From Vision to Reality: Crafting a Future Where More People Meet Jesus with Paul Alexander

Thanks for tuning in to the unSeminary podcast. Today I’m joined by Paul Alexander, the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church in Arizona.

As church leaders, sometimes we can have a natural aversion to strategic planning. Yet we see in the scriptures, from beginning to end, that God has a plan. And He wants to pass it on to His people as they wait on Him. Listen as Paul communicates how the church can use strategic planning to prioritize life change and help more people meet Jesus.

  • God has a plan. // Strategic decision-making and evaluation in the church isn’t about business tactics. It’s about partnering with God to fulfill His desire for community impact. Rather than stifling the Holy Spirit, strategic planning is an act of obedience and wisdom, aligning our actions with God’s will for His Church.
  • Data informing decisions. // At Sun Valley Community Church, they measure life change through tangible metrics like new commitments to Jesus and baptisms. Tools, like Microsoft BI, connect to their database to track these vital signs weekly. To help them determine where they are going, they use an attender to guest ratio as their primary lead measure with a goal of two guests visiting per every attendee. This data-driven approach ensures they’re making informed decisions that lead to more people meeting Jesus.
  • Confront reality. // The process of evaluation and decision-making needs to begin with confronting reality about what’s actually happening, or not happening at our churches. Scripture is meant to be a mirror and when we hold it up to ourselves, it requires a great deal of sober-mindedness, humility and trust on a team. Church leaders are responsible for defining reality at our churches. Then we can begin to dream a preferred future and design a pathway to get there.
  • Annual strategic refresh. // Sun Valley uses annual strategic refreshes to keep the church’s momentum going. During this time, each team meets with leadership during the first quarter to review how things went over the last year and discuss where things are. Paul and the other leaders help to steer that conversation, though over time the teams learn to elevate what needs to be confronted. When the leadership recognizes that momentum’s lagging, they aren’t afraid to create a new problem to solve in order to stimulate growth and get the church moving in the same direction. The key is to be proactive, yet not addicted to a plan, so you can flex and make mid-course corrections as needed.
  • Wait on the Holy Spirit. // Setting aside time for strategic planning and waiting on God is critical if the Church is going to stand firm and move forward against spiritual opposition. Remember Acts 1:8 and then execute the plan as an act of obedience to Jesus. Planning is not contrary to faith; it’s an essential part of fulfilling the Great Commission.

To follow along with Sun Valley Community Church, you can visit their website at www.sunvalleycc.com and connect with Paul here.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Risepointe

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well, hey, everybody welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. You know every week we try to bring you a leader who will both inspire and equip you and today I’m excited to bring you a leader who we’ve kind of been on the outside of each other’s orbits for quite a while online. And it’s so good to get a chance to talk face-to-face and to record that conversation. This is a church that I point people to all the time, and say you want to see people who are doing a good job? You should look at Sun Valley. I have, you know ripped, off stuff from them, pointed people toward them, do you do such a great job. So Sun Valley Community Church is a multi-site church in Arizona. If I can count correctly, 6 locations, an online campus, plus a prison campus. It’s repeatedly been one of the church churches in the fastest growing church category on Outreach 100, which friends if I follow that list really closely, and I can tell you that that’s a rare feat. Lots of times what happens is churches jump on that list and then there there may be a year or two. But the fact that Sun Valley consistently is there is is rare. So we’re going to learn a lot from Paul today. Ah, he’s been an executive pastor at Sun Valley for 13 years. He’s been in ministry for over twenty-five years. He also serves with a with as a consultant with Unstuck Group—we love them—for over a decade. And they work with all kinds of churches on church on health assessments and strategic planning and all kinds of stuff. Paul, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Paul Alexander — Rich, thanks for having me, man. Glad to be on here and hanging out with your listeners.

Rich Birch — Come on, honored that you’re here. Ah you just love love what you do, love love what Sun Valley does. Kind of fill out the picture there. I did the boilerplate bio stuff, but kind of tell us a little bit more. Give us a flavor of Sun Valley, kind of tell us a bit of that story.

Paul Alexander — Yeah, man. Ah yeah, everybody wants to look at the numbers, and all that stuff and that’s fun and exciting and everything. But I mean, honestly, what keeps me in the game for now almost thirty years of full time ministry and at Sun Valley is a couple of things. One is the life change. It’s consistent stories every single week of people meeting Jesus and their lives and marriages and um families just being legitimately radically changed by the gospel, and by Jesus.

