Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, our guest is Jack Fiscus who’s joining us from the Dawson Family of Faith. Hi, Jack! How are you?
I’m doing well. I’m doing very well. Thank you.
Very excited to have you on the show. Your church is down at Birmingham, Alabama, which we haven’t had a guest from there yet. So we’re excited to have you on. Why don’t you share with us a little bit, because you’ve only been at your position for a few years, so tell us the transition you took from what you’ve been doing and to your new role as executive pastor.
Sure. I’ve been in ministry for 31 years, started when I was 19. And started in student ministry and in student ministry for around 20 years. Still, in a lot of ways, have a heart of a called Student Pastor, still trying to build the best 18 year old I can and really enjoy that. Now, I have more than 6 years to do that but have a whole team that’s helping me do that now. I moved from there in to Evangelism. For a couple of years, had a great experience there. What was unique about that position is I did not feel I have the gift of Evangelism. But yet, I am a teacher. And so I got to help grow some people who — probably in the church, 98% of the people don’t have the gift of Evangelism, but yet we’re all in the same mandate. And so I just got to apply the same principles. I used them on myself and taught and we saw very good fruit and very good success out of that. And then I take what I call a Spiritual Residency. We moved from that Evangelism, a Pastor role, to a Marketing Director role for a parachurch organization. And I really believe in hindsight now, God was using that more as an opportunity to teach me some things before my next assignment. And what I mean by that is I became a layman again. I became a volunteer. I had to go to church on Sundays, not paid to go to church on Sundays. I had to look for a church with kids and it was an incredibly refreshing, open eyed, fresh look at volunteers and how we work them, and how we overwork them, and the conversations I can have with people not as a Pastor title but as just a Marketing Director, how honest and transparent they were. So it was very refreshing role. And yet I got to learn a lot about marketing and branding in the process. And then I took that into my next assignment in First Baptist Orlando as disciple making guy over all those divisions at the church. I was there for about 8 years and have recently, last year, have transitioned into this executive role at the Dawson Family of Faith.
I’m really intrigued by this unique experience you had, this spiritual residency that you called it, which is a nice term for it. But how did that change to be in ministry, basically, your whole career and then take a break from the church side of the ministry and then come back into it? I’m sure you must have so many insights coming out of that. I want you to share a few of the things that you do differently now because you’ve been outside of that church world just for a little while.
Yeah. Again, I didn’t realize it at the time. I realized it after I had transitioned through but, one, I valued any time a volunteer comes up to our church more because I realize the sacrifice they were making. I’m working until 5 o’clock on Friday, when most of us have Fridays off, was a completely lifestyle change, that I didn’t really have a full weekend anymore or two and a half days. And I had to decide if I wanted to go up to the church and volunteer. So my respect, appreciation grew greatly. Also, our drive to recruit more so we didn’t overwork the ones that we had become a big priority so that we could have sustainability and good retention with our volunteers. And then my conversations. I actually found it easier to share Christ as a Marketing Director than I did as a Pastor because people put a mask on when you’re a Pastor. They change their language. They want you to think everything’s okay with their life. When you’re a Marketing Director, they’ll cuss around you, they’ll drink around you, they’ll do everything else around you in real life. Especially on the sports field and the stands, you’re just a normal person. And so it allowed me to really see a lot more transparency. So in teaching people, I taught from a perspective then as a layman, not as a pastor, as far as the language. Used to, I felt that it was more difficult for anybody to engage in that conversation. But what I realized is you actually are gonna get more transparency. And so let’s push through that. Let’s find the opportunities, look for the open doors that are always there. We just don’t see them as much as we think we do because we’re not looking for them.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a really great opportunity to have that kind of insight and to be able to bring it back into what you’re doing now. I wanna go into a little bit deeper of what your duties are and responsibilities at Dawson Family of Faith. But I know that’s probably expanded a little because you guys are going through a transition right now, too, right?
Yeah. We’ve been in a transition. Our Pastor retired less than a year ago. We’re about 10 months into this and it’s been a great experience.
Yes. So just talk us through how that happened. Did you know about that as you were joining the church and what kinds of things have changed over the last year?
