This episode of Monday Morning Church is sponsored by KiSSFLOW, the church workflow solution.
Courtney: Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. I’m excited about our guest today, we’ve got Vicki Gray from Transformation Church, which is just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. Great to have you Vicki.
Vicki: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be with you.
Vicki, you and your husband Derwin, along with the strong team, started Transformation Church in 2010. So obviously your story and the church’s story kind of go hand in hand. Would you lead us into the launch of the church in 2010?
Sure, I would love to do that. So even before we get to there, you know, my husband and I came to faith a little bit, what some people would say later in life, we were in our mid-twenties and so neither one of us grew up in a church. And so we had really limited knowledge and probably skewed, and that’s healthy knowledge, to be honest with you on what a new testament church is and what it’s supposed to be. So after we can to faith, we were living in Indianapolis at the time and he was playing for the Indianapolis Colts, and we both came to faith at our prospective work places, I was working as a dietitian in intercity Indianapolis, and he was playing for the colts. So we had people that were working with us who shared the love of Christ with us, and that’s really what we began our journeys, with Christ. And so we become Christian the colts don’t resign him in Indianapolis, and then he gets signed by the Carolina Panthers in 1998 and so we get relocated to Charlotte North Carolina, well we moved here and we are what my friends would tell me is on the fast track because we were both so hungry to know more about god know more about this Jesus that love is this much, and we just set out on this pace and we couldn’t read enough. We couldn’t ask enough questions. We were both growing really quickly, so that year was Derwin’s last year playing in the NFL, and he was really ready to be done we were both ready to transition out. So he decided to go into seminary, well then start seminary, but even around that time, he had done a lot of just general public speaking for the Panthers. And he started to kind of transition into not just, hey, don’t do drugs, but hey, Jesus has changed my life. And so as he’s doing that and he’s going to school and we’re growing and plugging into the local church, and we’re learning what this means to be a part of the local body of Christ, we’re growing like crazy, and he gets asked to come to a big event down in Columbia, South Carolina before a Game cats game and share his testimony. So of course, he wrestled with god. We were like, what us? Why? And so what ended up happening at that point was he got up basically just shared his story and people just kind of responded like crazy. And so the pastor that invited us down there said, “you better get ready because god’s going to start using you.” Well by this point, we had only been Christians about two/ three years, we really didn’t know, but what it turned out to be was the phone didn’t stop ringing. And then people kept asking “would you come share your story, would you come share your story.” And so finally, we looked at each other and were like, “maybe this is what god wants us to do” so you can go and talk and tell everybody how much god loves them, and how he changed your life and our life and I’ll organize it. And so that’s how our ministry was born in 1999. So we did that. We would travel and speak around a hunter fifty times here. And this is where I like to think this is where my training came in, because I did everything else, I like to say I was the executive vice president, the treasurer, the secretary, and the child care worker, all in one. But really that was god preparing me for so many of the things he had in store for us at Transformation Church. And so we did that for several years while he was finishing up his master’s degree. While he was doing that, he was taking a New Testament class from a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, and it was on the church and he would come home and he’d say, “Vicki, this is what god says the church is supposed to be.” So you have to remember, you have two people that have come out of a back heel. They don’t have any background or understanding really, he’s teaching me and we’re diving into this together, and he’s like, “this is what it says a pastor is, I think maybe is what I’m supposed to do” well for me, the only kind of experience I’ve had with pastor’s wives, what I had seen was they either like children’s ministry or they played an organ or piano, and those are two areas I totally am not adept at. I’ll just tell you, so then of course, I’m wrestling with, okay, what does that mean for me? Long story short, god moved both of our hearts, we joined a church plant team with you other pastors in 2007, and we went through a three-year process of experiencing what to do well and what not to do ever again. And so with that being said in the fall of 2009, the co-pastor that my husband was pastoring with came to us and said, “I think I’m supposed to take a group of people and plant a church in uptown Charlotte.” And we said, that’s great because we’re feeling that god wants us to plant to church in South Charlotte,” which is real close to the South Carolina border. And that began the journey of Transformation Church, as most people know it. And so really, it was my husband, myself, and then a good friend of mine Angela Weir, who is also one of our executive directors. The three of us crafted vision and values and the whole deal to plant Transformation Church. We got to experience god do amazing miracles, things like people coming up and saying, “god wants us to donate this $30,000 parking lot for free at a key time when I wasn’t even sure we were going to be able to do those things. And so god kind of kept showing up every, like, you know how god is always on time, but what he was really showing me was, this was his plan, not this was our plan. And we were asking him to bless it, but god, is this really what you’re leading, we wanna follow you. And realizing it’s his story, and it’s just more a part of that story. So fast forward to January of 2010 and we had planned to launch at the end of January and believe it or not, our first services were cancelled because of snow in South Carolina, which is very unusual. So we moved it forward a week and it happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. And I have to say in all our wisdom, we tried to avoid Super Bowl Sunday like the plague, when in actuality god had another plan, a local TV station, that Derwin had done some TV work with had a caught wind of it and came out and brought TV cameras and were like, “this is genius an ex-NFL player launches a church on Super Bowl Sunday.” Like we had planned it, when in actuality we tried to avoid it. And so that first day we ended up launching with seven hundred one people and two services. And we have never looked back. So that, in a nutshell, was the launching of Transformation Church.
