Engagement Pathway: Greg Curtis & Tommy Carreras on Best Current Practices on Assimilating People at Your Church

Thanks for joining the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Greg Curtis and Tommy Carreras. Greg is the Pastor of Guest Engagement at Eastside Christian Church, a multisite church in California, Nevada, and Minnesota. He’s also founder of Climbing the Assimalayas, a website focused on helping churches design an engagement pathway that fosters connection, enables discipleship and accelerates church growth. Tommy is the Head Sherpa at Climbing the Assimilayas.

Since Covid, the majority of churches are struggling even more to live on mission. The breakdown of community over the last several decades translates to a lack of connection, without which we can’t make disciples. Greg and Tommy are here to offer free coaching around building an effective connection strategy for your church to combat the decline in volunteerism and other engagement issues.

  • Connection precedes discipleship. // No one makes a disciple out of a disconnected person. Jesus told people to follow Him first and then developed disciples. Without connection, it is impossible to make disciples. Therefore, having a clear assimilation system or engagement pathway is crucial for churches. This pathway should help guests become connected serving church family members, involved in small groups or other community activities, and use their gifts to serve and grow.
  • Volunteer drought. // There is a volunteer drought in many churches after COVID. Think about it and correctly understand the reasons for the volunteer shortage in your church. The four main reasons aren’t because of a fear of COVID now. Rather, people got out of the habit of going to church, they have switched churches, they have dual citizenship between online and in-person services, or a church’s leaders aren’t viewing volunteerism as part of discipleship.
  • Addressing the volunteer shortage. // To address the deficit, Greg suggests taking a look at the volunteer positions and changing commitment levels. Combine and cross-train among teams such as greeters, first-time guest hosts, and guest central teams. Do an all church recruitment from the stage. Each staff can identify positions they need help with and set goals for recruitment. Develop a volunteer engagement cycle.
  • Volunteer engagement cycle. // At Eastside they created a volunteer engagement cycle which addresses volunteers recruiting volunteers and volunteer retention as well. It starts with a huddle that includes a meal where staff can communicate vision and changes, plus do training. At the end is a call to action for the church’s leadership development program. After the five weeks of leadership training, participants either do something fun, like a potluck, or they receive a gift from the church. Creating a flywheel for volunteer engagement addresses the “how” questions around recruitment, retention, appreciation and vision casting.
  • Resources for an engagement pathway. // Greg and Tommy offer a Climbing the Assimilayas online video course to walk church leaders through the process of creating an effective engagement pathway. This six-session program focuses on spiritual formation, assimilation, metrics, processes, and the essential 4 P’s (one place, one program, two placements, two processes). It’s full of downloadable resources and templates that users can plug in and use. And they have also created a community space where participants can ask questions, share ideas, and learn from each other.

Learn more about Eastside’s volunteer engagement cycle at eastside.com/people-development.

Find out more about the Climbing the Assimilayas video course and get 20% off at www.assimilayas.com/unseminary.

Click here to learn more about the Video Course.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well, hey friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. I am super pumped for today’s conversation. And let me just tell you right up front this reason why. You might not know—I was telling our guests this just as we were getting launched—I do coaching, consulting with churches, and end up on a weekend, you know, at a different church somewhere else, talking about how we can help their churches grow. And oftentimes I find myself parroting what my friend today is says when I’m out and so talking with other churches. Because I think what they have to say to churches is so critically important. And so today I wanted to get them on and really try to wrestle some free coaching and consulting out of them for you in this next half an hour. So you’re going to want to listen because you’re going to have high value. This half an hour is going to really help you.

Rich Birch — So super honored to have my friend, longtime friend, multiple time guest, Greg Curtis, with us, and a new friend, his head Sherpa, Tommy Carreras. Now, for folks that don’t know, Greg is the Pastor of Guest Engagement at an incredible church in California called Eastside. Well, not just in California, but Eastside Christian Church. There are multi-site church with six campuses in California, Nevada and Minnesota, plus online. That’s a whole story in and of itself. It was founded in 1962, and it’s one of the fastest growing churches in the country, and I would argue because of the great work that they do on assimilation. Tommy is Greg’s head sherpa at Assimilays, Climbing the Assimilayas, which is a ministry and website that that helps and really shares learnings on how to really help build an effective engagement pathway that ultimately accelerate church churches growth. So Tommy is the lead head Sherpa on this or the head Sherpa on all this stuff, and he’s a great leader that you’re going to get to want to get a chance to learn from. Welcome to the show, guys. So glad you’re here. Thanks for being here today.

Greg Curtis — Awesome. It is so great to be here, and it’s great to have Tommy with us too.

Tommy Carreras — It is. Thanks for the invite.

Rich Birch — I’m glad you’re here. Greg, why don’t we start with you? Kind of fill in the picture there. Tell us a little bit about your background and then tell us about how Climbing the Assimilayas, which I love, it’s a great title, how that all fits together. Tell us a little bit about the story for folks that haven’t listened to the past episodes.

Greg Curtis — Yeah, well, when, you know, I grew up at Eastside, was pastor of a church at launch for 27 years, re-merged the churches in 2012 and when I did, I took on this role and got kind of a blank canvas. Just was prayerful and just trying to to design a strategy that, for what I didn’t realize, was going to be for a church that would become the second fastest growing church in the country during the next few years.

