Frank Bealer on Ensuring Alignment in Multisite Churches
Only 15% of multisite churches make it beyond 3 campuses … Elevation Church has 9 locations! Today’s podcast is with Frank Bealer, the Family Ministry pastor from Elevation Church. He provides some proven mindsets, tactics and approaches for developing a cohesive ministry across many locations. This interview is full of insider information about what it’s like leading one of the fastest growing multisite churches in the country. Frank has lots of insights in this episode!
01:52 // Franks role and the history of Elevation
02:28 // Rich shares a stat that makes Elevation unique
02:52 // Elevations biggest felt tension
04:00 // First Question: What’s an excellent experience?
04:48 // Even at 9 campuses in two countries, Elevation still meets weekly
05:47 // How Frank can be in 9 places at once
08:21 // Reproducibility in portable and permanent locations
08:45 // Frank explains the use of digital media in environments
10:15 // Elevation now has more people in portable campuses than permanent
11:49 // Common Leadership Pipeline across all areas
14:06 // Rich raves about how Elevation develops and releases volunteer leaders
15:19 // Excellence first, transferability second.
Lightning Round Highlights
Books That are Having an Impact // “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work” by Chip & Dan Heath
Inspiring Ministries // LifeChurch.tv
Inspiring Leader // Tom Peters
What does he do for fun? // Malcolm Gladwell
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Alright well welcome to the unSeminary podcast. I am excited for today’s podcast. This is one of those I have been looking forward to for a couple of weeks. We’ve got Frank Bealer on the line. Frank’s from Elevation Church, really one of the leading churches in the country. God’s doing some incredible things there. And I’m just excited to have Frank on the show. Thanks for being here Frank!
Frank – Thanks Rich. We love what you are doing at unSeminary. We follow it regularly and we are learning a lot from you. So thanks for what you are doing!
Rich – Appreciate that! Why don’t you tell us a little about Elevation and your role there?
Frank – Sure, so I am the Family Ministries Pastor at Elevation. So we have 9 campuses. Of those, 7 are portable and 2 are permanent. We are a young church, only 8 years old. Our pastor, Pastor Steven Furtick, amazing man of God, He has great vision for our church. It’s a little unique for you to have us on the show because we feel like we are still learning everything about ministry but we have seen some things work. So hopefully we can share those things today and that will be helpful. We’ve got about 14 thousand people on the weekends right now and we are excited about what God’s doing and look forward to sharing some stuff with you!
Rich – Cool. Well you guys are a rare air for a multisite movement. You are probably aware of this, but 85% of all multisite churches don’t get beyond 3 locations and you guys are at 9 with more coming. What’s that like? We would love to peel that back a little bit. There’s a lot of churches out there, I know that a lot of the churches that listen in are multisite or are thinking about going multisite down the road. There must be some tension you feel as you lead in that environment.
Frank – Well one of the biggest tensions we feel is that we are moving so fast. Our last campus we launched, we launched in 4 weeks from idea, conception, to execution of a campus and that one launched just a few weeks ago. It was fun. It was a little crazy. But it launched successfully and we are pleased with that. But this whole idea of the tension of excellence and trying to maintain vision, and high standards and quality over and over again…this reproducibility. So we’ve got to create something that we think is awesome and great and that people, and unchurched people want to attend and learn from, but we’ve got to do it over and over and over again. So there’s this limitation there that there’s somethings you can do in one location or maybe even a couple, but when you are trying to do it 9 times or even in just an area, it’s a little overwhelming.
Rich – So now let’s try to dig into that a little bit. When you are trying, within your ministry department, you obviously have people across all those different locations, how do you, on the proactive side, let’s say you’ve got something you want to roll out in your area, how do you actually do that communication with those people in all those locations?
