Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Today’s guest is Tim Cool, who is the founder of Cool Solutions Group. Really happy to have you Tim.
It’s great to be here, thanks.
Tim you are not our standard executive pastor interviewee. So, would you give a little bit of insight into the mission of Cool Solutions Group?
Yeah, and I appreciate you guys breaking protocol and letting somebody talk that doesn’t work at a church full time, but I do work with lots of XPs and administrators of churches. And so, Cool Solutions Group is a company that’s focused on what we call facility stewardship. We’re strong believers that everything on earth belongs to God and, as such, we have been entrusted to be stewards of those things. And so, as part of that, we think that facilities are a big piece of that. For most XPs, facilities are going to be the number two or three items of any significance in their budget. So, you’ve got a burden and a heart and passion to help those churches and those leaders be the most efficient, effective, and intentional with those facilities that have been entrusted to them.
So, what are some of the practical ways that you respond to those needs for building management and turning them into tools and resources?
Sure, well, for us facility stewardship starts all the way at the idea of making sure that you properly plan the building. Most churches already have a building. I think it’s less than one percent of all churches of all 350-360 thousand churches, depending on who you talk to, are in a building at any given time. So, the majority of churches already have a building but it usually starts with, “How do we design a building?” The second piece is, “How do we utilize it?” If you weren’t going to use a building, why would you build a building? You know, just go buy a tent or run a shopping center or something, there’s no reason to have a building if we’re not going to utilize it. So, proper utilization of the building is critical and important. But for us, one of the biggest components that churches miss is how do we maintain and manage our buildings long-term. We’ve done enough research to know that if you looked at the lifecycle of a typical building, say over 40 to 50 years, between 70 and 80 percent of the total cost of ownership can be attributed to operational costs.
Wow, that’s a lot.
It is. How did churches go so hung up on the, “Can you save a dollar here by going to a cheaper carpet up front? Can we do this a little less?” And so on and so forth. Then you get hung up on that, and that actual cost of sticks and bricks over 40 to 50 years is less than 20 percent of the total cost of operation. And the cost of operation is perpetual, it’s just going to keep going and going and going. So, how can we be best stewards with that? I spoke at a seminar not too long ago, not too far from you guys. I was up in Indianapolis and was working with an organization up there that supports congregations in the state of Indiana. Of the churches that I spoke with, probably half of them that found themselves in situations, either with the declining congregations or declining neighbourhoods, with buildings that were significantly larger than they needed without the funds to maintain them on a regular basis. And more and more of their budget every year was going to operational costs and less to ministry, to the case that some of them really were more of a property management company than they were a church before admission.
That’s an interesting distinction.
I’ve got a church here in the Charlotte area that is spending 70 percent of their budget on maintaining the building. And when you figure most churches spend between 45 and 55 percent just on human resources and staffing, if you’re at the point where you’re spending 70 percent on facilities, how do you add staffing? There can’t be any money left for minister. So, basically, you’re having church in order to pay for the building.
So, how does Cool Solutions Group then come in and introduce some solutions to churches in this position?
Great question. There’s several things that we do. Some of it is tied to software, some of it is tied to physical observation and assessment. So, Cool Solutions has a couple of entities and one of them is our sustain program, which is the part of our program where we come in, we help assess a church, we look at the current facilities, we evaluate their operational cost, we benchmark it against national averages for utilities, janitorial, general maintenance, capital reserves, the facilitating staffing. We did an assessment of over 200 churches across the country as to what should be a reasonable staffing number for facilities. So, we come in and we’ll help anything from just gaining a fresh eyes approach. Because, for most of us, when we attend church, if it’s the church groundskeeper any period of time, we stop seeing the grass in the parking lot, we stop seeing the stain ceiling tiles, you stop seeing all those type of things. So, the first thing yes, those would be the very first things that they see which are going to impact their experience at your church. So, sometimes you just need a first-time guest to come in, and we do that. Other times, we’ll bring in a whole set of engineers and we’ll evaluate everything from the lifecycle to current conditions, to the current maintenance which is another major part that churches miss is the typical building will deteriorate at a rate of one to four percent per year. That’s not just the church building, that’s any building. That’s just the physical laws of nature. And if we’re not keeping up with that natural rate of deterioration it can end up being three to four times the cost to repair that thing down the road when it finally is in disrepair. And so, to defer maintenance, if it is not kept up with, then you are in a never-ending cycle of never being able to have enough money to get ahead and start planning for future repairs. So, we found over and over again we’ll do an assessment for a church and we’ll have two, three, four – just one in Louisiana there’s 16 million dollars of deferred maintenance.
