Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Paul Kelly is joining us today from Emmanuel Christian Center in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota. Paul, great to have you on the show today.
Great to be here. Thank you for taking the time to interview me today.
Paul, you are the Executive Pastor of Operations there at Emmanuel. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to come into that position?
Yeah. It was kind of a windy road. I went to school at North Central University here in Minneapolis, for pastoral studies. But when I graduated, I just felt like I was supposed to work and focus on my marriage. And so I did a medical contract work for a local company here for five years before I transitioned into the ministry. So I was in and out of the church, but still very involved with church on the volunteer side of it while I was working. I think that really gave me an insight into what a lot of volunteers go through as they work 40, 50 hour jobs a week, and then they come in and give 10 to 15 hours at the church, just kind of understanding what they go through from that perspective. So that’s helped me in ministry, as I transitioned in the ministry.
Yeah. I’m sure. Now, were you going to Emmanuel during this time when you were working or were you at a different church?
We were at a different church. It was my wife’s home church that she had grown up in. And it is a church plant out of a church, another local church in the area. So she had been going there her whole life. And after we graduated at North Central, just got plugged in there and served, and got a lot of opportunities to get our feet wet in ministry, leading small groups, and being on the missions committee and doing local outreach stuff. So it was a great opportunity as we were just beginning our journey together in ministry. It allowed us that space and freedom to make mistakes and grow before we transitioned in the full time ministry.
Now, how long have you been on staff there at Emmanuel, then?
This is my third year. I started three years ago on January, so going into my third year, and it’s been a fun journey. It’s a church that’s 54 years old, and they’ve been through a couple of pastoral transitions, but the first founding pastor had pastored for 30 some years. And then there’s an interim before Pastor Nate stepped in, who is the currently pastor. When you have a church like that, there’s just a lot of history and stories that you’re navigating as you come in.
Now you’ve got there two Executive Pastors there on staff on Emmanuel, and you’re the Executive Pastor of Operations. So what exactly falls under your responsibility?
Yeah. It’s pretty typical to see the three pastors, Executive Pastors at a church our size. So we each have our areas of focus. There’s one that looks over the whole weekend experience. There’s another one that looks over the ministries of the church. And I look over the operations. Under that, there’s the finances, facilities, HR, IT, and then any campus expansion or remodel and project improvements that we do fall under my purview.
And how many locations do you have there at Emmanuel?
We have three, currently. We launched are first location a little over two and a half years ago. And then we just recently launched our third campus last February, officially.
What is something that you’ve got going on there that is a best practice that you really found success with?
We found ourselves kind of falling in a multi-site, and I think this is more of a normal story now where churches have started approaching us to take them over. We weren’t looking to get in a multi-site. It was just an opportunity for us. We had a church approaches said they’re struggling, would you be willing to merge with us? And we took that as an opportunity, prayed about it and decided to take that step forward. So our first campus was very much a learning experience. We just do had first trusted the Lord that this was a right thing to do. And we learned a lot from that, that we’re able to now, as we launched our second campus, start to put together just a process of how we’ll lead their board through it, how we lead the existing congregation through it, and how we really have a staff that’s structured to launch a campus. So very much, a learning experience from our first one that we’ve kind of adapted now into someone of a formal process that we go through.
So is this next one also a church merger?
It is. We don’t have a model we’re looking for mergers or anything. It’s just we’re Pentecostal Church and our Lead Pastor very much prays. And I know all pastors pray, but he really, really prays through the stuff and we’re sensitive to if we should do it. If it’s an opportunity for us to help a dying church in a local community that needs a church, we will do mergers. But they are hard. They’re very difficult because you’re taking two cultures to different churches with different stories, and you’re trying to merge them together. So that people part of it and can get messy. But it’s also very rewarding when it’s successful because then you have a church that’s survived, and refreshed, and impacting the community around it.
Yeah. What are some of your reflections than coming into this next one, especially from an operation standpoint? Because there’s lots of interesting factors of church mergers, one of which is the fact that there’s a really big building people who are used to carrying for in a certain way or decisions being made in a certain way. And then you come in as the boss, suddenly out of nowhere. How has that been for you having that authority, but also being gracious with the transition for people?
That’s the one thing I really respected our Lead Pastor, Nate Ruch. He’s so great at allowing space for people just to process through a transition like that. You can’t remove the people element from your plan and you have to allow and build space for them to express what they feel they’re going through, and then really allow God to come into that narrative and guide that whole process. And I think if you spend the time upfront with that, you’ll get it on the back end instead of just rushing into it saying, we got to get this done by a certain date. I think you end up dealing with a lot of that stuff on the back end, if you don’t deal with it on the front end. And I think if you’re sensitive to that on the front end, it just gives you so much more amendment as you’re re-launching the campus.
Now, church mergers are starting to pop up a little bit more. They’re becoming a little bit more common. What is it just, I guess, the feedback from these churches that approached you all at Emmanuel? What was it about Emmanuel that made them want to come to you and request this merger?
Yeah. I think a lot of them have been similar in their spirit of they’re attracted to us because we are more of a charismatic, vibrant church, and they connected with that. The other common factor, and I applied their leadership in this, is that they realized that they were aging and they didn’t have the resources and energy to revitalize their church. We have a very big focus on kids and youth at Emmanuel, and I think they really recognized that and wanted to be a part of that. And so they approached us with the opportunity of us to merge with them. And I think it was kind of the mix of the vibrant charismatic side of it, and the focus on kids and youth.