Rich Birch — So good.

Paul Alexander — And then, you know, here there’s always something new to figure out. And if you’re wired up like me, having a little bit of fresh meat from time to time is really important for you. And just new problems to solve and, you know, as ah as a church grows and goes from one side to two to three to four to five to six and on and on, there’s new things to figure out. And um, you know, people who enjoy that, and can stay on the solution side of things, my goodness, it can be so much fun. So yeah, it’s been a really good fun run, man. Been here from one campus to, like you said, six, the one in the prison now. We just sold a location and we’re relocating it, ground…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s interesting. Yeah yeah, that’s cool. That’s fun.

Paul Alexander — Yeah, ground up to a new site so that’s fun. And uh…

Rich Birch — That’s fun.

Paul Alexander — Yeah, so been we’ve done some mergers. That’s the nice way to say it in church world, right? So we’ve done a couple of those and just learned a lot through that experience. We’ve gone ground up a couple of times.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Paul Alexander — But yeah, I’ve I’ve been here as executive pastor here almost fourteen years. Functionally, I’ve had the same title the same the whole time, but you know every 6 to 18 months my job actually changes…

Rich Birch — So true.

Paul Alexander — …um, based on what’s needed.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yes, yeah, that’s true.

Paul Alexander — You know, what what Sun Valley needs in any given season. So.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s true. Yeah I can I can identify that having been in that kind of, you know, executive pastor second chair seat from in a couple churches that went from a thousand to 4- or 5000 people

Paul Alexander — Yep.

Rich Birch — You know, I I joked that, you know, this was back when we used to have business cards, I’m like I just need to take the title off my business card because it’s just like it’s just not, you know, we’re constantly getting coming up with new things and you know and and you just have to adjust…

Paul Alexander — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and you know that that really is staggering growth that’s happened at Sun Valley. And you know you’ve seen a lot of change one to six, and the prison ministry. And, you know, I I had heard somewhere 1200 baptisms a year.

Paul Alexander — Yeah.

RIch Birch — That’s amazing. Like that’s, you know, by God’s grace. That’s incredible. That’s amazing.

Paul Alexander — Yeah, last year we baptized more than 1200 people.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Paul Alexander — And um, yeah, it’s it’s kind of, to be candid with you, it’s kind of pinch-yourself weird that…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Paul Alexander — …you know, okay eight hundred to a thousand people getting baptized like clockwork every single year.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Paul Alexander — And you’re like and and covid when everything was shut down and we weren’t physically meeting that was one of our biggest years of of spiritual growth where people were crossing the line of faith and getting baptized. And so, yeah, the Lord’s ah, you know, the Lord’s hand is on it, yes. But there’s also an aspect of partnering with with God and what he wants to do.

Rich Birch — I love it.

Paul Alexander — And so I think sometimes churches are really quick to say well, I don’t know, the Holy Spirit just moving. And while you can’t not give credit to the Holy Spirit because he’s the one who brings spiritual life and spiritual growth. There’s also the book of Proverbs is in the bible too, right? So there is a way to run the kingdom…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Paul Alexander — …that he’s designed life to work in a particular manner.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I would love to dive into that today. I think that’s a great kind of framework, this idea of partnering with God in what he wants to do. Listen, we know that Jesus wants to impact the communities we’re in, that you don’t have to debate that. Does Jesus want more people to come to know him? Yes. Does Jesus want more but more people to be raised up in a relationship with him? Yes. Let’s not debate that. The question is how do we partner with him? Let’s let’s kind of pull that apart a little bit. What does that look like for you and your role as an executive pastor in a growing church? How do you help the church partner, strategize, you know, planning – what does that look like for you?

Paul Alexander — Yeah, so ah, you know, both at Sun Valley and then with churches I work with around the country with Unstuck, it’s really interesting how church leaders can have a natural aversion to things like strategic planning. Just though the language itself can be something that many church leaders bristle at, right? And usually there’s two big reasons that happens. One is is they’ll use language and say, hey planning is a business practice, and the church isn’t a business. And we don’t want to be a business.

