Welcome to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, we have a special guest coming to us from Lexington, Kentucky and Southland Church is Chris Hahn, who’s the executive pastor there. Hi, Chris. How are you?
I’m doing well. Thank you.
Chris, your church is amazing. It’s got a really cool stuff going on. And it also has probably the most innovative and creative list of staff photos I’ve ever seen. So I’m gonna encourage everyone to check that out first. But tell us a little bit about yourself, where you come from, and how you got to the role that you’re in now.
Yeah. Absolutely. My home church is Southeast Christian in Louisville and from there to Cincinnati Bible College and Cincinnati Christian University now. I was planning on going in the track of youth ministry. And then one day, probably be a senior pastor because I thought I knew you could really do in ministry at the time. And when I was in school, my senior year, my wife and I, we got married before senior year. A friend of mine was from Southland in Lexington and just encouraged me to check this church out. So they were looking for children’s minister. And I was like, “Man, I don’t know children’s ministry. I’m supposed to do youth ministry.” And he said: “I really think you should check it out”. So I talked to Todd Tyler, the children’s minister at the time, and they were looking for an assistant to come on board and he’s gonna move out of children’s. So while I walk through these doors, seems God given me the opportunity, and came down to Southland and interviewed and things went great. Walked into the chapel that was full kids singing, and God just said: “This is where you’re supposed to be”. So February 1993, started on staff at Southland as Children’s Minister and went full time somewhere after graduation and we’ve been here ever since. I’ve been at the Children’s Ministry for 10 years and then in 2003 moved out of that role into a different role. Our church was doing major transition at that time, went through some crisis financially and strategically, we were kind of a mess. We are certainly behind the scene. So I jumped out of that role and into another role to try to help bring some organization and administration to the department that was struggling and needed some strategy. And at the time, Jon Weece, he was the new Senior Minister. He knew kind of my plan towards strategy and administration. He ask me if I would step in to there. And so before, I did a few different jobs over the next several years in the church, kind of doing the same thing, kind of going into the department, finding some focus and strategy and cleaning some things up. And then eventually landed in the executive pastor role sometime around 2007 and have been in this role as the Lead executive pastor since 2009. So that’s kind of my journey in a nutshell.
Yeah. So you’re the Lead executive pastor. Explain what that means because we’ve had a lot of different churches and described how they’re organized. So what does the Lead executive pastor do?
Technically, we have four executive roles. One would be to lead pastor, Jon Weece. He doesn’t really do a lot with us on that side of it so he could focus on his job description, which has two words, and that’s to preach and to pray. But technically, he is one of the executive staff. As a Lead executive pastor, I work primarily with Jon, with our elders, and oversee our staff and operations, and everything. But then I’ve got two executive guys that work alongside of me. One is the executive pastor of Ministries, Nathan Head, who oversees all of our ministry strategies and structures to make sure that we’re aligned and staying on with our mission. And then Kurt Rounds, our Executive Director of Operations and Advancement. So he takes care of all the finance and HR world. We’ve got everything divided into those two categories, and then we’re all three overseeing everything to do with how we employ all the scenes on our multi-site campuses to stay consistent. So for me, as I mentioned, Jon, his role is one that I’m successful when he’s able to have the time and the margin to, not only have a life outside of church, but to write great messages and handle the way I handle all the day to day stuff that he doesn’t want to be bogged down with. So I go between him and our guys to make sure that we’re executing the vision the he has set. And I also work with our elders. Jon have worked with our elders, as well, and get to work with those guys as we kind of set vision for the future.
So I know one thing that’s probably interesting to other ExPs and people out there is, you talked a lot about different topics, but that crisis time that you mentioned back when the church was going through some of those drawing pains, I’m sure that a lot of people listening right now, they’re in the middle of that. Can you walk us through a little bit about what are you looking back? What are some of the foundational first steps to pull out of that and what were some of things you did in there?