And you start looking at what that does it impacts the viability of that structure long-term, and if we’re trying to reach millennials the very worst a capital campaign is do, “Hey, by the way, we need to raise money to replace the roof.” As a millennial, and I’ve got two millennials that live – I’ve got two millennial triplets. So, I understand the millennial mindset. But a millennial’s going to look at that and say, “I’m sorry, Mr 50- and 60-year-old man, if you do not have the foresight to think ahead to know that that cost was an inevitable cost, not just a maybe cost, if you didn’t plan for it then that’s on you. I’m not giving you that, I’m going to buy a pair of Tom shoes and help the kid in Africa.” And that becomes a mindset that I see over and over again, because those of us – and I won’t tell you how old I am, but I feel closer to that second category – you know, if we were planning for what I concern to be an inevitable cost. Capital reserves and capital replacement is not an if proposition, it’s a when. And not just the when, but how much. So, we will replace every air conditioning system, we will replace all your carpet, you will replace your roof. It’s just a matter of when do you do it and how much is it going to cost, and do I have enough money set aside to do it. So, that’s a part of what we do from a consulting side. We’re also the developers of B space, which is a SACS space product, so softwares or service cloud-based software, that has a scheduling software, distribution, work order management. We developed a couple of free tools then for churches. One’s called a Lifecycle Calculator, which allows churches to start doing their own planning for capital reserves where you can plug in, “I’ve got a rooftop unit for my air conditioning and it’s a 20-ton unit. We’ll spend across $200,000 to replace in the 20 years and at a two percent inflation, how much money do I need to have set aside in 20 years to pay for that?” So, we provide that as a free tool and we’ve come up with another free tool called a Facility Evaluator, which allows the church to determine based on our benchmarking. Are they in the good range, the bad range, do they need to have some serious considerations done on how they’re spending money on their facilities. So, that’s kind of our passion. Those are the things that we do to try to help churches and come alongside XPs and business administrators and help be there for people that are part time staff to think to the facilities, along with working with the facilities staff in coaching, providing training on security and cleaning and best practices and how to budget and all that kind of stuff. Again, all related to facilities. You don’t want me to help you with your accounting. You don’t want me to help you with member management or guest services, that’s not my forte. God didn’t wire me that way. But when it comes to facilities, I’ve spent the last 31 years helping almost 500 churches now develop proactive plans to better take care of their facilities.
So, tell me more about that, because how do you enter into this kind of a business? You personally.
That’s a great question. So, please don’t tell anybody, oh, I forgot, we’re on a podcast. But I was a music major in college.
Yes. So, talk about adding insult to injury, when you graduate as a music major after being ridiculed for four years, they give you a pink tassel. No joke. Why not give that to PE majors, but I digress. So, I was a music major. Moved to Charlotte in ’84. Did several jobs because I realized I couldn’t make a living in music. My father in law had been involved in the church construction industry and I joined that organization in ’86, and really more because I needed a job. After about eight or nine years I was like, “God, you really just kind of drifted me in this,” and not to sound like a bragging douche, but I’m pretty good at it. I understand what churches are. I’m fairly analytical, I like the details as much as I like the brainstorming piece of it. Then it kind of dawned on me. When I was a music major I wanted to be a minister of music. Today you call them a worshipper. And I felt when that door shut for me that God was taking me out of the ministry, but now I kind of see myself as the minster of facilities for multiple churches, not just one church. And so, it kind of rekindled my passion for the local church. I grew up in the local church, my dad was a pastor. And so, I have a real heart for that. So, to be able to help churches with what is their second or third largest financial expenditure gives me great satisfaction.
I’m curious now. You talked about looking at your building as a resource and something you can use for ministry. Tell me a little more, like, using Cool Solutions Group and e-space, how will it free up churches to do more ministry?
Good question. If you, think of this, if you were in Phoenix Arizona in the middle of summer and the air conditioning went out, how many weeks do you think a church could survive in Phoenix using a worship centre with no air conditioner?
Not very many.
