Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Blue Van Dyke is joining us today from Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona. Blue, great to have you on the show today.
Thank you. Appreciate it.
So Blue, tell me a little bit, you guys actually have three executive pastors there on staff as you are one of them. Tell me a little bit about your position and how you came to Christ Church of the Valley.
Sure, so you mentioned we have three executive pastors and overly simplified we really have what I call four main buckets here at the church. We have what I’ll call our development team or our centralized team. We have the weekend experience. We have the campuses and all three of those are supported by some we just call the support service layer. I oversee our development team or our centralized services.
Basically, our adult ministry are next gen ministry, missions, marketing and communications and technology, all the things that we create in a centralized format to be sent out to the campuses to be delivered at a local level by the campuses.
How did you come into this position? Have you kind of always been in the ministry world or are you coming out of the marketplace?
Yeah, it’s good call. So mine was definitely a non-traditional path or maybe even a nonconventional path. I have spent most of my background occasionally in the marketplace. We even tease around here a little bit to say that I’m the marketplace opposite of their ministry side. So I’m an MBA, went to business school originally, started out then with a large international company and spent eight years, eight and a half years bouncing around the globe and international businessmen, and then moved into a national marketing and advertising company focused primarily on the automotive industry. After that I actually ended up in venture capital where we would buy, clean up, and sell small businesses all centered around technology that kind of went from big down to smaller and more meaningful and ultimately landed at church.
So I actually give credit to the senior leadership that was at CCB before I ever got here. They just recognized that there was some magic, some mojo that happened when you brought ministry guys with marketplace guys together. Now we have to be centered on our love for Christ, and we do, and I’ve always wanted to serve the Lord some way, and generally I’ve never really not felt the presence of god in my life. I just wasn’t quite sure how to articulate it. But the best thing that these guys did it was at the senior team and they said hey look, you’ve got a unique tool belt. For whatever reason god provisioned you with some marketing tools and some merger and acquisition tools and some of these things that would traditionally be associated the marketplace. The cool thing is they said, look, we’re not asking you to drop that tool belt. We’re just asking you to bring it with you and start working on his house and start building stuff using those tools with the kingdom will bring any of the other side, the ministry side to it. You continue to bring that, we’ll center it on our unified objective to go out and take round for the kingdom, but we’ll bring our collective tool belts to the table and somehow he pointed out there instead of having two hammers, we’re gonna have a hammer and a wrench and I get more done in that way.
So how long have you been in this role?
So I’ve been an executive pastor for three years. I’ve been with our church for about 16 years, was actually doing some what I’ll call leadership teaching with the church beforehand… Was fortunate enough, as crazy as it sounds, in 2007 I was fortunate enough to take a bit of a professional sabbatical, had sold a business and for my loving wife and four children that I would take a year off and we would spend some time just regrouping from the craziness of life. And it was just so transformational for our family. We regrouped with the lord. We regrouped with each other that we committed every seven years to take some time off from work and just refocus.
On 2014 I actually came to the church and said hey, if I’m gonna take a year off of work, is there any value I can bring the church? Are there any of my skills that you think you can use? And if I’m being quite transparent, it was the leadership at the church at the time that said hey, why don’t you bring those in here. Let’s see what we can do to take some ground.
That’s a big transition to go from being a former venture capitalist to working in the church. So what was that transition like for you? Was it a little bit difficult?
Yeah, it was difficult in that, and I mean this in a loving way, the industry of church, how you function is definitely different than you would see in the marketplace. The speed at which we operate. Sometimes the decision making was quite different. There were a huge number of pluses, though. And like I said there was an overwhelming welcoming to say hey, we’re really excited to have somebody who’s just got a different perspective with this. If we hadn’t all been at the same level of understanding that we just had a mutual respect for where we’ve come from and where we’re headed, it probably would’ve been more difficult.