Frank – So the big thing for us is to start with “What’s an excellent experience? What could we do once?” We program something out and this would be incredible and then we look back in and say “How do we make this transferable?” And so we found that if we try to start transferable first the quality of the ideas get lessened along the way so we really want to push this ideas of what’s excellent experience? What conveys the idea and presents the message in my area of family ministry? How do I really connect parents to what the kids are doing? What’s an awesome way to do that? And once we figure that out, then we try to figure that out, how do we continue to communicate, make sure the visions right at all the locations, how do we make sure everybody’s on the same page? Obviously that’s a lot of emails, video messages and some meetings. We still rally the troops from every single campus, every single week in once case. We pull everyone together, except for one campus that’s in Toronto, Canada, they are a little far away so they Skype in. But we have a meeting every single week discussing execution for that weekend and the coming couple of weeks to really make sure these staff are on the same page first. What we are going to do, why we are doing it, why we are pushing this, why we are cranking something out on a Saturday afternoon for that weekend? Believe in it, get some vision behind it, and then along the way making sure that translates down to the volunteers and making sure the execution happens.
Rich – OK. What about on the, you are kind of doing for lack of a better word, check-ins? How do you make sure from your perspective, you’ve rolled something out, you want to make sure you are providing some sort of quality experience across the various locations…. what does your feedback process look like? How do you understand what’s happening? How can you be at 9 places at once?
Frank – That’s great. So obviously I can’t be at 9 places at once. I would love to be able to do that, wish I could. We are still trying to find the technology to be able to replicate people at Elevation…but until we figure that out, we have a couple things. We have a central team we try to get around to all campuses. They rotate among the campuses. And their job is to oversee the excellence without becoming that enforcer. ‘Oh know, corporate’s here and we have to watch what we do.” We kind of have this check list of what we are watching for. And one of the great things we have is that because we are continuing to launch campuses, what we see if that the things that we learn that we execute at a new campus, not only is that campus better off because we learned how to launch in a school better or a YMCA better….so we do it better next time. But we take those practices and apply them back to some of the original campuses. Many people don’t know this but the very first campus that we launched is still one of our schools. We still occupy one of the schools that we kicked it all off in. And we are having to improve that. We can’t leave it where it was 7 years ago, even though we’ve launched all these other campuses. It’s not our broadcasting location or anything. But as we learn new ideas in new schools, we are coming back full circle to apply those things. So it’s always pushing our level of excellence to say, alright “we did it this way in this environment, are we still doing the same standard?” And so the speed of launching is helping ensure those levels of excellence, because it’s causing us to look back at where we are and are those campuses really operating at the same level as we plan our new campus to operate at?
Rich – One of the things that struck me when I visited Elevation, probably 18 months ago, was that original location, so many times churches launch, they start in a school that sort of thing and then they graduate up to some sort of facility. You guys have done that a couple times with your broadcast campuses. But those campuses, not only to they continue, some of that permanent stuff but that’s fun to see. You guys have a mixed environment where you have both portable (set-up, tear-down) locations, and also permanent locations. What kind of tension has that created in trying to create excellent experiences and this sort of reproducibility issue. How have you sorted that out?
Frank – That’s great. Let’s talk Family Ministry for a second. In Family Ministry we talk a lot about environments. In fact I’ve read some posts on your site about environments and making those excellent, where you should invest money. right? Environments for us, we are never going to be we love it, we’ll…the great robust environments because we don’t know how to reproduce that over and over again. And we know that we don’t want a permanent facility to be drastically different from a portable. So we lean heavily on digital media and things like that to create those environments. So we lean heavily on music, videos, graphics and things like that. Things that can be translated across multiple locations. Both print pieces and the screen. And so we lean on that to carry across. And then for us it’s like how to we make equal safely, equal ratios, good clean environments when some of those environments we don’t get to clean during the week, so how do we give parents confidence in where they drop their kids off, but at the same time, making it a cool environment. And so we literally have kids, that on any different weekend, they serve at one campus but then they attend another campus with their family and they are ok going to both even though one’s permanent, and one’s portable. And so we are really trying to make it so that it’s ok, and they don’t feel like it’s a downgrade to go to the portable facility where there’s a lot of pipe and drape. So even the color choices of the pipe and drape, the flooring that we lay down in every classroom. We just switched to a puzzle flooring in all of our toddler age rooms that’s all wood grain so it’s just looks great. So that’s something that I can create at a permanent facility, but it’s really hard at a portable facility. So we are looking for ways to not be a downgrade. We have more people attending portable campuses than we do our permanent facility.
