Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Chris Tabberer is joining us today from First United Methodist Church Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Great to have you on the show today, Chris.
Oh, thanks for having me, Courtney.
So Chris, tell us a little bit about how you came into your position there at First United Methodist Tulsa.
Well, as many things go, it’s kind of been a long and winding road for me, but I started out in my career about — I spent about 15 years in television advertising here in the Tulsa market. I worked for a local television station and in the local advertising agency. And then I went from there. After working at the ad agency for a while, I kind of began to discover that it was time to move on to something else, and so began to do some teaching and some other things. And as things have it, as soon as I start trying to control things, God says, why don’t we stop that for a minute and let me show you what I want you to do. And so I had an opportunity to go work with a friend who was looking for — he was the Senior Pastor at a church and he was looking for the first church business manager for that church and they’d never had that position before. And so got with him, and worked out a deal and decided you know, this is something that God called me to do. And I spent about seven years in another United Methodist Church here in town, and then about a year ago actually, I switched over here to First United Methodist Church in Tulsa and have loved being here. And so it’s just been kind of a winding road of following my skills and my gifts and talents and finally listening to what God had planned for me.
So tell us a little bit about what your role is there.
My role here, my title is Executive Administrator. And so I take care of all of the — I hate to say it this way, but sometimes, you see, I think everybody will understand, it’s the non-ministerial thing that no one else takes care of. So everything from IT, to communications, to finances, the maintenance. We also have a full service gym here at our campus that’s open to the public. And so I also supervise that staff, and as well as all the human resources for the staff. So that’s all supervisory role. I’ve got plenty of people that do those things, and a great staff that takes care of those items for me, but that’s kind of what I supervise.
Now, how much of your current role overlaps with your years in TV advertising or does it just seem like a whole another lifetime?
Probably the biggest role that overlaps would be the communications department. My communications director and I have a good rapport because we do speak some of the same language and I’m able to share ideas with him, and he’s able to explain things to me without me having to go, what does that mean? And so that’s always a nice way to have conversation. And I think the overlap really comes in the leadership skills. I had some good mentors during those times in advertising, and they taught me a lot about leadership and management, and just business in general. And so I think the biggest overlap comes from those lessons where I learned from those mentors.
Now, tell us a little bit more about your church, your role. What is something you guys have gone on there that you’ve really found success with? Maybe some solution or best practice.
The thing that we’ve been working on lately has been, besides normal facility, we’re in the middle of a remodel here, working on some things to help with our hospitality ministry and welcoming all of visitors and guests into a nicer facility, updating it. We’ve been here in this location since the ‘20s. And so the building is, it needs updating every now and then. Besides doing those kinds of things, the best practices that I have discovered are really beginning to develop strong yet lenient, if that makes any sense, policies and procedures that really help identify how to do something within the organization. So, for instance, everything from as simple as turning in a receipt and how to handle those kinds of things, all the way up to how to propose a new ministry opportunity and how to execute that. And so we’re really been working on trying to get those types of things more solidified from over the years, and how long the church has been here. This church has recently undergone a Lead Pastor change. And so we really had the opportunity to begin to shape the staff and the team in such a way that really, I think, is going to drive us into the future and help us to reach more people for Jesus Christ. So it’s an exciting time here for us.
So what is typically the staffs’ response to introduced policies or procedure? Is there a receptiveness to it, or do you kind of have to go through a cycle every time of kind of walking people through the process, convincing them it’s a need? What’s that like for you?
Overall, they’ve been very receptive to the processes. I think there’s been some confusion around some things in the past. We always had policies, and then as things go along, things get relaxed. But when new staff comes on board, it eliminates questions, if you will. You kind of say, okay, here’s how we’re going to handle this. So if it’s a typical situation, then they know what to do. They know what step 1 is and they know what step 5 is going to be. And so it really helps them, I think, manage their time and their day so that they can go focus on the ministry that God’s calling them to do. And so that’s been the majority of the response to this. Obviously, there’s always exceptions to the rules and whatnot that sometimes cause some consternation, but nothing, no major pushback, which has been really nice to see that the staff is really eager to work well together, work on it as a team.
So tell us a little bit more about your team, about the staff side of your team. And then, do you have also volunteer roles within your department?
We’ve got a couple of volunteer roles in within my area. We actually do employ volunteers to come in and help with processing of some of the financial records and stuff like that, and keeping track of some of the attendant stuff. We do have volunteers that like to come in and take care of answering the phone for us and helping around the church when like a big mailing, or something comes in. We’ve got a good group of volunteers. But for the most part of our staff, our churches fairly staff-led. We have about 140 total staff members. Those range from everything from our full-time staff, all the way down to our nursery workers, and our Early Learning Academy teachers. So some extremely part-time people and all the way up to full-time. So that’s kind of our staff structure. Within every other department, there’s tons of volunteers, of course. Our youth and children’s volunteers that are extremely active in helping with those ministries and of course music volunteers and everything. So it’s a very active group.
I can see with 140 staff that need to standardize some of those procedures.
So that staff, the 140, is that mostly the regular church operations or do you have any kind of school associated with the church?
We do have an Early Learning Academy, sorry, a little tongue twister. And so that is a pre-school, basically. We don’t have a primary school or secondary school here, but we do have that pre-school opportunity.
So now, we go on the other side of this. What is a current challenge that you haven’t quite found a solution for?
