Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. We’ve got Jarod Christman joining us today from SouthBrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, Ohio. Great to have you on the show today, Jarod.
It’s a pleasure to talk with you.
So Jarod, you are the Finance Director there at SouthBrook, tell us a little bit about how you came into your position.
I think that’s kind of an interesting story, to be honest. For a really long time, probably since I was a teenager, I think I knew I wanted to work in a church. I grew up in a great church. I know I wanted to work in a great church because I saw the church as something that was pretty much doing the most good in the world. I wanted to be a part of that. So I kind of pursued that idea. I went to Cincinnati Christian University and got a degree in Cross Cultural Ministry because I wanted to be able to work with a lot of different groups. And from there, I took a job as a student pastor. Not necessarily something I thought I would be doing, but I had a lot of people at SouthBrook pursue me for a little while, and it was a great fit. For about five years, I was a part of the Student Ministry Program in a lot of different respects, ended up leading that department for several years, and was having a great time doing that. I love the vast majority of what student ministry is and is about, love the challenges, love the pastoral side of it, and I was having a good time doing that.
And one of the leaders, one day, at our church said, hey, let’s grab some lunch. And I say, yeah, great. So we’re kind of doing the small talk thing and grins over and says, hey, I think you should help our Finance Department. And I said, we’ve got a Finance Department? We’re a church, we got a Finance Department? Yeah. Yeah. I think you’d be great doing that. I said, ah, I’m not an accountant. I don’t want to do that. That does not sound interesting at all. And to be fair, I’m not an account. That would be giving me way too much credit. But the more we talked about it, the more he described it, and the more reassurances he gave me that I wasn’t going to be fired in 2 weeks, the more interesting it kind of sounded. And I think the thing that was the most interesting, originally, was it was going to be an opportunity for me to seat at a table that allowed me, like I said a minute ago, to really be more part of where the church is going and what I was doing, and the impact that it was having. So that was the original traction. From then on, the challenge and the day in day out has been really interesting, man, absolutely a challenge on every level. But I’ve been surrounded with people are whole lot smarter than I am, have been very generous with their time, and has mentored me and trained me into this position. And I’ve been doing that for about five years now.
Now, I can’t be beat around the bush here, your background does not at all sound like it should lead into Finance Director. Most people who are Finance Directors have that accounting background, or maybe they’ve worked in the corporate sector somewhere. So what was that transition like for you that first year or two?
It was a lot of very long hours doing things that shouldn’t have taken me as long as they should. Everybody I talked to who’s anywhere near the business administration or finance side in the church world, that I get to interact with, has the same question. And how in the world did you do that? I went to school for this amount of time. And to be fair to them, I have to now go back to school and I’m going to school right now pursuing an MBA, and that’s extremely helpful. But to answer your question, the first year, it was a constant seeking out of those people. Again, sometimes even people that were doing this position in other churches and really just kind of sitting at their feet and learning from them, asking a lot of questions. My biggest fear was to drop the ball on some huge project or something that had a big dollar sign attached to it. That never happened in a large way, but again, all the credit goes back to the people that I was able to surround myself with that just say, hey, we want to invest in you and we want to see you succeed. So it was a very interesting challenging and still is a path to get to where I am today.
So then, okay, fast forward then five years to now, what exactly falls under your responsibility there at SouthBrook?
I’m basically over three departments in our church, the first being IT. We contract all of our IT support with a third party, and we’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. We tried a lot of different structures in that department. We had a full time employee under our umbrella for several years, but as we grew, as we developed, as we went into different ventures, we realized that that wasn’t really meeting our needs. And so we hired an outside company. They were more of a level one, made a couple of little things for us. But again, as we grew and we developed, our needs change. And so recently, in the last probably two years, we went out and actually found companies that could really perform as a CTO type position and architect position in our IT department, gave them a pretty healthy amount of authority to look at where we were currently, where we’re going in the next year or three years and help us prepare now to be ready for that. So that has been a huge success. They’ve been incredibly helpful with that. I oversee them, but they’re easy to work with because they’re experts in what they do.
