Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today our guest is Kristy Swartz, who is the finance and operations director at the Church at Charlotte. Hi Kristy, how are you today?
Hi Neil, I’m doing well. Hope you are.
Yeah, I’m doing well too. Thank you very much. I’d love to hear a little bit about your background and your story of how you got to be in the position you’re right now.
Okay. Well, it’s an interesting story and I’ll walk you through. So I started…actually, I went into college as a music major, thinking I was going to be a music teacher, and I got into the education courses and decided that is not the direction I wanted to go in. And I ended up doubling in business. So I have a Bachelor’s in music and a Bachelor’s in business administration, and I had enough hours that I was able to go ahead and focus on the CPA exam without moving on to the masters. So I got right into work after college, after getting the Bachelor’s and went to work for what was one of the Big Five, Arthur Andersen. And it was after the Enron scandal that we all lost our jobs and we’re all looking for jobs across the city and had opportunities to go into some of the other four, the other Big Four. And at that time, I just kind of had a bad taste in my mouth about corporate America at the time, and just fresh out of school. And that’s the first thing you run into. It’s like, how do 80,000 people lose their jobs all at one time because of one bad bunch? And so I looked at a bunch of different companies, but I also went to my church and they had a CPA on staff, and I knew I could continue getting the supervision I needed to finish obtaining my license. So I ended up as a senior accountant in a really large baptist church in Memphis area. And shortly after I got started, we had an IRS issue come up. And so we brought in some outside consultants to do an internal audit for us. So my non profit skills just skyrocketed.
Yeah, I’m sure.
Six months later, my boss left and I got moved into the director of accounting position there, and I was probably 24 or something like that, working in a very 13 million dollar budget size church. And I just like… I was soaking it up like a sponge. And so, non profit was definitely something that I enjoyed learning, but it was more than that. It was being in a position where I was able to serve my church, where the greater purpose was what really drove me. And I started feeling like my job was no longer a job, and I love who I worked with, and I loved what I was doing. Due just to some leadership challenges in that church, I ended up leaving the church and got back into corporate America. I was young and trying to kind of still figure out exactly what my long term track was going to be. And so, I spent a couple of years in corporate America, and it wasn’t long before I felt God pulling me back to the church and to this role. I’ve evolved in my position, of course, going from senior accountant now to a director of finance and operations, and I’ve worked in three different churches, and I’ve probably served 12 of my 17 years working in churches in the field. There’s always new things to learn. There’s always new challenges and each church you’re in, they’re growing in different ways and having unique opportunities to grow and to learn new things. So it’s been quite a journey. I’m now in Charlotte, at Church at Charlotte, and the church that I’m at right now, I was working at another church, I was the financial administrator and my church, Church at Charlotte, where I’ve been actually attending longer than I’ve been on staff, had a vacancy in the finance office and they needed some temporary help. And they said, we know that you do similar work, would you be willing to kind of carry us through, making sure payroll gets run, just the basics, just kind of keep this thing going. So I came in, became a candidate for the job, and then ended up moving positions over to this church. And I’ve been on staff now for five years. And even my position here has evolved a little bit as far as what I’m overseeing and doing. And that’s one thing I love about this organization, is that we allow people to do that.
Wow, so that is a fascinating story, going back to Enron days and then your experience in the church. Looking at that from a big picture perspective, what are some of the similarities… we talk a lot about differences, but what are some of the similarities you feel like you’ve seen between your time in the church world and those brief stints you’ve had in in corporate America? What are some things that have crossed over?
That’s a great question. I’ve always tried to think about what I would call the transferable skills. For me being a highly relational person. I’ve always tried to find the opportunities in every organization where I’m building those relationships. So even when I was an internal audit or external audit, I was looking to build consensus with the team and just feel like we were moving in a common direction. We had what our goal was, and we were trying to reach it. So there’s certainly some similarities, there’s a lot of differences. You’re right.
Other similarities that I think at the core of who everyone is in these organizations that you work with, everybody wants to feel good at the end of the day. They want to have done something that either moved the organization forward so that they can lay their head on the pillow and know they did a good job. And as you talk with people, whether they were actually able, feel like they were doing in that organization, that’s still what they were seeking for. That’s still what they were looking for. So I got into the relationships, I guess with the people that I worked with and found those similarities between all people, I think.
Yeah. Well, tell us a little bit more about Church at Charlotte. How is it organized? So you’re the director of finance and operations. What all things do you oversee?
So I oversee finance, HR benefits administration, overseeing IT, even though there’s a manager who knows all the ins and outs of that. I’m overseeing risk management insurance. I had a little touch in bringing in new softwares like the church management database, and in the next few months, I’ll be looking at overseeing communications as well, had some time overseeing facilities, overseeing new property acquisitions, and any major renovation projects. But the day to day facility management is handled by the facilities manager. So, kind of a lot of different areas.