But I don’t look back on it at all. At the end of it it was a nice way to come in and have them say hey, let’s try this for a while and if we think you’re bringing value first of all and we think that it’s a fit let’s keep you here longer. I think if I hadn’t felt either the value that I was bringing or some sort of a place that this has in ministry, I’m not sure that it would have been as easy. It was certainly a little bit different also when it came with just the speed at which we sometimes operate. So those were certainly hurdles that I had to overcome, but the overwhelming feeling of doing something significant and not having to start over… I think it’s in the book. Half time they talk about going in and adjusting sort of halfway to your career. The problem is a lot of churches typically say hey, drop what you brought in experience and then pick up these skill sets you’ve never worked on and let’s try it. I was just fortunate that like I said, nobody asked me to start over. They said let’s just bring those and apply them to it. So in many ways, it really didn’t feel that different.
How we operated, the speed we operated differently, but I was using and doing the same things I was in marketplaces, I was in industry.
So tell me a little more what some of those things are. You’ve got a background in technology and now you’ve come into a church. So what are some of those things you’ve brought with you, some of that perspective and maybe some of the practices you’ve implemented there?
Yeah, and some of these… you know, we cheated a little bit, I say that they’re “Blue-isms” which means a lot of people can disagree on them and we still both get to go to heaven. But a lot of those is one of the things that I brought in was just this ability to simplify down what seems like complex issues. And I feel like academia and sometimes church rewards the idea of complexity. The more complex it means the deeper that it is. The marketplace rewards simplicity, not simple. Simple means it’s just showered. It doesn’t do anything. Simplicity means I know it’s deep but you can articulate it in a way that people can understand and do something with. So I think one of the things that we brought in was this idea, let’s take what we do and let’s simplify it down so that people can understand what we’re trying to accomplish. And then a lot of that what I’d call around strategy, putting the strategic plan. What is the plan? In the marketplace we’d say it’s a business plan. Nobody wants to say I’ve got a business plan for my church because obviously we’re not operating a business, but we do have a plan, we’re still an organization and we still have an objective of what we want to accomplish. So I think some of what we brought was… let’s be strategic. One of the things I’ve read and always believed is that having a good strategy lets you actually say no to really good ideas. That’s the value of it. It’s not saying no to bad ideas. Saying no to bad ideas is crazy, but having a strategy lets you say no to good ideas. So bringing in really a strategic mindset and strategic plan to say here’s what we’re gonna do, here’s what we’re gonna be exceptionally good at. We know that there’s other needs out there, but thank goodness there’s other churches out there as well that fill that for us. This is our plan and this is where we’re headed and this is what we’re gonna do. And I think that strategy combined with what I’ll call some marketplace principles, some metrics and goal setting, some strategies are really some of the things that I brought to the table.
Alright, so this is a good segue into… go into a little bit some of the best practices that you guys have going on there, Christ’s Church.
Yeah. One of the things that we have is we started with, like I said, the strategy. And you know, we have… everybody talks about it and it’s good. You should have this, a vision and a mission. They often forget is what’s our strategy to accomplish those two things. So we have a vision which we call… it’s to win the valley for Christ, and then we have a mission which “win, train, send” – it’s where we win believers to Christ, we train those believers to be disciples, we send the disciples out to impact the world. That’s just us. But then the third layer which we were able to articulate and we use the best practice is something we just call our next step strategy.
So we actually have implemented a life cycle. We think that in an ideal world, people come at the top of this life cycle completely unaware of who Jesus is and what that looks like and we wanna walk them through some process, right? We wanna get to move them from there to some future state that we typically call a disciple or an evangelist. There’s so many different terms people can use. But we have this life cycle we want them to go through. We know it’s not linear, not trying to get down to the fact that we can just plug it in. And what I want people to say is we understand that actually only the Holy Spirit has the power to transform people. I’m not trying to say that, but we’ve just learned that when we get people engaged in certain activities the probability of that transformation tends to go up and the opportunities for opening up their heart where they can receive that tend to go up. We have no misconceptions that when you just do one of our steps instantly, pow, here’s where it happens. But we just know that we encourage people to get engaged because we’ve seen time and time again that by doing these things it happened.
