Courtney: Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Today, we’ve got Dean Johnson on the show coming to us from theCHURCHat with multiple sites in the greater Tulsa, Oklahoma area and an additional site in DuPage, Illinois. Great to have you Dean.
Dean: Thank you it’s great to be here Courtney.
Dean, let’s start with the Church’s name, which is fairly unconventional. What does it stand for and who are you as a body?
Sure. Yeah, it’s a great question. So about fourteen years ago, when our senior pastor came here, it was the church at Battlecreek and Battlecreek is a master playing community in the Greater Tulsa area. When we were feeling god leading us to launching an additional location, that name was not very portable, all of a sudden. And so we kicked around a lot of ideas. We prayed the lot. Obviously, we looked at what other churches were doing, but what it really came down to, what we saw in the scripture were theCHURCHat you had to church at Jerusalem, at the church at… wherever. And so we knew probably we weren’t going to stop with one campus that there would be additional campuses. And so we went with “theCHURCHat” because… so for today, we have theCHURCHat Battlecreek, which is the broadcast location for us. We stream our teaching on Sunday mornings, but then we also have theCHURCHat Midtown, theCHURCHat Downtown, theCHURCHat South Tulsa, theCHURCHat Owasso, now we have theCHURCHat DuPage, and so it’s worked for us.
That’s interesting because it sounds pretty modern and edgy, but it’s actually very traditional.
Now you are the operations leader, and at one time, you were a campus pastor for one of the church sites, how did you get to your current position?
Yeah, it’s a pretty cool god story, that we could spend a long time talking about, so I was a member before I was on staff here, and I spent twenty-eight years in corporate America. The last three years, I really felt that god was calling me to ministry, but I really wrestled with what that looked like and I didn’t really have a specific call. And so I ended up volunteering here and then I finally felt like, “hey, I need to put this to bed.” I started at the bottom in an admin role, really for our mission’s pastor in our community group pastor. So I was… the title was “ministry coordinator”, when we launched our first campus, which was theCHURCHat Midtown. We had an issue happen, where the guy that was going to launch and be the campus pastor there no longer was able to do that. And so I did it in his place. And so that’s how I ended up launching and becoming a campus pastor, did that for three years and because of my business background, I don’t know that I was the best qualified, but I was fairly qualified to assume the operations role. So we kind of consolidated… we had an executive pastor and operations pastor, and we really consolidated those roles about two and a half years ago. That’s the short version.
Yeah, so I have to ask a couple more questions, to get a little bit of the longer version. What was the role in corporate America that you were in?
So I was really lucky to work for… I worked for six companies, and I’d spent the majority my career with three really big companies. My first job right out of college with the Xerox Corporation selling Xerox office equipment, this is back in the mid 80’s and back in that day, Xerox had a direct sales force. So I got some really great training doing that. There, I spent fifteen years with Dun and Bradstreet Corporation, which people may not know that name today, but pre-internet, if you needed information on a business you bought what was called the dun and Bradstreet report on them, so got to have some great experience, great training with them. And then lastly, I was with the company called Lexus Nexus, which most people in the legal profession know because of their legal database, but they’re really just a big an information gathering company. And so my career was a combination of sales, operations, marketing. And then when I was at D and B and I also worked in the planning and strategy department. So god did a great job of giving all these great experiences. At the time, I was thinking they were for my career, and he just let me think that, and knew all along he was going to use it for his glory, not mine.
Isn’t that funny how that works out?
It’s funny, yes.
So you go from being an admin to the campus pastor, is this an overnight transition or is this something you had a little bit of warning about?
Yeah, the “hey, we’ve got a campus faster to now we know” was like about a three-week transition.
So it was relatively overnight, the mechanics of launching a campus and pulling it off and gathering teams, building teams I’ve done in my past. Being the pastor part, of campus pastor was the unknown for me.
So today, what are your primary duties as operations leader?
Yeah, so I actually wear two hats, I’m not only operations leader, but I also am also our site pastor as well. So I lead our multiple strategy and all of our campus pastors report to me… But as the operations leader, I’m responsible for finance facilities, IT, HR and marketing and then on the multi-site side, I lead our six campuses.
So how, you said a lot of your experience in the corporate world ended up leading into the position you have now. How could you compare working in those environments to now working in the church environment?
Yeah, some days it feels exactly the same, and then some days there are days, I’m like, “man, this truly… lord is in this right,” I would say the biggest difference is just that, what we’re doing makes eternal differences for lot of people, at the end of the day, we’re not trying to focus on a bottom line, we’re focusing on eternity and we’re trying to glorify god in everything we’re doing. That’s the biggest difference. But in many ways, it’s very similar to a lot of the stuff I did in the corporate world, in that you’re trying to address the marketplace and the same people that are in the marketplace Monday through Friday are the people we minister to on Sundays.
Now you mentioned the pastoring part was something that was new for you. How did you go about gaining those skills?
I would love to tell you Courtney that I ran out and bought a book or had this great mentor that poured in to me. Some of it was intuitive, just the sales background. I knew how to work and deal with people, but the shepherding part really, that was, god giving me a gift that I didn’t know I had. And so it definitely was him growing his church. So the funny story is, we launched with two hundred people and in about a year and a half, we grew to a thousand people.
I always tell people that, “hey, I don’t know if god grew it because of me or in spite of me.” And I’m pretty sure in spite.
That’s a really dramatic growth, which is a great thing, but that gives you a little bit of whiplash to go from two hundred to a thousand in a year.
