Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today we’ve got Josh Thorell on the show, from Grace Chapel which has five locations in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area. Great to have you on the show today, Josh,
Josh, you are the Director of media technology there at Grace Chapel. Share a bit about your journey to that position.
Yes, I’ve grown up in the church many years now. I served at a church in Southern Massachusetts for a few years in a higher capacity within tech, overall tech within that one church as a part time role. Later on, I ended up leaving and touring for years now with a children’s choir. Then following that, I ended up moving to Orlando, Florida, and working for Universal Orlando as a tech on all the YV systems.
So you’ve come full circle and you come back to where you started.
Yeah, I kind of felt called back in the ministry. I was working in all these really cool and neat environments around the Universal property and I just thought, how cool would it be for some of this stuff brought back to the church and use there? And so that’s where I felt that badly to come back and He just called me back to serve there.
So how long have you been at Grace now?
A little over a year now.
Obviously, technology changes quite a bit anyway, but do you see quite a bit of difference in your approach to it after your experience? Touring is not you engineer in your time at Universal.
Yeah. I try to find solutions that are a little more user friendly. I’ve noticed a lot of churches, they buy this gear that is very advanced but nobody knows how to use it or to the capacity that you can use it. So I try to bring a moment of usability all our volunteers, our staff, and the church.
Yeah. That’s something I hear often is even if you’ve got a really, really good application or technology, it has to be used, which can be a real challenge.
So how has that been for you then? Is this a new position you came into a year ago or they’re used to having somebody who’s over technology and kind of leading them in that area?
It’s someone new for them. They’ve been searching for a director for a few years now. They’ve had somebody that, in a role, that was an assistant director overseeing kinda day to day and event operations but nobody that came in to give them vision for where they should be in the next 5, 10 years and where we need to progress as a church with that growth.
So tell me a little more specifically about what your role is there.
So I am centrally owned by all of our campus, all 5 of them, supporting the long term vision and also some of the campus technical projects. My job is really to look at the big picture and figure out where do we need to go and make sure that those projects get done to keep moving us forward.
And what does your team look like underneath you? Is it staff or mostly volunteers?
So I have two full-time staff under me. I have an Assistant Director who really focuses on events, our Sunday tech within our main campus. She also focuses on our volunteers and just encouraging them to make sure that they’re serving where they wanna serve him and being shepherded in that way. I also have another full time, we call him Senior Lead Tech. He’s more project-based and repair-based. So if anything breaks around the campus, he’s the guy that I send out to repair it for me. And then on top of that, we’ve got 5 part time employees for our main campus. Then I got 4 lead techs at each of our campuses supporting our volunteers in our Sunday service.
Now, were you in management positions prior to coming on at Grace?
Not fully. I did serve as a high youth director for 3 years. That was really the most management experience that I had prior to this.
So how has that been for you? You’ve obviously got the tech side you need to stay sharp on, but you’re also managing a team and a team that’s geographically divided at times. How has that been for you?
It’s not easy. It’s definitely challenging. Communication is a big thing, trying to make sure that we’re constantly talking to each other and updating each other with different events, things that are going on. If something they break at a campus, if we’re not bringing back the information that it’s broken, I don’t know if it needs to be repaired and not before the weekend. So that’s been one of the bigger challenges in making sure that we’re constantly communicating with each other.
So I’m curious a little bit about this communication side because it’s something I hear pretty universally from executive pastors and when I chat with them, especially when they go multi-size, it’s a real challenge to keep those communication lines up. So from the tech perspective, do you feel like it’s more a human issue, just everyone remembering that they need to stay in contact, or do you feel like there are actual tools that can really help this or you self-trying to figure it out yourself?
I think it’s a mixture of both, really. I think that with the multi-campus solutions, you tend to sometimes get these effects of siloing where one campus feels like it’s more independent because you let that happen throughout the week where they make a lot of those decisions and they don’t remember that there is a central staff that is there to support them and invest in their campus as well. Along with that is the technology aspect too. Especially on a Sunday morning when something breaks, we do stream or sermon to each of our campuses and we need to know that the quality is there. We wanna make sure that in the moment that you’re not having issues with the transmission, having issues with the audio in the venue itself. So those kind of communication portals, we do utilize an online chat. We are working towards, actually, utilizing a live VOIP system to chat with each other on a Sunday morning to help improve that communication throughout the day as we run our services.
What does your volunteer team look like? How do you find these people and what are the roles that they fill?
Yeah. That’s been one of our challenges is obviously, volunteer recruitment. We’ve been trying to use different ways of just showing that we’re a fun team to work with. That’s been one of my mantras that I’ve done even when I was serving as a lead in junior high. I use ministry ones that, as a team, we’re always just gonna have fun no matter what we do. I want everybody to walk away with a smile on their face because they’re serving the Lord. I don’t want them to walk away feeling disappointed or broken down because they served. So that’s been one of the things that we feel like it organically grows from there. When people start realizing that this is a fun team to serve with, they get encouraged and wanna be a part of it. They wanna know why it’s fun and they wanna be a part of that. So it’s been a little bit of an organic growth from there. The other side of it is we’ve been creating job descriptions of each of our volunteer led positions so that they can kinda read through and see what really speaks to them. And then we have a little connection card, looks like a little book mark with the position name and a role, one sentence description of the role with a little contact information at the bottom with the role that they may be interested in, they can fill out and send back to us. So that’s a couple of ways where we’ve tackled that a recruitment challenge.