So we’ve done that. We have a strategy, let’s call it our next step strategy, and it starts with what looks surprisingly like a purchase funnel from the marketplace as we go through and at the very top of it we wanna make people aware that we even exist. We typically do that through some traditional campaign. We have bumper stickers for one, we have billboards and outdoor ads. And we never say to people… I know for a fact that people aren’t looking at our bumper sticker and then somebody coming to Christ. Well, that’s awesome. But the goal of that is just to make them aware that we exist, and we move them to a next step which is to get them to consider going to church. From there we try to move them to a step which is to evaluate us. Just show up. Just come here and just evaluate this, this is something you’d like. From my old auto days and the auto industry we’d call that a test-drive. Just come to the dealership and just test drive the vehicle. There’s no obligation to buy but come evaluate us. At some point we’re gonna look to what would be in the marketplace called a transaction. At some point I want you to buy. For us, it’s a baptism. We want you to commit your life to Christ. And the beauty is just like in the marketplace there’s a lot of companies stopped there, well they bought my product, good, I’m done. The good companies know you need to engage your customer now fully. You can’t stop. And so we call that our engagement wheel. So as soon as that happens we have five steps that we look for our members to engage in, which is worship and groups and serving and sharing and giving. And we know that when they get engaged in there the opportunities go up and then that’s our… that’s that middle area where that we call training. And then ultimately…and I digress a little bit here, but in the Mercedes-Benz World Race work we used to call the third stage the brand evangelists. We wanted somebody who was so engaged in the brand they couldn’t help but go out and tell their family and their brothers and their friends about how cool the product was. Well, I tease sometimes about it and wonder who was stealing whose material, because they called it brand evangelists. Evangelism’s been around a whole lot longer.
But that’s the first step for us. We ultimately want people at some point to feel so compelled about their relationship with Christ that they can’t help but go out and tell other people about it. That’s the life cycle that we put to it and that’s the best practice we have is trying to look at this life cycle and know exactly where people are so that we can help encourage them with the right message to the right person at the right time in a way that helps them take a step of engagement.
Now something I hear in all this, when you talk about creating a life cycle and then you know, the increase in likelihood of responding to the Holy Spirit if they involve in certain activities, in order to actually measure if that’s working you have to measure if it’s working and then you have to know who the people are around you, who the people aren’t coming in your door. So how do you do that?
That’s a great question. And so we’ve actually created what we call a dashboard. It’s CCB scorecard and dashboard. So we actually track engagement at each one of those steps I mentioned. Now here’s what I always… people always ask when I say is our goal is to have accurate information, not precise information, meaning we know that we wanna track the number of times people come to church unless they’re checking in one of their children through our system or they’ve started to serve which is a check in as well. There is an opportunity that they could show up at service and leave and we would never know they were there. We know that, but based on the times that they raise their hand and they check in we’ve got a good understanding of the accuracy of how frequently they’re attending church. That gives us enough information to make some decisions to pull some levers. Nobody’s getting commissioned on these numbers so we don’t need them to be precise down to the detail. What we want is we wanna prevent people from falling through the crack and we wanna be able to make smart wise decisions based on it.
So we do. We go through them and we actually have this dashboard. We track it. We have a system that allows people to go in and pull up each month where we stand on the number of people in small group ministry, the number of people we have serving where our giving numbers and metrics are the number of baptisms. We use a church management system primarily to collect this. We do use technology different times. I mentioned some of our check-in kiosks. We also use a mobile app. So when people ping our Wi-Fi we can tell it they’re on campus and where they’re engaging and what they’re doing. We feed all that into a church management system which in turn populates our score card in a dashboard. A really, really exciting piece of it is we’ve actually now started to open that up to the attendees of our church, to members of our church, so they can pull up the app, see their own profile, and based on those seven steps of engagement they can tell which ones they’re doing and which ones they’re not doing, and we can help promote some next steps with them based on where they’re at and what frequency at which they’re doing it. So if we recognize that they’ve been to church once in the last six weeks, we have an opportunity to communicate with them about frequency of attendance, etc.