Greg Curtis — When we combined churches, we were 3200. Seven years later, we were 12,000. So we still have stretch marks on the church from that kind of quick growth. And I was just chasing it with a connection strategy. When we put it together after the first year, we had a little less than 2000 guests identify themselves. And after that first year we had one out of four come into a small group. One out of seven become a volunteer. One out of fourteen cross a border on an international compassion trip. One out of 20 become a leader. And one of the coolest stats was one out of three got baptized. And…

Rich Birch — That’s amazing.

Greg Curtis — …nobody was more surprised than myself and Gene Appel, our senior pastor. But we just continued working and developing really the principles of assimilation that uh, resulted in when people heard about the growth, they would call Gene: Gene, how are you getting people there? And call me: Greg, how are you keeping them there? And it forced me to start thinking more critically about what are the what are the the facets or components of an assimilation system or an engagement pathway, as it’s starting to be called more often now.

Greg Curtis — What are the facets that transcend scale and culture? In other words, it doesn’t matter what size church you are or where in the world it is, what are the common things? And I, I realized it was what I call the four P’s…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Greg Curtis — …that there’s one program. I’m sorry I said it. Four P’s. It’s one place you send your guests to, one place only to be welcomed. And exchange may be a welcome gift for their contact info so, you can build the relationship. One place leads to one program, which is a special environment that you create where people can connect and by virtue of just coming, they are automatically in two processes. That’s the third piece, two processes, which is a volunteer placement process and a small group placement process. And that lands them, finally, in two placements. So it’s one place to one program that gets you in two processes that land you in two placements. A small group. And a ministry team. Small group says, I have friends, which means I’m wanted at the church. And a ministry team says, I have a job, which means I’m needed at the church. And being wanted and needed are two sides of the same belonging coin.

Greg Curtis — So the weird thing is I was using Prezi back then to report on this to the staff, that moving thing, and it had a template of Mount Everest with the summit being your goal. And then you shared all those stats like I shared earlier on the way up and I made a dad joke that just said: So basically we’re all Sherpas helping people climb the Assimilayas so that they can connect with God in community. And it got kind of a laugh bigger than it deserved, but it stuck.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Greg Curtis — And and I started really thinking how every church feels like it’s a coast…

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — …to connect with them because they’re a friendly church, which really means they’re friendly to each other. And we had to realize that it’s not a coast for people to connect to a new community. It’s always a climb. And every one of them deserves a Sherpa to kind of put a ladder over the chasms and to direct them to the best path for them so that they can reach that summit, a full connection with God in community.

Greg Curtis — So that’s that’s kind of how I ended up because of so many churches literally around the world that I’ve been able to help and and and contextualize, and even learn from them about how the four P’s work in their scale and culture. And so it’s just become something to help churches with so that they’re great at connecting the people God’s bringing to them every weekend.

Rich Birch — Yeah. So good. And Tommy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background. Give us your story and how do you how did you and Greg get connected? How did that how did that magic happen? How did that peanut butter and chocolate thing happen? And you guys are working together. How’s that? How’s that working?

Tommy Carreras — Yeah, yeah. You chose my favorite combination there. Peanut butter and chocolate. Back in 2013, I showed up in Ventura, California, as a worship arts resident, which doesn’t really lead to assimilation, you would think, but oh, it did. So I showed up two year old church plant and just had the time of my life – my wife and I both. She ended up leading the kids ministry and I stayed on not in worship anymore. I realized I loved, I loved the 15, 20 minutes on Sunday, and the rest of it I can’t lead a musician to save my life. And that was fine, but I got to stay also. And so we stayed long term and a couple of years later I had moved into groups and then moved into like I couldn’t get anybody into groups and realized I had to own the part that was before that. So I took over the event that was our assimilation process at the time. It was very standard, very small, not very well thought out yet, but it was something. And I said, can I can I run that? Because I think I need to if I ever want people to do this. And I jumped into that. And then I have no idea how I found Greg, but I heard that there was this thing… No, you know what? It was Chaz Robbins, shout out to Chaz Robbins, I think…

Rich Birch — Ok. Nice.

Tommy Carreras — …might have been. But he told me, Hey, there’s this thing and I’m going to be somewhere near you, going to, you know, Eastside to do this thing on assimilation. I was like, Hey, I run assimilation now; I should go to that. And so I went to it and it was Greg’s very first base camp where he hung out for two days with like 15 of us, maybe from sort of the region. And, well, you know, the guy that told me was from Chicago. So…

Greg Curtis — [inaudible]

Tommy Carreras — Totally. Yeah. So it was a good crowd and we had a blast. And it was the first time, I think, that you were kind of workshopping these things for a church all at once, like the big download. And I realized—a couple of years ago I transitioned away and I’m in Franklin, Tennessee now doing a couple different things—but I started to realize over the course of time that almost every single thing I did, I was quoting Greg somewhere in my explanation for it…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Tommy Carreras — …even if it was totally unrelated to assimilation. It was just something that I carried with.

Rich Birch — Right.

Tommy Carreras — And so we just stayed friends the whole time. And I kind of boldly one day approached him and said, Hey, can I think Assimilayas is on fire in a good way, but I want to throw gas on it. And I got the space and time and desire, so could we try that together?

Rich Birch — Love it.

Tommy Carreras — And that’s kind of where it’s been so far.