Yeah. I did. I was aware of that. They were very honest with me about it to the interview process. They wanted someone who could come in and bring some stability and some leadership. I’m not the oldest on staff but I did bring a little age to the team because we’ve got several young people. And so the Pastor now, from day one, began to work on how do we make sure this is the smoothest transition as possible. It was a great retirement. It was a great transition here. It happened sooner than I thought it would but we were able to put the systems in place to get ready for that. And what we did is we, one, we focused back on why. We really redefined why. We really went back to that as a motivator, as I built credibility with staff. It was very important that I build trust and credibility with them as fast as I could because they were gonna need to be leaning on me and my guidance during the transition. And the pastor was extremely supportive of that. And so that worked very well for us. We also worked on about 10 different systems to make sure all of our systems were fixed and no holes before we enter transitions because the easiest thing to hurt your credibility is holes in your system and what I’ve found we wanted most was trust. We need a trust and confidence from our lay people or else, they were gonna be hypocritical and hypersensitive to everything we were doing. So let’s find all the holes now before we hit transition than discover that after we hit. “Well, the leaders gone, so they’re falling apart.” We didn’t want that talk. So we rebuilt our systems, we revisited them, we tweaked them and improved them where we needed to, and then we moved forward. At the same time, we said the key to our transition was gonna be communication, that we were gonna fill in people’s blanks instead of them filling them in for us. And that, really, we launched a search site, we gave updates on a monthly basis, we over communicated to our deacons, to our life group leaders, to our staff. We didn’t want anybody filling in their own blanks. And when we invited questions so that we could answer that question, then we would put that out as an FAQ. We figured, if one person had that question, many might and so let’s answer it. So we weren’t trying to hide. We weren’t trying to go. And then we found success in that, in many ways, here at the church because of how we’ve built that credibility and how we built that trust.
Talk a little bit more about the relationship between well-functioning systems and trust. I’m curious about that. Maybe you could walk us through one example of one of the systems you worked on and how you feel like that build trust among the congregation.
So we felt, I think the number one system that we built, or probably the top two was, one, was pastoral care. We knew if somebody went to the hospital and we didn’t know about it or respond, then we were gonna hear about it. And then that was gonna be: “They just don’t care.” “They’re falling apart.” “Our pastor used to always be here.” A lot of that was probably not even as accurate as much as it was gonna be hyped. Everybody was gonna be hypersensitive this time, looking for things. So we made sure the email system. We made sure the deacons. We made sure our pastoral care team. We made sure everybody. And we built checks and balances in there so that we have some safety nets of this person gets it, this e-mail now goes to everybody. So if you know something or if you can help, then you can visit. We spread that responsibility around. So again, there’s a check and balance. Our guests, we knew if we didn’t follow up with guests that was gonna — and so we discovered that we had some holes in our reporting back system and then in our communication as far as moving feedback forward. And so we tried to fix those and we did, and because of that, we feel part of our success has been our life groups because they became more involved in the follow up knowing that we needed them during this time. We communicated that and then they were more effective at following up. And so instead of just a staff member following up, now you’ve got two or three layers of people following up. Even if one system broke down, the other two could pick it up. And it gave us a layering effect of a safety net, so that we could be more effective at doing what we know that we need to do that sometimes we forget because we just get distracted by other things or we assume the systems working. It has allowed us to be a fresh eyes look on all of our systems. It probably helped too that I was new and I didn’t know our systems. So there wasn’t a threat of working through all of those down. I just had asked, how do we do this? Well, do you think we could do this better? And we were able to be more efficient with those.
Yeah. It seems like such a wise move that the church made to bring you in at the right time to know what your skills were, to focus on the systems, to focus on communication. Just everything you’re describing, it seems so wise and well thought through as it’s gone. So give us an update. Is it working? How is this transition been going?
