Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Kevin Yoder is joining us today, from Rivertown Community Church with four locations in the panhandle of Florida. Great to have you on the show today, Kevin.
Thank you. It is good to join you.
So, Kevin, tell us a little bit, what your position is there at Rivertown and how you came into it.
Sure. My current position at Rivertown Community church is Director of Adult Ministries. I have been on staff at RCC for 13 years. Prior to that, I worked as a principal for a Christian school. I came on staff at the church based on a conversation with Paul Smith, our Senior Pastor, where he just asked me. He said, hey, what do you want to do with the rest of your life? And I said, I want to help churches and nonprofits operate more effectively and efficiently. And soon after that, I came on staff at RCC.
What was that first position that you came on staff into?
So the first position was Adult Discipleship. And at that time, we were one church, one campus of about 300 people. And we saw the need to develop small groups, ministry, and to develop our assimilation or our path of engagement for people getting involved. So that was what I was hired for, originally.
And then how long ago was this then that you came on?
I came on staff in 2005, and served in that role of Adult Discipleship for about four years.
Now, you said when you came on staff, you are one location with 300 people. Now you guys have got four locations. So, what’s kind of been that journey from 2005 to now? 13 years later?
It’s been an incredible journey. I will say, I grew up in this church as a child. And so originally, the roots of this church was a Mennonite church, similar to the Amish. Very conservative, very focused on the people in the church. And when Paul Smith became pastor, he set a vision of, we got to figure out how to reach our community. And so from a teenager, early 20’s up, that was the transition that I helped go through, and it’s been an amazing journey. Then from 2005, church grew. In 2009, we realized we were reaching people from 45 to 60 miles away. Felt like God was calling us to help launch other churches in neighboring communities. And so we looked at one neighboring community of Marianna. I realized we had a 100 people driving 45 miles to come to church. And so that was the natural first — our second location was in Marianna. So we ran into a school, did set up and tear down in that school. And God just blessed that campus launch.
Now, you’re saying this very coolly. But when I think about the fact that this is an established church, and in many ways, kind of changing the vision to be very outsider-focused, and then deciding that it’s going to be multiple sites. I’m assuming that that wasn’t such an easy obvious transition for everyone in the church, especially larger stakeholders who had been around for a while. What was some of that like? Was it a challenge to kind of convince that this is the way to go with an older established church?
It really was a challenge. And looking back, we see God’s hand guiding the process. But living through it, it was very challenging. The church actually ended up two groups splitting off of the church. So I ended up with about 30 people. After Paul announced that vision, 30 people were staying out of about 120 people. And so there was kind of a catalyzing conversation one Saturday morning, in an area of restaurant, where there was a meeting of the 13 families that left. 13 people were in that meeting and we said, okay, are we going to close the doors or are we going to reach our community? And we just committed that day that we are going to reach our community or we’re going to lock the doors and walk away. And if we ever stop reaching our community, if we ever stop being evangelistic, then we will lock the doors and walk away. And so we’ve had to go back to that moment many times.
Wow. Yeah, I would say so. What does that look like for your staff? Has there been a big change in who is on staff or what the roles are? Or has there been some pretty good continuity?
Obviously, there really has been some good continuity. Paul Smith, the senior pastor, myself were the only ones that would have lived through that original vision and continued on. But basically, all 11 out of the 13 of those in that meeting are still involved in leading and serving in the church today. While not necessarily on staff, they’re still a supporting the vision. But as far as staff leaders, we have brought on a lot of young leaders in the last two years. And so part of the challenge now is transferring that DNA into them and having them own our vision of being a reaching and multiplying church.
Okay, so today, 2018, you’ve got four locations. And what exactly is your role today?
So my role today is, in our Marianna campus, of leading all of the adult ministries. And that is our small groups, that is our care network, that is an environment called Next, which is all about helping people take next steps in engaging in the life of the church. And then what the systems and what I’m implementing in Marianna, I work to coach and export that into the other campuses, our other three campuses.
And how are most of your campuses structured? Is it, there’s individual campus pastors at each that they’re pretty autonomous? Or, they’re pretty well connected to that core group?
So our campuses are set up pretty well-connected. There is a campus pastor who leads the staff and leads the teams on their location. We do these sermons on Sunday, our livestream. Each campus has their own individual worship team and children’s ministry. And all of the supporting teams are led by their campus. But the campus pastors do stay pretty much connected with the vision.
