Addition by Subtraction: Part 2 of 3

The bigger the changes, the bigger the team

I had finally broken through my barrier of pride. I had made the decision to make a decision. If no financial progress had been made by the first week of October, we would have to make cuts.

Now, if you think I was just sitting around counting down the weeks, you are mistaken. We had been praying as a trustee team, leadership team and staff for months. I was personally praying more than I ever had. I changed the way I talked about finances in our service, making some corrections I should have made years ago. We were cutting back expenses and pushing back projects. Yet, October came and our deficit was hovering around $300,000.

The financial slide had stopped. God was working through our efforts. But ground was not being made up. We knew that before 2019 began we needed to find a way to cut $300,000 from next year’s budget. That was not going to be easy. Where was the $300,000 going to come from?

There was no $300,000 optional line item on the budget.

There was no $300,000 program.

There was no $300,000 asset we could sell.

This was going to be painful.

The only way to get to that number was to close a campus.

The first question was, do we close just one or both multisite campuses? Do we still believe in the multisite strategy?

This was settled rather quickly. If we closed both campuses, we would be limiting our mission. Even though we had been in decline, our prime service times in Goodyear, our only permanent location, were between 70% and 80% full. This is a natural barrier for new people. If we wanted to continue our mission of reaching our community with the gospel, we couldn’t completely abandon the multisite strategy.

We decided to close one campus.

After that decision, we quickly moved on to determining which campus would be closed.

Over the past few months, our leadership team spent significant time on each of the campuses. Their reports were troubling because both experiences feltgood. Both campuses were executing our multisite strategy with excellence. Yet, both were struggling. This brought up another question; do we have the right multisite model for our church?

There are many different multisite models out there, as you may know. On end of the spectrum, there is a tightly controlled franchise model. Video of the lead pastor is used for the message each week, and all other aspects of the service are done live…but exactly the same across all campuses. Worship teams sing live to the same songs, in the same order. Children’s ministries do the same curriculum and lessons, often with video teaching being shared. This philosophy filters down through all aspects of the church.

At the other end of the spectrum, each campus shares the same vision and culture, but there is freedom in the execution of the programs. The campus pastor will preach their own sermon based on the same topic that is shared across campuses. The worship teams have freedom to tailor their music to the specific culture and preferences of the church body.

Our approach to multisite was solidly on the control end of the spectrum.

The current leadership team worked through this new direction at the end of October. I presented the changes to our trustee team on October 30th. It was a somber, but hope-filled meeting. This was a time full of grieving as well as a time full of faith.

As I wrestled with the complexity of these decisions—closing a campus, changing the model, reducing staff, redeploying staff—I came to the conclusion that I need more voices speaking into this than I currently had.

I am naturally an introvert, so I take time to process things. All these factors led me to keep my teams small. Agile. Flexible. But this was going to be different. I was making decisions that would dramatically affect the livelihood of families. I was shutting down the campus that I stood before the church and cast vision for. I was getting ready to move staff around and redeploy them, breaking apart teams and changing relationships. I was fundamentally changing the way we did church on the weekend. I needed more Godly people around me speaking into this change.

I needed to expand my leadership team.

God has blessed our church with diversity. It was our prayer from before Palm Valley Church was planted that we would be a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church. We have always been above average in this area, but in the last few years God has really changed the makeup of our congregation. This was reflected in our leadership as well. On my executive team, I have five incredible leaders; two are black, two are white, and one Hispanic. If you count me in the mix, you bump up the Hispanic mix by 25%. We are diverse. But I also recognized we were excluding one of the largest populations in our church body, the women. I don’t have time to unpack all my traditional church baggage here. I am not even going to get into the role of pastors and elders and women. I just knew that I had some incredible women leaders on our team and I needed to hear their voice now more than ever. I wanted their perspective, their wisdom. I added two women to the team: our children’s minister and our finance director.

I also needed all key stakeholders in the room as we were making these massive changes. I wanted to include a voice from each of our primary ministry areas. So I expanded the team from six to nine.

I didn’t know how it was going to work. I didn’t know if this large of a team would be unmanageable. So I put a timeframe on it and gave it a new name. This was now my Strategic Team and it would exist in this format for six months as we make these changes and lead through the transition.

It would be the task of this team to accomplish four major objectives:

  1. Close down our Glendale Campus.
  2. Implement a new multisite strategy.
  3. Reduce staffing and operation costs by $300,000 annually.
  4. Re-deploy the staff in new roles based on gifting of the individual and needs of the church.

These objectives could not be accomplished sequentially. They all had to happen at once. And guess what? They all had to happen quickly.

This could not have happened with the previous makeup of the team. I understand that more voices often lead to more opinions and more problems. However, a focused team, unified around a common goal with an urgent mission, can get through those barriers.

