Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. We’ve got Craig Norton on the show today, coming to us from Harvest Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Great to have you on the show today, Craig.
Thank you so much. Glad to be here.
So, Craig, tell a little bit about how you came into your position as Operations Director there at Harvest.
Well, I came out of the business world. It’s a past that a lot of operations guys or executive guys take. And so I was in sales prior to coming to Harvest Church, and I’ve been in this current position about six years. But I was in the sales world. I was working for a commission. And I supply and take care of my family through that career in sales.
Now, sales, at least from the outside looking in, and the general reputation that has is that it’s a very much a — you know, you’re out for yourself when you’re in the sales world, especially when it is commission based. How has that transition been from that more of a sales mentality to working on a team, especially in a church setting?
Certainly. Truly, it all comes down to leadership. And as a sales person, I was 100% commission, but I was in the relationship business. Far less product driven and more relationship driven. When I can get products placed in a retail environment, I was able to create residual income for myself. And so I had to manage relationships. I had to foster long term relationships so that these sales could go on. It wasn’t a simple product. It wasn’t a simple one time thing. And so it really translated well for me into the church business because it’s all about relationships. It’s all about empowering people. And that’s what I was able to do with my sales career.
Now, were you coming into a position that was already established at the church or it was new for you?
Director of Operations or Chief Operating Officer, or whatever title you want to give it, it was new. We had a business operations person. We had an Executive Pastor. But the church was in transition. And so this was a transition spot that combined a lot of positions. And so it was new. It was meant to come into the church and help them think with a business and leadership mindset to run operations and to be effective in how we serve our community and how we produce the ministry.
What was that like coming in, bringing more of a business perspective after that role not really being in the church? How were you received?
I was received really well because I was a church member prior. So I had been church member, serving as a volunteer in the organization for about four years. And so I was known, it was not an unknown. People understood my skill set, but yet it was hard because volunteer then becomes leader over employees. And so it was tough. Received well because of relationship, but hard decisions are hard decisions and you have to lead through those. So we managed through it and we grew through it, but it was different from serving for a staff member to meeting that staff member.
Yeah, absolutely. So today, six years later, what exactly falls under your responsibility in your position?
Sure. Currently, I have transitioned some of these roles away. I’m responsible for our daily operations, all accounting, finance, human resources, buildings, facilities. I’ve transitioned out to our Campus Pastor the ministry responsibilities. But ultimately, the heart of my role is still to protect the vision and mission of our Senior Pastor and equip our pastors to be successful from an operational standpoint.
Now, you had mentioned you came on in the midst of transition. What exactly was that?
Sure. So Harvest Church has been in a spot of transition and change. It’s been a church that has been in decline for many years. So currently in a situation where in the six years since I’ve been here, we’re on our third Senior Pastor. And so to be that number two person who leads through the midst of senior leadership change is what we’ve dealt with. And so we find ourselves an incredibly healthy spot, church that’s now growing and surviving, but it wasn’t always easy. Those changes were hard and changing senior leaders is tough to work through.
Well, especially since, as you mentioned, you considered your main job to protect the vision and mission of the senior pastor, but that person and the vision and mission was changing every couple of years.
Sure. Sure. It was interesting. But the call of the church doesn’t change. So when you view that, there’s a different pathway to get to things. But if our call is to make the cycles of the nations and we understand a biblical call and a biblical mandate on the church, then that doesn’t change. And as long as we, as a team, kept focused on Christ and why we were doing what we were doing, it became the blueprint of how we survived.
You talked about how it had been a church in decline for a while, and now, Harvest is in a position that it’s growing and thriving. What has been changed to free the church up to grow and thrive again?
Sure, the church is a 60 year old church, but in current location, since the early 80s, it’s a church that they’ve grown to almost 3,000. It had some more failures in leadership through the years, early in the 90s, and a church that had just declined because of brokenness. But at that point, it was a church that was saddled with almost 12 million dollars worth of debt. And so that became this wake that it was almost impossible to break. And so some of the challenges that senior leaders fell through or faced with, how do you overcome that with the declining congregation, in an aging community? So just to getting to a point where we understood that, got it, provided the resources we needed in our facility to move forward and to become free of debt. And so we’re in the process of selling our current campus and relocating our church to a smaller facility to live within our means. That’s caused staff reduction. That’s caused many things to happen. But the freedom from debt allows you to focus on the true mission, which is people, and not just being so focused on survival day to day.
Now. I’m pretty shocked that you’re saying that this church is growing and thriving, and you’re talking about a huge transition right now, leaving the facility. I assume you’ve been in this facility since the start of the church?
Yeah. Since 1983. There’s been several iterations on the property. The campus is about 30 acres. So it’s a massive campus. Let me define thriving and growing for you.
I don’t know that I would consider that term as most people in the church world would, being that we have this rapid growth in membership. But when you’re a church that’s in decline, you eventually have to turn that over. And so we see rapid growth in people, people engaging marketplace ministry, people stepping up. And so our numbers, attendance wise, flattened out. But now they’re starting to go back up. But our engagement level is significant. People are engaging their neighbors at work, their neighbors at home, and you’re seeing real life change happen. And so the growth is not just numerical, but it’s spiritual and it is engagement into the calling that Christ has placed on people’s lives. And so I just find it probably differently than most people would. Yes, we’ve stabilized financially and we’re going to be out of debt and we’re going to be in a new building or a different building completely debt-free. Those things are great. But our people engaging the community is what our growth is happening and the church is happening outside the walls.
Which means the church is growing and thriving. It just may not necessarily mean that the people inside the building or growing in number, but the church is growing and thriving in your community because of the engagement. They say that the engagement is the new membership. It’s the new metric, anyway. So you guys are actually a little bit ahead of the curves in having that perspective.