Now, that is a pretty big jump to go from not having the church pre-launch to starting with seven hundred people strong, and then you guys experienced some incredible growth even in that first year from that seven hundred is that right?
Yes, we really haven’t. We’ve really never looked back, if that makes sense. We had, besides myself, Angela and Derwin, we were blessed to have two other executive pastors that had pastor experience at really several different sized churches that joined our team in that fall. And I really believe that was god preparing us to start at the size we were. So we already had some good healthy systems and processes in place, I mean as much as you can. You know I think that that really prepared us. And god knew how many people we were going to need to be stewarding. And so early on that was really important to us that we were organized, that we had processes that honor people. That was one of things we learned in our previous church plant was there would be days we didn’t know who is going to pick up the coffee. And I was like, no, that can’t happen. That’s a very simple thing, but it was just a matter of, we didn’t have the right gifting at the table. And so moving into this, there were some basic things that we said, “okay, these are not negotiable. Like if that’s god’s going to entrust people to us, we must steward them well,” and that means valuing them, that means making sure that they’re being followed up with, things like that. So then we just continued to grow, we were the fastest growing church in America, I think for sure we… the second one or something like that, since then, I think we may have even stopped submitting our numbers because we didn’t want it to be a distraction for our staff. And we really want them to be about stewarding the hearts of people, because we all know that the numbers do matter because every purse, every number represents the number or a person. Every number represents a person that matters to god, but we didn’t want our staff and our leaders just getting side-tracked on numbers and what that looks like just for numbers sake.
Yeah, that makes sense. I’m thinking of the excitement of this huge launch and is fast growth after that, that really hasn’t stopped. And there’s also the very practical side of me, that thinks about the administrative side of that. And it sounds like it could be a nightmare to grow that fast. What was that like on the ground that Monday through Friday at the church, trying to basically go from not having a church to suddenly having a very large church. What does that look like to you guys? How have you address some of those administrative issues?
Well, I will tell you it was exhausting. We used to joke that we were a big baby. We were a huge entity, but we were a baby, that we were trying to figure out, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we overworked, there’s no doubt. But it’s for people, I say this to people that I talk to that are at followers. I’m like, think of how when you start your own business and pretty much you have to do everything, what it’s kind of like that at first, because especially with the church plant. But one of things we experience was a church plant can be a target for people who are leaving other churches disgruntled is they sometimes will come in and think, oh, well, this place is new, I bet I can do this ministry here, do that ministry here. And so it was a little bit slow going, being able to find the right type of leaders that we were able to infuse them with our DNA. And one of the reasons that was so challenging for us is we are intentionally multi ethnic and we’re intentionally multi-generational. And that really ups the ante on challenging for staffing for leaders for building teams, because we want to reflect with our staff and our leaders that we really are multi ethnic and we really are multi-generational, but we’re not trying to do affirmative action. And so we’ve really had to work hard. We had to pray hard. Let me say that. We prayed hard first. I’ll give you an example starting out with seven hundred people, that was in February by that spring we had really attracted some people that had led at other churches, I maybe lead small groups and whatnot who were ready to step in. And we’re like, well, we really need to start some small groups because we have so many people, and that was a plan to eventually go into a small group situation. And we said, okay, well, let’s figure out about how many people we have that are willing to lead. And what ended up happening was we had several people that stepped up and said they were willing to lead, but they were all between the ages of about thirty-five and fifty-five, and they were all white. And we have real moment of truth that our executive team meeting on that spring. And we said, okay, this is serious. If we move forward with this, the message we’re sending is white people are going to be the leaders of the group, and it wouldn’t have all been an intentional message, but it would have been unintentional message. And so we knew that there were only people that are going to be disappointed that we weren’t starting. We were a little anxious that people weren’t getting that small group care type of thing and the growth that goes with that. But we just stopped and we prayed fervently and we just said, you know why god? We believe this is your heartbeat. And because we believe that we believe you’re going to bring the leaders and you know what he did by that fall, we had a diverse group of leaders, ethnically, and generationally, and we were able to start our small group ministry that fall. So we had a couple of moments like that that were really crucial to us, put a stake in the fan and saying, is this really who were going to be, and are we going to trust god to fulfill that?