Yeah, and you also said that you’re just finishing up a renovation right now. Is that correct?
We are, yeah. After, let’s see, how many…probably been about 20 years since our current main sanctuary…we have multiple campuses, but on the original campus, the sanctuary that is our largest venue, hasn’t been remodeled in 20 years. We may have recovered pews and things like that, but we came in and said, it’s time and we want to be a place that speaks to all ages, and we want to find opportunities to build community, even within the facilities themselves. They’re just a place really to foster community. So how can we look at a remodel in a sense that we can bring community to the church? We have three major foyers. We renovated the foyers and put in like a cafe on one side where we can have coffee and we can now bring coffee into our sanctuary. We put in new seats, so we took out the pews. Actually, we took out all of the pews and put back in a few pews. We also put back in theater seats and we put in cafe tables at the back and counters with stools. So it is quite a hybrid room now that we feel like anyone can walk into that room and find a comfortable place to sit and feel welcome. The other foyer, we put in kind of a lounge area where just couches and movable furniture and things that you can come in and get your small group together and sit and have a good conversation. So it’s been fun. It’s taken us about three months, I guess, to do, and we’re really happy with the results.
Well, walk us through a little bit about what you learned to that experience, some best practices you can share with other people, because I’m sure there’s a lot of other ex. p’s and other operations people out there that would like to learn from how something was done well, especially if you’re talking about going from pews, very traditional setup to a little bit more contemporary things. What are some things you learned in the process?
One of the things I learned certainly was to plan on the front end to bring it..we brought in an architect who brought in a designer with him as well, and we kind of sat down and talked about…we did the whole, I would say, master planning type conversation of, okay, let’s look at the facilities that we have. We don’t want any of the smaller renovation work to be something that we have to redo later. So let’s talk big picture first, where are we going, what do we want this campus to do? What’s the best utilization? And then once we figure that out and we say, okay, we’re going to phase this out in our first phase, it’s really to renovate that building. We want to make sure that the work that we’re doing doesn’t have to be redone later. So walking through that process with the architect, I think was essential on the front end. Then I kind of was a little over ambitious and thought maybe we could do this project ourselves and not pay a project manager or not pay a construction manager and I was wrong. The more we looked at it, we said, there is no way with all the other things that we have to do on a daily basis that we can manage the sub-contractors. We don’t have the liability insurance, all of those things that you need to make sure that you’re covering. So we brought in a construction manager and kind of handed it over and said, this is what we’re trying to accomplish. We had already set a budget based on all of the elements, and really, we left out a few things. So I would probably, in hindsight, would have scrubbed the budget a little bit further to say, there may be some things here that we’re not thinking about, like framing and clean up, just construction clean up at the end and some of those things. So evaluating the budget and then, the bigger side, we wanted to make sure that the remodel we were doing was accomplishing the end result of what we were looking for. So we went through some different conversations as the design was brought forward and said, that doesn’t really get us where we’re going. That’s still too formal. We’re trying to take it a little bit more casual, or what if we were the millennial coming in the room and what would we want to feel? We asked some people, hey, why don’t you come in that room because let me back up and tell you, we are a small venue, multi-venue and multi-campus church. So I say that we have two campuses right now. We’re looking at a third, but even with our original original campus, we have four different venues and they’re all smaller in size. So we look at anywhere from 150 to 250 range or the majority of our smaller venues, and then this largest venue now seats 625, I think. But that will be our largest venue and we like the smaller community feel. So we asked some of the people who were going to the other venues, which are video venues. They’re not even live preaching. What makes you go in that room versus coming in, what we would consider the main venue, and it was, it feels too formal. We don’t feel comfortable, we can’t bring our coffee in or whatever. So ask the questions of the people that you’re trying to get in the room, why don’t you come in the room and what can we do to get you in the room? So we asked some of those questions too, as we were evaluating what the design needed to be. And then we have to step back also and remind ourselves we are going to have opposition. There is a reason. There are certain people coming to that venue also, and the pews are a big part of it, and just be prepared to remind yourself that the loudest voices are not necessarily the majority. There’s a good book we read, Leading Change Without Losing It, by Carey Nieuwhof. He talks about how there’s that 10 percent opposition and they are the loudest. And sometimes you can say they are the majority, but really, even if you think about that ten percent, as it relates to who you’re trying to reach, not even just the 10 percent of who’s already at your church, but if you factor in that percent to who’s outside that you’re trying to bring into the room, you realize how small those voices really are. Not that they’re not important people. Not that we don’t value them, but that’s not where we’re trying to go. If we stay stuck in the past, we’ll never have vision for the future. And that’s what we’re trying to do with that renovation.
