Welcome to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, our guest is Bonnie Gay who’s joining us from the Princeton Alliance Church. She’s the Operations Director there. Bonnie, how are you this morning?
I’m good. Thanks for having me.
Excellent. I’m very excited to talk to you. There’s a lot of cool stuff that’s going on. Why don’t you give us a little bit of your background, how you got into your position as Operations Director?
Cool. I realized that I’m called to ministry when I was in high school but I did not know what that would look like. And so I was considering what college to attend and trying to figure out what major to focus on. And I decided on a Christian School where I could get a good biblical foundation and prepared to support ministry in a pretty broad context. I didn’t know if I’d get married to a pastor or get assigned to a remote jungle ministry. I think those were the only option.
Yeah. And the days that if you’re a woman, you can marry a pastor or you could be a missionary. That was it.
Right. Yeah. I think that’s all I knew about women and ministry at the time. And so I got an associate degree in Medical Secretarial Science and I took courses in Medical Terminology, and first aid, Accounting, piano in case I needed to be a pastor’s wife, voice and guitar, and sign language, Old Testament studies, and New Testament studies. And I thought, well, that gives me a pretty broad range of ways that I could support ministry. When I graduated, my husband and I began attending Princeton Alliance Church. We were actually engaged at the time. And PAC was a mobile church plant that was about three years old at that time. And I was working in the medical field, and my husband was in a startup company in the Cyberoptics industry.
So you did not marry a pastor. Okay. Good.
No. We got involved in the ministry with the church and the pastor who was leading that asked me to come on staff. I told him no on several occasions before we got married. And then once we got settled in the area, I accepted a position. And so this December, I will have been on staff for 30 years.
30 years, that’s really incredible. It’s been actually a little bit of a trend. Not 30 years, but at least more than 10 years. I have a lot of people I’ve been talking to that are in these positions.
It’s hard to believe even. I’ve lived it and it’s hard to look back and go, wow!
So 30 years, you’re now the Operations Director. So what does the Operations Director do? How’s your church structured?
So my responsibilities include things in the area of facility use, finance, human resources, the day to day operations like insurances and benefits, and things that keep us legal and things that keep us good stewards. Those types of things. In our current organizational structure, you asked about that. So the church is about 34 years old and we’ve had three lead pastors in that time. So lots of change. We’re actually, right now, in the midst of an organizational structure with a temporary structure in place until our next architectural feed of genius can be determined. A few years back, we had an executive pastor who returned to his prior industry, and at that point, our board determined that we should try a very new and different reporting structure. They defined 4 top leadership roles for the purpose of leading the church and to develop those leaders to become lead pastors. It was an interesting, I’ll call, an experiment. Those leaders were asked to do things that they didn’t necessarily have passion for and or experience in. And so I think something we’ve come to learn is that your org structure is not a way to develop leaders. You should absolutely be developing leaders. But putting them in positions that they’re not quite, especially if they’re not passionate about it, is taxing for them, as well as the organization. So after a while, it became obvious that it wasn’t working. They tried for a couple of years to make it work, and eventually it was de commissioned. So where we are now is that we have a new and executive pastor who’s not new to the staff, but he’s new to the role.
So now you’re trying to figure out what the new lines are and what the new responsibilities are. Is that what you’re in the middle of right now?
Yes. So it creates an administrative challenge for all of us. So the reason that it’s hard right now is that every department lead now reports to the executive pastor, which is not unusual. But he, being new to the role, is trying to understand what everybody does in the organization as deep as he possibly can. And then he and our lead pastor, with our board, will go from there to get us into our final org structure. So right now, it’s challenging in that we are all reporting to one person and just a struggle with his time and capacity. In the meantime, in the midst of all the change, we also re-venture a Strat Up evaluation with an outside consulting group and it’s helping align our strategy and our operations with mission and vision and values. Really super helpful and informative. But it’s also a struggle because when you’ve been doing lots of good stuff over a long period of time, it’s hard to make tough choices that you need to course correct. Church planting church, we believe in church multiplication. We’ve done church planting. A church plant is more like a teenager. He can make a quick decision that’ll either keep him on track or set them off course. And a result in those decisions, you find out pretty quickly, if you’re on course or if you’re headed for the rocks. But a church that’s 30 years old and has made all kinds of decisions along the way that fit over the long haul, all of those things that we said yes to can actually start dragging us down. And we say yes to one thing. Every yes means were saying no to something else. Sometimes we do that knowingly and sometimes we don’t realize it until much later. So I’ve told our staff sometimes, when they look at our church plants and go: “How did they just decided to do something and they do it?” Well, a church plant is like a wave runner that’s making little course corrections all along the way, speeding along. But a 30-year old church is more like an ocean liner and when it’s time to course correct, you have to do it very differently. And that’s where we are right now.