You must have a pretty robust tech or data collection team.
Yeah, it’s actually surprisingly thin. We do have a church management system. So we had worked to custom build a church management system previously. It’s now opened up, an open source and available for anybody to use. So we do leverage technology quite a bit. That helps an enormous amount. We have three developers on staff. This just helps give context to people. So we do have three developers and then we outsource additional development as sort of we need help with doing that. From data we have one data analyst. That is a full time position, and that person is really to go through and leverage the data that we’re collecting from our in-house church management system. But we’ve also started to really just dabble in in how we are able to use outside data, what people call the big data often, to just help us make some macro decisions and help us help people in kind of steps that that did… they might be predictively ready to take. But again, three developers, one data analyst, and then outsource as we need to with other folks and support agencies.
I did an interview with a lady once who was a data analyst at a church but she referred to herself as a data storyteller.
I like it. I might have to steal that if you don’t mind, if you can get me permission, that’s a great… it’s a great title for it.
I thought it was pretty great. Yeah.
Yeah – So okay, I’m gonna flip this a little bit and it might have to do with data, but what’s something going on right now that’s a challenge that you haven’t yet found a solution for there?
It’s a great call. One of them right now is just the scalability of what we’re trying to take on. So as we continue to grow, we’re now at eight multi-sites and one of our goals is consistency and really to take these systems and scale them so that everybody can use them and get them to all the different medians that are available from websites to social media and display ads and mobile apps, etc. The idea of being able to get scalable systems is something that we’re struggling with and keep that cost effective at the same time can be very, very expensive, especially with a lot of custom app development. So I wish I had an answer for it. We’re looking at different ways that we can work together as churches. We’ve started some round tables with other churches to try to share some of these costs, to try to create some standardization across the… even in the side of the church world, the church industry 16:54 call it so that we can share some open source code and some other ideas. So we’re playing, moving so quickly that my goal is the church isn’t a laggard and the church doesn’t say oh, that’s okay, we’re just a church, and if I never hear that again, it’ll be okay. So we’re really working to figure out how we can do that in a cost effective way while still being good stewards of our members’ money this is going on except that that’s a challenge we face on a regular basis.
Yeah, you know you mentioned your eight multi-sites. So I’m curious about those. Is this a situation where you’ve got a main pastor and you got a video feed every week or are there unique pastors and staff for each location?
No, and I try to come up with good examples. I would say we’re more like Starbucks. We’re more company-owned stores than we are franchisees. So we have a single… We have are a teaching team, but each week we have a singular message from a broadcast campus that’s broadcasting video feed to the other campuses. Each campus will have its own campus pastor and that campus pastor will do a communion meditation. It’s usually a two to three minute communion medication. I’ll also do some announcement. So it’s certainly a stage presence and somebody that’s visible as a leader of that campus, but the teaching itself will come from a teaching team and a broadcast campus for all of them. Our goal is to find some consistency across all the campuses.
And how far apart are your campuses like geographically?
Well, there’s eight of them so they’re spread out. Our goal ultimately is to have a campus wherever there is about more than a 20 minute drive for somebody. So we just feel like people will typically drive about 20 minutes to get to any one of our churches. Right now if you were to take our furthest north church and our furthest southeast church, they’re about 75 miles apart from each other. All of them are in what I call the Phoenix Metroplex. So our goal was still to stay within the valley, it’s called the Valley of the Sun for Phoenix. We have those eight campuses. Some of them the furthest apart as I mentioned was about these 75 miles from each other. Some of them are within about 8, 10 miles of each other. But because of the density it’s more than a 20 minute drive.