I think the job description for volunteer positions is a really interesting idea to do something like that.
Yeah. It allows them to understand what they’re getting into because a lot of times, the first question they ask is, okay, you need to help with this. What does that mean for me? So have a job description, something that clearly states, hey, these are the goals that we have for this position. You feel you have the skills to achieve those goals? And if there even just interested in, they feel like, okay, I don’t have the skills for it, we train them to those skills so they know what they’re gonna be learning along the way, so they have the vision and the idea of where they’re gonna go.
Okay, so I’m gonna flip this then. So some of your challenges are volunteer recruitment and that communication. What is something that you guys have implemented there at Grace Chapel and it can be within your team, as a management solution, or it could be an actual technology implementation that you guys have there that you’ve really seen success with?
One thing that we’ve seen that was done really well is actually just forecasting out, looking out and seeing where we wanna be. That’s one of our best practice that we’re doing now since I’ve come in. We ask, where do we wanna be in five years? And then we allow our investment to follow that vision instead of allowing the vision to follow the investment. So we’re building with our future in mind. That’s been one solution that we really push forward. And then I always ask the question, why should we invest in it if we’re not going in that direction? So often you can get chasing down these rabbit holes of, oh, this is a good product we should use it. But is that where we wanna go? Is that something we wanna do? A lot of churches struggle with this in the realm of online ministry? Do I wanna be a [inaudible-00:10:17] in our base side, or somebody that’s doing all these huge online videos and content. Is that where we really wanna see ourselves going? And that’s one thing that we’ve been working on and saying, okay, where’s the vision? Let’s build towards that.
It’s really interesting. With tech, you guys are much more deeply involved in all the different ministries of the church. Other ones can maybe sometimes operate a little bit like silos, but you guys have your fingers in everything. So how is it for you to keep up with all of the ministries around you? Making sure the vision you have for technology is also matching where all of these different ministries in the church are going?
Yeah. In each of our spaces, we kinda have people that oversee the buildings or the space. So I’m usually meeting with these folks and kind of saying, hey, this is the vision of what we’re gonna do for upgrading your space. What do you see for that space? What’s your vision for your ministry going forward? Especially around the time when we start doing our budget building, I’ll meet with all the department heads and I say, okay, what do you wanna do in this next year and how can tech support it financially through new equipment or better design or layout of the equipment that we have? Where are you struggling right now? Where is the most pained point for you when it comes to the technology in your space? And it’s opened up some really great conversations and it’s helped us really manage our projects for the long term in the better direction.
That’s really interesting. So you’ve got these different sides. You got the actual tech side and then you’ve got the working within a church, managing the team, connecting with these other ministries. Where are the different places that you go to just to make sure you’re staying sharp in those different areas?
Yeah. One of the big things I do is I go to conferences. It helps me. I think you gotta always be a constant learner. You can never take a step back and not learn. Just technology is updating so rapidly that if you take a year off from learning, you’re already behind the 8 ball because there’s too much iterations that have just happened for that piece of technology that you’re behind on now. So I do a lot of conferences and even online watching just videos on different pieces that are coming out if I couldn’t attend the conference. There are some big conferences that have just come up that I wasn’t able to attend but has content online just to keep you involved with what’s out there. On top of that, I watch a ton of videos such as Harvard X and such to keep up on emerging technology and programming and also just some business development through that as well. And then I read a ton of books as well. Again, more of a nerdy side but I do mix in a few leadership books, as well, in there.
So, Josh, I would like to ask this question in two parts actually. The first one is, what kind of encouragement would you give just to others who are specifically in tech leadership in the church?
I don’t know if I can say this is encouraging to say, but we are the last to be told and the first to be blame, but it’s okay. You’re gonna make it through it. It always happens and it’s okay because we’re in a difficult realm that many people don’t understand. We’re the translators of technology for them and we’re trying to hold their hand and walk them through in understanding the different challenges that come with technology.
That’s great. So I wanna flip it now, then. What kind of, and it could be an encouragement or even a request, would you give on behalf of those in tech ministry to others in church leadership, executive pastor or senior pastors? What would you like to say to that crowd?
Affirm your techs each week. There is no one that beats themselves up more with a mistake than those of us who serve in tech. I can tell you personally, for me, I constantly find mix a service online or live, I’ll record it and I’ll listen back to it five, six, seven times. My guys sometimes get sick of hearing Christmas songs for two weeks to get all constant and listen back and go, why did I do that? I missed turning that up there. We constantly be ourselves up over the little things. So just having a pastor come up each week and affirm you that you’re doing a great job, that it sounds incredible, the visuals look great, the lights are on point, the video – I love how the transition went. Things like that are just so important to those of us who serve in tech because, again, we beat ourselves up so much with every little mistake just to have that encouragement that wasn’t that big of a deal. It is so important.
That’s very fantastic and practical advice. Josh, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
No problem. Thank you for having me.