Mark Mellen on Funding Initiatives in Your Church



Mark_Mellen_podcastHello, everyone, and thank you for joining in to this week’s episode of the unSeminary podcast. Today our guest is Mark Mellen at Elevate Life Church in Florida.

Elevate Life has about 1200 attendees and is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Mark describes Elevate Life as a contemporary, young families church with a senior pastor who is 35 years old. Mark is the executive pastor and wears a lot of hats, helping in the business department, managing the staff, aiding the senior pastor with the strategic planning, and even overseeing the creative department.

Today Mark talks with us about how Elevate Life encourages giving to push their church’s vision and mission forward.

  • Sharing experiences at a time of critical need. // Elevate Life Church currently meets in a school’s cafeteria in Oakleaf, Florida. A couple of years ago, the school told them they needed to leave and so Elevate Life began the process of trying to find a new place to meet. They were unsuccessful in that attempt and so the school agreed to let them stay for an interim period if they bought land on which they could construct their own building. Land in Oakleaf is expensive and it would take a big drive to raise enough money to buy the land they needed. Elevate Life’s first funding campaign was called No Limits and was based on the urgency of this felt need. This particular campaign was also small groups driven. By meeting with 600 people in 60 groups over 6 weeks, Tim Staier, the senior pastor was able to share in a more intimate setting the vision of the church and why this money was so critical at this time. Without it, the church would no longer be able to continue meeting. Inevitably people at these small groups would start sharing why the church meant so much to them and how it has changed their lives. In fact it was this process of sharing in small groups that ultimately motivated people to participate in this campaign.
  • Expanding giving to push the mission forward. // Elevate Life is now in their second funding initiative, which is called Run. The church opened a second campus in a movie theater in Fleming Island, but is still in need of office space, plus Elevate Life continues to work toward breaking ground on their main campus in Oakleaf. Additionally as part of their mission, they have plans to start a new campus each year for 5 years and build a Dream Center in Downtown Jacksonville. While their first funding initiative was about giving toward an urgent need and shared in small groups, this one is very Sunday driven and more about each and every person expanding their current level of giving. “Rather than making a (one-time) commitment,” Mark says, “we’re just asking that you expand your generosity.” This means asking people to regularly give a little more than they usually do, or for those who don’t give at all, start giving some money each month. Even if it’s just a little from each family, it could add up to a lot quickly.

You can reach Mark by email at [email protected] or learn more about Elevate Life Church at their website

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Episode Highlights

01:26 // Rich introduces Mark Mellen and welcomes him to the show.

01:48 // Mark gives us a flavor of Elevate Life Church.

02:35 // Mark talks about his roles within Elevate Life.

03:42 // Mark talks about their need for fundraising initiatives.

05:18 // Mark talks about the different levels of fundraising.

08:40 // Mark talks about the current fundraising phase.

09:42 // Mark explains how they continue to increase generosity.

12:09 // Mark talks about the Run Campaign.

13:49 // Mark tells us the support they use for fundraising.

14:12 // Mark talks about the importance of staff culture.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Facebook & Facebook Ads

Ministries Following // Church of the Highlands.  Next Level Church.  Elevation Church

Influential Book // The Key to Everything by Matt Keller.  A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards.  The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.  Good to Great by Jim Collins

Inspiring Leader // John Maxwell

What does he do for fun // Camping. Hiking.

Contact // [email protected]

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich, the host around these parts. Thank you so much for tuning in, happy Thursday, we hope that you’re having a great week as we get ready for this weekend at your church. We know that you’ve got a lot going on, so it’s our honor, our privilege that you would take some time out to listen in to us today.

Today we’re honored to have Mark Mellen with us. He is at Elevate Church in Florida, they’ve got two campuses, a church of about 1200 people, they’re one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Mark welcome to the show today.

Mark – Thank you for having me.

Rich – Why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about Elevate Church, give us the kind of flavor of the church. If someone was to come on a Sunday, what would they experience?

Mark – We’re a young family’s church, our Senior Pastor is about 35 years old. As soon as you get out of your car you’re going to hear music, it’s very upbeat, contemporary. When you walk in the front door it’s going to be… we’re in a cafetorium, I’ve never seen anybody do mobile setup like we do, we do a ton of pipe and drape, it’s about eight to ten hours of setup on Saturday and we use a lot of lighting. You wouldn’t know that you’re in a cafeteria when you walk in, it feels like an auditorium.

Rich – Right.

Mark – So I guess it would probably be hard for me to describe, young and contemporary would be the feel.

Rich – Cool, very cool. Now why don’t you tell us about your role there at the church?