Paul Alexander — Or you hear that planning doesn’t leave room for the Holy Spirit to move kind of an idea. Um, and I’d say okay, they’re right. The church isn’t a business. The scriptures actually describe us as the bride of Christ or the body of Christ, right? It’s not a building that you come to. It’s a movement you choose to be a part of. And and unlike a business. The church doesn’t measure success in terms of your bottom line, or shareholder dividends, or financial profitability, right? We’re we’re measuring success in terms of life change, like you you mentioned earlier. You don’t have to pray about whether we want more people to meet Jesus or not.

Paul Alexander — And when it comes down to decision-making and measuring if things are working or not, I think some church leaders, again they have an aversion to that because um, you know, the whole “is it working” conversation, well what does that mean? In our in our world that means are more people meeting Jesus?

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes.

Paul Alexander — And so if if we’re gonna go left or we’re gonna go right, the bottom line is which way is gonna lead to more people meeting Jesus?

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — And so you’re they’re right? The church isn’t a business, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Paul Alexander — It’s a family of God. And then does planning leave room for the Holy Spirit? I mean if if you think through that kind of thinking actually assumes that God only works in spontaneity and in chaos, right?

Rich Birch — Right. Yes, yes.

Paul Alexander — And that would actually be counter to what the bible actually teaches us, and how we actually see God actually behaving in the scriptures, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Paul Alexander — So um, both of those big reasons I hear—you know, leaving room for the Holy Spirit to move in the moment, and then the churches isn’t a business—I think both of those things, while I understand the initial bristling at strategy and planning in a church, um, you know, if we actually use our brains…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Paul Alexander — …that God gave us…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Paul Alexander — …and we’re thoughtful about it, and intellectually honest about it, we we’d be quick to adopt these kind of practices.

Rich Birch — Right. Well, let’s let’s talk about that. So I, you know, I love that great that’s great framing. Life change is the bottom line. So that assumes if it’s a bottom line that we’re measuring that. That we’re, you know, at some level we’re trying to say, hey, are we more effective, or less effective? Is this ministry more effective, is less effective? Is this thing we used to do, is it driving us… Help us think through what are some ways that that we could, you know, I’ll give you a framework. Think you’re imagine you’re a church of a couple thousand people, say 2000 people. You know, you’re maybe an executive pastor and you’re looking at, you know, a bunch of different ministries. How would you be measuring life change?What’s that look like?

Paul Alexander — Well, I’ll tell you how we do it here. How’s that?

Rich Birch — Love it. That’s perfect.

Paul Alexander — Um I’m I’m getting a dashboard every single week. It’s um, for your listeners, it’s all connected to our database. It’s it’s expressed through Microsoft BI, so it’s easy to and dig into as much or as little as we want to. And um, you know we’re measuring and how many people are actually saying yes to following Jesus. And not like the old school raise your hand kind of deal, but we, you know, we have them, we do go old school. We stand up, walk out of the room, meet with someone face to face. You can measure that. Um, how many people are actually getting baptized? You can measure that. How many people are jumping in volunteer teams and being the church, not just coming to church. That’s actually measurable.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Paul Alexander — Um, how many people are jumping into leadership roles where they have spiritual authority and responsibility over a span of care of other volunteers? Again, you can measure all of that stuff. And so if you measure it, then you can A/B test it and try different things to find out what worked.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Paul Alexander — So um and candidly one of the fun things about multisite is you can run multiple experiments at the exact same time…

Rich Birch — Yes, it’s true.

Paul Alexander — …find out which one works and then just go with that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s funny, I’ve said that to churches I’ve coached over the years, around like man, we get you got to get to three or four locations, even just for that reason because man it’s like every weekend you have a month of services that, well, let’s try a couple different ways.

Rich Birch — So let’s talk about the dashboard and kind of when you’re looking at numbers and help us understand, you know, the lead measures versus the lag measures. Is there a lead measure or two that you look at that are that you think might be particularly insightful, that are kind of giving you a sense of of where we’re going. Because attendance and how much money you have, this is my framework on that. That tells you what you did a year ago.

Paul Alexander — That’s right.

Rich Birch — It tells you, you know, it’s an it’s an indication of of work you’ve already done. But what are you looking at from a lead measure point of view?

