Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Today we’ve got Jonathan Masters on the show from Park Community Church in Chicago, Illinois. Jonathan, great to have you on today.
Thanks Courtney, great to be with you.
Jonathan, you’re the executive pastor there at Park, and you’ve been there for the last 10 years, but the church itself has had actually a pretty interesting last 9 years. So, if you would kind of give an overview of the journey you guys have been on.
No, I’d be glad to. So, Park is actually 29 years old, and for the first 20 or so years we met in a church and various locations whenever the school wasn’t available for us to meet in. And we had an opportunity back in 2008 to purchase our first building, which is a 95,000 square foot warehouse. But what happened effectively is, at that point, we had… the elders had to make a decision. Did we want to be one church in one location, or did we wanna continue meeting at that school and effectively become a multi site church? And that’s the decision that the elders made, and we’ve been on a multi site journey ever since them.
So, tell me a little bit more about this multi site journey, because how many sites do you have? Are they mostly in the Chicago area? Are they outside of that area?
Yeah, we currently have nine locations and they’re all in unique neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. If you’ve ever been to chicago one of the first questions someone who lives here would ask you is not only, “What do you do for a living?” but, “What neighborhood do you live in?” And so, we realized pretty early on that if we were gonna be serious about getting after the city with the gospel that we needed to be in the neighborhood. And so, that’s kind of what started this journey for us to move into separate neighborhoods.
Now, in 2008, when you decide to go from being a single location congregation to be in multi site, did you go straight to one to nine locations or was this a gradual build up to these nine locations?
Yeah, great question. No, as crazy as we are, we actually took our time in doing it. The elders had, after much prayer and fasting, came to a realization decision that God was calling us to see five locations launched in five years, and as He often does in His faithfulness, that’s what happened. And by the end of 2013, He had raised up five new churches under the Park name, and we had a total of six churches. And from 2013 until 2016 we were a church, one church in six locations. But Easter of 2016 is when things got interesting and we added, one of our locations actually multiplied and became two locations. And then we launched a couple of the locations, and that’s how we got to nine. So, for the past year and a half, we’ve had nine locations.
Okay, now most churches go from one location to two locations, and it’s a lot of work, a lot of logistics, a lot of figuring out details. You go from one to six in five years, was there whiplash in those five years? How did you manage that transition?
Well, yeah, there were a lot of conversations about that and anybody that’s ever ventured into the multi site world, realizes those are real questions and they’re unique questions that each church leadership team needs a wrestle down and pray through. We, in particular, had one gentleman on our elder team that really believed that if God would teach us how to do two locations wouldn’t He teach us how to do five. And so, that really caused us to go on this journey of discerning if we do learn all these things to launching one, couldn’t we apply those things and launching more? And so, that’s effectively what happened.
Now, do you do satellite services where you have one minister who preaches and all churches see the same sermon, or are these unique ministers at each location?
Yeah. We do have nine unique pastors at each location. We use video very infrequently, it’s for maybe a particular vision Sunday that we want the whole church to engage with. But for the most part, it’s a unique pastor at each location that’s giving the message, and then we have a couple teaching pastors that also work into the rotation to give the location pastors brakes, etcetera.
How do you maintain unity? Like you said, there’s so many different neighborhoods with very unique personalities. So, I assume that this is not a single culture church. How do you maintain unity with different locations and different backgrounds coming together under this one name of Park church.
Yeah, no, that’s a great question, a very real one and one that we continue to wrestle and pray through. And I would say in the earlier days when I’d say we were at six locations, it was probably easier. And in some regard it’s because of the neighborhoods that we were going into. And what I mean by that is the churches all were very similar. All of the messaging was coming out of our core ministries. It was a lot of the things that if you walked into one location, it looked very similar to another location. And so, that was pretty true. But things changed last easter when we launched a couple, one in particular up, and this was a few years ago when we launched in Rogers Park. Rogers Park neighborhood is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, if not the most. And so, we knew that we were gonna learn a lot from doing church in Rogers Park. And sure enough, we’ve learned a lot. And then in particular, last Easter, we launched a location out of our south Rogers Park into north Rogers Park into a neighborhood. We actually adopted a church that was primarily African American and Hispanic. And so, being a predominantly white church, we knew through the conversations leading up to the adoption, through the conversations with our pastor at the south Rogers Park, a location that not only was this the right thing, was this the thing that God was calling us to do for the sake of the neighborhood, for the sake of the people, but for the sake of Park and the things that we would learn and grow from. So, that in particular really kind of changed a lot of things that we do a part now.