Not very many. So, for us, if we can help a church think proactively and how to maintain it on a day by day basis but also look at the 10, 20, 30 year plan down the road, if they don’t have to borrow money when that air conditioning system goes out, or if they don’t have to cut a staff person, or they don’t have to shut off a part of a building because they can’t maintain it anymore, we have helped the church fulfil at least the maintaining of a facility that is meant to be used for ministry. My publisher Sam Reiner and I did an off the cuff survey to determine how many churches in America have a facility. Our guess is that 99.9 percent of all churches have a facility. Even if you’re an internet church, your servers are in a facility somewhere. So, at the end of the day, facilities are a big part of the church of north America. Well, how would your ministries function if you didn’t have a facility? Would it function still as well? I get customers and I have to explain, “I fully believe that a facility is nothing more than a tool. A facility will never serve a soul. A facility will never impact a life, it’ll never disciple somebody. But without it, does that impact how we do ministry?” And if we don’t have them available to us, or if the facility while it won’t save a soul it can sure be a distraction from somebody who’s coming as a first-time guest. I visit lots of churches on a weekly basis and if you walk in and the first thing you see is ratty looking carpet and stained ceiling tiles and there’s no way finding to get you from place to place, then what’s that guest experience like? Now, are we making ourselves attractive enough from a consumeristic standpoint, and I’m not saying that we’re trying to be all things to all people, but think about the people that are non-believers that are coming to your facility for the very first time. What are they going to compare you to? They’re comparing you to other consumeristic experience they had that week, and that’s not, again, to say that they’re consumers although, let’s face it, we all are. But they’re going to compare you to the barista that always gets their drink right. They’re going to compare you to their experience at the nice shopping centre. My wife and, with the fact that we’ve got triplets, it was not uncommon that we would, on a Saturday, go to one of our nicer grocery stores here in Charlotte. And when we went to the grocery store with three kids, you go to the restroom three times. It’s just an inevitability. And with that, this place that went to, the grocery store, always had the nicest restrooms. They had tiled floors, there was never any odour, the paper products were always well stocked. If I’m a non-believer and that’s my experience at my grocery store, when I show up to your church on Sunday is that going to be a similar experience or is it going to be totally different? Particularly the millennials, that’s going to be a factor in their overall experience whether we like it or not.
Yeah, definitely. Would you talk about why churches might need auxiliary tools like e-space, especially when they’re already using church management software?
Well, the majority of church management software do not have an event scheduling component. And those that do, most of them are, what I would consider to be, on the adequate but skinny side of the software. Because it’s difficult to be best in class if you’ve got a Jack in the Box mentality. So, you were raised in the mid-west, right? So, are you familiar with Jack in the Box?
Okay. So, I can go to Jack in the Box, I can buy a chicken sandwich, a hamburger, or a taco. But if I want the very best chicken sandwich, where do you? Chick-fil-A.
Being in the south, that’s the only option. You go to Chick-fil-A. And so, we decided all of our systems are geared towards facilities. We are facility people doing facility work, providing facility services. While the church management softwares are incredibly well done in member management or children check in, or small group connectivity and whatnot, and, by the way, they happen to have a room scheduling component. So, it’s more than add on, and we occasionally will lose a client to someone who made a switch from one CHMS to another. Most times, they come back to us because they find out it’s not as robust as they need. But there’s also not a single church managing software that I’m aware of that has a work order management tool for tracking preventative maintenance and break repair work orders, and that also has an integration with their heating and cooling systems. That’s one of the big pieces that we push, again, being an only facility people is how can we integrate the scheduling component to heating and cooling to increase more energy and operational efficiency. So, that’s kind of where we see our differentiation is, again, we don’t do member management, we don’t do children’s check in. Everything we do is related to our facilities.
That’s great. Tim, what encouragement would you give to executive pastors, specifically when it comes to management of their facilities?
Try to stay ahead of the curve. It is too easy, at the rate of two to four times the increase in costs to defer maintenance, to find yourself behind the eight ball and have that become exponential over time. Start planning now for what the cost of replacement and capital reserves is going to be. And whether or not you use our free tool or you use a spreadsheet, or you use an abacus. Whatever works, start planning about now, because you do not want to be held responsible in 20 years when they say, “Everybody knew the air conditioner was going to break, why didn’t Joe Smith over here go ahead and plan for that? Because we needed the money in 20 years.” You don’t want to be known as that guy that didn’t do the right plan, or that lady that didn’t do the right plan. So, that’s my first encouragement. It might maybe be odd coming from a guy who’s offering free software to do that for churches, but that’s really by biggest conviction is that churches find themselves in desperate need of replacing capital improvement items and they’ve got no cash to do it.
That’s a great piece of encouragement. I think that’s going to be a good talking point for a lot of people listening to this.
Tim, thanks so much for being on the podcast it was really great to have you.
My pleasure, thank you so much for having me.