Paul Alexander — Yeah, that’s a good question. One of the ones that I look at in particular is our guest-to-attender ratio.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Paul Alexander — So how many first time guests can we can we identify? And, by the way, guests want to self-identify. And they do self-identify all the time, and probably the ease it used to be like the communication card that churches…

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Paul Alexander — …would like, hey fill out a communication card, and all that deal. Um, people are self-identifying through lots of different ways now. You know, very, like for me personally, if I came to your church where you attend, the first time you knew I was there is probably going to be the first time that I actually give to the church. And so I don’t think that people think that way. Like the first time people self identify to the database, that’s when they’re saying, hey I’m here. And so we have a responsibility to respond to them saying “I’m here”. And so it can be checking in a kid. It can be they want prayer and they identify through some mechanism to to say that. It could be giving. It could be joining a group, volunteering. Whatever way they self-identify for the very first I I time at your church then that begins a workflow of how to follow up with them and how to engage with them and build relationship and connection with them.

Paul Alexander — So yeah, that ratio between how many first time guests or that number to the database each month or each week to attenders. That’s one that we’re looking at pretty heavily.

Rich Birch — Yeah, and and how what is that number? What’s the ratio you’re going for? What’s been the healthy, you know, this is a number I talk about all the time. So and this literally comes up, you know, almost every conversation I have with church Leaders. So what are you guys looking at and, you know, talk us through that.

Paul Alexander — Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you know you’re going to hear all kinds of different things out there in church world. Whatever everybody’s favorite baseline for that…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Paul Alexander — …and you know for years and years was 1 to 1 ratio kind of deal. So if you’re a church of a thousand being able to identify a thousand first time guests over the scope of a year. Understanding that you know each church declines by at least 20% every single year. It’s just a fact. 5% of the people get mad at something the pastor says. 5% of the people move because of work. 5% of the people um, you know they die literally, they just they they are at the end of their life cycle factually.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Paul Alexander — And so, again, that’s 15%. And then so if you can get, you know, one out of 5 guests. You can actually grow at a 5% clip. Does that make sense? So 15% [inaudible]. We push our our numbers honestly that we’re looking for a little higher than that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it, love it.

Paul Alexander — So we’re actually looking at a 1 a 1 to 2 ratio is our goal.

Rich Birch — Yep. Okay.

Paul Alexander — Um, most of our campuses for context, you’re talking about how how do we grow? Um, this last year did about a 1 to 1.75 ratio of guest to attender.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great.

Paul Alexander — Um that was that was kind of our norm this last year…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah that’s great.

Paul Alexander — …at each of our locations. Um…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah that’s great. I’ve I’ve talked about that same number um in it’s just slightly different way. I’ve said, you know, I love talking about it in 2% average weekly documented first time guests. So looking—it’s the same number—it ends up being ah, you know… But that’s the bent that’s like the that’s like the table stakes.

Paul Alexander — Yep.

Rich Birch — That’s like the starting point should be there, but then similarly churches we work with we end up seeing 3, 4%. Um and I like talking about it weekly because I think it pushes pressure put puts pressure on churches. So again that same church of a thousand that would mean, you know, every week they should be seeing 20 people a week. Which when I say a thousand guests, people freak out about following up, and what am I going to do. But when you say 20 a week, between 20 and 40 a week, what can we do to actually follow up and build a system to ultimately see those people get connected?

Paul Alexander — It’s super reasonable.

Rich Birch — That’s a great. I love…

Paul Alexander — Right. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s for total totally reasonable. That’s great so guest to attend to ratio ratio. Is there any other kind of lead to maybe one more lead indicator that you look at, or is that the primary one? That’s the big one.

Paul Alexander — Oh goodness, gracious. Um, that’s probably the most important…

Rich Birch — The biggest one.

Paul Alexander — …lead generated for me because, you know, whether they know Jesus or not don’t know Jesus, um…

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — …that, yeah…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Paul Alexander — …it it’s new people we’re engaging with.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s perfect. And that, you know, friends, that you’re listening in, you know, I want to take that, you know, listen to what Paul’s saying here. You know, here’s an executive pastor at a, you know, a large church by every number, you’d say this is a big church. And this number is a number that you can get. This is not like a, you know, this is he’s not doing some magic mumbo jumbo to find like what is the the crazy thing. It’s literally who’s new? And how do we compare who’s new, and sure we can debate all the places we get that from. But who’s new versus your attendee. Man, like that is, you know, it’s not, in some ways it’s not rocket science. It’s not, you know, it’s like we can we can get that together.