It’s really gone as effective and as smooth as we think at this point. We’ve had about a 5% decrease in attendance with which the national averages or all the people who study this stuff say that you typically have a 15 to 20% drop. We have not suffered that drop. We’ve had about a 5% drop. We’ve had about 4% drop in life groups. And what was surprising, our largest group drop was in our oldest service and we felt like the majority of those people were fans. And since our preacher wasn’t preaching, then they just weren’t gonna come. So again, at the same time, we’ve had a 78% increase in new members joining our church since we’ve been in transition compared to the previous year. And of those, 53% of those are under 40. And I mentioned that specifically because we are looked at as an older church, but we’re really not. Demographically, we’re balanced all across the board. And so we consider that all successful. We attribute it to several things. One, our church was left in a good healthy position. No agendas, no conflicts, good financial base. Two, our systems that we had tweaked. Three, our life groups are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. People found community. They found enough when visiting our church that they said, “Even without a senior leader, we feel good about the mission, the direction, the vision of this church, and where they’re going and what they’re doing, and we wanna be a part of it.”
That sounds great. Fantastic. So, Jack, you’re coming in in 2015, 2016, trying to make all these transitions. How were you able to leverage from a technology standpoint? What are some things you chose to use to build up those systems, to build up those communication channels? What are some of the advantages that you were able to leverage in your position?
I’m a techno nerd so that’s just who I am. My degree is Management Information System so I’ve always been early adaptor in technology. And there were some backbone here, but we’ve tried to move it forward. Of course, we have Wi-Fi on the campus, but we also have a Wi-Fi just for leaders. So when our people teach, they have a direct line, so that their Wi-Fi is stronger, and they get better video feed, so that there’s not a skip in their rooms. We also utilize router boxes and Apple2 TVs and download the right media apps. So obviously, this can easily stream. And we’ve got all that hardwired in our rooms so that they’re utilizing. Now, we did add several 70 inch TVs in several rooms and we’re working on the system right now to completely update all of our rooms so that they could take full advantage videos that are streamed. Or even, examples are whether they wanna teach with keynote or PowerPoint, there’s all of that to them. We did start incorporating texting into guest card. So now I can say, “Hey, here’s a card in front of your pew but you can also text the word contact me, that guest, to 292929. You’ll receive a link on your device where you can complete this form.” And then once they hit go, it automatically goes to several teams based on what they’ve replied to. Because phrase we wanted to use or phrase we’re using is we wanted to be ‘traditionally current’. We respect our traditional culture but we still have to be current with technology and utilizing that. So we have check in kiosk, but we don’t just do it in children or preschool. We do that across our campuses. We stream our services, which they had never done. But we do it different from the standpoint of we didn’t just want a stream our service because we can interact with that. We wanted to monitor our rooms. And so we have people who monitor the environment of our stream. And so if someone, here’s a point, the monitor or the moderator can say: “What do you all think about Point 3?” and engage those that are online versus just letting them watch and just one directional pushing information. We’re trying to create a two way experience. We have a TV audience. So we’re trying to move those people who only get one directional to our online live experience, so that, again, we can interact with them, identify who they are. They may tell us who they are. As soon as we get a new pastor, our plan is let them write something and we can give it away for free. Then we can begin to identify. All we’re gonna want is their name, email, and zip code. We want to take that zip code, plot it on a Google map, and it may start telling us where our next multi-site campus needs to be, or where our next bible study needs to be, or where our next mission project needs to be. Because now we realized that we’ve got 40 people who live in that area, we got 60 people who live over here, or we got 10 in this neighborhood and they’re not in the group and we have a member who lives in that neighborhood, let’s start a bible study at their home. So we’re trying to really, as much as we can, take that experience and let it be bigger than just one way. Of course, we use dashboard, we use social media, we’re working on text to give right now because we feel like we’re leaving a lot of money and the pews, especially with the generation that’s checkless and cashless. And that’s the question we keep asking ourselves. How do we help them engage in worship? And we’re not letting money be the drive but we’re asking, how can we let them be a part of worship in the room, not just in giving kiosk, not just online, which we offer those, but in worship. How can we enhance the worship experience? So somebody, when they give, it’s out of their worship not just out of obedience and obligation. Then we’re exploring, we live on the corner. We have a parking garage across the street. So we have a lot of people who stop. So how can we use transmitters to give instructions before people get out of their car? How can we say to people who stop at 5 o’clock traffic, “Hey, this Sunday, we’re gonna be preaching this”. So we try to use technology in a lot of different ways and we’re not there yet. We’re still working on it, but we’ve got a team who gets it. And so we encourage everybody to be early adapters and we’ll spend a little money just to play with the gadget, whether that’s Amazon Echo. While we can’t use it on campus, we have started using it to encourage families. If you wanna enhance your bible study time at home, Amazon Echo can now read a scripture. “Hey, Alexa, read Psalm 23.” And if you’ve got the right apps and connected well, it makes that fun for the kids. The kids can now engage in it and you got scripture being taught. And we’re exploring now with the Amazon show that’s coming out. Is there a way for us to utilize that for our security? So if we put those on disc, then we can have a camera monitoring all of our offices, or conference calling between guys versus just to getting up the phone and talk. So I don’t know if that’s answering all your questions but we try to have a lot of fun with technology around here.