Mark – I’m the Executive Pastor, I do all sorts of things, there’s a lot of roles right now for me. I do the business department, I manage the staff, a lot of the strategy, I work with our Senior Pastor with a lot of the strategic planning and right now I’m currently over our creative department, although I always think I’m like the least creative guy on staff and yet over our creative department. In fact our church was so creative that our pastor, Pastor Tim Staier said, “Man, I have to lower the level of creativity on this team”, and he’s like, “I know a guy,” and that’s how I ended up on this team.

Rich – You’re the great equalizer?

Mark – Yeah, I’m like the antiperspirant.

Rich – That’s great, nice. Well I think describing your church, obviously a young church, growing, impacting your community, I would imagine funding a mission like that is difficult, can be difficult at times, we’d love to learn from you. What’s your learning on encouraging people to give to the mission of Elevate Life, what lessons are you learning on that front these days?

Mark – Well we’re actually in our second fundraiser, our fundraising initiative in the same amount of years. A couple of years ago the school had come to us and they said, “You’re going to have to get out of here.”

Rich – Oh my goodness, okay.

Mark – We’re in a town in Oakleaf in Florida in Jacksonville. People in Oakleaf don’t want to leave Oakleaf, so we have about a three mile radius that we have to be in otherwise you can lose a lot of people that are coming to your church. That may be weird to hear, but that was true. So we looked all over the place and we couldn’t find a place that we could move to, we came back to the school and they said, “Well if you do something significant like buy land or something else then we’ll let you stay until you build.” Land in Oakleaf is super expensive too.

Rich – Right.

Mark – So we needed to get a million dollars and our annual budget was about 800 thousand, so we went into an initiative we called No Limits. Our second one is totally different than our first one. This one was very small groups driven, we met with 600 people in 60 small group settings in a six week period where we basically had them, Pastor Tim would share the vision of the church and where we’re going with them and the urgency of the hour and then that led up… go ahead.

Rich – Yeah tell me about those meetings, give me a structure of what those small group meetings… there’s a lot there. People might have rolled over that, 600 people, six weeks, 16 meetings. Was Tim at all of those, did you go to all of those, what happened in those?

Mark – Both of us were at all of those, there were two a night. It was grinding but basically we would come, we would arrive, we had like a little video that we kicked it off with. Pastor Tim would then share all of the things that were happening and why it was important for us to join this initiative. Then we would actually go around the room and share why the church has meant so much to us and every person would share and inevitably somebody starts crying and they start sharing how the church has changed their life and really that right there is the thing that motivates the people in the room to join the initiative.

Then that led up to a worship night where everybody committed for that year. We had $1.2 million in commitment and $500 thousand came down front. We needed $200 thousand to secure the land, so over half our annual budget came in on one weekend.

Rich – Wow that’s incredible.

Mark – Yeah it was awesome.

Rich – Now where did you end up against the 1.2? Did you end up collecting all of that or a little less than that?

Mark – Yes sir.

Rich – Oh that’s incredible.

Mark – Then one year we raised the full 1.2 million, I think we raised just a little bit more than that.

Rich – Right.

Mark – Then six months later, we’re now in our new initiative, which is called Run.

Rich – Okay.

Mark – That one was to secure the land and build the building for Oakleaf. While we were in that initiative we launched our Fleming Island campus, because we thought, “Hey if we could make this just a little more complicated, let’s do it.” So we’re in a cafetorium, live broadcasting to a movie theatre with no office space, we have nothing.

Rich – Oh man.

Mark – Totally mobile in all our settings.

Rich – Great.

Mark – So we launched that Fleming Island location and it took off. We have 400 people in that movie theatre right now. So we have to kind of finish out this project and break ground on the building, so we need to raise another additional 300 thousand, but why raise an additional 300 thousand when you can raise an additional 1.5 million?

So we went before the church and this one is very Sunday driven. So rather than meeting in small groups we met with larger capacity donors who can help fund the vision individually and then we were bringing it to the church and basically we have four initiatives, we’re going to finish our Oakleaf building, launch a campus a year for the next five years, buy office space for our Fleming Island location and build the Dream Center in Downtown Jacksonville. So it’s very vision driven and before the original campaign was, hey make a commitment and give it, this one’s all about expanding your giving.

So we’re asking everybody, we’ve created this kind of generosity ladder and we’re asking them to take another step. So a thousand people, a thousand families in our church don’t give at all aren’t giving consistently. If you gave consistently even $100 a month, that would be $2.5 million in expanded giving.

Rich – Right.

Mark – So rather than making a commitment we’re asking you to just expand your level of generosity.

Rich – Interesting. Now you’re in the middle of that, you’ve met with your core donors already and then you’re doing the public phase right now?

Mark – Yes sir, yes.

Rich – How is that going? How are people’s response? What’s that looking like?

Mark – Good, I think it’s going good. You never know until it’s all said and done.

Rich – Right.

