12Stone currently has nine campuses and is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Their goal is to be engaging and relevant in a way that encourages people to apply God’s teachings to their lives outside the church. 12Stone tries to create a place where people can be part of a family and not just a worship service. Jason hopes that 12Stone will be “the largest local church on the planet,” where the pastors really know the people there and relationships are key. The associate executive pastor, Jason works with the ministries in 12Stone.
As part of its growth, 12Stone recently launched 5 new portable campuses in one day and Jason played a key role on that project. He joins us today to talk about the things he learned along the way.
- Leaders hate conformity. // Different campuses of different sizes can’t all exist using the same methods, which is something that Jason and the rest of the 12Stone team learned early on. In an effort to free up the campus pastors to do what they were gifted and called to do, 12Stone made a decision to make things more centralized. “We knew we had to bring things more centralized,” Jason says. “And probably at the beginning I would say it this way: Our highest value in the centralization unknowingly was conformity, and leaders hate conformity.” 12Stone wants leaders who are entrepreneurial and driven in their work, but they didn’t realize they were creating rules and building “fences” that wouldn’t allow these leaders to do their best work.
- Shift to unity. // As they set up what felt like fences of conformity, the team at 12Stone could begin to see the passion drained from the leaders they had hired to help bring these new campuses to life. Something needed to change, and so 12Stone switched their focus to unity. “The goal is not that we stamp out the next license plate and call it a campus, but the goal would be that we’re ONE,” Jason explains. One team, chasing one goal. Unity is less of a fence and more of a guardrail. It supplies an edge that the leaders can go to and explains why they shouldn’t fall off. Within that guardrail they can lead with passion and innovate however they want to.
- Loosen the reins gently. // Making massive changes within the church, even when the current process isn’t working, can be a big undertaking. Jason advises that it’s best to let new changes come a little at a time. Rather than releasing the hold on everything immediately, set up the guardrail in one area and let it exist there for a while to see how it’s working. If things are working out, spread the guardrail out farther or else figure out a method that would work better.
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00:38 // Rich introduces Jason Berry and welcomes him to the show.
01:17 // Jason introduces us to 12Stone Church.
03:17 // Jason talks about his job role at 12Stone.
04:29 // Jason talks about launching 5 portable campuses.
06:38 // Jason shares his learning through the launching process.
09:41 // Rich gives us an example of great leadership.
10:23 // Jason talks about their approach to changes and shifts.
13:16 // Jason talks about how the church encourages and reacts to feedback.
15:09 // Jason gives examples of how they communicate change.
16:55 // Jason talks us through their process of implementing a change.
20:26 // Jason talks about the benefits of having a centralized team.
21:38 // Jason shares how Mutual Voluntary Submission creates a healthy culture within the church.
Helpful Tech Tools // Evernote
Ministries Following // Christ’s Church of the Valley in Arizona
Influential Book // Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Inspiring Leader // Billy Graham
What does he do for fun // Golf, Movies
Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich, the host around these parts, so glad that you’ve decided to tune in today. Happy Thursday, we know you’ve got a lot going on at your church and we’re honored that you would pop us in your ear buds today, that you would take some time out to lean in and you’re going to be rewarded today, we’ve got a great conversation lined up with Jason Berry from 12Stone Church. You maybe have heard of 12Stone, it’s a fantastic church in Georgia. They currently have 9 campuses I believe, if I could keep track. It seems like there’s more happening all the time. 12Stone’s one of the fastest growing churches in the country, a lead guy by the name of Kevin Myers, a fantastic church. Jason, welcome to the show today.
Jason – Thank you so much man, I’m looking forward to hanging out for a little bit with you guys.
Rich – Oh I really appreciate that. Why don’t you tell us, two things, give us kind of a slice of 12Stone, kind of tell us a little bit of what would people expect of 12Stone and then tell us about your role there.
Jason – Oh man, 12Stone is a really interesting place. It would be like a lot of mega churches I suppose, that you’d go into. We like to think we’re friendly, hopefully if you came you would experience that. Coffee’s a big part of our culture, we love to caffeinate people, help them get the energy they need for the day.
Our worship experience, spiritual intensity is one of our strands of our DNA and so worship isn’t a throwaway or a warm up, worship in the musical sense is a huge part of our culture and so we would hope that you’d experience God in that.
Then teaching for us, relevant is a term that’s been thrown around a lot, so I don’t say that word cheaply, as a throwaway. We’re relevant, hey congratulations.
Rich – We’re hippy cool.
Jason – Correct, look at us, but we do hope it actually applies to life. We actually think theology and real life actually connects in a very real way and so the way we view God and the way we engage with God should change everything about our life.