So speaking as someone who’s been in the church world for 30 years, been at the same church for 30 years, as you’ve seen this church grow and develop and do different things, what do you feel like are some of the things that need to happen that would be an efficient way to organize this church? Say, you were a consultant coming in and seeing what’s going on now and as you’re looking for that kind of final org structure thing in the place, what’s your gut reaction in terms of how you think things should shake out?
Always keeping your vision and mission in mind. Everything needs to align with that. And the strategy of how to accomplish our mission and vision, that should define everything else that you do. When we’ve gone through this strut up process, we’re looking at not just what do we want to accomplish, but what things do we need to do to accomplish that. And not every good thing is necessary. So really you’re going back to that lesson about the jar with the rocks, and the sand, and the pebbles. You put the big rocks in first, and so defining what those are, and getting those to have the most of your resources before you put the sand and the pebbles in there. So it’s painful to consider what you wanna let go of. And pruning is really hard. But just because it’s a good thing to do, you have to also weigh the resources that it takes, the energy or focus, the people, the space, the finances. And so we go back to a clean slate to find our mission and vision, define our values, now put the big rocks and the jar first. And then that will help you eliminate the things that are good but are kinda redundant because you could do a lot of great things but if they’re all doing the same thing, scale and put and combine things so that you’re all headed for the same target and streamlining as much as possible.
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. To be able to, like you said, get those big things in first and build around that is a huge task. Where do you see, in terms of how the operations side of things run, all the things you’re dealing with the insurance and HR stuff and finance, how does that fit in everything?
We feel it most in our support ministries, our ministry support services. The communications and operations support everything else that goes on in the church. And if every ministry area has 7 great things that they wanna do, well, they need to be communicated and they need to be supported with finances, or with facility, or staffing, or volunteers. And so the support services feel a big weight of every other ministry. And so when one ministry looks at, okay, well, what do we want to accomplish toward the greater mission and vision of the church? Do you need every ministry to be doing 7 things? Or is there a way that we can cut back on that? Because we also have one congregation. And so if we’re asking all the adults in that congregation for everything that goes on ministry, that’s great. But there’s only so much time that we have as people and with lives and expectations. And so I think what we’ve felt we’ve lost a lot of is leadership development because we’re so busy at accomplishing all the great things that we’re doing, that we’re realizing now that there’s a huge gap in leadership development. And so if we’re gonna refocus, and leadership development is really key to getting the mission and vision accomplished, then we’ve got to figure out what comes off the plate in order for leadership development to have a bigger portion of the plate and developing leaders in every area of ministry. And so you asked about operations and our communications department, we both work closely with each other into trying to resource all of those asks appropriately. We all need to work as a team. We all need be unified as a team, instead of soloing. We all need to come together and say, this is laid all on the table. These are what we see would accomplish the mission and vision. But when we lay it next to someone else, another team member, and what they’re coming at the mission and vision with, and all the asks that they have, you can easily see where stuff overlaps. But it’s hard for the ministry. Each area invested so much in that plan over the years and they have people that are invested in that plan, volunteers that are invested in that plan, families that are invested. And so it’s not just a bunch of leaders getting together saying, no, you can’t do that. We really have laid out for each of our staff what the mission and vision is, and what our strategy is to get there has to be defined in every area. So as communications and or operations come along to support, we’ve only got so much capacity. But we need to work with our team members, one team, one dream. We’ve gotta all work together so that we can accomplish.
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s important to be able to coordinate well and anytime we’re talking about capacity, trying to build up, do more with less, usually technology comes in into the place. So what are you guys using to try to meet that demand to scale up what you’re able to do? What are some things you rely on to support you with that?