Yeah. Those were interesting times and really, really challenging, really difficult. Thankfully, we had great leaders who were courageous enough to make some really difficult decisions and really kinda capitalize on that crisis. It may sound a little odd, but rather than just wallow in it or get better, we decided we were going it better. And so it enabled us to really focus. And at the time, leading up to 2003, we were a church that, if you walked down our hallways, you would see hints of Saddleback, you’d see Little Creek, and you’d see North Point. You’ll just see all these different churches and we really never have our own identity. And so when we hit that crisis, we had to lay off 19 staff people and we’d folded up a lot of ministries and really capitalized on that to get simple. And they really shift towards a simple church model and it was a terrible, terrible time and we lost a lot of trust with, we lay people off. We get that by product that — we really said we wanna get healthy and we’re gonna focus in the next 10 years of getting healthy in five areas. And the first one was financial. And we did everything to bring in Kurt on board. He is amazing with that. To get us healthy financially, make good decisions. We wanted to get our strategy healthy and so we designed our strategy from that. And as we laid people off and as we folded up ministers, we did that strategically as ministries that we were no longer going to — we just wanted to have a men’s ministry more. We have a women’s ministry more. We were really trying to streamline what we’re gonna do and leverage where we wanted to go with that. So strategy was big. When we got healthy in our staff culture, our staff culture was not healthy then, that was a big piece of what I took on as we progressed out on getting healthy there. We focused on getting healthy in the body. Obviously, we want to make sure our church was in a good place. And then the last piece of that puzzle was really getting our leadership healthy. And by that, our elders and that whole government structure. We have about 50 elders leading into 2003. And so when we had that financial crisis, it’s like everybody’s attention was awoken and they all jump back in the game. There was some great people but it was a terrible system. So in 2009, was the last piece where we were able to shrink our eldership down to a minimum number of 12 folks and that was kind of the last piece that enabled us to move forward. But identifying those five areas was critical for us and then just working really, really hard to bring health into all of those areas. That would be my advice is to know where you wanna go with that, obviously, to capitalize on it. It was a crisis that was really devastating for us but we had large enough leadership so we’re gonna leverage this for good and leverage it to where we wanna go and not wallow in financially and strategically.
Yeah. Yeah. Any thoughts or advice or things looking back on how to close down a ministry that’s functioning, maybe doing some good things, going along pretty well. What’s a best practice you can share for us in terms of shutting down something like that?
Well, we did some things really right, we did some things really wrong at that time. And the ones that we did wrong that I really learned from, I would say, if we would go back and do it differently, I really use one of Covey’s habits, and that is to seek first to understand before you’re understood. And that’s a key principle for leaders. That is just going in to listening well. A few things that we shut down, we knew they were important to people’s lives and we knew we were taking this, and this can be talked about, taking the old cows or whatever. We knew all that but we didn’t necessarily know how deep some of it was going and some life change that people had experienced in some of those ministries. So I’d say the first piece of advice would be just to go and spend as much time listening well and understanding what this thing does for folks and how it’s been important, but then quickly move to that place of helping them to understand where you’re going. You can take a toy away from a baby. It’s a lot easier to take that toy away if you put a puppy in there. So we would just really paint that vision of — this is where we’re going. We validate where you’ve been and what this meant to you but here is where we’re going in the future. And then honestly, after listening well and casted that vision, the best thing to do is just don’t waffle and take the hits and endure it because the first two weeks or two months, it’s really, really difficult and it’s really tempting to want to go back. But if you stay the course, in two years, nobody is gonna even remember it. So you just kinda have to stay in there for the long haul. We experienced that a little bit when we folded up our Saturday evening service a couple of years ago. The first 6 weeks, it was really difficult for people. But now we look back and we can already know what it is like to have it. You just kind of endure and hang in there and persevere.
Yeah, I know. It’s great. I don’t wanna focus too much on these kind of negative topics, but I know a lot of people are going through it and it’s really great to hear someone who has experience in that. So why don’t we shift a little bit? Tell us about some of the things you enjoy the most about your job. What do you love doing at Southland?
Well, I love the team that I get to work with, first and foremost. We go in to phrase, years ago, that we work on the “best team on the planet”. We have a staff website, the best team on the planet, that word that we utilize. We all fully believe that we work with the best people on the planet. So working with these folks, it’s a dream come true, the folks I get to work with. And Jon’s one of those. We have a great relationship. Like every executive guy you got in your podcast would talk about the relationship with the lead guy, and I’m blessed to work with not only one of the best communicators in the country, if not the world, but also just one of the best people. And so that’s a blessing for me. I love that I’m ministry trained, I wasn’t business trained. So my heart is for the church and I feel the burden and the weight of serving church. So I get the blessing of that. And to be able to bring my gifts and skills to that, which is administrative, and strategy, and being a change agent, and conflict resolution, all that stuff that I’m kinda wired with. Did you ever see that play out in the church and ministry setting? I would have never dreamed that I’d have the chance to do that back when I went into ministry years ago. So those are probably some of the key things I just watch in life change. I have been at Southland for 25 years. I’m doing weddings for kids that I had in children’s ministry and some of them are having babies now. So that’s a huge blessing to be at one place for so long. But you really need to see generational impact of ministry. I’ve encouraged a lot of folks to try to put down rates and stay in a place as long as they can so they can see that long term effectiveness.