So our teaching is pretty practical, pretty helpful and on the way out, a lot of times, we have fun in the lobbies and giveaways and fun sort of hangout sort of stuff. We want to create environments where people can be a part of not just a service and an experience but be a part of a family.
So the tagline I use a lot, and it’s my own, so don’t attribute it to Kevin, he might say no, but I use it internally, because we want to be the largest local church on the planet. We actually want to stay local and for us that means relationships really do matter. We want people, we want our campus pastors to know faces and names and we want staff to be connected to people and it’s not just a big hoorah on the weekends, it’s actually a local church, broken up into 9 places.
So that’s a slice of kind of what we do and my role in that, my title is now the Associate Executive Pastor.
Rich – Nice.
Jason – What does that mean? That’s a great question. It’s a little bit different every day.
Rich – I have a similar title, where it basically means, “Hey, we can shove anything on your role we want.”
Jason – You and I are kindred spirits man, kindred spirits.
Rich – Yes, exactly.
Jason – Yeah.
Rich – Yeah, where do you spend your days?
Jason – Oh yeah, that’s it. So I work with Dan Reiland, he’s our executive pastor, he’s been here for 13 years or so. I’m biased but he’s kind of the man in the executive pastor world, so I get to learn from the best and my world is leaning into the ministries. I lead the ministry kind of design sort of side of what we do in ministry, from next gen to spiritual formation to create arts and production and logistics. So what do we actually do and why do we do it in ministry is kind of in my side of the world.
Rich – Nice. Well for people that have been listening to the podcast for a while, we actually had Dan on the podcast, it would be just over a year ago now and it was right as 12Stone was embarking on, what I thought was crazy, which was to go, to really add 5 campuses in 1 day and from what I understand Jason, you are the master man behind that. You obviously played an incredible, critically important role in the midst of that, so I’d love to kind of pull apart some of that, some of your learnings, kind of your part of that. Obviously an incredible thing that’s happened at 12Stone is incredible growth over these last number of years. What has that looked like from the inside? What are some of the lessons you’re learning?
Jason – I’ll take the master man term and I’ll push it up to Kevin Myers, he’s the visionary and Dan is the genius.
Rich – Yes.
Jason – But yes, it’s been an awesome year and a half, lots of learning. If you remember a year ago on the podcast, we launched 5 and they’re all portable and we’d only tried 1 portable campus before and it went pretty well, so we said, “Why not do 5?” That makes sense.
Rich – That’s the next logical step.
Jason – Yeah sure, 1 to 5, that makes sense. Have 1 kid, that works great, let’s just add 5 all on the same day.
Rich – Right.
Jason – It’s been a really, really cool year. We’ve had a chance to see a lot of cool growth, numerically but also really with life change. We saw, in the first year with those 5, close to 700 first time salvations in the 5 campuses, which is just awesome.
Rich – Wow.
Jason – As an organization as you can imagine, that changed us in a big way. We had 4 campuses previous and they were all in buildings we owned and we have 24/7 access to and then we added 5 that were all portable. So we had to build a lot of new systems, a lot of new approaches to ministry. How do we approach a campus of 10 thousand, another campus of 3 thousand, and 2 campuses of a thousand and then 5 of 500 to 600 to 700? Those are all different ecosystems, so we had a lot of experimenting to see, how do we actually do that.
So that was a lot of our year, it was honestly answering questions like that.
Rich – Now, over the years, your church obviously has grown a lot, there’s an incredible amount that has happened. One of the things I think I heard you reflect on, helping a church kind of make a transition from kind of organic leadership to system or strategic leadership, without really losing the heart or the soul in the midst of that. I’d love to dive into that today.
Jason – Yeah.
Rich – I think that’s an issue, that I think a lot of church leaders are looking for, they’re like, “Gosh, we want to grow, we want to add leaders, we want to add systems and structure, because we know that gives us strength and the ability to reach more people, but I don’t want to become [Inaudible 00:06:28], I don’t want to become like this robotic, I don’t want this to lost its heart and soul.” So what are some of things you’ve learned or some of the things you’ve lived through that process?
Jason – Yeah I think probably the best lesson that I learned in this was by a mistake at the very beginning, which is #leadership I suppose. Early on, as we looked at centralizing, it was based on a need, based on something that we looked around saying, “We have to figure out how to keep some leadership autonomy, but to pull back some system autonomy.” There’s things that we have campus pastors chasing that we were wasting their, we call it the 5 hours; everyone’s got 5 hours in their week that they should be able to use to respond to a God prompt, holy spirit thing, a random person that drops by, a phone call that you know, “This could suck my week and I could completely sink into this,” but we need the 5 hours and our campus pastors and our campus leaders were spending so much time just recreating the wheel and spinning their 10% preference or their 10% leaning, that we were losing that… magic isn’t the right word in theology, but you get the thought.