Yeah, we’re using planning center online for all of our volunteers for resourcing the needs of the ministries and also making sure that we’re not asking the same person to do two different things on the same weekend. Or we can share each other’s calendars. We’re doing calendaring in this process of evaluation. Sharing calendars is key so you can see what everybody else is doing in the planning process. Then we’ll dump it all into EventU. ServiceU is the building the facility, scheduling resource that we use for wedding or making our room reservations, making sure we’re not tripping over each other. We have Fellowship One as our people database and easyTithe is our go to for online giving. We have more than 50% of our congregation, more than 50% of our income comes in online. But one of the best things that I’ve discovered for my tool box is Gmail’s canned response feature. If you’re not familiar with that, you can turn it on and then you build standard answers for the questions or issues that you typically address. So you can just pop them into an email and then personalize it before you send it, a time saver for me. When I’m answering questions about — there’s a standard answer. This is the process to apply, here’s what our next steps are, onboarding new staff. I have a standard set of answers and then questions like: Hey, do you write in your facility? There are standard answers to all of those. I used to go into a previous email, find it, that I sent, get the answer, copy and paste it, and then I discover this tool and it’s been super helpful as a timesaver.
Yeah. Anything we can do to reduce that amount of manual work, bringing in some automation into what we’re doing is a great thing. I used Gmail canned responses a lot with different processes that we use. So it’s a really great tool if. And like you said, a lot of people use Gmail but it’s kind of a hidden feature too. So it’s a good thing to make people aware of. You talked a lot about the administrative challenges that are out there. Anything else you wanna mention in terms of what you guys are facing? Or even some things you enjoy doing on the administrative side that you wanna share.
I love seeing people get it and being able to use their gifts and abilities in the right places. And so, one of the things that we did this past year was to begin a WeServe campaign and leveraged a broad ask of the congregation to find out what their spiritual gifts are and get plugged into a ministry. And so helping people figure out what their gifts are and being able to get them into a place where they can be used best is so rewarding. Nobody wants to be stuck in a ministry position that they’re frustrated or they feel like: “I don’t wanna sign up for the rest of my life”. And so we created a test drive and allowed people to step in to ministry, watch it happen, try it themselves, and then do an evaluation. Part of the Strat Up exercises that we’ve been doing are that we will evaluate everything. So many times we get something good started and we just keep doing it and doing it and doing it and we don’t have to step back and evaluate it. So we’ve also implement that for our volunteers. They get to evaluate whether or not that was a good experience for them and then decide if they wanna continue serving in that role. And if not, that’s okay. And then we’ll help them find the perfect fit for them. If what they thought they were stepping into wasn’t what they expected, that’s okay. We’ve designed a little job description for every part, every role that our volunteers could step into so they have some ideas going in. But sometimes when you get there, it’s not quite what you expected. And so we like to free them up. I love when our staff get the tools that they need to do their jobs. That’s one of my greatest victories is when I can help someone to be able to streamline something, a process, or get them a tool that’ll help them do what they need to do. Canned responses actually came up this week and our worship pastors like watching me write an email and popped up a bunch of text in there and he’s like: “Whoa, what did just happen?” So sharing that tool, I love to be able to share resources and help people get unstuck.
That’s amazing. Well, I think you’ve been doing such a great job of bringing these new things to your ministry, to what you’re doing. Love what you said about seeing people get it, that they understand what’s going on. Especially that peace about evaluating, it’s so important. I think the churches, a lot of times, we think it’s good so we just keep doing it and we don’t really step back and say, okay, how can we actually make this better? Or, is it good? Is there a way to improve it? And getting all those things coming in. So it’s great to hear about the good things that are happening there at Princeton Alliance. Bonnie, why don’t you close this out sharing a little bit of encouragement for other Operations Directors, ExPs, other people out there listening in? What would you like to tell them?
Stay flexible, my friends. Yeah. That would be probably the best advice because things change so much. I tend to embrace change but I realized that that’s very difficult for some people. And so being patient in the process of change, knowing how much that your staff can handle, pacing it, walking alongside those who feel like it’s going too slow, staying the course with those who feel like this is moving too fast, information and communication is key to all of that. And then I would say, 2 Timothy 2:2, which says in the things that you have heard me say, entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. So training others and giving them the resources and tools that they need, let them watch you do it together, then let them do it, encourage them and talk about it along the way. And if it’s not a good fit, encourage them toward what they’re gifted in. And it’s not just for volunteers, but there’s no way I could have been a ministry this long in one place without checking in like that on a regular basis. Is this where you want me? And so I wouldn’t wanna be serving somewhere where God didn’t intend for me to be. We don’t want that for anybody else, not to our staff. So to be aware when something doesn’t fit and help say yes, knowing that you’re saying no to something else.
Fantastic. Bonnie, it’s been great to talk to you. It’s been a pleasure to hear someone who’s been at a church for 30 years and still faithfully serving, and it’s still excited about transitions going through. So thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing from you again later.
Thank. Thanks so much. Have a great day.