Oh yeah, absolutely. There were growing pains for sure, but it was so fun to be a part of something that was growing and was dynamic, when I was in the corporate side, and just in the tender, before we were attending the church at Battlecreek, I’d attended some churches, that unfortunately felt dead. And so to see the things I was reading about in Acts where numbers were added daily and people’s lives are being changed, was really exciting and it was life-giving, for me.
That’s really neat. So five physical campuses, one online. What are some administrative challenges that you face?
Just the whole dispersed church as a whole, is probably the biggest challenge, and I think every multi-site church is dealing with that in terms of you got central, but then you’ve got the other campuses and yes, you’re all on the same team, but just the sheer fact that you are not all together in one place creates challenges. Just the really simple example is always, “hey, me and someone else are walking down the hallway just because we happen to be in the same building conversation comes up. Oh, hey, that’d be a great idea. Let’s do that.” Nobody stops to think, “oh, I should tell this campus, and this campus and this campus about that as well.” Those things happen organically. You gotta be really, really intentional on the communication side. And some days we go great job at that, and some days we fail.
So what are some of the ways that you’ve tried to combat that tendency in a multi-site and how have you incorporated technology into answering that?
Yeah, on the technology side, really, it does come down to communication, and so even though we… with the exception of DuPage, we’re all here in the same city, there’s still drive time for our team that they always have to come to a certain place for a meeting. And so we certainly do a lot of video meetings. So in terms of technology, there’s lots of vendors out there, if you will. We are using a startup company’s technology and hardware to do video conferencing, of all the one’s we tried it seemed to work the best for us, and it’s the easiest to use. So that does help us stay connected from the communications standpoint. There’s some other things we’ve done on the technology side, that don’t really relate to communication.
So just for people who are listening, who might be looking for some recommendations, what’s the video conferencing?
High-five is the name.
Yeah, we’ve had that referenced a couple of times. A lot of people seem really pleased.
Oh yeah, yeah. It’s super easy to use. And their camera and audio system that they put together seems to address a lot of the issues with video.
Have you experimented with any automation with all the different campuses?
So we’ve got our member management software that all of us use. So about two years ago, I think I mentioned one of the hats I wear as the operations leader is marketing. We started using some marketing automation software called Hub spot. It automates a lot of the things that I think most churches do. And so instead of, the easy example would be, instead of a person having to remember to, okay, “when this person attends that event, I need to send them this letter.” It automates much of that. And so with all of our campuses with us using that marketing automation software, it does tie a lot of that together, so we don’t have people of the various campuses stepping on each other’s toes trying to communicate with people.
Now is the church at a scenario where there’s a very strong common bond between all the different sites or do they each have pretty distinct personalities and ministries in them?
That’s a great question Courtney. We use the analogy in the home building industry as a… we we’re building spec houses with a custom house feel. So, if that doesn’t mean anything to you, but what we’re basically saying is, we want them all to kind of be the same, but by the same token, they have the freedom to address the context of the culture they’re in. And so again, you would say, well, with the exception of DuPage, it’s all Tulsa. That’s true. But like any city, you have pockets or neighborhoods that have their own unique identity. And so the example is when we launch the Midtown campus, which is really fifteen minutes away, drive time from the Battlecreek campus, I could not understand, why are we doing this? They can’t get in a car and drive fifteen minutes to come over here, but if there’s a street in Tulsa that’s barrier for people that live in, they’re just not going to cross that street because they’re “midtowners.”
I think every city has that some kind of a spot that it could be half a mile away, but you don’t cross it.
So, other than your past experience in the corporate world and the gifting that god has given you at just the right time for such a time as this, kind of thing, where do you go to learn more about leading operations, leading these different campuses?
I’m a pretty voracious reader, so I read a lot… Harvard business review, there’s a lot of stuff on there that I don’t understand, but there’s a lot of stuff that I think is very relevant to the church today, because again, at the end of the day, we’re in the people business. And so how do we deal with people, how to engage them? I do read several black and for a better word, connect church magazine, so there’s an executive pastor publication and things like that that I read, but I read a lot and sometimes some of the things that I read have nothing to do with my role or with church in general. But they deal with people, so they are really relevant sometimes.
So Dean, what encouragement would you give to anyone responsible for operations management at their churches?
So here’s what I would say, I think maybe all executive pastors or operations pastors, share this in common, in that, because, I always refer to “hey, it’s facilities, it’s finance, it’s IT.” It’s the “unsexy” stuff of the church, right, a lot of the time, nobody wants to deal with that. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like ministry, but I think we just have to keep our eye on the culture and embrace, it’s like I said earlier, the same people we minister to on Sundays and throughout the week, are the people who are out in the marketplace, it’s okay to look at what’s happening in the marketplace, and see how people really engage that way, and say “hey, we ought to bring that into our world, and engage with people that way”, because they’re used to it, it may be foreign to us in the church contest, but they’re not going to give it a second thought.
That’s great. I was just, speaking to someone recently, and they were talking about what an untapped resource church members are.
Now, that’s fantastic, and just to close on, for, especially those executive pastors who are just going into the multi-site model. What kind of encouragement or warning, or you can fill in the blank of what you’d like to say to people who are in that position at the forefront of this transition?
Sure, yeah I guess the encouragement/help I would give them, is certainly, talk to other churches that are doing multi-site, the minute you step your toe on something, somebody’s already stepped their toe on. But at the end of the day, your church’s context is going to be different than theirs and so you can’t just take what somebody else is doing, and say “okay we’ll do exactly the same thing”, there are things you can learn from everybody that’s doing multi-site, but it’s not all always applicable.
That’s great advice. Hope you’re prepared for some emails in your inbox after this then…
Hey, I’m happy to help.
Dean, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
You bet, thanks for having me.