And we’re primarily a Mac-based environment, but as everybody knows in the church world, every department kind of acts as their own companies, sometimes. If you have to go from one department where I’m doing a bunch of stuff on a financial side, and then you have to jump next door to our worship department and they’re doing things on the artistic side, that takes a lot of variety. So they’re great at that. The second department would be kind of our finance department. So every dollar comes in, every dollar goes out goes through that office. I’ve got a great team of people that are working in there, including an accountant. She helps me on a very regular basis. But then lastly, there’s our legal department. And to this day, I think it’s kind of interesting or surprising maybe that we have such a need for legal counsel. But anything from contracts that we’re getting into to even worst case scenario conflict, we constantly remind ourselves and talk about how we want to represent our church. The owners represent Christ in those situations. And so we did our due diligence in finding counsel that really was able to represent who we are, even in those kind of tougher situations, and make sure we’re exemplifying those values that we hold. Those are those three things.
What’s something you got going on there at SouthBrook that you’ve really found success with?
That’s a really good question. I can talk about that for long time. In talking about the IT stuff, a lot of those things come to mind. We are constantly looking for ways and a great tech so that we can do what we’re trying to do better. But I think I would have to say the thing that is the most exciting and the most successful right now is probably a building campaign that we’re in. And not specifically the building campaign itself, but in how we are going about it. I’ll tell you the story. A couple of years ago, we decided we wanted to build a chapel to do weddings and funerals. We didn’t have really conducive space for that and we definitely needed that. We didn’t want to do anything super extravagant, but we did want to be a place that people were excited to get married in and excited to experience these significant events in. So we went through the what I probably consider the normal process. We got commitments, we bided out architects and we bided out general contractors and construction teams, and we started pursuing that structure. But when we went out to bid the project, we came in two million dollars over budget on a seven million dollar project. And so we obviously had to take a huge step back and say, man, we had good reason to believe this is exactly how much this project is going to cost, but we’re two million dollars over. How can we do it different and in a way that really keeps in mind people’s generosity behind this and how to stretch the dollar that they’re giving as much as we can?
So we sat down with a contractor that we had been working with for quite some time in the construction field, and he worked for a different company at the time, and we said, hey, what would it look like if we hire you to really just manage this project? Not so much as a GC or a construction team, but more on independent level. That way we can avoid a lot of the, what I would consider, unnecessary, but very much industry standard fees and things. Think general conditions or contingency sharing, those kind of things. How can we do it a little bit differently? So we pursued that. This individual’s company is called Construction Team Management. He developed it for our projects. He doesn’t have any other projects to work on, so we’re not vying for his time. And since then, he has been able to get us back on budget, which was again, two million dollars lower than what we originally bid out. And on top of that, we’ve added two more million dollars back into the budget of additional scope that we didn’t originally think that we were going to be able to do, simply because we kind of thought outside the box a little bit. Give you a good example, we were able to re-roof the entire campus, which is about 125,000 square feet just by, again, doing things a little bit differently. So that’s been a huge success for us not just in terms of the financial side, but also we were able to provide an incredible product and really, like I said a minute ago, stretch the dollars that have been so generously given to us. The only downside is that we’ve had to slow the project down because one of the ways we’re saving money is we’re not putting as much time pressure on some of our subs, and again, saving a significant amount of money on those things, but it slowed reject down. Some people don’t like that all too much, but we’re going to be done here in the next six months or so. And again, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to have an incredible facility. It’s really exciting.
Yeah, that is really exciting. So you talked about the downside being a slower project. What has been the timeline from conception of the project and starting the fundraising and campaign building to where you are, where it’ll be finished in six months?
Yeah. So we had our initial campaign launch in November, I got to make sure I’m remembering right, 15. I’m questioning whether it was earlier on that, but I was around that timeline. And since then again, it is going through the whole process of getting our designs and getting everyone on board. We’re probably about 8 to 12 months behind where we said we originally wanted to be. But again, that has a lot to do with moving away from that original structure to what we then moved to. So it’s definitely a lot slower than we wanted it to be. But again, at the same time, we were looking at being 22 to 30% over budget, and now we’re going to be not only on budget but have a much more sizable scope at when it is all said and done.