If you have ever made sweeping changes to any organization, you know that there is usually a domino effect to every change. This was so true with the changes we were making.

Each decision we made had several impacts down the line. I can tell you right now that without those additional three voices on the team, I would have missed some of these impacts and caused unnecessary pain and confusion to staff members, their families and the church body.

I began our first Strategic Team meeting, on November 6th, by laying out where I believed God was leading me with the new strategy for multisite. This was the domino that started it all. I was moving us from the control side of the spectrum and shifting us closer to the autonomous side. Control was not working for us. We have a heart for evangelism and the gift of mercy. We reach hurting people far from God. We are big into recovery ministry. We routinely deal in the mess of everyday life and do not require people to clean up their act before they walk through our doors. Our motto is that Palm Valley Church is a place where people matter. There was a definite disconnect for us between what we believed about doing ministry and having video teaching 90% of the time on our Buckeye and Glendale campuses. Not only could we feel the tension, but so could our people who were struggling to invite their friends, and the community at large.

The biggest change was to move from 10% live teaching to around 80% live teaching. We gave the worship team more freedom to modify the worship set, while still keeping the Palm Valley feel and vision for worship.

This is where the dominos began to fall.

The teams currently in place were strategically chosen for their ability to carry out the old strategy. A new strategy would require new team members.

By the time we were done, most staff members had a new role. We transitioned a large portion of our central staff—those who developed material for multiple campuses—to a campus role. They would continue developing, writing and planning for all campuses, but they would also be responsible for the execution of the plan on a campus as well.

But let’s not get ahead of the story here. All these changes are yet to come. We knew the direction. We settled on the model. We had a skeleton of a structure we were headed towards, but we needed to develop a timeline. Once we determined when to shut down the campus, we would work the timeline back from there.

The campus needed to be closed by the end of the year.

Christmas Eve is not a viable final service for a campus. Traditionally having a lot of first time guests attending Christmas services, that would be a horrible first impression. It would also turn an evening of celebration into mourning. No, it definitely had to be before Christmas Eve.

Unfortunately, we needed to back it up further. Once our Christmas series started, every weekend after that builds towards Christmas Eve. It would be problematic on multiple levels to start the series, knowing there would be no completion.

Within the first two hours of our first meeting we realized what we were up against. The last public service at this campus would need to be on November 18th. We had a lot to do.

When making drastic changes in life, our natural tendency is to push people away, especially ones who might have a different viewpoint. I mean, change is stressful enough already. I didn’t need other opinions making it more difficult.

A career change

A big move

A large purchase

Marriage crisis

Leaving a church

Who do you surround yourself with when making these types of decisions? What’s their track record? What new perspective do they have to offer?

These aren’t just leadership lessons learned along the way. This is a Biblical principle.

Proverbs 12:15

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.

 

Yes, it does take a little longer… initially.

Multiple conversations.

More opinions to talk through.

But ultimately, you want to avoid having to go back and make additional changes because you missed something or didn’t anticipate how your change would affect other aspects of your life and the lives of those around you. This saves you countless hours and energy, both physical and emotional.

Coming Soon – Part 3: Communicating Change

Addition by Subtraction – Part 1 of 3

Yes, there is a problem.

Sometimes problems are easy to identify.

The roof is leaking. There is clearly evidence to support the claim because there is water pooling in the middle of the worship center.

Other times the problem is not as easy to identify.

We see the evidence. Giving and attendance are down, but we don’t know why.

This is where it can get dicey—especially if you have several things going on that could be contributing factors. Each one of these comes with an excuse or justification.

Lead pastor transitions take time.

When the church becomes more diverse, some people are going to leave.

Church attendance and involvement are in a decline across the entire country.

Each of these statements was made at one point or another in the year leading up to my declaration that, yes, there is a problem. Each of these statements is true. But none of them led to action. I had to make a declaration and I had to make it quickly.

To paint a clear picture, I am going to use some real numbers here. At its peak in 2015, Palm Valley Church had an average weekend attendance of 4,000 people; that’s adults, students, and kids checked in each week. A pastoral transition and launch of the multisite model took us on a slow slide to a weekend attendance of 3,000 by the middle of 2018 even though we were now at four campuses (three physical locations and the online campus). Up until 2018, however, finances were good. There was not a big dip in giving, so we chalked up the losses to the transition, culture and a changing diversity in the church and eventually it would bounce back.

All of that would change in 2018. Giving now began to drop. Conversations began during our first quarter trustee meeting. This doesn’t look good.