Rich Birch — Um, so when you think about, okay, so we’ve got this lead measure. Let’s say you end up pushing into, okay, we want to institute some sort of change management kind of thing in our church. I don’t know what that could be. Maybe it’s an example of something that maybe you’ve got a campus that you want to readjust, or there’s an overall kind of, you know, total, you know, churchwide change you’re trying to make. What does that look like for you? How do you lead that process? How does how do you, you know, begin the kind of planning process to evaluate what we need to, you know, evaluate what we need to do, come up with a plan, ultimately measure it. What’s that look like for you?

Paul Alexander — Yeah, so you know, most people get stuck in confronting reality. You know, and scriptures are given to us not to be used as a, you know, a microphone or a microscope to look in other people but a mirror to look at ourselves.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Paul Alexander — And most people have the most difficult time in this whole thing getting started being honest about where they are holding a mirror up to to define reality.

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s so good.

Paul Alexander — And so I think it takes a lot of sober mindedness. It takes humility. It takes trust on a team. Um, which there’s some big cultural underpinnings that need to happen on a team to be able to actually engage in a conversation like this in a helpful manner. But um, all that being said, essentially it’s the same whether this is your marriage, or whether this is your personal life, or whether you’re leading a church or business, your job as the leaders to define reality, dream a preferred future, and design a pathway to get there.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Paul Alexander — And so all you’re you’re just defining reality. And if if you can’t define reality and confront reality, and be just candid and honest about, hey, there’s some things we’re doing really well and some islands of strength we need to lean into, but there’s also some areas of opportunity of deficiency that we just we haven’t baptized enough people.

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — Why?

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — Just be honest about that, man.

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — Um, and just let’s change it. If it’s not acceptable, then call it out as being not acceptable, man. There’s there’s got to be a different future for us. And then how are we going to actually change it. You know, and then you start getting into change management – who needs to be in the room, who needs to make the decision, who’s the biggest voice that needs to lead the way. Is there a cultural shift that needs to happen, even from leading the stage and from the church from the stage. Um, so I mean the answer is, it depends.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Paul Alexander — But foundationally you, you know, you’re defining reality, you’re dreaming a preferred future, and you’re designing a pathway to get there.

Rich Birch — Let’s let’s talk about that first step. First of all, I think that’s a huge insight most leaders or people get stuck at confronting reality. Can you talk us through a time where, you know, your role was to help a department, an individual, a campus, maybe the entire church, really confront a reality. That like oh here, you know, leaders by definition take people from where they are to a more to a more preferable future. And so we’ve got to define exactly where we are. Can you talk me through a time where you felt like, hey, part of my job now is just to get everybody on the same page. Let’s all agree that this is not good. Um, which is a there’s a function of leadership, right? We don’t, you know, we lots of people don’t see stuff that needs to change. They just think it’ll always be good. It’ll be we’ll just keep going. Can you talk us to a time where you had to do that, where you had to help define reality?

Paul Alexander — Yeah, oh let me start here. I I would say, Rich, the the best leaders I’ve been around when things are just kind of status quo and going okay, they’ll actually create a problem. They’ll actually…

Rich Birch — Right. It’s true.

Paul Alexander — …they will and they’ll do it on purpose. They’ll create chaos a little bit.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yep, yep.

Paul Alexander — They’ll manufacture an issue. They’ll intuitively know things are slowing down, momentum’s lagging, I need to create chaos—a new problem to solve—to get us all moving in the same direction.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Paul Alexander — Back to that old adage: it is a lot easier to to steer a moving ship than to get it going. And so um, yeah, how would I say this? You’re almost asking the fish to describe the water in some respects here because this is a normal conversation for us at Sun Valley. Every single year I’m doing annual one day strategic refreshes with all of our campus teams and all of our ministry teams.

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Paul Alexander — And so it’s just normal for us to have an annual strategic rhythm to come back and be honest about where we are. They’re getting they’re getting ah vital signs. Ah, you know dashboard for the year of how things went. And they’re just there’s just I give it to them and they come to the table prepared of here’s here’s where we killed it, here’s where Jesus is moving and we’re seeing life change. And here’s some things that aren’t as good as they were, or what we feel they should be. And so um, so a lot of it I’m, over time, they’re elevating what needs to change. And they’re elevating what needs to be confronted. And so then I’m just steering that conversation.

Paul Alexander — So, but no, it starts with simple things like you know, hey what’s going right? If you’re a leader you get this. If you’re a leader your natural bent is to dig into all the problems. And you’re talking about leaders essentially moving people to a preferred future. People don’t follow people who are negative.