Yeah, I would say 8 to 10 months is not that much when you think about taking two million dollars off of the budget for the building.
Yeah, it’s been, again, a huge learning experience, not just for me, but a lot of other people, but also just really exciting and rewarding at the same time.
Now, was this manager that you said you hired to do it independently, was that someone from within your congregation?
No. It’s somebody that several of us knew from just working with in the past. In the original structure, we had reached out to him and just said, hey, can you help us with this project? And the more we got involved with him, the more it made sense to kind of use them moving forward. So, no. He’s actually outside of our church, but in our network of consultants, friends, that kind of thing.
Okay. On the other side of this, then, what is something that you haven’t yet found a solution for their SouthBrook?
I think the thing I’m wrestling with right now the most, and this isn’t super exciting, but it’s probably kind of our debt reduction structure. Our maturity is coming up on our mortgage, so we’re really wrestling with how quickly do we want to pay down the debt that we have. We don’t have a lot of debt, to be honest. But I’m pretty physically conservative so any debt is annoying to me and a lot of people agree with that, that I work with. And so we’re really struggling with how quickly to do that because, obviously on the other side, we have so many things coming down the pipe that are really great ideas and they’re buying for that top priority spot, and we want to make sure that we don’t cripple our vision by being too aggressive. But again, also hate burning money paying interest if we don’t have to. We really spend a lot of time, thought, prayers in looking at that and how pursue with that. But that’s one that’s kind of keeping me up at night right now.
Well, I say, Godspeed to you in that then because that’s a common problem, I think.
Yeah. I’m sure. I’m sure we’re not the only one dealing with that.
So Jarod, as you mentioned before, you have learned quite a bit in your role on the last few years. So what are some of your favorite resources for that learning?
Well, like I mentioned, about a year ago, I started looking into how to further my education, because one of the things that I’ve relied on so much about, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, are just the abundance of individuals around that I can kind of rely on. That’s always been the first place that I’ve gone. But then in furthering my education has been so helpful to be able to take classes and other experts who taught me so much and shown me so many things that I can apply on a day to day basis. To be honest with you, if I have taken these classes or been in the environment 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been just bored me to death. But now that I can take it and apply it on a regular basis, it’s energizing. It’s exciting. I love every minute of it. So I really think those two things are just the pillars of where I go when I need assistance with anything I’m working on. One, again, just the people that I’ve got around me, and then, two, maybe a more formal setting in terms of school.
Does the church subsidize some of this education or is this something that you’re just kind of personally taking on to be better in your role?
No. The church is actually helping out when it comes to that. Like I mentioned, I’m doing an MBA through Xavier University, which is really a fun time to be involved with Xavier as our best school. But, no, the church was very, very generous with that. I approached our leadership and then said, hey, again, I want to get better. I want to continue developing and being available to have those answers that we need, especially, as we’re doing these new initiatives. We’re dreaming pretty big dreams right now and sitting back and going, man, I’m going to have to expand that network even more of experts, or I can start adding those tools to my tool belt. That was the idea behind it. And everybody was all for that. Again, just obviously, just based on my past and the journey that I’ve talked about, we have a structure that really supports internal development like that.
Oh, that’s fantastic. So Jarod, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership then?
Internal development is where I would go. I think, so often, and I’m guilty of this all the time, if we have a position open or we have an opportunity, yeah, we might think of is there anybody internal that can fill that. But I think a lot of times, we kind of pigeonhole ourselves with people with similar career paths. And of course, that makes a ton of sense. Of course, you don’t want to throw your children’s pastor into a counseling department or maybe you do. But with the right amount of resources and the right amount of support, I think there’s so many rich opportunities to really just continue developing people internally instead of having to go outside all the time. And I think my story is a great example of that. And I also realize that my hopes turned out well. But given the opportunity, I think a lot of people, would rise to the occasion.
That’s great. Jarod, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Yeah, thank you so much for having me.