So now, on the other side of this, and I imagine you could also list off quite a few things when it comes to church mergers, but something that you haven’t quite figured out yet, that’s still in process for you all.
The biggest thing for us really is when we started looking at multi-site, we were an older church that hadn’t really embraced the technology side of it. So my first really year and a half is really getting all of our systems up to date, so that we could scale, so that when we added more staff, more people, more campuses, that we wouldn’t have to add additional staff internally to manage all the process, but we have the technology and infrastructure to do that. So we have that. But the one thing we have not figured out and we’re working on it really is a culture that’s also scalable. When you have a church, kind of a one church model, you can have a culture that’s very much influenced by the leadership. But if you’re not intentional with writing it down, consistently telling the same stories and forcing the same values, and you continue to add campus upon campus, your culture will get diluted. So that’s something that we’re really focusing on this next season is being intentional with the culture that we create, how we tell our stories, how are they written down? So that’s something that we really need to work on.
Now, I want to go back to what you mentioned at first, which is, you spending that first year and a half in getting all of your systems up to date. What did that look like for you? What kind of transitions did you make? What kind of apps or technology did you bring in to make Emmanuel scalable?
That’s a great question. As I was thinking through this, there’s just so much that we did and it’s interesting how things can waiver, get off course over time. So we had a church management software that, as it wasn’t enforced over time or just people who are educated on it, they got away. So when I came in, all these ministries were just using spreadsheets and paper forms, and I was like, really? It’s 2014. Why are we using paper? So we looked at why were they frustrated with it? What could we do to help implement a new tool that they would be engaged with and it would actually be useful for them? We looked at implementing new church management software. We did that. And I called this the domino effect. You implement something and it’s just like, oh, now we need to do this and this and this. So we’ve literally implemented a new church management software, a new accounting software, new expense software, more of these dashboards for the expense software. It was one thing after another, after another, and you really have to gauge how your staff, how much they can absorb because it can almost be like a whiplash of, this is new, that’s new, this is new. So we’ve really focused on the implementation side of a lot of the stuff. Again, I look at my role and it’s really combining the people part and the process part. They can’t remove the two from one another. It’s equal. So we really focused on the implementation side of it, walking people through that, being very intentional with how we do it and how we support it. So I think it’s been successful. It’s been a lot though. We’ve really changed a lot in a short amount of time. But it is so critical to be impactful as we’re doing ministry and as we’re expanding to have both so that you’re clipping your people at the right tools that they need to do their jobs. So I think it’s really critical that you look at that side of it.
Now, in the course of our conversation, you’ve been on staff there — how long, you say, you’ve been on staff there? About three years?
Three years. Yeah.
Okay. And so you listed off quite a bit of change that’s happened in the last three years including you’re multi-site, and often, just introducing one new piece of technology can be a year long process for some churches. So I’m wondering, how has your staff responded to all of these changes and has it been mostly smooth because of intentional leadership decisions or has it been a process?
Yeah. We also did building campaign in there too.
You all are crazy.
They’re so great. Our staff is so wonderful. And, I think, if we didn’t have that team component like we’re on this together for the betterment of Emmanuel and the better of us making an impact in the communities we’re in, we couldn’t have done it. They’ve been champs this whole time. I think it’s just that celebrating along, as we implement stuff, celebrating the life changes that are happening throughout the ministries. I think if you lose sight of why you’re doing this and you’re not celebrating those stories, your staff are going to get completely exhausted. They’re going to not connect. Why are we going through this pain of change and this comfort of change? And if you’re not tying that to the why you really lose site of the struggle that you’re going through day in and day out. So I think, again, just really keeping an eye on how are people doing, how are teams doing, how can we better help them, how can we better serve them, do we need to take a quick break to celebrate and go out and just do something fun. If we’re not monitoring that, I think it can go sideways quickly with implementation of process and softwares and stuff like that.
Paul, what are your favorite resources or places to go to make sure you’re getting better at your role constantly?
I think people in the role that I’m in are probably naturally just information seekers. They really absorb just a lot of information. So I get it from a lot of different places, constantly listening to podcasts. There’s great ones out there on trade leadership. There is great business ones/ Christian faith one. Vanderbloemen group is phenomenal. Reading a lot of books in a lot of different areas. So it’s just all over. But I think the one that’s most beneficial to me is just the people in my role, making sure that I’m connecting with local executive pastors or directors of operations, just having lunch with them and asking just a ton of questions. I meet with a lot of the business owners in our church and just make sure I’m really connected with them. And again, I just ask a ton of questions. I’m always asking questions all the time. What do you do with that? How do you approach this? And just learning that way.
So, Paul, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
I think just not be afraid to ask for help. I think a lot of times we think we have to know all the answers all the time, and it’s okay that you don’t know how to do something. I think just we all have our limits. We all don’t know what we don’t know. And just not be afraid to ask. There’s a lot of great people out there that are so encouraging, so helpful. And if you feel stuck in a situation or you’ve had a wall, reach out to somebody and just ask for help.
Well, that’s great advice. Paul, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Great, thank you.