Developing a Leadership Pipelinepodcaststrategy

Mike Ash on Team Behaviors that Drive Cultural Clarity



Mike_Ash_podcastWelcome to this week’s unSeminary podcast! We’re honored to have you join us today and we are honored to have Mike Ash from Next Level Church in Florida talking with us.

Next Level started in 2002 and is a multisite church with two campuses and about 3000 people attending each Sunday. For about nine years Next Level was a portable church and they just moved into a permanent location about two years ago. Mike is one of the executive pastors at Next Level. He’s been with the church for 13 years and has done just about everything, but he now works closely with leading and developing the staff there. Today Mike talks with us about developing staff culture at Next Level Church.

  • Love being there. // The main goal that Next Level has tried to achieve regarding their staff is to create an environment that people will love to be a part of. Matt Keller, the lead pastor at Next Level, told Mike during one conversation, “Ministry is unlike any other job. If we’re going to be here all week long, let’s try to love it.” And so they’ve kept that idea at the forefront of their staff culture and development. They do what they can to make the culture within Next Level a great one and one that the staff won’t want to leave.
  • Know why you love it there. // Shawn Lovejoy of Mountain Lake Church came to Next Level one day and commented that they had a really great culture there, but he asked them to identify why. Their answer was, “We just love it here!” While that’s a great outlook to have, as Shawn pointed out to them, if you don’t identify exactly why you love it and what behaviors of your staff create this culture, you could one day lose it and you won’t know why. From that perspective, Next Level worked to identify what they loved about being on staff and what behaviors they wanted everyone on their team to reflect. They sat down and drew out guidelines for behaviors which would create a great church and a healthy culture that everyone would love.
  • Healthy individuals make a healthy staff culture //  Next Level Church is constantly encouraging their staff to take a good look at their internal lives and work on their own spiritual and emotional health. As each staff member does this, it will shift the whole staff culture to a better and healthier place. Mike says if there’s one thing he would encourage people to do it would be to work on their heart stuff: “Your heart will hold you back more than any skills.” Ultimately, the healthier your staff culture becomes, the more it will attract healthy people to be a part of it.

Listen in as Mike talks about the 7 behaviors that create a great culture they want to reflect in their staff at Next Level and how you can build that culture into your own staff too.

You can learn more about Next Level church at their website

Thank You for Tuning In!

There are a lot of podcasts you could be tuning into today, but you chose unSeminary, and I’m grateful for that. If you enjoyed today’s show, please share it by using the social media buttons you see at the left hand side of this page. Also, kindly consider taking the 60-seconds it takes to leave an honest review and rating for the podcast on iTunes, they’re extremely helpful when it comes to the ranking of the show and you can bet that I read every single one of them personally!

Lastly, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, to get automatic updates every time a new episode goes live! 


Share this Podcast



Episode Highlights

00:34 // Rich introduces Mike Ash and welcomes him to the show.

01:02 // Mike talks about the history and growth of Next Level Church.

03:22 // Mike talks about his role within the church.

04:20 // Mike talks about the culture within the church.

07:40 // Mike talks us through the 7 behaviors that drive their culture.

12:55 // Mike talks about loyalty as being one of the hardest behaviors to drive.

14:40 // Mike highlights some of the challenges related to growth.

16:04 // Mike talks about the core values of the church.

18:54 // Mike offers advice for creating a healthy culture.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Wunderlist. Voxer

Ministries Following // Chick-fil-A

Influential Book // Procrastinate on Purpose by Roy Vaden

Inspiring Leader // Bill Hybels. Andy Stanley

What does he do for fun // Working out. Washing cars. Hanging out with his wife and boys.

Contact // Twitter @pastormikeash

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the podcast, my name’s Rich Birch, the host around these parts. Thank you so much for tuning in, I’m just so fortunate that you would take some time out today to spend some time with us here at unSeminary.

Today we’re super privileged to have Mike Ash with us, Mike is a part of the team over there at Next Level Church in Florida, I’m just so glad to have him. For folks that don’t know, Next Level started in 2002, they’re currently a 2 campus church and about 3000 people on a Sunday. It’s a fast growing church and we’re excited to have Mike on the show, thanks for being here Mike.