Rich – Yes.
Jason – The magic 5 hours to take the next ground, the next soul, the next person. So we knew we had to bring things more centralized and probably at the beginning I would say it this way, our highest value in the centralization unknowingly was conformity and leaders hate conformity. The thought of conform, “Here’s the mold, let me squish you into the mold.”
Rich – Yes.
Jason – And we actually hire leaders, we want type A, driven, entrepreneurial guys and the thought of conformity to an entrepreneur is like death.
Rich – Right.
Jason – And unknowingly we began to build fences of conformity; “Here’s where you have to stay inside of.” And the guys, their maturity was so high, they didn’t revolt but we watched some of the life being sucked out of the organization. So we shifted the value from conformity to unity and unity is just a better, truer, higher value. The goal is not that we stamp out the next license plate and call it a campus, but the goal would be that we’re one, that we’re one team, chasing one thing and unity is less of a fence, it’s more of a guardrail, “Guys, here’s the edges we don’t want you to fall off of and here’s why, but inside of that guardrail, lead like crazy, give us new feedback and ideate new ideas and innovate and pass the innovation up so we can help everybody in the best practices and the best ways to do things.”
So that for us, it seems like a small change, and it might be a 2% shift, and it’s a 51/49 type of thing, where it’s 51% unity over conformity, and that really changed the game for our campus pastors and our guys, that they didn’t feel like we were trying to create robots, we were trying to free them to lead and do the things that only they can do locally, which will allow us to be, what we hope to be someday, the largest local church on the planet. We need that kind of thinking.
So, that’s a 30 thousand foot kind of value sort of approach to that.
Rich – That’s very good. I know in the past I’ve said another context; it doesn’t take a great leader to get 10 leaders in the room and say, “Okay everybody, think something different.” That’s what leaders do, right?
Jason – Yeah.
Rich – It does take a great leader to get 10 leaders, legitimate leaders in the world and say, “We’re going to think about these things together. Let’s focus on these things together. How do we kind of put our collective energy on these things?” That’s a totally different kind of leader.
Jason – Yeah.
Rich – That’s a higher form of leadership than just like, “Hey everybody, do your own thing.”
Now kind of as you’ve wrestled through that, as you’ve tried to say, “Hey, let’s focus on unity rather than fences or if you do this we’re going to send you electric shock therapy if you step out of line,” how do you unpack that with your people?
Jason – Yeah, honestly when we’re making a change or we’re making a shift, we tend to allow our leaders to sit in the uncomfortableness, not a great term but the thoughts there, the uncomfort of the old system for long enough for them to feel the pain of it, so that when we make a hard shift or a hard turn, they’re almost saying, “Thank you,” where 6 months ago they would have said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re killing me. You’re taking away… this is my first one, I love…” And if you let them sit in that long enough and allow them to experience… and that’s a tension obviously, because we don’t want to stall the church to allow them to feel the pain, but there’s just an edge. Leaders always feel pain a little bit earlier than the people.
Rich – Right.
Jason – So if we can let the pain or the uncomfort of the old system sit just long enough that they’re going, “Alright, we’ve got to make a change.” We’ve already been building that change underneath the surface and quietly for the last 3 months, so that when they feel that we go in and go, “Guys, we all feel this pain, here’s what we’re going to go and do. We’re going to go and throw this switch and this is going to allow us to go and do this and it’s going to free you up to do that,” and that is one of the best… I learned that from the master of Kevin and Dan, they just do that so well and that’s allowed us over the past, almost 30 years, and I’m only 34 so I’ll the collective ‘us’, to re-org and re-shift probably 15 times in the last 30 years. That’s kind of their strategy to do that.
Then when we do make that shift we invite the staff into a feedback loop of, “We’re going to bring the initial change, we want you to sit in it and lead through it for a season and we want feedback along the way, so that we can continue to innovate and make things better and the next layer and the next layer.”
We have an org chart and there’s layers and there’s stuff, because you have to to exist, but we actually invite feedback. Feedback can either be thrown at you or you can request it and we’re in a church that actually requests feedback; “Please give feedback.” We don’t want to sit in mediocre, if something can be done better or shifted, we want that feedback, so we allow that to happen.