Give us a little more insight into some of the things you have going on there at Rivertown that have really been working well for you guys, that you’ve really found success with.
One of the things that I would say we have really found success with, we worked hard for the value of excellence in what we do. And so whether it is the cleanliness of our facilities, or whether it is the quality of audio video stream to the other campuses, or whether it is the paint and the color, and the upkeep of our facilities, we really work for the value of excellence, as talked about in Malachi, where we bring out our best. So that’s one of the things that I think has set us apart. The other thing is the relational part of the ministry. And we say, small groups are such an important part of what we do. And we really desire that every person, every adult, every student, every child, is connected in a group.
Now, how do you — especially having your discipleship background, how do you ensure that everyone who comes into the church has multiple opportunities to make sure they’re in some kind of a small group? Is there a certain pathway that you all take or a certain time of year where there’s a big push? How do you do it?
We do a big push for new groups to form and new people to get into groups three times a year. And we gear them around the school calendar. In January, we heavily push group sign ups at the beginning of summer. We do a shorter group semester and we push that. All in August and early September, we do that. And so we tell people, hey, get in a group. Groups usually last 8 to 12 weeks. That’s the commitment that they’re making. So there’s three on ramps every year. Help give multiple points for people to get involved in a group. And then those groups can elect, can decide to stay together. And we roll them, start calling them a community group if they stick together for more than the 8 to 12 week semester.
Do you see much of a correlation between people’s engagement in a small group and just general volunteer strength and rates at the church?
There is a correlation. We talk about people engaging by connecting in a group, by serving on a team, by giving financially, and by inviting their unchurched friends. And so we look at those four areas to help us know our metrics of whether what we’re doing is working based on our people serving, connecting, giving and inviting.
Okay. So now I’m going to flip this on the other side. What are some challenges that you’ve got right now at Rivertown that you haven’t yet found a solution for or they’re very much in process?
So one of the challenges is raising up leaders. I’m 47 years old. Our Senior Pastor is a few years older than me. I won’t reveal his age. But we are working to bring on and train up younger leaders in a way that they can lead the church as it’s going forward. So that’s one challenge that we are facing.
Yeah. Are you referring more to bringing them on to staff or are you talking about lay leaders in the church?
Really, both, but we’re really intentional about bringing some younger leaders on to staff.
Okay. So what are some of those roles you have right now that you’re — maybe you can’t divulge all of the information, but what are some of those positions that you’re kind of hoping to get a younger presence in?
We just transitioned two campus pastors that are younger, into leading a campus. And so shifting the overall leadership to a younger face, to a younger leader. So that’s one that we have just come through. And then we’re looking at how do we do a better job of engaging families. And so some of our focus now is on our family ministry, our children’s ministry, in shifting around some leadership and spreading out some leadership to engage families in a better way.
So, Kevin, where do you go to make sure you are the best you can be at your role?
One of the things that I’m very blessed, for our staff, we engage a leadership coach, a counselor. And so each staff person is expected to meet with for lifting lids emotionally and with leadership, to meet with a counselor, but also in the coaching role, just to growing personally. And so that’s one of the things that, we think, is creating a really good staff culture in our church, is having that coach available to our staff.
Now, I want to hear a little more about this. How long have you been doing that and how did that come about?
We’ve been doing this about three years. We connected with a person who has a doctorate in counseling, has been in pastoral leadership for years, and has a counseling and coaching practice in our area. And so we will do quarterly team buildings for our staff, but also make it possible for each staff person, whether it’s personal growth or whether it’s in their marriage to have access to one of their counselors. So that’s been a really big role in helping to improve our staff culture and leadership development.
Yeah, I would guess so. What has been the general feedback or response from staff, having a regular coach at there at their disposal?
There is a lot of thank yous happening to our Senior Pastor for that, just of breaking through personal barriers or just helping to lead at another level. So it’s been a huge impact.
So, Kevin, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
One of the things that I have a tenacious desire to make it better, to always be working and improving, to look at finding a software solution, to look at finding a way of doing things that makes it better, that simplifies it. And sometimes, or many times, I come up with more ideas to make it better than what we are able to implement. So one of the things that I am living in is discovering the tension between having the desire to make it better and bringing the whole team along with those changes. So living in that tension, it’s one of the things that I would just encourage church leadership, don’t give up on making it better, but at the same time, we can bring about changes too quickly and frustrate or demoralize the team that we’re working with.
That’s great. Kevin, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Yes. You’re very welcome. Thank you, Courtney.