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s good.

Paul Alexander — And so I think by nature and I think executive pastors, that word means a lot of things in a lot of different churches…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Paul Alexander — …executive pastors oftentimes can get pinned down with a general sentiment that these guys just pop people’s balloons. And these staff members are slowing everything down. And they always want to like…

Rich Birch — They’re the no.

Paul Alexander — …yeah they’re the no person on the team. You never want to be known as the “no” person on the team.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, that’s good.

Paul Alexander — Because people don’t follow people they don’t like. And they don’t follow people that aren’t positive. So it’s okay to point out a problem. It’s not okay to not bring a solution. And it’s not okay to not be optimistic about the problem.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Paul Alexander — And so I would encourage your listeners, because the audience is predominantly, you know, um XPs, church administrators, people who are a little more operationally lent, you know, bent um, movement doesn’t get built by policy. And it doesn’t get ah built by administration. So…

Rich Birch — Oh! Oh that’s good.

Paul Alexander — Yeah, so policy slows things down actually. So um yeah.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah, yeah. Totally. That’s good. Can you talk to us I was intrigued by your annual kind of review process there. Can you, again, this is one of those things I would say there’s lots of leaders who would say, I do not have time to set aside, what however many days that is—fifteen days, ten days, four days…

Paul Alexander — Oh brother.

Rich Birch — …to do that. Um, you know, and so talk to me through talk me through. What’s that look like? How, you know, ah, you know, so I get a sense of it. You’re giving them kind of that’s what happened in the last year, let’s come and talk about it. Let’s frame up some stuff from the future. Talk us through that rhythm – that intrigued me.

Paul Alexander — Yeah, yeah, so we have a tendency to do that every January and ah February, March timeframe because we’ve just landed a previous year. Our data team will elevate and produce the reports, we’ll distribute those to the different team. So each campus leadership team, management team, whatever language that church puts on that, um, they’ll get that team. You know, our student ministry staff, centrally kid staff, next step staff, creative arts, comp I mean I I don’t know, man, I’m probably doing twelve full days…

Rich Birch — Right. Wow.

Paul Alexander — …of just with our staff doing those different meetings. And then we have a senior staff team that goes through the church as a whole. And so…

Rich Birch — On the front end or on the back end? Is it like are you doing it like cascading down, you start with those people, or you go up, you know bottom up kind of thing, or or just kind of when they can fit the days in, or what’s that look like?

Paul Alexander — We do when they can fit the days in. It’s always kind of in the first quarter of the year.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Paul Alexander — One doesn’t, I mean a lot of times, again leaders are like well we got to do the senior staff one first because then that’s going to impact everything else. Well maybe. Um, but…

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — But because of the nature of it, if the senior staff finds something that does impact everything else, well fine. Just interrupt everybody do that. Because that’s what’s most important right now, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Paul Alexander — So the flexibility um to be masters of midcourse correction is really important. So um…

Rich Birch — Okay, yeah, interesting.

Paul Alexander — …like if you know you’re heading for a wall like, hit the brakes, brother. It’s okay…

Rich Birch — Please turn. Yeah yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Alexander — …to turn the wheel, you totally can turn the wheel. Um.

Rich Birch — Yeah, like yeah, that’s good. I like that. That’s good. Let’s explore that a little bit more. The the balance between, at Sun Valley, between having a plan that we’re executing against versus responding, you know, proactive versus opportunistic…

Paul Alexander — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …you know, we see something let’s jump on it. What’s that look like? How do you how does that workout for you guys?

Paul Alexander — Yeah, well I would I would say a couple things. Number one, we’re not addicted to growth. Number two, we’re also not addicted to strategy. We’re addicted to be seeing people meet Jesus and grow in their friendship with Jesus. And um we do have a strategic culture. We do consistently work this plan over time and I think that discipline to work a strategy consistently in a particular direction over a long period of time yields an incredible amount of fruit. At the same time you do have to have the courage and intuition of a leader to not be addicted to that plan, and not be confined by that plan, but to be consistently getting your head above things and seeing what’s happening and how things are…

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — …and people are responding and be willing to make some mid-course corrections. Um. Does that make sense?