Yeah. When you focus on the simplicity of what we’re called to do, which is make disciples and love, then it’s pretty easy. You don’t measure how many people come. You start to understand the effectiveness of the gospel through life change.
I want to keep coming on this, and I also want to go back a little bit then to think about how much you’ve had to scale back. There would be pain and loss involved in leaving the building people have been at for a long time. There’s pain and loss involved in downsizing some of your staff. During that transition, how do you wade through those murky, troubled waters in order to get to where you are now? Was it just constantly staying focused on the simplicity of what you were striving for, this making disciples and love being your goals? What was it that championed all of that and got you through?
You have to stay rooted in the gospel, obviously. But hard changes were needed. We’re in the elder led church, and so our elders were laser focused on what God had for our church. And so as we transition through senior leaders, we weren’t void of leadership. And so the vision and the mission is the gospel. And so we stay unified in that. But the changes were hard. We had to have major staff reductions. We had to reduce hundreds of thousands of dollars out of our budget to survive. That affects real people. But if the church closed, because hard decisions weren’t made, it would affect more real people. And so being okay with where God has you, but not being satisfied because you know that he’s got better, and so those hard decisions, it just take courage to lead sometimes. And so when you surround yourself and you bring people along with you, you’d never find yourself by yourself. You never find that lonely spot. Not that it’s not lonely, but we had a group of men who rallied and led this church well through this transition, through all the staff change, all the financial change, to get to a point where we can step forward and step into new that God asked for us.
So when do you come on to this new property, in this new building?
We’re in construction now. And so by late summer, we will occupy this space. And so the space is debt-free. The sale of our building will complete the debt payment on it. And so that will complete then. So we’ll sit in a position where we’re completely debt free as a ministry and owner of property.
Wow. That is not very common.
No. It’s a huge turn, and frankly, you watch miracles happen. This is a miracle that God has preserved this church and moved it into a spot where we can thrive. But the thing that we did is we had to decide what we were going to be about. And so we did with making disciples. But how do we do that? The world, the culture, the crowd today isn’t interested in big church gatherings. I know that might catch some people off guard, but we’re moving from 200,000 square feet to 31,000 square feet so we can be lean, we can be nimble, and we can multiply. We have goals to plant churches, not only in our local area, in the metroplex, but all around the world. And so when we start focusing on that biblical call to plant churches and to multiply, only way we can do that is to be as efficient as we can and not focus on the church being a building, but placing the church in the marketplace where it is called to be, and then multiplying and equipping people to do that.
You guys seem like you have boundless energy over there.
It’s fun. It is fun, right now, and that’s not easy to say in ministry. Ministry can be hard. Ministry can be lonely. But when God puts the right team of people in a place and it’s not personality-driven, but it’s gospel-driven, energy feeds on itself. And so the work is hard, the hours are long, but it’s fun.
And I’ve wondered, you know, in the midst of your last six years, which has been a pretty intense six years to start out in a leadership role in the church, do you ever find yourself pining for that old sales job or are you forever ruined for anything else?
No, I don’t, because I’m getting to do the same thing, right? I fulfill that niche and that calling on my life by building relationships into the community. So instead of going into a retailer where I’m selling goods and services, I’ll go into city home and build that same relationship with city leaders or local nonprofits who need to be supported. And so the process for me of relationship building into the unknown is the same. I can’t be a church leader who sits in my office and hopes that someone comes by. I have to go out and create those opportunities, which lead to opportunities for our church. I can’t say that I’m missing that because I’m able to do that just with a different product to the gospel.
You talked about a team that you surround yourself with, that you had around you for support in the last six years and keeping this focus. Who is it that’s around you? Or where do you go to make sure you’re keeping this focus and you’re staying healthy and you’re getting recharged? Are there certain resources, certain groups of people?
Sure. I can’t tell you that I’m a big leadership book reader or podcast listener. I do. I read some. I listen to some. But, you know, we’ve found that the best ideas and the best resource we have comes from the people who are in our church. And so as we learn how to lead as leaders, we have to be able to engage and then lean on the leaders at God has put there. And so we have CEOs, and CFOs, and business entrepreneurs, and leaders in our congregation who, many times, the church suppress because they can’t engage them. Well, through bringing a business mindset to a church staff, we’ve tried to really teach our pastors to engage these high capacity leaders who then pour back into our staff. And so we need our leaders who are higher capacity than we are to help us, but then we also have found that finding experts in the field to bring in as consultants onto our team and internally, help. And so in the Dallas Fort Worth area, we have hundreds and hundreds of massive corporations. And so for organizational structure or planning our process, we’ll go and find an expert in their field, a business leader in a major corporation, who then invest back into our staff to help us learn how to think and constantly encourage. And so it’s intentional relationship. It is what it is. Finding that void and then thinking a solution. It’s not necessarily a textbook solution, but a real life solution that practically gives you what you need to get through it.
So, Craig, I want to end with this. What kind of encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
We think it’s hard. Don’t turn in. You got to find people to place around you that know more than you. You’ve got to be willing to not be the smartest person in the room, but learn from the people that God puts in your path. A lot of times that can be challenging when you’re in a senior type leadership role because it could give you the perception of weakness, but it’s not. It’s how God will strengthen you. And so network seek people who can speak into your life, who can give you the next thing you need. We are all just one conversation away from the next thing that we need. And if we internally focus, then we’ll never find that conversation. So we have to look out to who are God’s people are, and they’re there waiting to support the church and to help you as a pastor or leader move forward.
That’s fantastic. Craig, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Glad to do it. Good luck to you. Have a great day.