Now, you know when I hear the story and I step back and I look at the national timeline that you’re making these decisions in, I’m just really curious how a primarily white church mixing in and adopting this African American and Hispanic church, in a time for our nation that was a little bit difficult with racial relations, have you seen this played out in your church and how have you all worked together through that?
Yeah, it is a great conversation. It’s the right conversation. It’s challenging. And primarily there’s so much for myself as a 57 year old white man with an elder team that is primarily white. But when God gave us this vision to plant churches, whether they be locations or church plants around the city, we knew that He was calling us to be something that we weren’t. Not that church is easy, church isn’t easy. Anybody out there listening to this that’ involved in church knows. Doing church is not easy, but what He was calling us to do was to be a church in the city and for the city. And we knew that meant that there were significant changes that we would have to engage with, and that meant that we would need to start looking like the city. And so, that started changing how we did our hiring, that started changing the neighborhoods that we would look for to potentially launch churches or to plant churches or campuses. And so, yeah, it really changed, but we just felt so compelled that God given us this vision, that no matter how hard or challenging, or the learns that we would need to ourselves personally learn and corporately learn, the payoff would definitely be worth it. And now that we’re a few years into it, all I can tell you is that it’s just been an amazing journey.
Now, I wanna zero a little bit more on your role as executive pastor. This Monday through Friday of having nine locations, what exactly are your responsibilities and what do you oversee?
Yeah. So, some of the stuff you’re gonna hear is gonna sound like a crazy amount of work, but I probably should step back and just say that part of decision when we basically went to nine locations last easter, some things change. And if you talk to people who have been in multi site for a while and there are these natural breaks where when you get to certain locations, things start changing. And one of them that changed for us is just this realization that multi site’s really have continuum. And for us, we were kind of wrestling with, “Where are we really on this journey?” And we knew that God had called us, but we weren’t sure is it launching more locations, is at launching more campuses, church plants? Exactly what was it that we were supposed to be doing? And so, we went on this journey of learning and talking to others, and I’ll give a plug for a friend, Brad House, him in a guy by the name of Greg Alison wrote a book called Multi Church, which really just kind of gave us some language and a framework for what multi site and where it can lead to. And so, that was very helpful. And so, that culminated in just a few months ago, we’ve shifted and become a more decentralized church compared to what we were. But I still oversee some of the core functions, that’d be our finance, our operations, HR, our tech, communications. But when I say oversee it, the only reason I’m ever successful is because I have great people around me that lead those ministries. And so, I think most people that get to my position realize that any success is always attributed to someone else that’s doing a great job. So, I’ve got a great team around me.
Now, with having different ministers at these locations, during the work week, the office week, do you have one central office then? Or are there offices also at all the different locations?
Yeah, so we currently out of our nine locations we have three buildings, so three actual church buildings, and then the other six use rented space, mostly schools. And so, many of our folks still come here and office out of here. However, some of the… just based on proximately, some of the pastors and teams will work remotely. So, it’s more important. We try and balance and that’s one of the things you have to wrestle with them. I’ll decide what’s more important that we spend all of our time together or that you spend time out in the community with the people that you’re ministering to. And so, those are both significant values and it’s just something that we, over time, have figured out a rhythm that works for us. So, we get together on a monthly basis where we all come together and then our teams meet on a weekly basis at the different locations.
Okay, so what are some of the solutions or best practices that you guys have implemented just to help things run better there that you’ve seen good success from?
Yeah, I would say probably one of the biggest things just involves the hiring and keeping of the right people, especially in a context like ours, Chicago, where we’ve got some neighborhoods where people are born there and they live their entire lives there. And then in the city center, that’s a neighborhood where many people will come here after college, it’ll be their first job. They may end up finding their spouse here, or their next job will take them away, or they’ll have a child and they decide to move. So, it’s very transitory, transitional, in some of our neighborhoods. And so, that can be true for our staff, as well. And so, it makes it even all the more important that we hire the right people when they come in. And so, some of the things that we’ve done specifically that have helped us is just knowing what are our own, and our team’s, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. And so, some of the things that we do, obviously, strengthsfinder, many people are familiar with that. And so, a lot of us are familiar with what our strengths are and what the related shadow side might be to our strengths. But a lot of us probably don’t know what truly motivates us. And so, a tool that’s been tremendously helpful to us is something called MCORE, which stands for motivational core. And it’s a tool that really is designed to help align us with those God given gifts and motivations. And when you align your giftedness with your motivation that’s when we’ve really seen people just light up, and satisfaction increased and engagement increased and all the metrics that you look for, obviously, when you’re trying to develop a culture and oversee a staff. So, yeah, I’d say the implementation of MCORE along with some other assessment tools have just been very helpful in helping us develop just a great team here and a great culture that our annual Best Christian Workplace survey that we take, by God’s grace, we continue to be a Best Christian Workplace. And that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s something that takes work and commitment and making sure that you have the right people to begin with.