Coming into our trustee meeting at the end of the second quarter the tone changed. This is not good. Our trustees asked a lot of good questions to which I did not have a lot of good answers. Don’t you love those meetings? We knew that if finances didn’t improve, we would have to make some dramatic cuts and changes. The question I had to answer before leaving the meeting was, what would be on the table for cuts should it come to it? My answer was straightforward; multisite, staffing, programs…whatever it takes. In my heart, though, I was determined to not have to change anything.

I was about to learn my first big lesson.

From an attendance point of view, summer was better than average. It actually leveled off, instead of continuing its slow decline. We had an incredible visionary series called We Are PVCthat increased engagement at the church along our vision and mission. We had a single weekend where 100 new volunteers stepped up and committed to serve, but the finances were not changing.

After our fall kickoff, I pulled together my leadership team. I had not been sleeping well. I was stressed out, tired and slowly burning out. We had to do something—there was a problem.

It was the beginning of September and I put it all on the table…for real this time. You see, before, it was my pride that was holding me back.

My pride said, I can fix this.

My pride said, I can save our strategy.

My pride said, I can save every campus.

My pride said, I can save every position on the staff.

With every social media post and announcement of churches launching new campuses and growing, I felt more like a failure. I had made the common mistake that my value as a pastor was attached to the number of campuses I had and the number of people who were attending our services.

The hard part was separating the truth from the lie. Palm Valley Church was not failing. In the past four years, God has worked through the church body:

1,552 salvations

990 baptisms

1,708 members sent on regional and global missions

1,000 pastors trained in Cote d’Ivoire

Over 30,000 children and families assisted through our local outreach

That day, with my leadership team, we made a very simple plan. We would continue to follow the trends, and if no change takes place by the first of October, we would develop a specific plan to make cuts.

At this point you might be thinking, seriously? That’s it? That was the big breakthrough?

Looking back and writing these words down, I will admit it seems rather simplistic. It seems like something that could have, and probably should have been done much earlier. But this was a big deal for me.

For leaders, I believe the most critical moment is when you decide to make a decision. This decision contains the majority of the internal emotional barriers. For me, it was pride. For others, it might be fear. All I know is that these emotions are powerful.

I knew that I had many more decisions to make. None of them would be easy. But none would be made without making this breakthrough first.

I am not sure what decision you are sitting on today.

I am not sure how much more evidence needs to pile up for you to move forward.

I don’t know if it’s fear of the unknown or pride in admitting that you were wrong that is the underlying issue.

All I can tell you is that deciding to decide is the most freeing thing you can do.

My anxiety levels went down. I was sleeping better.  I felt like a weight was off my shoulders…and I hadn’t even done anything yet!

Not only is indecision holding you back, but it’s holding your organization back as well. Your team members see the problem and are hoping and praying you will do something about it.

 

Next Month, Addition by Subtraction, Part 2 – The Bigger the Changes the Bigger the Team.

The Real Jesus…Values People Over Religion

How can this be?  I thought Jesus was all about religion.  He was a religious figure after all.  And didn’t he start the Christian religion?

 

Our church community has been reading, and I have been teaching, through the book of Luke leading up to Easter.  This statement about Jesus, Relationships and Religion  was examined this past weekend.

 

We saw that as Jesus went about His ministry of preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God he also performed many miracles and healed people.  The focus was not THAT He healed them, but HOW He healed them.  Check out these three passages (emphasis added is mine).

 

Luke 5:13 

      Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.

 

Luke 7:13-14 

      When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. 14Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.”

 

Luke 7:44-48

      “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

         47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 

These three snapshots in the book of Luke are each independent of each other, yet illustrate the same heart of Jesus.  Jesus was more concerned about people than religious and cultural norms and practices.

 

  • You NEVER touch or get close to a leper. (Leviticus 13)
  • You do not touch a dead body, coffin or grave unless you have to. (Numbers 19)
  • You separate and avoid contact with sinful people.

 

These three passages would have caused a gasp in the crowds watching Jesus.  No one crossed these boundaries.  No one openly and publicly broke these rules.  Yet here we have Jesus stepping across these invisible boundaries for the sake of people.

 

One might be tempted to position Jesus as a religious rebel, throwing out ALL religious rules and customs. But this is not the case either. For example…

 

-After the leper is healed, He tells him to present himself to the priests for the ceremonial cleansing (Leviticus 14).

-Jesus and his disciples go to the temple and synagogues to worship. (Luke 21)

-Jesus and the disciples celebrate Passover before his death. (Luke 22)

 

He is not upending religious practices for the sake of making a statement. Jesus is not a rebel without a cause. But when a person and a practice come in conflict…the person wins every time with Jesus.  With Jesus…people matter.

 

You can check out the full service from this weekend or just the message at http://www.palmvalley.org/messages/realjesus