Rich Birch — Yeah, so good. Well, there’s a lot to unpack here. And I particularly wanted to get you guys on, if I can be honest, I joked about this in the intro. I often find myself talking to churches where I am just, you know, I’ve talked about the four P’s. I’ve pointed people towards your video course. I’ve said, Hey, you know, you really should talk with with Greg and Tommy. They’re they really know this stuff. But, you know, the thing I want to describe here is, I think sometimes we think about assimilation. It’s like it’s like marketing. It’s like it’s like a term that maybe is like it’s a cold term. It’s like, is that is that really what we’re trying to do here? Isn’t it something deeper? And you caught my attention, Greg, when you said, you know, Assimilation, really, it’s about discipleship. It’s about how do we help people ultimately connect with their relationship with Jesus. And it’s as core as that. It’s not it’s not like some kind of, you know, gimmick. It’s at the core of our discipleship process. Unpack that for me. Why why is that true? Why isn’t it just this is just something that big churches should be worrying about? It’s like something that, you know, it’s a it’s a it’s a process that needs to run in the background. But but challenge us on that. Help us think about this from a discipleship point of view.

Greg Curtis — Well, you know, something Carey Nieuwhof often says is that Covid was an accelerator. It just accelerated everything that was already happening. And what was already happening pre-COVID, was that churches were we’re just getting less and less effective at their mission of making disciples.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Greg Curtis — Majority of churches were shrinking and those that were there, it wasn’t really about growing as a follower of Jesus and representing him to the world on mission. It was kind of preserving their brand or their heritage, or or just their their community and relationships. And so what Covid did was accelerate that to such a point is that now the churches that were doing well before are even doing better. But the majority of churches are struggling even more on mission, you know, making a disciple. And here’s here’s the wild thing is that we were already seeing prior to Covid that the, you know, the the world, the stickiness of community had, especially in western culture and especially in the States and especially where I live in SoCal, right? …has broken down to like the average stay in our community in the same house is two and a half years.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Greg Curtis — And so what used to be taken for granted, which is connection and community where everybody grew up in a town where everybody knew each other’s aunts and uncles and grandparents and all that heritage. And, you know, you could take connection for granted a lot in generations past. Well, that day has been long gone.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — And so when there’s not connection, what does that mean for discipleship? Well, here’s what it means. No one has ever made a disciple of an unconnected person.

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s good. That’s good. Yeah. Yeah.

Greg Curtis — Normally connection precedes discipleship. That is why Jesus said, Follow me. Brought people into connection. And he had concentric circles. The one that we think about the most is the 12. But they didn’t even figure out who he was or begin that journey till about a year and a half into being in that circle. In other words, the connection preceded the discipleship as we know it. There is no discipleship apart from connection.

Greg Curtis — And so if you if your church does not have an assimilation system or an engagement pathway, whatever you want to call it that is really clear, and in my view, based on these four P’s, that that expresses these four P’s in some way, it looks unique, it’s called different things even. You know, there could be a program that is different links one week, four weeks, seven weeks, you know, whatever. They can call their welcome center, whatever they want. They can have, as many of them are one of them or, you know, give away this or that or whatever. But it’s it expresses this in some ways – these the one place, one program, two processes, two placements.

Greg Curtis — The definition of assimilation is the journey of a person God has led to your church as a first time guess for them becoming a connected serving member. And connected means in a small group. Or if you’re a traditional church, maybe a Sunday school class or Bible class. Or if you’re a seeker church, maybe a Wednesday believer service. Whatever is your community, that’s that, so it’s measurable. And serving means they’re serving. They’re a volunteer at your church and they’re using their gifts and what God has given them to that growth. But the big thing that I don’t think people have seen maybe assimilation or connection or doing better at that as kind of a side dish when we just be a little bit more effective if we could do that or make time for it. I’m about ready to say you won’t be effective at all unless you do it.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Greg Curtis — Because connection precedes discipleship.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that is so good.

Tommy Carreras — [inaudible]…all the wrong things.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That that idea, that connection, well it’s true, that idea, that connection precedes discipleship, you know, I think so many times one of the misnomers of large churches, you know, people will say like, oh, like a small I just feel so connected in a small church. That’s just actually not true. That large churches typically do not become large until they nail this thing, until they figure out how do we get people connected, how do we get them to build relationships? And so actually there’s this weird inverse thing – at least this has been my experience. You can feel very connected in a large church because they’ve they’ve had to build an intentional engagement pathway.

Rich Birch — What do you have to think about that? Tommy, kind of expand that a little more, pull that apart.

Tommy Carreras — You know, it’s so interesting too when you say that about big and small. I had a terrible moment, it was a great moment, but looking back created a lot more stress for me. But it was the right stress. We were in a staff meeting at some point and we were experiencing that same kind of rapid growth. I mean, really every year that I was at Mission, we grew 20%…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Tommy Carreras —…give or take 1%. And it was just you create a system and then it breaks in half.

Rich Birch — Right.

Tommy Carreras — And it was great. I like new things. So it was a lot of fun, but it was stressful. And we were talking about some of this and at one point I just said in a staff meeting, Look, I know, I know we’re trying to keep up and I know it’s hard and I know we’re trying to get more efficient and all that. But look, I just think that we’re going to get it all wrong if we don’t get more personal as we get bigger. And everybody kind of looked at me, I was like, they were like, But but that seems opposite. I said, I know. We have to account for the bigness by getting better at this.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Tommy Carreras — And then I had to go live that out and take charge of it, which was the hard part. But that was that was the right stress to have. And you’re right, bigger the church like often it just means everybody’s working that much harder at helping somebody find their niche. I was in a church recently, to answer your question and frame this up a little bit, I was at a church recently in Baltimore helping them launch a groups ministry, and they were really keyed in on this idea of an engagement pathway. And we had the upside down, you know, the funnel, the upside down triangle picture, and it was on a whiteboard. And we were talking about where these groups fit into that funnel. I said, Hey, you could put groups all the way up top and if you do them right, or you could put them way down here, if you do them right – it’s up to you.