Rich – Really!?!
Frank – Yup, so right now, we just crossed that line with this new addition of more portable than permanent. We just crossed that line. So we are grateful for that, we love it. But that means that we need to be investing in those portables like the permanent.
Rich – Ya, that’s amazing! And obviously if you are thinking about more campuses down the road that trend will just continue, because it’s hard to obviously keep up the permanent thing. It’s hard to build more. It’s not like moving. It’s hard to convert. I know New Spring, they are trying to convert their portable locations into permanent but that’s not the kind of thing you can do over night.
Frank – That’s right, and for us, if we were doing that, by the time we had one converted to permanent, hopefully we’ve launched two more portables. Hopefully with what God’s doing, and with us trying to steward this well we are just going to keep running hard, and have some fun along the way and learn. So January we launch out 3rd permeant facility, so we are learning a lot through that, but then we are launching two portables immediately following that. So we are learning to be that constant tug of each one pushing the other in excellence.
Rich – Cool. What about leadership? Give me a sense of what you do for leadership development because obviously a big part of trying to push toward accountability and excellence at all campuses is leadership development. So what does that look like for you in the Family Ministry department?
Frank – Ya, so similarly in our department, but honestly across all departments, we have the same model for leadership development. We call it the Leadership Pipeline. So as we are raising up volunteer leaders and as you know Rich, we run really lean from a staff stand point. So a lot of what we do is raise up high level volunteers. So we want to make sure that we are consistent in that growing process. The Leadership Pipeline, it starts with strength finders and an application and some conversation about really how connected are they to the church. You know if someone shows up next week and it’s their second week and they are wanting to lead, and they haven’t given, they haven’t served, that makes us a little nervous. It creeps us out a little bit. Let’s show some legacy and willingness to get up at 5am and help us get a campus set up first. But those that start to build some relationships, some community in the church, we put them in this pipeline, once again strength finders. We start to have some conversations. We put them on a leadership development track based on initial interviews held by our campus pastors and they’ll develop from their areas that we think they need to improve on and basically give them a list of things to do and grow into before we will put them in leadership. So we will put those expectations out there clearly and this will be different per individual but I think it helps us ensure that we have the right leadership in place and we will, we are willing to launch a campus with an area in family ministry that doesn’t currently have a leader, the staff is having to oversee that area, in order not to put the wrong leader in place. We’ll go without a leader, where the staff is having to fill the gap with that. We are ok with that. Our leadership pipeline goes across Guest Services, Campus Support, everything you see. We are really intentional about that, and hopefully some of those leaders along the way become staff and help us to launch future campuses.
Rich – I have had the privilege of visiting a lot of churches across the country, and Elevation really is a move of God. You can’t get it into a box. You can’t say, “if you do this, put this stuff on your spread sheet as a church, this will happen at your church.” But the thing I will say, because I think a lot of times at Elevation people will focus on Pastor Steven, his teaching ability, how God’s using his point leadership…that’s definitely part of what’s going on. But the thing I walked away with, deeply impressed, I’ve never seen a church as engaged on developing and releasing volunteers, volunteer leaders as a church. You guys do such a killer job on that. I’ve said to a lot of church leaders, and that includes everyone on that kind of pantheon of biggest churches in the country, I’ve never seen a church that does it as well as you guys. So I have said to tons of churches, you really should go and spend a weekend at Elevation and try to get into that culture because it’s unlike anything I have ever seed before. It’s breath taking, it’s amazing. So great job there Frank. Anything else when you think of this tension of how to we develop excellent environments and experiences and reproducibility?
Frank – I think the biggest thing is let’s try to be intentional as we go through it. Let’s not try to rush through it, that’s not healthy in and of itself. So as we are launching a campus, let’s not go and do another until we get one healthy. Let’s wrestle with those things. Let’s make sure we are reproducing something that’s excellent, keep pushing through with that. Start with excellence then figure out how to make it transferable. I can’t say that enough. I think that’s a great way to look at multisite.