Yeah, and how many people do you have on staff there?
We currently have about 50 full-time and about 40 part-time.
That’s a lot of HR time and that’s one of your responsibilities.
It is, yes. So, it’s all the more crucial that you get it right from the start. And of course, it’s not an exact science, but it’s certainly helpful to have some tools that will not only help us, but help them. And in many cases like MCORE, for example, even people that we haven’t hired, something that we’ve given the assessment to, it’s really intended to be a blessing so that, maybe as they’re searching for their next job, they will know. They learn something about themselves that helps them find the right job, their next step.
So, transitioning to the other side of that now, what are some of the administrative challenges that you face?
Well, that’s a pretty fresh question because up until a few months ago, we were a pretty centralized organization and we made the intentional decision to become more decentralized. And I think that’s where that multi church will give some language around. But effectively, just to put into context, about five years ago, 75 percent of all the resources stayed at the core level and about 25 percent went out to the locations, to the campuses. And that now has flipped to where… I’m sorry, it was about two thirds stayed, one third went. Now, it’s about a third stays at core and two third goes out to location. So, that’s a significant shift in how the resources are implemented and how we manage those resources. So, one of the challenges that we’re currently working through is exactly how do you best manage those resources? Because we had a, and still continue to have, a financial oversight team that oversees on a monthly basis. They look at all of our balance sheets or casual statements. They look at anything related to finances. And now that we’ve kind of shifted more to a more decentralized, trying to increase the ownership responsibility at the local level, what does that look like? And so, for most pastors that’s not necessarily one of their primary gifts is the management of finances, but they certainly have elders, leaders, people in their churches that that is their gifting. And so, we’re trying to work through how do you put together those right teams so that it represents their interest, then they take greater ownership in it, which is one of the things that we desire to happen.
Alright, I wanna end with what encouragement would you give to others listening in?
It’s a great question. I don’t know. I’m very fortunate to be in a role that I just love, it fits my gift mix, my motivations. I guess the one thing that I would just encourage people is continue to pursue Jesus first. It’s so easy to get wrapped up. And as an executive pastor, as an administrator, you’re carrying a lot of weight, a lot of responsibility, and someone first define this role when I thinking about going into it 10 years ago as our lead pastor was kind of like the guy with his hand on the wheel of the ship, and I was kinda like the rudder. And I said, “Well, that means my head’s gonna be under water a lot the time.” And he said, “Yeah, it may feel like that at times.” And so, you’re kind of a lot of behind the scenes stuff. And so, just encouragement to pursue Christ and to make Him the priority in the goal. And I know that just looking back on my own life, although I’ve been in relationship with Christ for 35 years, now I don’t go very far without him. So, my earlier days, I used to fool myself into thinking I could go alone, and somehow that was a sign of maturity and just how wrong I was. Just continue to put Christ first. And James tells us that if we lack wisdom and we asked that he’ll grant it to us. And so, obviously, continue to pray for wisdom, for guidance. Surround yourself with trusted advisors. I’ve got a lot of trusted advisors in my life. I have a great relationship with our leader pastor, with our leadership team, with our elders. I’m part of an executive pastor group that meets monthly for encouragement, for just all kinds of fellowship and accountability. And I just encourage people to continue to seek first the kingdom of God and all this other stuff, all the other concerns, they will become manageable and they may not end up the way that you desire, but we just have to remember it’s not my true, it’s not your church, this is the bright of Christ. And so, if we seek Him and with Godly counsel that He’s gonna have his way with our churches, which is what we ultimately desire.
That’s fantastic. Jonathan, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Courtney, thank you. Blessings to you and the ministers.