This is Monday Morning Church, the podcast for executive pastors, church administrators, and it managers share their stories. Monday Morning Church is presented by KiSSFLOW, the church automation solution. You can download the free e-book, Beginner’s Guide to Church Automation, at bit.do/churchautomation. That’s bit.do/churchautomation.

Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Stu Hodges is joining us today from Waters Edge Church with four locations in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. Stu, great to have you on today.

Courtney, thanks for letting me be a part of it today.

Yeah, definitely. So, Stu, tell us a little bit about your position there at Waters Edge and how you came into it.

So I’m the founding pastor, the lead pastor. We’re coming up on our 15th birthday actually as a church. So it was 15 years ago, and actually in January that I left a position at a church up the road where I was the youth pastor, and that really was my background, that honestly, that’s what I thought I’d be doing for all my life. I loved the student ministry and was overseeing our middle school, high school, and college ministries and having the opportunity to preach some on the weekends. And the church I was actually working at said ‘Hey, we’re going to interview a church planter, we want to plant a church.’

And I remember hearing that and something just rose up within me and I thought ‘Man, that’s supposed to be me.’ And fortunately, the church planter they interviewed didn’t work out. And so shortly after that, I threw my name in the hat and said, ‘Hey, I think this is supposed to be me, my wife and I kind of sensed the call of that much earlier when I was in seminary. And so, we said ‘Let’s take a run at this.’ And so, that church sent us with about, it ended up being about 50 people 15 years ago, and that was the beginnings of what we now get to experience as Waters Edge Church.

So, you say the road, the church is just up the road from you. How far apart is that first church you were working in to where similar church plants are now?

Yes, so we were in a town called Hampton, Virginia, which is about 20 miles from where I’m at currently right now. We’ve actually since started a campus in Hampton, but Hampton is a large city and our ministry strategy is a little different. So there’s no real competition there. But we planted in a surrounding community, I would say about 20 minutes down the road, and they were encouraging and incredibly gracious as a mom church, and sent us out and they’ve had a great relationship with them, really for the last 15 years, and just a mutual respect for what God’s doing in each other’s churches, for sure.

 

That’s great. So would you go a little more into the timeline of starting this new church with 50 people to where you are now?

Yeah, yes, absolutely. So we began in a YMCA gymnasium and did that for the first six years of our church life, and kind of had a normal start, but really kind of picked up some steam around year three. And I think it was just more or less us finding our niche and people learning about us and around three to year five, we really grew and outgrew our space there at the Y and just knew it was time for us to find a permanent home. And so that’s when we began looking for a building, we were looking for land to build, began a capital campaign at that time as well, to raise the funds. And we actually went multisite before we ever knew what multisite was.

We were setting up and tearing down at the YMCA in the morning, and then we would take all of that same equipment and same staff, and usually some of the same leaders and volunteers, and we would drive across town and we found a little theater and we were setting up and tearing down there in the evenings just repeating the service. And we did that for about a year while we built our first permanent campus. And in 2009, we moved into that facility, it was about 15,000 square feet, 500 seats in the auditorium. We were doing five services and we had plenty of space. We had all this space, could be around about thousand people, we just spread them out over all these different service times. And we just thought, we can just do this for a long, long time.

And much to our surprise and to our delight, we grew in that first nine months in that facility by 85 percent and I say, it was just a seed of dumb growth. We didn’t do anything but build a building, and they came. That’s not necessarily a strategy for church growth that I recommend, but it’s one that actually worked for us. And so for us, we’d always known that multisite was going to be a part of our DNA. We always knew that that was kind of how we were wired with our strategy, kind of my communication and our simple church strategies. And so this really, this growth really kind of accelerated for us, multisite, and so in 2010, we really started to make plans to go multisite. In 2011, we opened, what would end up being our first campus in Hampton, Virginia, and then that one worked so well, we said, hey let’s roll the dice and do it again, man.

And so in 2012, at the end of the year, we opened our second campus. So at that point we were three campuses. And then in 2014, we opened our third campus, now fourth, so it put us at four campuses. And so that was 2013. And now, the last couple of years we’ve been looking at each other saying, what did we do? We’re just trying to catch our breath and rebuild leaders and really work on the systems to support a multisite church because one of the things that we learned real fast is one to two felt pretty normal and pretty natural. Two to three was some challenges, but three to four put a stress on our leadership and our structures that we really weren’t prepared for. And so, we’ve really been kind of catching our breath and trying to rebuild some of those components that really get magnified, I think through multisite ever since then.

So, if you would go in a little more detail there, what are some of those systems or structures that you either have worked on, and kind of tweaked a little bit, or you’re kind of in process right now trying to figure out what’s the best way to do this with four campuses.

