Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Jade Thorpe is on the show today coming to us from One Community Church, which has a main campus in Plano, Texas and two other campuses in Lewisville, and Prosper, Texas. Jade, it’s great to have you.
It’s great to be on. Thank you.
Jade, would you share with us a little about how you came to become the technology director there at One community?
Yeah, it’s been a long road there. A number of years ago, I think it’s been six years now, I’ve been going to One. And I started back when we were actually having services in a hotel. It was the Hilton Garden Inn here in Allen, Texas. And it was three services a day when I started. And I think it was just under 600 people at the time, and I was very quickly introduced to the leader of the web team. Some folks heard that I had an interest in doing web type of stuff and was introduced to the leader of the web team and started working under him doing some changes to the website. But as time went on, pretty much I ended up being the last man standing. There were some guys that moved on to other ministries and I stayed there and over time just started picking up additional responsibilities, until one day I was the director of technology.
So, what kind of a shift was that for you to then move into the director role, the main guy?
Well, I think for me, the biggest thing that I struggle with is from the organizational perspective. I’ve always been a technology guy my entire life. So, that part I can adapt to quite well, but leading large numbers of people and interacting with different ministries, that has always been a challenge. To this day I’m still trying to hone my craft in terms of working with people and getting things done through people.
Now, you’ve got three different campuses there at One community, and you are over all of those campuses, is that right?
Yes, from the technology perspective, I oversee the technology activities on all three campuses.
Okay, now are all of the staff members in one location Monday through Friday, or do they have offices at those three different locations?
The majority of our staff members are at the Plano location, however, at the Louisville location we do have a few people who office out of Louisville. But even those folks spend a considerable amount of time in Plano, just because we have the majority of our meetings in Plano.
Okay. I was just wondering how it was for you, if you were mostly having to do some off site work with a couple of the campuses, or you were able to actually see people one on one and address some of those issues one on one?
Yeah, the interesting thing with our church in particular, though I am the director of technology, I’m not a full-time staff member. I have an outside job, as well as all the members of the technology team do, as well. So, we are, this part of the ministry, we’re all 100 percent volunteers. Now, we do devote a considerable amount time to doing that. So, there is a bit of a challenge in scheduling time to meet face to face with certain staff members during the week. But we seem to always work it out.
I find that interesting. I’m sure people listening to a lot of these churches are entering to the point of figuring out if they need a full-time staff member for technology needs. How large is the church you’ve got there, and how many staff do you have?
I don’t know the exact number. I know it’s somewhere around 26 I would believe. I can’t really say the in number. I don’t really keep track of that too often, but I know that it’s growing and we’re bringing… we’ve just recently brought on some new staff members. And the reason why I know it’s growing is because we have to set up workstations and email accounts and stuff like that. So, we really feel it when we start doing that. But to be honest with you, I don’t really know exactly which of the staff members are full-time and which are part-time. But I know that the number’s gotta be somewhere in 20 to 30.
So, what is your other day job?
I am a consulting engineer for a networking company, and I do software development for that company.
Now again, for people who are listening who are kind of considering this jump to either part-time or full-time tech employee, what are some of the pros and cons for you as the volunteer and as the part-time employee of having it be very volunteer heavy?
Our church is very committed to having a strong volunteer presence. In fact, I think that a lot of the feedback we’ve gotten about the church has been that we wait a long time before we fill positions with full-time staff members. But there’s a good reason why we do that. It’s just a stewardship thing. We wanna make sure that we’re being good stewards of the things that God has entrusted us with. And at the same time, it’s a really strong message when you entrust a volunteer to do things that are super important and super critical to what we do each and every week. And we do that efficiently, even though they’re not getting paid a full-time salary. It’s been an interesting journey. I had my skepticism at first. I was like, “Hey…” Even my own position, I’m thinking at times that this really should be a full-time position. But somehow we’re able to work it out and really deliver an excellent result without being full-time staff members.