Sounds like inventive. If they give you a few more years, you’re gonna have the whole church all overhauled. And that’s really, really exciting to hear all the things you’re thinking about doing.
And I will go on to say, Neil, at the same time, we’ve now instituted no device meetings because we did realize that everybody’s being distracted. And one of our culture statements is to be present. Whatever meeting you’re in, you need to be present and fully engaged. And so we have now decided there are certain meetings, not all meetings, to some meetings need technology. But there are certain meetings we say, “These are no device meetings”. And so everybody leaves them and they communicate with their spouses and let them know “I’m gonna be dark for the next hour and a half”.
Wow, for being, on the appearance, as a very traditional Southern church, you guys are really rocking it in terms of what you’re able to do and you’re able to leverage technology in those situations. That’s fantastic. So Jack, you’re fairly new to the executive pastoral. You’ve been in ministry for a long time. Are there any resources you reach out to or places you go to learn more about being an executive pastor?
I would probably say, I’m not doing a whole lot different here than I have done in other places. And I think, probably, experience is the biggest teacher where you’ve learned, where you’ve made all your mistakes and that you don’t want it to end up like that so you learn from that. I know one of the things I do, I have in my office, when I come across a quote that I really want to inspire, that inspires me, I put it up on my wall, just as a constant reminder of the things I need to continue saying to myself that if I just leave it in a book, I’ll forget it. And so I keep those in front of me and they serve as this backbone that I look at about every two or three weeks, or definitely when I’m talking with the staff member. And I remember one of those, I point to it up there, is just the truth and principle about leadership. I read, not a lot. I listen when I’m on long trips and I take a book on vacation and I try to grab as much as I can. I’m sure like everybody else, I use as many of the services that condense books down. I network with guys. I go to conferences that, one, are executive type conferences. I have lunch with some of the executives here in our town once a month and we get to talking about how you deal with this or how you deal with that. And that helps. And really, just trying to help my team be the best that they can be based on what we’re doing and what we’re going through. So I’m still learning, trying to figure this thing out.
Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like a really good mix of what you got going on there. Jack, why don’t you close this out here on the podcast by sharing one of those quotes you got around you that can give some encouragement to other executive pastors out there?
That’s a great question. Probably the one I quote the most, I don’t even know if I have who said it, but “Work smarter, not harder” is probably the thing I quote most to our team for them to really think through why they keep doing what they’re doing. But also I would say, goodness, I think Craig Groeschel said, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting”. That’s one that we use often here. And so it really allows me to help our team re-evaluate. If you want change, what are you doing to cause change? And it’s allowed us to do some fun things there. Gosh, I’m looking at him now. You got me interested here on what’s all up there. One of them, I picked up in a bible study that our pastor did in Orlando and I have up here auction or clean manger. The ministry is messy. And we looked at a passage where it talked about when the stalls are cleaned, nothing’s happening. But when there’s a lot of cattle in there, it creates a lot of mess. And so ministry’s messy. And there are days that it’s gonna be messy. I lost people. I lost and we invite that. So we want a little bit of mess, not a lot of it, and we wanna deal with it right. I don’t know. I keep learning and keep trying to figure it out as we kind of move through.
Well, that’s great. Jack, things for sharing with us. Thanks for sharing your journey with us and all the best to you as you keep going on. Good luck in your pastor search and all your ministry you do.
Well, I’m honored and humbled that you would even ask to have this time but I hope maybe something I’ve shared can help somebody else and if I can do anything else, just let me know.
Sure. Definitely. Have a great day, Jack.
Thank you, Neil.