Tommy Carreras — And they said, Well, we’re stressed about and they’re trying to lead a multicultural church. It’s Baltimore. It’s like really, really, really diverse area. And they’re trying to bring all of that together and lead a really healthy multicultural movement. We had this great conversation. And we were talking about how the steps for different types of people, and especially in different cultures, are different at the top of the funnel. And they were worried that like, well, what if people get the wrong view of Jesus and it’s not hard enough? What if Jesus isn’t challenging enough at the top of the funnel? And I sat for a second thought, Well, you’re right. Jesus isn’t challenging enough. He’s not stretching your worldview. He’s not pushing you out of your comfort zone.

Tommy Carreras — And I went up and I drew a regular triangle. So the inverse of the engagement pathway and I said, I think it usually works like this. And at the top where the funnel is the largest, it was the smallest, narrowest view of Jesus, and that’s fine. And it was Jesus comes all the way to where I am. And that’s a really good thing to learn right out of the gate. That’s massive, right? Jesus shows up in the place you don’t expect him. That’s the story of Jesus everywhere. But then as you get more securely entrenched and rooted in the family, because that’s what this is, right? If the church is the body of Christ and it’s the family of God, as you get more secure in the family, then your view of Jesus can get wider and wider because the risk of following Jesus requires the relationship of the church. And if we can get that right and challenge more and expand their view of Jesus, then it’s at the bottom of that triangle. They’re going, I can go anywhere. I can be with any type of person, I can do anything and I’ll find Jesus there. Whereas at the top it was Jesus comes to where I am. It’s so easy. He finds me. Yes, he does. And then he says, Why don’t you go over there where you would least expect me, and I guarantee you’ll find me there too. But you need the relationship in the church. You need these fully, like relationally secure experience. And that’s why I think it’s so important because, again, we’ll never get the broader, more expansive, more beautiful view of Jesus if we don’t have the firm rooted belonging inside of the church.

Greg Curtis — And speaking of relationships and small church and big church, like you were saying, Rich. People have to get out of their mind that has nothing to do with the size of the church. It’s about the culture.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — Because I had a friend go to a church three weeks in a row of 40 people. 40 people.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Greg Curtis — No one spoke to him.

Rich Birch — Wow, that’s terrible.

Greg Curtis — Small churches can be cliquey and impossible to break into…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Greg Curtis — …and that’s that one certainly was. I had somebody meet us at our guest central angry. It was a woman and and her son. They came to visit for the first time. She said, I vowed I would never, ever visit or attend a megachurch. Why do I feel at home my first Sunday? And she said it that way in that tone.

Rich Birch — So angry.

Greg Curtis — Why do I feel at home? Like I want to know what is it?

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Greg Curtis — At the end of the day, it’s not a you know, you can be anonymous in a big church and on the outside of a clique at a small one…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Greg Curtis — …or you can slide into both of them very easy. And what it is is culture.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — And if you want to change culture, mobilize your volunteers gifting towards the people that God is bringing to your church to help them connect using your unique expression of these four P’s. And I’m telling you, that’s the culture changer.

Rich Birch — Okay, let’s pivot in a different direction. Obviously, same, same conversation helped me with some of my some of my church friends. So I’ll paint a picture for you, Greg, and kind of help me wrestle through what kind of advice, what kind of coaching would you give them.

Rich Birch — So we survived Covid. That was great. We’re still here. The thing is still running. Like, you know, we’re taking in revenue. We have people attending, small groups are going. But like we, you know, when we came back from Covid, it was like we kind of had to tell everybody, hey, can you can you take up more spots on the team? You know, because we had less people come back. And originally it was because, well, people were freaked out about the virus. But we’ve never really been able to refill our teams. We have a volunteer drought. Gosh, I am not sure how to break that. And now we’ve just been running like this. It’s been here we are a year, year and a half later, and we are it’s the same people and they’re burnt out. I’m not sure what to to, how can an effective engagement pathway help me or what help me diagnose what I should be doing? Help me wrestle through that. Talk me through what we should be thinking about.

Greg Curtis — Totally. And by the way, at my church, which historically this has been a real strength of it, we are feeling that same pain. Pre-COVID, 40% of our auditorium attendance every weekend was a volunteer.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Greg Curtis — 40%.

Rich Birch — That’s incredible.

Greg Curtis — Coming out of Covid, through the beginning and first half of this year, 15%.

Rich Birch — Right. Okay. Wow. Yeah.

Greg Curtis — Okay. So I am speaking…

Rich Birch — It’s a huge spread. Yeah.

Greg Curtis — Oh, my gosh. Huge. So I’m speaking from the pain point along with all your listeners for sure. I think it’s the first thing to talk about is just to correctly understand the reasons for the volunteer shortage. And it’s no longer because people are afraid of Covid and all that kind of stuff. That we’ve gone past that. The four main reasons are that a lot of your core people got out of the habit of going to church during that time and they haven’t redeveloped it. They just got out of the habit. The second is some of them and they know, switched churches because, you know, everything got polarized and they saw your church going the way that they weren’t and so they went to another church.