Mark – We have about 19 families that have committed so far, beforehand and that’s about 300 thousand in expanded giving.

Rich – Okay.

Mark – I think we’re going to hit it.

Rich – Right.

Mark – Here was my fear. We just came out of a campaign six months ago and now we’re going back into another initiative and for the people to go, “Ah, the never ending initiatives.”

Rich – Right.

Mark – The division is different, the style is different and people have received it really, really well.

Rich – Yeah, what else did you kind of do, obviously it is a different ask, you’re not just asking for the same, like above and beyond kind of giving, what else did you do to kind of fight the donor fatigue side of the equation? People are just tired, it seems like you guys are always asking for money, anything else you did to kind of battle that?

Mark – Not really, it’s probably because the first time around was definitely an urgency of the hour, “Hey guys, if we don’t do this…”

Rich – “We’re not moving forward.”

Mark – “We’re going to lose this location and you’re going to be going to church somewhere else.”

Rich – Right.

Mark – “So if you love our church you’re going to…” This one is very vision driven, so it’s not really a need as much as it is, “God has blessed our church for some reason, much is given, much is required, here’s what we think the next…” We’re five years old, so basically, “This is what God’s done over the last five years, this is what we think God could do in the next five if we were able to step up in our generosity,” and I think Pastor Tim is just an amazing vision caster, he’s just an amazing communicator and a phenomenal leader and I think because of his ability to communicate the vision, people get excited about what could come.

We actually built it around this kind of idea, he kicked it off with this fact that Philip runs after the guy on the chariot in the Bible and here Philip has experienced revival after revival after revival and he’s got to be exhausted and God says, “Go and get that guy on the chariot,” and Philip runs, he takes off like that guy is the only guy on planet Earth that matters.

Rich – Right.

Mark – Here we are, it seems like we’ve been running and running and running and there’s a guy somewhere in Jacksonville on a chariot who needs Christ.

Rich – Powerful.

Mark – Are we going to go, “Oh God, we’ve got to get this building built first?”

Rich – Yes, interesting.

Mark – So the vision has helped us out at times.

Rich – Cool. A couple of things just to pull out of that that I hope people are hearing. One is that burning platform, you’ve got a very clear, “Gosh we have got to do this,” on the first campaign, the first piece of this and on the second you’re painting a really clear, compelling image. I think the other part is, it’s just a lot of work, whether it’s the 60 meetings in six weeks or doing the core donor and then the public thing, there’s isn’t a shortcut when it comes to these kinds of initiatives, it just takes a lot for it to happen. Can you unpack what you’re doing with the current Run campaign in the public phase that is a little different than what you’ve done in the past? How are you kind of articulating that from stage, how does that look different?

Mark – We didn’t articulate the other one from the stage at all.

Rich – Okay.

Mark – Well only one Sunday, so you had to go to what we called a Pie Meeting to hear the vision.

Rich – Right.

Mark – This is all from the stage and we’re not asking you to come to any specific meeting and again, “This is definitely what the future could look like and we can do this and now the series has turned from, it kicked off on our birthday with a real vision and next week I’m going to tell you how we can run.” Then it was, “Here’s the four initiatives and by the way, for that to happen we have to increase our generosity.”

Now the next four weeks is going to be a series on generosity with a tool, this generosity ladder and helping them identify with that and then saying, “Take the next step.” So then they’ll fill out a commitment card and it’ll be, “What am I currently giving? What am I expanding my giving with, times 2? What am I bringing this starting line offering?” and you’ll get your total number. So their commitment is their [Inaudible 00:13:22] or what they’re currently giving, their expanding giving and what they’re bringing upfront, so it’s a pretty large commitment. We’re hoping that overall you have $4.5 to $5 million in commitments but some of that they’re already doing.

Rich – Absolutely. Now are you guys using a firm, a campaign firm or anything to help you with this or have you cooked this all up internally?

Mark – No. The first one we borrowed from a friend of mine and this one we’re using Generis.

Rich – That’s great, that’s fantastic, that’s a great firm if you’re looking for people to talk to on this front. Anything else you want to share before we jump into the rest of the episode? This has been a fascinating insight into how you’re funding the mission there at Elevate Life.

Mark – No you’re right, it is taxing and the important thing is that I think we have a really strong staff culture and we have people who are willing. Simon Sinek talks about having those Johnny Bravo’s creating a Johnny Bravo culture where people are willing to die for one another, why are they willing to sacrifice for one another? We have a small team that is willing to take the hill together and we only hire from within, we train them up, so when you hit our team, you’re the kind of person who, I know we just came out of campaign and I know it’s a ton of work but I’m going to stay up all night making these videos and cutting these things because we believe in what God’s doing here. You have to really have a united team because if you don’t that kind of stuff could break your team.

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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.