Rich – Just on that for a second, how are you…? So let’s take a scenario like this; you’re looking to centralize a part of what you’re doing, there’s a system that at one point we were saying, let’s say, all the campuses, you just kind of figure out what you want to do on that, but now we think this is probably the moment, we felt the pain of that, let’s centralize it. We’re going to talk to our campuses about that, we’re going to gain their feedback, we want to invite them to help make the decision around that to tell you, “Hey this is what we’re thinking.” But let’s say, or help me understand, how do you take that feedback, listen to that feedback, but maybe you end up going in a slightly different direction? Maybe you end up saying, “We’re not going to necessarily go exactly the way that our campus teams want to go in this thing.” How have you led through that process? What has that looked like for you?
Jason – Yeah that’s the real world of leadership, all this stuff is great on paper until a campus or an individual person would push back.
Rich – Yeah.
Jason – The way we look at it from a measuring standpoint is, if there’s 9 campuses that are all struggling in something, it’s probably us, it’s the centralized side.
Rich – Right.
Jason – If 8 are killing it and love it and it’s great and there’s one guy that seems to be drifting or pushing against it or saying it’s not working, it’s probably a local leadership issue. Now we’re development culture so guys have very little fear that a mistake equals being fired.
Rich – Right.
Jason – Because we don’t work that way, we develop guys. So what that does, if there’s 1 or 2 campuses that are pushing back against something that the other 7 are saying, “It’s working for me, I actually kind of like this,” it gives us an opportunity to go in there and actually sit down and have a leadership conversation. “What is really going on under the surface? Is this something where you don’t know how to lay something down that you’re personally connected to? Is this an arrogance issue? Is this an ignorance issue?” If we didn’t do a good job of communicating why we’re doing this, then we can go in there and help lead that out.
So we’ve had many of those one off conversations and we’ve also seen ideas we thought were going to be great and 8 of the 9 just go, “Guys, this just ain’t going to work.” Then we have to own that and say, “Hey, that’s our bad. Let us take it back to the drawing board and come and present you guys with a new approach.”
So again that’s another theory, kind of thought, but that’s how we would approach that and every individual example is so different.
Rich – Right.
Jason: And every campus pastor’s got a different passion. We’ve got guys leaning towards the small group thing, and they love that, other guys love the creative. So every campus pastor has a different kind of vent in that way.
Rich – Now in the midst of that, in these kind of changes or this kind of centralized process you’re going through, how are you communicating this change? What is that looking like? How are you letting folks know? What does the inside of that look like?
Jason – Oh yeah, we sat down with all kinds of different groups and the concept is get the right people in the right room for the right topic and the right agenda. The campus pastor would care about a very different part of this than all of the children’s ministry leaders across the church or all of the spiritual formation small group type pastors.
So we would gather the right group in the right room and honestly we’d walk through very similar to what I explained; “Listen, we’ve all felt this. Let’s start with what we share in common, we’re all for small groups, we all want to see more people get into spiritual community and we all want to see people take steps closer to God, we all want the same thing. We’ve watched this play out for the last 2 years and it’s been great for a season, but now as we sit here I think we can all agree we’re kind of stuck, we’ve hit a ceiling and if we don’t go after what’s next, we’re all stuck,” and at this point, allowing them to sit in that pain, they’re all nodding along.
So by the time you rollout it’s, “So guys, here’s what we believe is what the next season for us is and it’s casting vision on the stuff we all already agree on; we want to see more people in groups, more people here.” Then we give people opportunity in that meeting, “Ask questions, let’s dialog. This is not presentational, it’s conversational, and it’s an open door policy, as you leave, those of you who are processors, you’re going to have questions.”
Rich – Right.
Jason – “My office is open, come and talk it through and you guys are going to have better ideas down the road than we have today, but we have to start somewhere and here’s where we have to start. Let’s lay the tracks and then you guys can help us decide which direction we start to lean as we move forward.”
Rich – Very cool. What about, sometimes they talk about the reigns, you’re holding tight to the reigns, loose to the reigns. Is there a reflection on that as, overtime, are you super loose at the beginning and kind of see how it goes? What does that look like for you?
Jason – Yeah, I think early on what we have to lean into is a little bit more of a hard line like, “Guys, here’s where we’re sticking.” If we change more than one variable, it’s hard to measure the result.
Rich – Right.
Jason – If we change 17 things and give 17 different ways for this to happen, if it doesn’t work or if it absolutely wins incredibly, what caused that to win or lose? It’s hard to measure that. So we try to keep it, for the first season, “Here’s the guardrails we’re going to live in and they’re kind of tight.”
Then as we figure out, “Yes, this is working. Yes, this is right,” we slowly begin to loosen those reigns enough to go, “Okay, now let’s bring innovation back.” When we flip a switch, we just introduced massive innovation and change to the church. What we don’t want to do is add more than we’ve already just put in the organization.