Greg Curtis — But one of the big ones is dual citizenship. They are now a dual citizen of your online campus and your physical campus. And because they’re dual citizens, what they do is they they got used to attending church online. So now that that they like coming back, people who were three out of four weeks coming to your physical church or better per month, three out of four, they’re now one out of four. Right?

Rich Birch — Yep.

Greg Curtis — Because anything that happens. Okay, let’s just watch it at home. Now we can do that. We’ve got used to it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — So they flick back and forth so there’s not that consistency and they don’t want to sign up for for their old volunteer role that makes them, you know, they’re on that regular interval. And another thing in general is that people aren’t seeing the leaders, the staff of the church at large, aren’t seeing volunteerism as discipleship. Back to that topic. Um Jesus brought them into a group and then sent them out and they still were figuring out who he was, you know, sent them out to serve. I am on this podcast with you right now because in fifth grade somebody invited me to play piano for children’s church.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it.

Greg Curtis — I am also, once I came to Eastside when I was 14, I got invited to be in the high school band and to co-teach fifth grade boys with the pastor’s son. The only reason I am a pastor today or talking to you now is because somebody invited me into the game. Because volunteerism isn’t an elite add-on to your discipleship with the idea that discipleship is just about Bible knowledge. Volunteerism is one of the steps in becoming a disciple.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Greg Curtis — And so we have to see that and cast that vision so that people don’t feel like they’re experiencing following Jesus, just sitting in a pew or staying at home and watching it on TV, per se. So once you’ve kind of outlined those, some of those reasons and you get that paradigm in your head, there are some solutions that we have tried that we’re seeing some results from, and I’m coaching other churches to to participate with me and they’re seeing results from.

Greg Curtis — So here’s here’s just four off the top of my head. Some are simple, some are more, more, more elegant. But the first is you can look at your volunteer positions and change some commitment levels. Not you know, it used to be that a lot of volunteer commitments was an every week deal and you just let them know when you’re on vacation. Is it possible that certain ones would do a lot better and you’d get more people signing up if there was a wider rotation? And so we’ve done some of that.

Greg Curtis — Another thing is, and I love this one, combining and cross training. Is that, for instance, in my world guest services, but this could apply to anybody in any department, volunteers. We have a team called first time guest hosts who meet people ahead of the services, give them a tour, do all that kind of stuff. We have Guest Central, which after the service they get their welcome gift and share their contact info. We have a parking lot team. We have greeters, we have info counter, all this kind of stuff, ushers, all that kind of stuff. We we realized, and I’ll give Amy Dickinson, she’s my Anaheim campus Guest Service Director, she came up with this and we all took note and when it went across campus on it. She said, you know, the greeters, the first time guest host, and the guest central people all have the same shape for ministry. You know, their [inaudible] whatever. Let’s cross train them so they know how to do each other’s job.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Greg Curtis — And instead of booking 18 people for service, I can book eight.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — And they’ll do it before and after the service.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — That changed the game. That that took a lot of steam and hardship and burnout out of the equation by just combining the team. She combined those three, for instance, into one new team called the Welcome Team.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Greg Curtis — And even though they still have their individual functions, when she schedules them on Planning Center, she can schedule who’s available for which job she needs because they all know each other’s job and they can serve before and after the service instead of just one time because they were just on that one unique team before. I think that that’s a great tactic.

Greg Curtis — Another thing we just did, the third of four, is an all church recruitment, because if you’re suffering like we we have been and like most churches, I talked to post-COVID in the volunteer realm, this is a church wide issue, so it deserves a church-wide response.

Rich Birch — Right. Ok, good.

Greg Curtis — In other words, it’s more than just one department or leave it to the departments. Go recruit more people. You’re on your own. This is a church-wide thing. So the church staff from senior pastor, executive pastor, everybody down to everybody is going to be involved. So every staff identifies which positions they need the most help in and sets goals for the all church recruitment. And you set it up so that everybody that you can publicly say from the stage that you will get a response in 24 hours.

Rich Birch — Wow. Great.

Greg Curtis — When you make sure that we’re all set up to do that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — Jake Barker, our Anaheim campus…

Rich Birch — Even the youth pastor guys, even the youth team, they got to respond within 24 hours?

Greg Curtis — Yes, sir.

Rich Birch — That’s impossible, Greg.

Greg Curtis — But if you have the right database…

Rich Birch — Sure.

Greg Curtis — …you can automate some of the follow up. But it’s got to all be, you know, everybody’s got to be engaged and ready. And so Jake Barker, our Anaheim campus pastor, did a sermon series for 2 or 3 weeks called The Goat, which is The Greatest Of All Time…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Greg Curtis — …tying it to when Jesus said, the greatest among you will be your servant. And calling people post-Covid that listen, you were created for this and life is better when you take off the bib and put on the apron. And he did that for two weeks.

Rich Birch — That’s so good.

Greg Curtis — And when it was done, you could take a card and drop it in a box about what area you want to get, you know, trying to to get plugged in. And we had stations for personal conversations where people on iPads could talk with you about where to get started. Now, we got we added under a little under 300 in like two weekends. And 24% of them were placed in two weeks in their role, fully.

Rich Birch — Wow. Wow.

Greg Curtis — The goal is to get at least 50%. It was less than a month ago and our goal is to get 50% by that month. And you might say, Greg, why only 50%? When you do an all church recruitment, you get people motivated in the moment…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Greg Curtis — …but may not be following. So if you get half of them plugged in, that’s awesome.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s huge.