So, I wanna move into this next question, which is, what is one solution or best practice that you’ve implemented there with success, that might be interesting to some others?
Well, I think the biggest thing for us is we’ve really embraced the use of cloud technologies. All of our public facing servers and websites and everything are hosted on Amazon web services. And we’ve done that for a number of years now, and it’s been really great for us because it allows our team members to manage and interact with those services wherever they are. And at the same time, this provided a good cost point and excellent reliability.
As you have been leading this team, you mentioned at the beginning that the technical side is a strength for you, but the organizational side is a bit more of a challenge. What are some of those challenges that you’ve been working through or maybe you’re looking for a solution for?
I think the biggest one really is keeping the volunteers engaged. And the reason is ’cause say, for example, if you’re an usher or a greeter, every week you have a job to do, you know exactly where to go to do that job, and you know that that’s gonna happen every single week. The challenge for those leaders there is scheduling people, building a schedule for them when they’re gonna serve and who’s gonna serve on what date, and so on and so forth. But it’s a little bit different for technology because in most cases, you are praying that nothing ever breaks and then when it does, then you need everybody. So, it’s like there are periods of time when there’s very little going on. And sometimes when something does happen, there is this tendency, like for me, to fix it myself ’cause I’m balancing the speed of delivering that result quickly versus the need for me to delegate that to, and I don’t want to necessarily say delegate, but really to engage our volunteer group to take care of that problem. And it’s really a struggle because our staff members really wanna see things, if they’re broken they wanna see fixed right away. And we have to work through a process that’s not like a full-time guy there. It’s more of a graduated escalation to getting to the solution.
So, what are the actual nitty gritty of something breaks or you need somebody to step in and fix something? Do you have a group text you send out and whoever’s available just raises their hand and volunteers to do it? How do we go about that?
Well, most of the time what we try to do is we try to be as preemptive as possible in terms of making sure that we have all of our patches in places, we have virus software installed, that everything is working as well as it can, so we reduce the problems. Then when we do have a problem, the first thing we say, we asked the user is, “Can this wait until the evening, or can wait until the weekend?” Because those are the two times when I can actually get people on site without disrupting their own personal work schedules. If that’s not the case, then we start making phone calls to see if somebody can swing by the church on their lunch break, or shortly after they get off work or whatever. If they can’t do that, then we have two third party vendors that we can call. But oftentimes, what we find is that even though those third party vendors are there, their response time, usually in the daytime, is not much faster than us getting there in the evening. So, they might get their 45 minutes before we do, but generally, if it’s a total critical mission, critical thing and it’s broken and the day is gonna stop for everybody unless somebody fixes – that very rarely happens – most of the time we can ask the user, “Can we take care of this tonight? Or, can we take care of it on the weekend?” And usually that works out fine.
Now, tech people are kind of like a hidden gift in the church a lot of times. So, how have you gone about finding these people in the congregation?
No, that’s a good question, because a lot of times we’ll have these volunteer pushes. There are certain times a year and we’ll get a lot of people that say, “I’m a technology person, I wanna get involved in the team.” And a lot of times people do that because that’s what they do during the day. But I find oftentimes that people who do that during the day don’t necessarily wanna do that in the evening on the weekends, too. So, it is rare to find that person who really, really loves technology and is gonna do a day or night, whether they’re getting paid or not, with the same amount of enthusiasm and excellence. And those folks are tough to find. I’ve been fortunate in the last year, we’ve added a number of people to our team who have that attitude, and it’s really a great thing because now when we all get together, we’re all just a bunch of geeks. So, we have fun at our level. It’s not the same level as other people might see it, but hey, we’re talking about building computers and installing our own data centers in our house and all kinds of stuff. That’s what we enjoy, and we’re doing the thing that we love and we’re doing it for God, and it’s just a really great synergy when those things come together.
I really love seeing people plugged in at the church in non-traditional volunteer roles.