Rich Birch — Yeah, it does. Can you give me an example of that, like that’s not covid, where you had to you know that you had to pivot. We all did that, right? But it’s like, you know, and and it was great to see amazing to see, but like give us an example of like maybe a department or a campus again or maybe the whole church where you were like hey we, this is just isn’t working. We got to change. Let’s but it’s go in a different direction.

Paul Alexander — So I alluded to this earlier in the conversation.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Paul Alexander — We just sold a campus. Okay. So…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, right, Let’s talk about that.

Paul Alexander — …big decision most, you know. I don’t know a lot of churches that are selling locations or relocating them.

Rich Birch — Right, yep, yep.

Paul Alexander — So it’s not like we had anybody else to go to look at. And so we acquired this particular location. It’s one of our first mergers that we did.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Paul Alexander — And when that happened, about half the people that were there ended up over about two to three year periods leaving, and then it backfilled and ended up um, you know, what? Tripling, Quadrupling in size in attendance.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Paul Alexander — And yet hit this hit this lid because the the real estate, which I think most churches underestimate the power of, the real estate was frankly terrible. At one point their front door was a main, you know, a main road. A Highway went in and they made it inaccessible, and it got buried in ah into a neighborhood. And um, you know, location matters.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s true.

Paul Alexander — And anybody who tells you different is lying to you, or inexperienced. And so um, yeah,

Rich Birch — It’s true. Yeah, it’s true.

Paul Alexander — And so we ended up, you know, we could keep beating our head against a wall knowing that we can get it to a certain size and this is the amount of people that is going to meet Jesus and it’s gonna um, be faithful over time…

Rich Birch — Right. Yep.

Paul Alexander — …and it’s gonna experience incremental growth. Or we could disrupt things and do something incredibly different. And we chose option B. And so um, which meant selling it and now that campus is set up and tear down for a season while we’re going ground up in an an incredibly strategic location. And my hunch is, out of the gate, the a thousand people that are at that location are going to move over. It’s going to be probably 2500 people at grand opening. And it’ll settle into 2000 and then it’ll go from there.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah, yeah.

Paul Alexander — And so and we’re talking about making decisions based on how many people are going to meet Jesus.

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — Not how difficult it is or how hard it is, or emotionally we got to communicate and lead some people through this. Because that’s not an easy conversation to have with people.

Rich Birch — No, no.

Paul Alexander — There’s emotional connection to that location. People were baptized there and met Jesus there. On and on and on. It was a merger, so there’s a lot of history even there in that, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right. Yeah.

Paul Alexander — But do you have the courage to say, if we go left instead of right, more people are going to meet Jesus. Okay, we don’t need to pray about that. We just need to have courage.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. Well and yeah, that’s that’s there’s, man. There’s a ton there. I feel like that could be a whole episode in in and of itself. But when, you know, when you look at a decision like that, um, you know, how are you, you know, there’s I love that there’s a certain amount of risk ah associated with that. There’s like this might not work, right?

Paul Alexander — Sure.

Rich Birch — It’s like I agree with you on a conviction on the building stuff I do. And this is a guy who’s talked about portable for a long time. But I think, man, I think we underestimate the power of where we meet, and I think but think is to help us think through at a broad strokes, how do you think about the risk around a decision like that? How do you because there is risk, right?

Paul Alexander — Yeah, man.

Rich Birch — It’s like you could do all this, and spend a bunch if money, it doesn’t work.

Paul Alexander — Rich, I’m I’m weird. And I’ll I’ll confess I’m weird. I mean when when I was when I was called into ministry as a high school kid…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Paul Alexander — …and the Holy Spirit you know called me to ministry it was it wasn’t like you go I want you you’re gonna be an executive pastor at a mega multisite church. Man, if you asked me I like I don’t know what’s an executive pastor and what’s a multisite church? I didn’t know. I just had this calling and leading from the Holy Spirit of seeing thousands of people meet Jesus. And so um, to be honest with you, that’s that’s all I’ve really ever worried about.

Rich Birch — Right, right. Okay.

Paul Alexander — Are more people going to meet Jesus?

Rich Birch — Love it. Right, right, right.

Paul Alexander — Is it risky? I guess. But there’s there’s ah, there’s a lot of money at stake, there’s a lot of people at stake.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Paul Alexander — Um, but I don’t know, man, there is a simplicity to just obeying Jesus.

Rich Birch — Right. Sure. Absolutely.

Paul Alexander — And I think church leaders have a tendency to like overcomplicate it. And like, I mean, we either believe Acts 1:8, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and then…

Rich Birch — Right.