Greg Curtis — But the last thing has to do with volunteers recruiting volunteers and volunteers being retained as well. And that is developing a volunteer engagement cycle. I do a lot of coaching on this now, but in short, the idea of it is, and it’s really a flywheel, to use your word, Rich. And that’s one word I borrow from you a lot that you planted in my head. So back, back to…

Rich Birch — I’ll let you take it. It’s fine.

Greg Curtis — …I’m big on automating things…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Greg Curtis — …so that I don’t have to think about it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis — And so we created a volunteer engagement cycle that starts off with a huddle surrounding a meal where you envision, communicate changes, do some training. You can even have breakouts. And then at the end of it we always ask the same question: Who wants to grow in leadership? And then whatever your church’s leadership development program is… if you go to my church—eastside.com/peopledevelopment—you’ll see a four minute video that explains it and see all of our prep mods for for every level of leadership, every department.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Greg Curtis — So you can take a look at those. But we just invite people to those prep months and then it’s a five week thing for whatever level of leadership that they signed up for. And then at the end of the cycle, we have leaders take their teams on a potluck or do something fun to build community. Or we pass out a gift every year for appreciation. And so what we do is we go through that cycle every six months. So the one that ends in summer is the one where you have like a social gathering with your team. And the one that ends around Christmas, that’s when we, through our leaders, pass out a gift that the church bought for all the volunteers to just say, we love you.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Greg Curtis — But by doing that cycle of a huddle, leadership prep mods, and then a a hangout or an appreciation gift, go through that in two six-month cycles, we never have to ask the question, how do we envision our volunteers?

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Greg Curtis — How do we get our volunteers to recruit their friends? How do we get them to know about this change? How do we we show appreciation to them? How do we, how do we, how do we, how do we. And I’m telling you, it’s all built in because those dates we always do the same dates, the same month, same week of the same month every year. And it’s just a powerful, powerful way of creating not just a place to serve, but a community to belong in that people will invite other people into because they love it so much.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Greg Curtis — And they take they take care of each other.

Rich Birch — Love it. So good. I’m glad you mentioned the prep mods and the people development site. That’s a fantastic resource and we’ll link to it in the in the show notes. Like that alone is gold. Like man, I don’t know, churches, it’s simple, it’s straightforward. It’s not not rocket science, but man, if you could pull that kind of thing together, that would be fantastic. That is, that is so good.

Rich Birch — So I want to just lean in on one thing you said, which so you’ve given some examples of this, but just pull it apart a little bit more, which is this whole idea of volunteerism being key to the discipleship process. And you know that we sometimes don’t see it that way. We see it as like it’s we it’s like we think, man, if we could just not have volunteers, the church would be so much better. Like we see it as just like it’s like a sideline thing. How are churches, how can we make the volunteer experience, the serving experience, a more enhanced discipleship experience, Not just people show up and we get something from them. We get free labor from them. How do we make it so it’s a developmental discipleship experience? How do we how can we inject that? You know, Greg, why don’t you give us just another example, maybe another peek into that thinking a little bit?

Greg Curtis — Well, one of the things I do in my video course, and we do it with our guests at church, we actually have a video that they watch. It explains um, their journey, spiritual formation in terms of these kind of milestones which they start longing for God, they start relating with someone who knows Him that God puts in their path. They start hearing their issues put in biblical spiritual terms. And by virtue that they start professing a faith even when they don’t know it’s that’s what they’re doing. They get immersed in it, many times baptized. They start connecting the dots and connecting with new community. And then they’re invited to serve. It’s like when a kid in a family says, Dad, can I help you fix the car? And he hands him a wrench. And what they feel like when they realize they can contribute and then they start before they know it becoming a leader, meaning influencer. So they’re the person now who’s relating with the person who was longing at the beginning, you know. And then they start seeing Jesus reproduced just through those relationships, through their lives, and then they become more and more like Jesus, and then they get disillusioned and broken. And then the cycle begins again with a new arena.

Greg Curtis — But but what’s awesome about that is that literally when somebody becomes like Jesus, Jesus, one of his main things he said, the greatest among you will be your servant. So how can anyone grow to be like Jesus, who said I came not, you know, not to lord over anybody, but to serve? How can we call it discipleship if service—if we know service is part of your journey when any of us talk about it as far as our own spiritual formation—but if if Jesus said the greatest among you will be your servant and I came to serve, how can we even call ourselves a follower of Jesus, much less any disciple at all, if serving (which is is a the church was a volunteer enterprise in the first century)…

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis —…you know, if we’re not doing that, it’s we’re not being a disciple. We’re not being disciple, period.

Rich Birch — Right, Right. Okay. This has been fantastic. Listen, I we like to try to keep these episodes somewhere around half an hour. We’re going long because it’s super important. But I want to push even further. And there’s so much we could talk about. There’s so many different ways that there’s so much we could do on this front. I’m shooting from the hip here, Greg. What percentage of churches do you think in America should improve their engagement pathway? Like is it is this a problem that’s like, you know, maybe 10% of churches? Or do you think it’s like the vast majority of churches? What, just just round numbers – what what do you think? How many out there, you know, that if you were to walk in and say, hey, we could offer you some help, what percentage of those do you think you could offer help to?

Greg Curtis — At least 99%.

Rich Birch — Oh, wow. That’s a that’s amazing. Which would agree. This is one of those areas. Unpack that a little bit more. What do you think about that?

Greg Curtis — The average church prior to Covid—I don’t have a current stat, but I bet it’s much worse—was connecting only one out of 19 people who showed up at their church.