Yeah, absolutely. And I love multisite. I think it’s an incredibly effective and efficient model, but it is not as, I’ll use this term, it is not as sexy as some might make it look, it really is. It is difficult, hard work, and it puts the stress on your systems and structures really beyond what we anticipated or expected. And I’ll tell you just a few for us. We underestimated the importance of a strong campus pastor in the beginning, and we’ve read a little bit, heard a little bit, but until you really live it and experience it, I don’t think you really know that. And so for us, we’ve been really working on, okay, how do we find, how do we hire? How do we develop? How do we raise up? How do we train? How do we continue developing campus pastors once they’re on the team? That’s been a big one for us.

Just general communication has been a huge challenge for us. Everything gets more complicated the more spread out you get, and that’s become just a very clear realization for us that what was an easy pick up the phone and communicate with one person, now is picking up the phone and communicating with four. What was as simple as a walk out of the office and brainstorm with a few people and then roll with it, now it is much more challenging because we’re spread out over multiple offices. In fact, I was just sharing with a friend of mine who’s considering multisite, how I thought I was a pretty good leader, and I think I am a good leader if you’re up close and personal with me.

But what multisite has revealed really is my own personal leadership weaknesses that I can’t now lead up close and personal. I have to be able to lead from a distance. And so I have staff that work for me that I see once a month at an all-staff meeting, and that’s the extent of it. I have staff that work for me and I had an hour with them before they were hired, and that was it. And so I’m trying now to learn, okay, what are the systems and structures that allow me to develop those staff from a distance? What is it that we can ensure that we’re doing to communicate with those staff, because everything seems to get more complicated, especially now with four campuses and our venues are different. We have some campuses that are permanent.

We have a campus that’s portable, some campuses that are in an auditorium and others that are…. we got one that meets in a Regal theater. And so, just as simple as planning services, there are different dynamics that now things get incredibly complicated. And honestly, Courtney, we weren’t thinking about that when we were launching campuses, we were thinking about reaching people and continue to open seats at optimum service times. And we weren’t thinking about some of those critical logistical components. I’ll tell you one more that has been huge for us, and that is we underestimated the importance of leadership development in those early days of launching multisite. So for the first six years of our church, I was developing leaders naturally because I was there with them. We were doing set up and tear down at a YMCA.

We were sharing life together, it was easy to develop leaders, and we had a really strong base of leadership. And when we opened our first campus, we basically took that base of leadership and split it in half. And half of them went to the first campus and the other half stayed at the opening campus. And before we knew it, we were going to open the third campus. And so we took that same base of leadership and we divided it by three. And what we never did is develop a system to ensure that we were adding to that leadership base. So when we opened our fourth campus, we really came up with a real challenge when it came to leadership. And so what we’ve been doing the last two years is working on a system that allows us to develop leaders aggressively on our campuses. Otherwise, we’re going to have a real leadership deficit, which is what we came up against.

So tell me a little more about that. Is that something that’s still very much in process or do you feel like, okay, you figured out that system and now it’s just a season of applying it?

I don’t know that it’s ever complete, but I do believe we’ve arrived at a place that is actually accomplishing the purpose and it’s taken some time. I remember when I first kind of came across this idea of one of our biggest deficits being leadership development, and I sat down with our team and I said, we got to do something about this. And we talked to some consultants and came up with a plan, and I pretty much gave the marching orders and stepped back away from it, and it ran for a good eight or nine months. And I pulled back our team and I said, okay, how many leaders have we developed in eight or nine months? Because I don’t feel we’re taking a lot of traction.

And the answer I got was one that was quite disappointing. We really hadn’t developed any leaders. We were putting out a product that wasn’t really producing leadership in people. And so we just, over the last year, totally revamped how we’re doing leadership development on our campuses. We rolled it out in October, so we’re only a few months into it, but we’re already seeing and hearing great, great responses.

We’re using a software called TrainedUp, and we’re inviting folks that we see with leadership potential into that software to go through, I believe we have eight or nine sessions on leadership that are video-driven, and they’re followed up with a series of questions and answers that we’re inviting dialogue and impact into. And that’s all good because we’re getting content out about leadership development, about leadership in our church, and about leadership with the mission. But the real critical component of what we’re finding to be the most important part of developing those leaders early on is that then all of our campus pastors are doing some one-on-one interviews as someone goes through the process.