That really says something about the clarity of your vision, because it gets exciting to do things when you know they will happen and you knew the small groups ministry would happen with all the original people, but to stick to a vision so strongly is; I don’t if I should say not a common thing, but not an easy thing to do.
Yes, yes, it really is. And early on when Derwin was preaching, he would preach about our vision. Every service it would be, we didn’t just have one vision service year, every service, he would talk about the vision, he would break it down, its multiethnic, multi generation, well the mission shape. The rest of it is that we love god completely upward love ourselves correctly inward and love our neighbors compassionately outward. And he would have some people from the seminaries would come up and be like, “you just say the same thing all the time. You talk about this vision all the time” and he’s like, “yes, because the vision of the future will transform the way you live today. And so I have to say this enough. So we actually believe this is who we’re going to become.” He’s really a gifted vision caster, and so that was able to really help people to see, and people have a hard time seeing outside themselves time seen and their immediate sphere of influence, me included, it’s our tendency right to just deal with what’s right in front of us, especially when it came to being multiethnic and multigenerational. We had to keep painting the picture for people. This is what this looks like. And at that time, we had a sixteen-year-old on staff, she was on our music team. She’s still on our staff, she’s now our interim TC group, we call them TC groups, but they are our home groups. She’s our interim director for that. And she’s also our internship coordinator and she’s now twenty-three. And so we have people that we’ve raised up, and then we have two of our executive pastors that are over sixty. And so we believe that not only does the twenty-three-year-old learn from me, but I learned so much from her. And so there is a mutual benefit to that, but really we have had to fight hard to stay on the wall of who our vision says that we are.
Yeah, I can imagine that would be a constant struggle from outside forces and even from within yourselves to stay focused.
Yes, very much.
So fast forward to today, 2017, who is Transformation Church today? Obviously, you’re still multi ethnic, multi-generational. How many do you guys run on a Sunday usually? And I know you have ministries that take place in the correctional facilities in the area as well.
We do, so at our Indian Land location, which is our broadcast location, we have in the auditorium around two thousand to twenty-four hundred a weekend, I think. And then with kids around three thousand a weekend we currently are, and I’ll just say this, we did have a multisite in Rock Hill for three years, and we ended up closing that down last year, there were a number of reasons for that. In some ways we believe in, we actually launched that church on our second anniversary. Now I’m drawing a blank, we really weren’t ready. And so we struggled at that location for a long time. There were some other factors that set into that, but we ended up closing that campus and now Rock Hill wasn’t very far from where we’re at in Indian Land, and so most of the people just came back to the location, and at the same time, god opened up doors in a couple of different correctional facilities. Currently, we are at, I think, two male correctional facilities and one female correctional facility in the South Carolina area. And what’s been really beautiful and it’s just been god opening that door because I know I have friends at churches who are trying to get into correctional facilities and there is absolutely a closed door and so we have no doubt in our mind that it was god who opened that door and planted up there. And we went in right away and said, we don’t wanna just come in and serve you guys to make us feel better. We believe that you have value, we can learn from you, we want to commit, and we want you to be a part of the family. And so we asked to have weekly services at two of the locations. We actually trained small group leaders within the facilities that were leading small groups, and we’ve done baptisms there and even done a membership class at Kershaw, which was really, really beautiful. And so I will say it’s a captive audience and the giving is not great, but the blessing that has come from the family we’ve been able to create there. And then we actually have folks that when they come out, that they come to Transformation Church because they feel safe and they feel like they already know who we are. And so that was a whole… of course we had no idea the path that that would take, and since then, whenever god transfers an inmate to another location or not every time, but sometimes, we’ll get a request from that location. Can we send them DVDs of the messages so that they can show them to their innate? And so it’s just been very clearly a god thing from day one, and we’ve just tried to kind a store that the best that we can.