Rich Birch — Right. Wow.

Greg Curtis — You know, we’re it’s always goes in and out of being a challenge for us, and we really put a lot of prayer and intentionality into our…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Greg Curtis — …you know, system and our pathway. So the gold standard to me comes from the parable of the soils. Not everybody is going to be equally receptive, but we should at the end of the day, it should average out to connecting one out of four.

Rich Birch — Right. Okay. Wow. Which is amazing.

Greg Curtis — I don’t know a church, including my own, that regularly or in many cases even comes close to that that vision.

Tommy Carreras — That’s how, you know, it’s a real gold standard when the one touting the gold standard is actively saying, and we don’t have that right now.

Rich Birch — And we’re not there yet. Yeah, yeah.

Tommy Carreras — And we’ve got to keep the pressure on. I think the reality is that it’s really that 100%, because if we’re not pushing it a little bit further than we’re actually drifting away from it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Tommy Carreras — And if it really is a discipleship goal and what we’re doing is creating capacity for discipleship, because engagement really is creating space for discipleship to happen. If we’re not doing that, then we’re just either saying no to people or we’re saying no to the people that we have. Like nah, you just can’t have more of this. We’re not going to help you get any further. And that doesn’t seem like what we’re trying to do. And it’s not a set it and forget it kind of thing.

Rich Birch — Right.

Tommy Carreras — I think volunteering, especially the idea of volunteer recruitment, is as such a crucial piece of this. Often it feels like, okay, we dialed in the roles… until like, you know, two weeks from now when maybe you should change something. Probably not that often, but it just always deserves changes.

Greg Curtis — Including the standards by which somebody can serve, because you need to have a minimum of 20% of your volunteer positions that somebody who doesn’t even believe in Jesus can do.

Tommy Carreras — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Right.

Greg Curtis —And would be invited to do.

Rich Birch — Right.

Tommy Carreras — Because well, even…Yeah. And values are more caught than taught. We all know that because we all tell our kids to do what we say and not what we do. But realistically, if we want to teach people about Jesus, we should get them serving like Jesus before we try and tell them how to believe about Jesus.

Rich Birch — Right. Belong before…

Tommy Carreras — Because yeah, you’ll actually you’ll actually start understanding him better and putting words to the character of Jesus. If you’re already acting like him and being taught to act like. And that’s how we teach kids too. We tell them to do certain things and then we actually fill in the details later. And flipping that, getting people serving before they’re ready, before they’re equipped, it actually puts the pressure on us to make sure they’re ready and equip them, but it also lets us teach them about Jesus in an active way, not just an informational way.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Because they’re never going to get the picture if it’s all informational.

Rich Birch — Right. Okay, I’d love to pivot in this direction. So there are 4- or 5000 people listening in. If 90% of them need to improve, which is or 99% of them need to improve, man, that’s a huge number. And and they all need to jump on it. And there’s only 52 weekends in the year. There’s only two of you. So you could maybe talk to 100 churches a year. But you guys have gone to the effort of putting together a great video course that I really do hope that, you know, all those 4000 leaders, or at least the churches they’re a part of, buy and engage with. I can’t believe how inexpensive this thing is for the amount of effort that you’ve put in on it. I can’t believe how much value you’ve packed into this thing. I have…and I’ve, you know, they know this. This is one of those things I’ve recommended to other people when they’re not on the podcast. I just I really do think it makes a huge difference. Tommy, unpack, you guys have recently made some changes to the the online course. You’ve kind of improved it, made some differences to it. Kind of walk that through, talk us through what have you changed about the the course?

Greg Curtis — And real quick before Tommy shares the changes because he was really instrumental in that. Just what it is…

Tommy Carreras — Yes.

Greg Curtis — …it’s a six session, 30 to 40 minute session, but with discussion questions to bring with your staff or your volunteer team.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Greg Curtis — You know, in six sessions, almost like a small group, you can do that or you can make it a retreat for your staff, whatever. But it covers it’s in six sessions session. One is the role of spiritual formation and assimilation, and the four P’s. Session two is metrics and and processes and how to do that. Then each one is one of the four P’s. One on on your one place, your one program, your your volunteer placement process, and the last one on your small group placement process.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Greg Curtis — And it ties in with our free giveaway that anybody to to our website Assimilayas.com will get a checklist for each of those four P’s and that’s free and it coincides with that. So literally you can hand pages of that out to different people who are doing the course with you. What we’ve been doing it that way for a few years, but then Tommy came and added value like incredibly so. Tommy, tell them, tell them what’s attached to it.

Tommy Carreras — Yeah, well, you know, one of the first things that Greg told me was happening was that everybody that was doing the video course was moving so fast toward implementation, because that’s what it’s all about. What I’ve loved about it is that it’s not like, here’s all the theories and here’s all the hypotheticals and here’s all the concepts. It is if you want to implement this thing, here’s the game plan. And that’s what I love about it. And so it’s it’s so strategic and down to earth and all that and it’s easily, easily implementable that he was having all these conversations with people, not to clarify things, not to, you know, fill out information that wasn’t there. But people would say, hey, okay, so I’m doing this thing. We’re launching it in two weeks, but I got to get some eyes on it. Or what did you do for this? Because I’m all the way into the weeds now because we’re doing this thing. So like, can you check this for me? Or can you send me that document? Or can I just need an example…

Rich Birch — Right.