And that’s really where the development’s happening. It’s bigger than the content, but it’s actually the interface with the campus pastor. It’s the spiritual development that’s happening, it’s the Q&A, it’s the challenge about someone’s personal life, and then the follow-up from that. And we’re just seeing a lot of results. And then we’ve got some ongoing things as well, we call them leadership advances, they happen a couple of times a year, where we’re pouring into those leaders to ensure that they’re not just getting that initial burst of development, but we’re continuing to develop them through a process as well.

That’s really exciting. The people you’re kind of choosing to go through this program, is this something that you’re choosing people and kind of meeting with them and requesting that they go through it or have you kind of just opened it up to the community at large and whoever decides to, can go through it?

Yeah, we’ve really tried to coach our team on looking for people with leadership potential, and that looks a couple of different ways. But one of the things I’ve challenged our campus pastors is to always have what I call the leadership discovery list. And what I mean by that is you should always have a list of people that you’re getting to know that you already know, that you’ve heard something about on your campus, that have some leadership quality, and maybe they’re already functioning in some leadership capacity. Maybe they’re a team mom for their kids’ softball team, or maybe they are leading a team at work, or maybe they’re a small business owner.

And so they’ve shown some entrepreneurial spirit, or maybe they’re leading in some capacity or shown some potential lead in some capacity on your campus in church. But I’m really trying to encourage them to start to build that list of people. They just might hear something about that, ‘hey this person’s a coach, this person leads a workout class at the YMCA, this person has 10 people that report to them at the office.’ And as you’re building that list, then start to get to know those folks, and as you see leadership, potential qualities in them, invite them in to what we’re calling the leadership pipeline and allow them to develop alongside of what God’s doing already in our church.

So, Stu, and assume this answer might be pretty different than maybe it would have been with your first campus or second campus, but where do you go to learn more about being better at your role and specifically where your church is at right now in leading that?

Yeah, that’s a great question. And you got to love the time that we live in, because so much, so much is available online, so much is available through podcasts, and particularly for my role, in leadership podcasts, there’s so much out there. That’s where I soaked most of it up from. But we have some great relationships with some other great churches that are further along than us and were farther ahead of us. And what I found is that building a relationship there, and I’m just amazed that all of us are in this for a kingdom.

And so when I reach out to a church or reach out to a pastor who’s further along and moving at a faster pace, even a growth, I’m always amazed at how open handed they always are. And that’s been my experience. And I think that would be anyone’s experience, when someone calls me and wants to ask questions about church growth and structure, I love to be open handed. I think that’s just our heart as pastors to support one another, I’m finding some great resources and some pastors that are just being open handed with what they’re learning, what they process, where they’ve been, and I tell you what, a lot of the things that we’re dealing with now, I’m wishing that I’d asked more questions and forsought more insight years ago when we were launching multisite because I think a lot of our challenges with multisite aren’t unique to us.

I don’t think so.

I would guess, and what I’m finding is that most people who are doing multisite are running into a lot of the same issues with leadership, with systems and structures, and with campus pastor, is finding the right one. That seems to be a common thread among the folks I’m talking to.

Yeah, absolutely. That’s going to make you a great resource though, in the sense that hopefully someone listening, who maybe is on the cusp of starting something with multisite is going to hear this and think, okay, let’s do some thorough interviews of ministers who are ahead of us in this game.

Yes, and I’m the kind of guy, and a lot of pastors are very driven, very forward focused, like to push the accelerator and seldom the brake. And I am that guy, which is why I led us very aggressively into multisite, and I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t turn back time. I’m so glad we did. And we’ve seen incredible things happen, an incredible life change from it and our church has grown exponentially because of it. However, looking back now, I do wish there had been some moments where I would’ve asked more questions and done more thorough research and certainly would have shored up some of our systems and processes before going so aggressive into multisite. That is for sure.

So, Stu, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?

I’ll tell you, Courtney, we get to do the most incredible thing with our lives, and I never want us to lose sight of that. And it’s not always easy. It certainly isn’t always glamorous, and it’s not always fun because there is a burden that goes with what we are called to do. But wow, I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life for sure. And honestly, if you think about it, I can’t imagine a better time to do what we’re doing as we’re leading out in churches across the country. It is amazing. The resources that are available, the opportunities that are available, the impact that we can have during this time in our world is really a remarkable thing. And so it’s a great time to be a pastor, to be a church leader. And even if things are tough where you are, I’m certain that God’s using you to do something remarkable in the life of someone around you. And a lot of times that’s what you got to hold on to, is that one life change story that just motivates you for the rest of the week until you get to hear another one.

That’s great. Stu, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.

Courtney, thanks for inviting me, and it’s been great to be with you and all the folks listening.

This has been Monday Morning Church, presented by KiSSFLOW. To learn how you can transition your church from paper forms to automated processes and improve your communication, go to church.kissflow.com.