Wow, that’s beautiful. Even just you personally have had a really busy last seven to eight years, where do you go to be refreshed and inspired as a leader at Transformation Church?
Wow. That is a really good question. I would say the last couple years in particular, both Derwin and I have said, “okay, this is too long of a sprint, we’ve got to change pace and make it a marathon.” Right, and knowing people that have been in ministry decades longer than we have, those are people that I’m constantly picking their brain. How do you do this? My mentor is in Memphis and she’s on an executive team there, in Hope Fellowship in Memphis think it’s called. And I’m always asking her, “how do you do this,” and her husband’s a pastor too, so that helps’ but I’m always asking people, “give me any insight you have really stopping and pausing.” I would say Courtney, honestly, my route right now is trying to slow down to make sure I’m saying in my lane, I’m not stepping out of my lane, I think it can be very difficult when you see other areas that need help or something needs to be done. And in the past, before I was put into a specific role, I did a little bit of everything and it sort of became, let’s just bring Vicky in on it and ask Vicki about this and it got to the point where I was like, wait, I would actually probably be better, if I just had one area because instead I was feeling responsible for everything. And so really in a season of trying to pray and live out Zachariah 4:6, that says, “not by my power, but by my spirit says the lord,” when you’re somebody who is capable, when you have high responsibility, it’s very hard to just stop and pray and trust the lord will just help guide you in what you need to be doing. And so Derwin and I will try very hard to make sure we take a Sabbath, really believe that’s something that can be overlooked in our contemporary Christian culture, church plant team specifically. We hear that a lot actually, because we lead a roundtable of pastors and leaders that want to lead multi ethnic churches twice a year and inevitably have that conversation, is that there’s so much to do, how do you take a Sabbath. And taking a Sabbath is a trust issue, it’s really reminding ourselves that we’re not god, he is, and that we can trust him really to accomplish that, which concerns us. So I would say, I’m not great at it, I’m really trying hard to make sure I’m taking care of my soul and resting because we move at a very fact pace.
I think that’ll resonate with a lot of folks listening. I’m curious, and a lot of what you just said is encouragement in a lot of ways, what would you, you had the opportunity just to chat with some other people who are preparing to execute some big vision. What kind of encouragement would you give to them?
I would say, well, I first would tell them that scripture, because that’s been my lifeline lately, I would say, make sure you are collaborating. I found myself starting to drift into a… “I have to do this” mentality, and I’ve been working on a big project and I found myself feeling like, “I need to do this.” And I won’t stop myself slipping into a little bit of performance based living, like what if I fail at this? I started to sense that god was trying to show me something and you know how when god wants to show you something, it’s like you either see it or hear to read it, in like two of three different places. And it was really beautiful because all within the span of a couple hours, I saw in three different places in Henry Nouwen’s book ‘Reflections on Christian Leadership in the name of Jesus’ and it’s really an encouraging book, where he’s really talking about the temptations, but he talks about how the temptations of when something was tempting Jesus, and he talks about the temptation to be spectacular. And I was so convicted by that because I thought, “okay, first of all, I’m already an over achiever.” Right? That was my whole identity, before I became a Christian, I wanted to be the best at everything, and I did really well, I, excelled in a lot of things, but that was so much some identity, but like it’s really easy to just fall back into that instead of going, okay, my value is it found on whether this program I roll out is amazing and awesome, and people are had fiving me and it’s spectacular? That’s the temptation Satan wants me to fall in and instead if I pull back and pray, and I’ll collaborate with other people, so it’s a joint effort. It’s actually going to go further, faster. And so I think, my guess is if somebody is in charge of something overarching, they hopefully are collaborating, but just resist the temptation to kind of lone ranger it. You have to have it all together because I don’t think that’s the way that god wants us to operate. And I think our American Christianity, we tend to feel like we have to do that. We have to perform, we have to be awesome and spectacular, and that’s so not what it’s about. I don’t know if that helps.
I think it does. It’s excellent encouragement. Thank you. Thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Thank you. I really enjoyed doing it with you.