Tommy Carreras — …I got to convince somebody, but show me the example. And it was all this in the weeds talk. And so what we kind of wanted to do was create some more opportunity for in the weeds talk. But also the people doing these things are amazing. And they’re teaching me stuff that I didn’t know, they’re teaching Greg stuff that he didn’t know about his own system, because they’re just putting it into action in totally new context and just…

RIch Birch — Right, different context for sharing it.

Tommy Carreras — …rocking it, and it’s amazing. So we wanted to create a space for people to share that kind of stuff and learn from each other, and where we could so easily engage not just with a person at a time, but therefore with anybody at a time. So we created a community space alongside the course that you get access to. And then that is where people can chime in, ask questions, we’re on there, and they’re swapping ideas back and forth. And it’s a really fun and and more and more active place now that we started it. And then we also just changed out the course so that it was full of all those things that Greg kept sharing on Google Drive with anybody that asked. I was like, Hey, let’s just let’s skip that step and just put it all there.

Rich Birch — Right.

Tommy Carreras — And so like there’s 20-something downloadable resources and we just wanted to flesh it out with all the in the weeds stuff because everybody was getting to the weeds pretty quickly…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Tommy Carreras — …because it’s all built for implementing as soon as possible.

Greg Curtis — Yeah. And to bullet point that, I mean he added 20 plus documents, templates, resources like job description, you know, all of this stuff that people ask us for when they’re done with the course. Well, now it’s just there for, for you to use.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Greg Curtis — Three months free access to that Sherpa coaching community and people are taking advantage of that and that’s awesome. We also throw in a free one-on-one coaching session for their team.

Rich Birch — Wow. Wow.

Greg Curtis — And yeah, so we added a lot of value to it. So I’m pretty excited about all the new people this year since we’ve rereleased it that are just jumping on it, using it, and just sharing the… I just get emails that I cannot believe if my heart wants to burst at what what people are saying it’s doing for their church

Rich Birch — It’s so great. Again, I think this is a great tool. I love everything that you’ve added to it. I think, you know, I have friends, churches that I’ve worked with that are engaging with you guys and they’ve said the same thing, Man, this is so helpful. And it’s not fluff. It’s not just like big ideas. It’s like super practical , put into place. You know, the people who are quick to apply who say, Hey, I want to just like take this stuff and make a difference in my church, you’ve given them what they need, which is is fantastic, on an area that we all need to improve upon. So I just think this is fantastic. We’d love people to go and pick to purchase it, to join, get their teams plugged in. Where do we want to send them online to actually purchase the course? It’s just at your website? Where is that?

Tommy Carreras — Yeah. Well, I mean. Well, let’s let’s make a we’ll make a page on the website just for unSeminary listeners. And I’m pretty sure Greg’s okay with this, but we’ll do 20% coupon just to…

Greg Curtis — 20%.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Tommy Carreras — He’s usually okay with generosity.

Rich Birch — Come on.

Tommy Carreras — Just because we want to make it want to make it really simple. Now I now have to pay him the 20%.

Rich Birch — Yeah, exactly.

Tommy Carreras — No, but we’ll make a page. I’m sure you can link it, but it’ll be assimilayas.com/unseminary. We’ll put the coupon code there, and your face and a really nice quote, Rich. And you know…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. We’ll definitely do that for sure. That’s great. We’ll link to that. So if you just look down, you know, in this show notes, you’ll see the link there. Just click on that and, you know, take action, friends. Like it’s, you know, it’s a great course. You know, you’ve you’ve lasted this long in the conversation. You’re definitely interested in it. We would love for you to to pick this up and what a generous offer. Thank you so much for that – 20% just for listening in. And friends, you’re making money on the podcast today. You know, that definitely costs you more than what it what it cost you to get on that to listen to it today. So what a great a great thing for that. And all those extra resources. I know for me when I purchase online courses, that’s the stuff I love is the like let’s jump in on the templates, give me the stuff that I can apply right away. You know, just put it right. It just, you know, find and replace, put my name on it, put my, you know, my church’s name right in there. Super helpful. That’s fantastic.

Rich Birch — Well, this has been a great conversation. Again, Greg, this is I think you’re definitely you’re right up there with Warren Bird, with the repeat guest. You’ve come on many times and every time you come, you just always have so many good things to say. So let’s have you have the last word. Any last word is we kind of wrap up today’s episode? What would you say to folks that are listening and that are thinking about these issues?

Greg Curtis — Just to remember that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. And uh you won’t grow your church—and I say this from detailed data and experience in traveling the world of every size church—that you’re not going to grow your church through your next outreach event or whatever. You’ll have those, and a lot of people may come, but your church isn’t going to grow necessarily from that. A very, like one out of 17 churches actually see growth from their outreach strategies if they’re doing four outreach strategies or events per year. Okay? It’s amazing what those are the birds out in the bush that we always try to get.

Greg Curtis — But the one that’s that’s worth more is the one in your hand. That’s the guest that God has led to your church this Sunday, last Sunday, and is going to again this Sunday. That’s the one to connect. And when you connect all of those, your church will grow in number. And and if you see this as part of the disciple-making process, it will grow in depth as well.

Rich Birch — So good. Well, I appreciate you guys being here today. Tommy, give us that website again where we want to send people and we’ll we’ll wrap up today’s call.

Tommy Carreras — Yeah, we’ll make it assimilayas.com/unseminary.

Rich Birch — Thanks, guys. I really appreciate you being here today. Thanks for taking time to to help our listeners.

Greg Curtis — You’re welcome.

Tommy Carreras — Thanks, Rich.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.