So once we live in that for a little bit of time then we open up the reigns of, “Now let’s re-innovate. We’ve all lived in it long enough and we’ve all proved we can submit to each other.” One of our terms is mutual voluntary submission; we both mutually voluntarily lay ourselves down for the other, once we’ve proven we can do that, then everything else is on the table to go and make better.
Rich – Give me an example of an area where you’ve had to kind of pull firmly and then have seen that kind of rollout.
Jason – I’ll make it really practical. Our worship pastors, we hired 5 worship pastors for the 5 new campuses.
Rich – Yeah.
Jason – The 4 guys we had before had been here for years and they’d known our culture, they get us and they had a good amount of freedom to go, we would deliver, “Here’s the worship set and the service for the weekend,” and they had a good amount of freedom to go, “This song just doesn’t land in our context. I’m going to do an acoustic set this weekend, because our people really respond more to that.” And we all had to kind of voluntarily, for the first year of the 9 campuses, all say, We’re going to all do the same worship set, almost without fail, for 12 months straight.” And that was really tough for our 4 and it was a huge gift for our 5, because they didn’t have the time to go and reinvent the wheel.
So for that first year we locked in and for the first time in our history as a church, 9 campuses all doing the same 3 to 5 songs in the same order in the same way, with similar prompts for a whole year and just 2 months ago we started the conversation of, “Guys, first of all we’re proud. Holy cow, we’re proud of you guys. You guys showed maturity to a new level. Now let’s start the conversation of, what does it look like for us to start giving the freedom back to say, if this tune if not working in your context; it’s a more rural campus or a more city type campus, we want to give the freedom to go, ‘Man that techno-ish kind of opener just never lands for us’. Okay we want to give that freedom back, now that you understand the value of why we choose songs like what we do.”
What we’re trying to create, we now can trust people to make tweaks and changes and we want that as a part of our culture, because leaders again don’t want conformity they want unity. So conformity is not God in a worship set, we want it to be effective and fruitful and we want to steward the people that God’s given us really well.
So that’s a really practical example of, kind of tight reigns and now starting to find that, the pendulum back to the middle again.
Rich – Very cool. Well how much would you say this kind of shift to a more centralized approach really is what enabled you to go from 4 to 9? If you were to think back how the first 4 were operating before you made that transition, do you think, would there still be those 5 open today or would the wheels have come flying off? What do you think about that?
Jason – Yeah, that would have been really difficult. One of the reasons we do multisite is so that we don’t have to rehire a new senior pastor and 18 new staff at a campus. The purpose of this is to be more efficient, be more effective and allow us to reach more people quicker. We could have done it, it would have just not been… it wouldn’t have felt like 12Stone with the new 5 and we would have had to hire twice to three times the amount of staff.
Rich – Right.
Jason – Because the whole purpose is the centralized team delivers that, so that they can do the things that only they can do locally. The people on the seats don’t care who came up with the worship set or who wrote the children’s curriculum, they care that they know their pastor, they care that their kids have been led well.
Rich – So true.
Jason – So we have to free them up to do that. So if we wouldn’t have centralized, it would have cost us a fortune of time, of talent, of treasure, of all of that stuff to just do the same thing we did this year with a very lean staff who are really focused locally. So I don’t see how we could have pulled it off without bedlam and mayhem happening over the past 12 months, so we really had to make that shift and are continuing to innovate what does that next layer of that shift look like?
Rich – Very cool. Anything else you’d like to share before we move on to the rest of the episode?
Jason – Yeah, I think one of the unique things we bring is MVS, mutual voluntary submission. It’s one of the things, I think, that we do uniquely well and it’s led from our senior pastor and Dan Reiland. Their relationship is something of the model for our church. Kevin Myers could tell Dan to do jumping jacks until his face turns blue and technically he’s the boss.
Rich – Right.
Jason – He never takes that privilege. Dan Reiland could push hard against the staff and say to Kevin, “The staff is this and you have to make this change,” it’s just incredible to watch those 2 guys submit to each other.
Rich – Right.
Jason – And to have a senior pastor in a room full of the entire staff look to Dan our XP and say, “Hey Dan, would you make any tweaks on that?” and Dan, live in the room is fully trusted to go, “Kevin, I might tweak this, this way or that way,” and they don’t have to do that. They mutually voluntarily submit to each other and that has leaked down into our staff.
Rich – That’s a good insight.
Jason – Where a campus pastor to a staff, he would lead the same way to his staff and I think that’s how we create a healthy feedback kind of a culture here at 12Stone. So that’s a one off but I think it’s a helpful piece to how this whole thing works here at 12Stone.