digital agencies and production companies with clients such as Ford Motor Company, ESPN, AT&T and other national brands and sports franchises. Brian joined Group in 2012 to lead the Digital Innovations team, encompassing video and media production, digital photography, and digital product development.
John Turnage graduated with a Master in Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He has served as the pastor at First Baptist Church, Loveland, Colorado since 1988. John has a deep interest in missions, leading and participating in medical, dental, educational, and building missions in Mexico, Nicaragua, Chile, Bolivia, and Colombia. Currently, the First Baptist Church welcomed Sharon Lee as pastor of the Korean congregation and opened the church to help her mission and outreach.
Sharon Lee graduated from Oakland City University and received her Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Before completing her formal education, she served as a missionary in China, the Philippines, and Russia. She is a pastor of the American Baptist Churches of the USA and ordained by the church as a Korean minister.