Yeah, I think right now, the challenge that I am facing in my office, and then the things that I deal with is how to utilize the data that we have in order to engage our congregation and our community better. We have opportunities all around us in our community. We’ve been looking a lot at our demographics and we have a lot of single people that live in the area near us. We have, of course, we were downtown church, and so we have a transient homeless population that needs our help. So how do we identify those gaps that we can actually help fill and using data to do that? We have, I think, like a lot of mainline churches, we have an aging congregation that is really looking for how do they serve at their point in life? They can’t always go and swing hammers, but there’s lots of things they can do. And so, how do we encourage that, as well as, encouraging our younger members to go get their hands dirty, and step out and do missions? And I think there’s a way to do that through data. I had to jump ahead to one of the questions, but I’m part of an executive pastures group that’s sponsored by the Texas Methodist Foundation, and we actually had a gentleman by the name of Matt Engle come speak with us, just two weeks ago, I guess, and he had a lot of good information to share with us about using big data to engage our constituencies. It was a real stimulating conversation and very timely for us here, as we address these kinds of problems here at First.
So what do you see coming around the bend in terms of taking the data that you collect? What do you kind of anticipate some of those either changes or initiatives, might be based off of that data?
Some of the initial ones, I think, would be really finding the way that we can reach out to our guests and engage them in meaningful ways. Not just stepping into their lives one Sunday and saying, hey we’re glad you’re here, but how do we identify what’s happening in our culture, in our community, and then engaging them with opportunities that could address that problem or that issue or that idea in their lives. One of the examples that was used at our talk was divorce, for instance. If you have a high divorce rate in your church, how might you be able to — I hate to say covertly but that’s the word that’s coming to my mind right now, covertly address that issue without just coming out and preaching a sermon series on it. What opportunities can we offer for date nights? So, do we offer child-care and encourage date nights? Do we invite people to come to a class about marriage strengthening and stuff like that? So those things, how do we then take that information and engage it for Tulsa and our downtown community?
Yeah, seems like something that a lot of churches are running into now is it’s much easier to collect data than it ever has been. But now that we have all this data, what do we do with it?
Right. Right. And that’s the key. Everybody from Google, to Starbucks is using our data to identify and target us with ads and with products that we like. And I think like most church people, I drink a lot of coffee. I do enjoy Starbucks. And so one of the things that they do regularly is set out an email with how to earn their stars on their app. And so one of the things they do in there is target me with the kind of drinks that I order, and so giving me more stars for ordering those drinks. Well, how do we in turn — obviously, we can’t give star. I guess, we can give stars, but why can’t you give stars to your church, to our church members, but how do we engage them in a way that is meaningful to them so that we can say, okay, you’re interested in overseas mission opportunity so let me connect you with our missions coordinator so that you can find an opportunity to support. You like local hunger missions. You want to go help out with the — we call it John 3:16 here in town. So let’s get you connected with a day that we’re going to be there feeding the homeless and so really beginning to take that granular data and use it to target people in a way that says, we’re listening, so here’s the opportunity where you can serve, where your heart might find a call.
Now, Chris, you mentioned this group of Executive Pastors in this Texas foundation. Who do you go to? Where do you go just to make sure you’re staying sharp in your role and kind of paying attention to latest trends and what might work best for your church?
I just recently joined this group of Executive Pastors. Like I said, it is sponsored through the Texas Methodist Foundation. There’s 12 of us in this group and most of them are from Texas, a couple from Arkansas, two of us from Oklahoma, and even one from New Mexico. And so we’re kind of a group or all United Methodists. And so that helps, I think, us navigate our denominational things that we have to talk through and understand, as well as, just keeping each other sharp on Executive Pastor issues, the things that we face as being second cheerleaders and not the primary voice in the organization. So I enjoy that group a lot and it’s given me a good outlet for feedback and discussion. And I also read a ton. I listen to other Podcasts, as well as yours. There’s also opportunities. I enjoy things like the Willow Creek Institute or the things like that. Just being able to engage at a leadership level and listen to people that have done that before me. And I still keep in touch with many of my mentors and people from my past life just to kind of stay sharp on what’s going on out in the non-church world, so that I don’t lose touch with that either.
So, Chris, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
Probably the biggest thing that I’ve ever learned in my life, I grew up going to — I was in Boy Scouts when I was growing up, I guess is what I’m trying to say, and my dad and I were very active in our troop and whatnot. One of the things that I always learned, I know that my dad taught me and my troop leaders taught me was we should never ask someone that we’re leading to do something that we’re not willing to do ourselves. And I think that is probably more meaningful in church than just about any organization I’ve ever worked with. Because, we at church, sometimes it means we’re cleaning the restrooms and sometimes it means we get to attend to the visioning meetings. And there’s not one job that’s below another. Our Lead Pastor has kind of taken us through a process recently where we use a circle org chart that kind of radiates outward, and the ideas that our team of Executive Pastors hear, we have to call ourselves the support team, in a way that we’re supporting the ministers and the other staff so that they can support the laity and the congregation to do the work that God’s calling us to do as a church. And so we really do feel like our job isn’t to be shining stars but sometimes it does mean we have to clean the toilets and move some chairs around. And sometimes it means we get to get all the accolades to something that has happened, but we never want to forget that we should never be unwilling to do something that we’re asking somebody else to do. So that’s always been an important thing for me to remember.
That’s wonderful. Chris, thanks so much for beyond the Podcast today.
Well, I’m so glad to talk to you, Courtney. Thank you for having me.