Paul Alexander — …you will be my witnesses and there’s a mission and a strategy and a plan that’s laid out there, or we don’t.

Rich Birch — Yeah, right. Love that.

Paul Alexander — And so. I don’t know, man. And again I’m kind of weird…

Rich Birch — No, it’s good.

Paul Alexander — …and I’m probably oversimplifying it a little bit. Um, but.

Rich Birch — No. It’s good. No, that’s good. That’s a good word for sure. And I, you know, I think sometimes we can we stand at ah at a crossroads of a decision like that and we get paralyzed by analysis, right? It’s that paralysis by analysis thing, and we’re like we think of, you know, 25 different ways where this won’t work. We come up with 32 where it will, and then we worry about the 7 in between. And we’re like okay is this going to I don’t know. And then we spent a lot of time, you know. And then but the but the reality of it is, I remember years ago I had a mentor of mine say, he said, if the only thing that’s standing between you and the mission that you believe God’s called you to is money—which a lot of times what we think about when we think about risk—he’s like, just go raise some money. And I remember thinking, oh that’s a lot simpler when you say it than what it sounds like in my head. And but it’s true, right? It’s like hey that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to keep this thing pointed towards reaching people.

Paul Alexander — Yeah.

Rich Birch — How do we do that? I love that. Great kind of overarching, our job is to simplify, keep people at first principles. Um, that’s yeah, love that. That’s so good. Well this been ah, this been a rich conversation, talked about a bunch of different things, but is there anything else you’d love the share just says we’re kind of coming to land today’s episode?

Paul Alexander — Um, yeah, I would. You know, what I think for your listeners um, as we’re thinking through planning and you know is it biblical is it not biblical. What’s our role and all of it? I mean if if they’re just thoughtful about how God has behaved at creation. I don’t think it was the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father sitting around and saying, hey, I don’t know – watch this. Let’s put stripes on this one. And you know, I mean. God actually had a plan at creation, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Paul Alexander — You know, when Jesus entered time and space, when the world was Rome, and there was a road system in place, Jesus didn’t, you know, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit weren’t sitting around saying, hey Jesus you want to go now? Okay, this looks good.

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s good.

Paul Alexander — Jesus had a plan. The father had a plan. It was strategi when Jesus was sent.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Paul Alexander — And then if you fast forward to the second coming of Jesus, ah, there’s actually Jesus actually says this. He says no man knows the hour of the time, but my Father in heaven. God has a plan. And when you and I set aside time as a senior staff of a church to plan we’re actually and we’re actually doing something that’s holy. Because holiness is about obeying the scriptures. And so churches that don’t set aside time to plan, leaders that don’t set a aside time to work on their work, they’re missing out on the full power of the church because they’re simply not obeying Jesus in the scriptures.

Rich Birch — So good.

Paul Alexander — And I’m like I’ll land it with this: How arrogant of us as church leaders to think we could out-strategize, out-plan the enemy.

Rich Birch — Oh man, that’s good.

Paul Alexander — The the most strategic being that exists outside of God isn’t us. It’s satan.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Paul Alexander — If he can get you to sin, get you to think, get your heart to be inclined towards things that are destructive for you and people around you, how much more so do you think he can destroy the church. And so for us we’ve we’ve got to set aside time as church leaders to like Acts 1:8, wait on the Holy Spirit. And then go execute the plan. So that’d be my think, if I was going to encourage the listeners on something um man don’t be planning-adverse. You, by doing it, you’re actually obeying Jesus.

Rich Birch — Love it. So good, Paul. this has been super helpful today. I really appreciate being you being on the show. Um, you know, yeah, just it’s nice that you’ve took some time to be with us today. If where where do we want to send people if they want to connect with you to kind of plug into the the Paul, you know, cinematic universe that all the various things you got yourself into?

Paul Alexander — Ah, yeah, and I don’t know honestly if if you have listeners that are interested in having a conversation, or have a few questions, the best place to send them is just my email address [email protected]

Rich Birch — Love it. Easy.

Paul Alexander — …and that’s the easiest fastest way to get me. That’ll keep my Sun Valley things kind of cleared.

Rich Birch — Yep, that’s great. Thanks so much, Paul. Really appreciate you being here today.

Paul Alexander — My pleasure, and glad to be with you.

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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.