You mentioned the roundtable but I’m curious, where do you go to be better at your role? I’m sure you have marketplace influences, obviously. And then also just within the ministry context.
Sure. And the most valuable thing I do on an annual basis is we meet with a… other group of light sized churches, and I only say that because the issues you deal with, the complexities you deal with seem to be more common when you’re around the same size. So we meet on an annual basis with anywhere between 15 and 20 other executive pastors of similar sized churches. And we really go in with a very very open agenda, designed to say anybody can raise their hand and say hey, here’s something we’re struggling with, whether that’s consistency in the campus or worship or it might be some sort of social issue that we’re dealing with for some time. And it’s a great format where we can just have dialogue with each other where we can learn very specifically. Again the beauty of it is everybody in there is kingdom-minded so we share documents and resources. At times we can share literal assets, code, things of that nature. That is by far the place where I go the most to learn and to ask some very specific questions. Other than that there are a couple seminars that I go to specifically. There’s an e-church group that I… seminar that I go to each year, and then there’s two or three marketplace workshops that I can… really leadership forum workshops. And for me, it’s just really healthy to hear what people are saying outside of church coming straight from the marketplace. And then I just look and try to discern are there really applications of this inside of church as well.
So Blue, what kind of encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
Blue: Yeah, this is another “Blue-ism” so people can disagree and I’m really, really okay with that. From my old DC days, we’re looking at companies and maybe evaluate, I don’t know, call it six to ten companies a year, and everybody looks at… obviously the structure and the financials and the product and the market attributes and customer segmentation. But then with this intrinsic thing and I end up having to add it formally to my diligence documents and I just called it the innovation and fortitude scale. How innovative is this organization? How much are they gonna do and how gritty are they? How much fortitude do they have to get through? And I just found that for me, success comes when you find an organization or a church or whoever that might be… that isn’t afraid to go out and innovate and try new things.
And I just tell this story that I believe in it so much it I just try to instill that actually even as a family value at home, and I call it, figure it out motto and I always say to my kids when they’d ask me something, how do you do this? I’d look at them and say figure it out. What’s the worst you can do? Go. Dive into it. Figure it out. See what you can do. And I remember at one point it was great, my son had asked me something about building a fort. He was young at the time. He’s maybe eight to ten years old and he’s gonna build a fort in the house and asked me some question and I’m sure I give him a half-hearted answer but I looked at him and I said figure it out, you can do this. So at some point I decided I better go check on him. And I went upstairs and he had taken one of the sheets off of our bed and he cut a hole right in the middle of it and used a hanger to hang it off of the light in the ceiling. And then he used thumbtacks to stick down the chairs of our leather couch. And I remember thinking are you kidding me. And so I think I said something to him like have you lost your mind and he looked at me and goes I just figured it out and it hit me like a brick, I was like it’s exactly what I want.
It is. But what we have to do is we have to be prepared at some times to get thumbtacks in the couch and cut sheets. That’s part of the innovation process. And I would value even at the risk of having some misses, some thumbtacks, what you’ve done is instill the culture of innovation and at some point they’re gonna figure out the way it works. So don’t ever be afraid of the thumbtacks and let that prevent you from creating a culture of innovation. To me it’s one of the strongest differentiators a church can have is that we’re not afraid to approach new tools, new systems. I say this to friends of mine. I was able to use tools to put people in luxury vehicles they probably didn’t need to drive or give them soda water they didn’t need to drink. I’ve gotta be able to use these same tools to get them something more valuable which is salvation. We’ve got the greatest product in the world, Jesus. Why aren’t we using the same tool in figuring out how to innovate to introduce him to people? And if I can do that, we can figure out a way to do it. You can get the best of both worlds. You can figure out how to exercise some of these tools we all do and people are engaged in, or you can do it with really feeling of the significance in bringing somebody to Christ. So foster a culture of innovation would be the number one thing I’d leave people with.
That’s fantastic. Blue, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
I really appreciate you having me. Thank you.
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