Yeah. And honestly, a lot of the ExPs that I’m talking to have been at the church for more than 10 years and they’ve gone through lots of different roles and that’s what makes them valuable because they’ve seen so many different aspects of the ministries and they know the DNA of the church so well. So that’s great advice. So let’s switch over, talk a little bit technology, one of our favorite topics here. What ways have you incorporate technology in how you administer and what’s kind of core to what Southland does?
Sure. Technology has been huge for us. We wanna leverage it for maximum efficiency and effectiveness from the ministry standpoint, as well as organizational staff effectiveness. Ministry-wise, obviously, being a mobile site church, we leverage technology to reach more people and more communities. We a vision to put a healthy church within reach of everyone that’s staying in Kentucky. We can only do that through the use of technology with sending our messages out. We use, right now, media that’s big for us in our group’s strategy. Video teaching, we’ll do our own utilizing podcast to communicate. So that’s a big piece of how we administer to the body. The organization and staff, in fact, one of the big pieces have been our staff website. We post all of our leadership team notes on there. We have a leadership development piece on that site where staff members can go in and they can get a lot of resources on there and they get points for that which then they accumulate so many points that results in gas cards or Amazon gift cards. That program has been — use of technology has been awesome for us. Some of the typical stuff we use, I’ve heard other guys talk about Google apps. We try to set everybody up to be mobile on our teams. We can work from any campus at any time or Starbucks or McDonalds, wherever. So Google apps are big time. We use Google Docs like crazy and keep those docs running. Video meetings are big for us. That’s a big piece of technology, as well. But it’s not uncommon at all for us to have a meeting where there’s several people that are on screen during that meeting. Other programs be like planning center, playing center groups that we’re using right now is amazing program. That’s been super effective for us. But personally, I use Evernote. That’s been a good program that helped me with my planning and my meeting, be preparation, things like knowledge track. Of course, I would die without my IPhone. I have to put that in there because that is a key piece of technology that I utilize. So all those pieces. Anything that’s out there that we can use, we’re gonna try to tap into.
Yeah. I know. It’s important. You brought up the importance of mobile and being able to work from different places, being able to take your devices with you, go to different ways. Talk about the role of mobile with the multi-site and what’s the multi-site staff and how that works. So how else do you leverage that piece of technology?
Well, the way we’re set up is that we’ve set aside — all of our campuses are still relatively close enough to home base that on Tuesday, is the only day that all staff comes together to one campus to work. We only do all staff meetings once a quarter but we all come together. So in those days, like our student ministries team would know that’s the day they can actually get everybody around the table. But on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, everybody’s working from their campuses or they’re working out the community doing things. So leveraging the ability to be mobile is absolutely critical for us. We have a fantastic IT team that every time a staff comes on board, they are fully equipped to work mobile. And if you can’t keep up to do video meetings, you’re really gonna struggle in our culture because again, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, those are you’re videoing in with people all the time. So we just want our folks to be able to work from any campus at any time. Like today, I’m working at our Lexington campus and every Wednesday, I work from a different campus. I just go in, pull up my laptop and I have everything I need. Thanks to Google Docs and those Google apps. So we just really try to foster that since we have had multi-campuses, we all are part of those multi-campuses. So our central support teams are encouraged, really, to work from different campuses as often as possible, which means they got the ability to be mobile and function mobily.
And how do you do that in terms of office space? Do you have just open seating, open tables for people that will walk in or do you have your specific Chris Hahn seat at every location that goes through?
Our offices, we’ve gone to the open office concept, so the only people that have offices anymore would be in our central support area. Everybody else is in open offices. So when I walk in, like in here today, I sit up there with the rest of the staff at just a random table, but then we also have some conference rooms you can go in and close the door. So if you need to have a meeting or, like right now, I could sit in here, close door and not be disturbed. But our campus leaders, they sit out in the open office as well. They don’t have their own office on their own campus. That seems to work really well for us. The introvert struggle at first, and then the extrovert struggle later when they realized they can’t just go on talking and play the whole time. But when you get a headphone, you can get a lot done in any of our campuses.
Nice. Great. Chris, what are some of the ongoing administrative challenges you feel and specifically, your churches is over that 10,000 mark, do you feel like there’s any differences that you’ve done as you scaled up or they pretty much the same challenges you face when you are 3, 4, 5000?