Yup. And it’s hard ’cause some folks, they need to have that anchor, like we explained earlier that if you’re an usher, you know where you’re gonna go to usher and you can see what and usher does and in your mind you can plan out what your day is gonna look like and everything. But in the technology field, that’s often not the case. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. Oftentimes, nothing has done happen, but we just need to be already in case it does. And you gotta keep people engaged in those conditions. And if you have a person, if you have a number of volunteers that just really love technology, even if they’re just on standby or we say on call, that’s cool ’cause they know what that means. They know that if something does break, they’re ready to go.
So, Jade, where do you go to learn more about the technology side of it, as well as just leading teams and volunteers?
With the technology side it is an ongoing thing, ’cause technology is always changing. So, books and there’s so many ways to do now, used to be just books. You’d go to Barnes & Noble and buy those big $40 technology books. But I don’t do that as much more. Most of my books now I get through Kindle or Nook, or I get audible books. But always, there’s probably four or five titles a month that I’m picking up and learning about different technologies or honing my skills on existing technologies. And I try to share those resources with my team as much as possible. One funny thing is we had a social outing last month and we all went bowling. And you know how a group of friends get together and everybody looks at their iTunes playlist and preparing what they have on their playlist. We were all comparing what we have on our audible list. Like, “I’ve read that book.” It’s very interesting when you get a group of people.
You’ve found your people.
That’s right. Nobody needs to feel embarrassed because they have these really nerdy books on there list. But yeah, it’s just constant learning. One of the resources that I really liked recently has been Udemy, which is online video courses, and they’ve got some really great courses on there about a lot of different topics. What I really like about them is that the courses are well laid out. You can look at the ratings and pretty much see if this particular instructor has good ratings, then you know you’re gonna get some good quality courses for that.
And this is just technology courses, or they offer a variety?
A variety of things. They do a lot of heavy technology stuff, but they also have some courses centered around business and self-improvement and photography and things like that. I think even some music.
I wanna ask this question in two parts, and the first part is just what kind of encouragement would you give to other volunteers or leaders of technology department at churches?
Well, one of the things I would say is we’re very fortunate here at One community church. Our pastor, pastor Conway Edwards, is a fantastic leader, and he has a strong heart for raising up other leaders. And I think my biggest thing is you’ve gotta find those strong leaders in your organization. And if they’re not in your organization, then outside of organization. But you need to find those strong leaders and really latch on to them and just find out everything that they know and emulate everything that they know. Now, I’ve been at One community now for, I think it’s been six years, coming up on seven years, and I’m continually learning. And I know that my weakest area is my leadership skills, but I think because we’ve had this system of building up leaders, and I’ve been privileged to be a part of that, my skills have grown. And that’s helped me not just in my work here at the church, but also my professional career, as well. So, I would say, one is look around, find out who the strong leaders are and just spend some time with them and ask them, “Hey, can I shadow you? Can I sit in on your meetings? Can I watch what you do? Can I talk to you when I have questions?” Just really utilize those resources that are around you.
That’s great. Okay. The second part of my question then is, on behalf of all of the church tech geeks out there, what would you like to encourage other church staff members, who maybe aren’t as deep into the technology field, about interacting with their technology department and what kind of encouragement you like to give them in terms of interacting with that side of ministry?
I’d say, our goal here at One is to enable the ministries to use technology and, at the same time, not let technology be a barrier. ‘Cause a lot of times things could become so complicated that people are afraid to approach them. And I think that if people approach technology with a problem, so don’t say, “Hey, I wanna use this tool because I heard such and such used it,” but come and say, “Hey, here’s a problem that we’re trying to solve. What do you think would be the best way we could do this?” Because sometimes it’s not always a technology solution. Oftentimes, technology can help, but oftentimes it’s not a strictly technology solution. So, it has to be like, “Hey, okay, let’s come up with the process and in that process, let’s find out where we can leverage technology to help that process either be more efficient, or to make things that are seemingly impossible possible.”
Jade, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Alright, thank you, I appreciate it. It’s been fun.