Yeah, I think that’s a great reminder, especially looking at those…those loud voices are important and legitimate, but probably don’t represent the whole view, everyone.
Right. Sadly, it’s a silent majority most of the time.
Well, Kristy, let’s flip a little bit. You said that you do some oversight over the IT, although it may not be your specific area. So tell us, from someone who handles operations, what are you looking for in software? How does it play a part in Church at Charlotte? And what do you handle?
Yeah, that’s a good question. So when I first came on staff here, we were using kind of an Access database type software that was really… it was used because it had to be used by the administrative assistance because that’s where the information was stored, but no one liked it. The pastors and directors never really wanted to use it. And so I started to get frustrated with the fact that people just weren’t using it. And I started asking the question, why are we paying this money for this software? How is it advancing us, how is it helping us? How is it letting us know more about the person, the congregant, and how are we able to minister more to them using this software? And it just wasn’t happening. It was just a place to store information. And so we started to look at bringing in a new church management database and we wanted to look, I wanted to look at what is something that one will be adopted from the top, because if it’s not adopted from the top, it’s very rarely going to be filtered all the way down. So if we’re going to spend the money, let’s find something we’re going to use, but let’s also find something where we can hopefully remove a lot of the ancillary databases and different softwares that people are using to try to get what they need out of it. You only get out of something what you put into, but we were putting stuff into a lot of different things instead of putting it all into one place. So we wanted to say, how many of these can we strip away and then find that software that will capture the majority of what we’re capturing and all these other ones. And there is no perfect software, we learned. I think every administrator learns that as we start looking at software, we say, okay, these companies just… they say, we can’t be everything to everyone. And so they find what they’re really good at. And you say, you find all these third party softwares that now you have to add on to the church management database. You say, hey, that’s great. But still, the software’s just not at the top. So now we’ve got to go find this third party facility software. And now we have open APIs, which is great, and all these softwares can talk to each other. So it’s getting easier, but it’s still not smooth finding just that one software. So we did find one that now captures all the information that we wanted for the individual, but it also is something that they can log in and update their own information. It’s something that when they register for an event, it shows up on their records. When they give, it shows up on the same record. Of course, only a few of us can see that, but it’s a place where we can now look at, not just the person, but maybe even their spiritual journey, to some extent, to say, are they connected? Are they not? If they are connected, where? And if something happens in their life, who are the people that…the touch points where we can bring someone in to their lives to help minister to them, who have common areas of interest and things like that. So that was important on the software side. But again, something that was just user friendly, we wanted something that was web-based so that we could access it from an app. Pastor can walk into a hospital room and he can pull up some basic information on a church member and know a little bit about them before he goes into it. It makes us better at ministering to them.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s always… we talk about a lot here. How is technology actually helping us rather than sucking time and resources out of what we’re trying to do. Is it actually furthering what we’re trying to do.
Right. Or hamstringing us.
We have other softwares as well, a financial package. We use a time off management software for our employees, and we have all the merchant accounts for all the online giving, things that hopefully are efficient in a way that they integrate with each other, and it streamlines the process a little bit better. But again, even every time you change one of those softwares, you have to figure out new processes. So it’s an ever changing, ever evolving process of finding new softwares. I’m currently looking for a couple of other softwares just to continue making it easier. Then when you go multi campus, now you have to find something that addresses the multi campus model, and it’s constantly changing.
Absolutely, absolutely. It’s great. Well, Kristy, why don’t you close us out here with little bit of encouragement you can give to ex. p’s, executive pastors listening, to other directors of finance. What would you like to tell them?
I thought about this one a lot, and for me, it kind of tied into the administrative challenge that I face. It’s kind of my personal motto of relieving the administrative burden so that others can minister, that’s a goal of mine. I don’t want what I do in my job to be something that slows God’s work down, that slows the creativity process down. Even though there are things I have to say no to, my goal is to try to find the yes within the same conversation, because I recognize that as we’re all following, we’re all trying to follow God’s design for us, but we’re also trying to reach a true north together of our mission statement and where we’re going. And I recognize there’s a lot of good Godly people that are also out there trying to be creative and trying to find ways to do just that. And if they come to me and I’m always saying no, then it hinders, I think, what God is trying to do. And sometimes we get caught up in the legalities and the rules and regulations and things, and we immediately think of what the red flags are. And while those are going to be there and there’s going to be times we have to redirect people, if we can work together, partner together to find that yes, and recognize that God is at the core of the root, the point of it all, and just trying to keep that in focus.
That’s great. A good reminder for all of us listening out there. Kristy, I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the show. The church website is churchatcharlotte.org. Please check it out and thanks Kristy for being on the the show with us.
Thank you Neil, it’s my pleasure.