No. Definitely changed. Multi-site always brings a new set of challenges and we’ve tried our best to stay ahead of the game where it comes to restructuring and reorganizing. We went to matrix model of leadership management several years before we opened up our, I guess, it was our third campus. I’m just trying to stay ahead of that. We’re looking now, realizing that as we get a little bit further out regionally, and we’re gonna have to probably go to more of a regional set up with our canvas leaders and not require people to come back. So losing a little bit of that, we’ve already also really 125 people on staff. So we’ve already lost some of that staff cohesiveness where everybody sees everybody all the time. You just got to get used to the new norm there. We know that next piece of that is gonna even be more difficult when some people won’t see another staff person except for when we do our quarterly staff meetings or on retreat. So that’s a huge challenge of how do we maintain that staff health, and family feel that we hold dear while we continue to expand. So that’ll be a challenge. I think, resources are always gonna be a challenge. We’re actually set to be out of debt, as a church, at the end of this year. For the first time in history of this church, we’ve not had any debt. So we’re excited about that. And the debt payment that we’ve been making will actually roll into a resource engine to build Washington campuses. So that’s gonna be great but we’ll always have the challenge in how do you maximize resources and take good care of people and staff and ministry with limited resources. That’ll be a challenge. One of the practical things, I think, we found as a challenge is just finding a good church management software that can do everything we wanted to do. We find one or two that do finance really well, do children’s check in, do virtually well, but melding all these things into one deal — we’ve had several that it said that they can do it but the practicality just doesn’t happen. So that’s when it’s huge. It’s the same simple, but it’s a huge challenge for us, administratively, to find that one software that links everything back together from a church management standpoint. I think communication will always be an issue. We used Best Christian Workplace. We do their survey every other year, not every year and we always are able to mind some things out of that in the area of communication that we could shoot up and get better to make sure that we’re including them. I know as we get larger, that’s gonna continue to be a challenge for us. But those are few things that I think are challenges to us.
Yeah. I know. I think that covers, like you said, a lot of the things that are consistently a challenge for administrative people, but also some things as you grow too, like the multi-site thing. How do you maintain that feeling of family, I think is a big one. When is it time to make that leap to a matrix model where you have functional heads and site heads, campus heads, those types of things? So yeah, very good. Chris, what about learning more about being an executive pastor? Any other resources you can direct us to that you go to?
Well, recently, honestly, this podcast has been a very valuable tool. I think it’s gonna be a great resource for executive pastors who used to come. I appreciate this. It’s great learning. I think, honestly, for me, the best tool is the networks that I’m a part of of other executive pastors. I’ve got two different ExP network groups that I’m a part of, of churches that are larger than ours. When I go to those things, man, I come away. My mind is blown as if I’m drinking from fire hose. I’m just blessed to be able to sit and listen to some of those guys talk about some of the things that they’re doing and how we can lean from that. The accessibility throughout the year of being able to shoot an email out to 15 different executive guys, how do you all do this, and what do you do here, and what can I learn from it. Everybody is so helpful. Everybody is so open-handed with knowledge and information and experience that we’re blessed. It’s gonna work more than any conference I could ever be a part of, just having those two groups and just really humble leaders to learn from. So I encourage any executive gotta find a good network of other executive pastors to be a part of, to learn from.
Awesome. Well, Chris, it’s been great. Why don’t you close that with a little encouragement to give to other ExPs listening in?
Yeah. Probably the most important thing that I would probably leave everybody with is, our roles may be highly administrative, but at the end of the day, we’re still key shepherds of the body and we should feel that weight of what we’re tasked with, of leading a church, serving the church. So I encourage all of us, man, to make sure that we’re practicing our spiritual disciplines every single day like we should, and stand in the word and leading out a prayer first. We can do a lot of amazing ministry in the flesh but, man, when we allow God to work as we do with spirit and by our flesh, there’s unbelievable things they gotta do. We’re gonna stand for that one day and answer. Just by getting a lead pastor is how we help shepherd the church and the body, and it’s important that we make sure that we’re staying in staff with the spirit the whole way and allow God to do ministry through us. And the other thing would just be to continue to invest in that relationship with lead pastor. Help that person to win at their role and be successful as possible. From there, just allow your own gifts and abilities to then fill in the gaps for where that lead person is, maybe doesn’t need to spend their time and help them to be successful.
That’s absolutely great. Chris, it has been so great to talk to you. Thanks for agreeing to be on the show. Thanks for being a listener and I’m glad you’ve chosen to share your story, as well, too.
Absolutely. Thanks so much for what you do. Thanks for having me on.