Mike – Thanks for having me. I’m excited about being able to share and talk and connect on this podcast.

Rich – Yeah, so for people that don’t know Next Level tell us a little bit about your ministry.

Mike – Yeah well we started in 2002 like you said and we were a portable church for about 9 years.

Rich – Amazing.

Mike – Yeah it was pretty crazy, we grew to about 900 people in a high school. We were in a movie theater for 4 years, a high school for about 4 years and then a few years ago we moved into our first permanent facility. When we look for buildings around our area in Fort Myers the one that we came upon, it was about 14,000 square feet and we said, “Well that may not be exactly what we want.” We were going to build so the idea was, let’s build a big auditorium, let’s build a 900 seat auditorium, let’s take the current building and make kind of a foyer and kids. We drew up the plans, we looked at it and we said, “You know what, it’s going to be more money than we want to spend.” We had been a part of a church in the past where their debt was higher than it should have been and they really struggled.

Rich – Okay.

Mike – So we built out our kids’ space and we used the current space as kind of auditorium/foyer space. So we have about 20,000 square feet at our first location. We run 5 services on the weekend.

Rich – Wow.

Mike – About 2700 people at that campus. Then our second campus is a 3 quarter mile of that. So it’s a little bit smaller and we run about a thousand people at that campus, which we launched 2 years ago. So it’s been a pretty intense process, it’s been a lot of fun. So we moved into our first permanent facility from the high school at 900 people and overnight we went to 1800 people.

Rich – Wow.

Mike – We’ve just grown from there. So it’s kind of fun because that 9 years of being portable, you push and you push and you push and you have in your mind, “At some point it’s going to take off,” and then after 9 years you’re like, “Maybe it’s not,” like it’s all small growth, it’s all really slow. Our Lead Pastor, he self-published a book back around that time and it was called The Up the Middle Church, the idea of using a football analogy, “Oh you know what, there’s just not a lot of long-bombs.”

Rich – Right, just through the middle of the pack there. Wow.

Mike – So we’ve been 13 years now and exciting, God’s continuing to move and do some pretty amazing stuff.

Rich – Tell me about your role there, what do you do at the church?

Mike – Well I’m one of the Executive Pastors there. I think sometimes Executive Pastor is a good title to just give you whatever you want in different stages.

Rich – Yes.

Mike – I’ve been like in different stages of the church, because I was a part of the start of the church with Matt and Sarah, Pastor Matt and Sarah, so I’ve been there 13 years, so I’ve done just about everything.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So one of my big roles now is creating culture and it’s been creating culture with our staff, leading some of our staff and it continues to shift and grow but a lot of that is continuing to create and reinforce the culture that we want with our staff. So a lot of leading with our staff in general and moving in that direction.

Rich – Yeah even just a casual observer of Next Level will notice that you do have a strong culture, that this seems to be kind of a part of what God’s using in your midst to see your growth. I’d love to dig into that. Tell us about how you’re developing the culture there of your team.

Mike – Well you know one of the things that I would say is, one of the things we recognized a few years ago, we recognized, okay this is a great place to be and I remember when we moved down to start the church, we all kind of went and got other jobs. We’d only raised a little over $9,000 to start the church, so we really didn’t know much about church planting. They’re part of an organization now called the ARC, who are geniuses as far as church planting goes, but they didn’t exist back then.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So we raised $9400, we moved to Fort Myers, we all got jobs and it was about a year after the church started where I actually came on staff. So I remember our Lead Pastor, Pastor Matt, we had a conversation, he said, “Hey ministry is unlike any other job. I want this to be a place where, man if we’re going to be here all week long, let’s try to love it, let’s try to do whatever we can to love it.” So from that heart our staff was developing, kind of grown in this, “We’re going to love being here, we’re going to do whatever we can to love.” So we always had this really good feel.

There’s a guy in Mountain Lake Church called Shawn Lovejoy, his name’s Shawn Lovejoy, he came in and said, “You guys have a really great culture here, can you tell me why?” It was like, “Well we just love it here.”

Rich – “It’s great.”

Mike – “We love it because it’s great.”

Rich – Yes.

Mike – He said, “If you don’t work to identify why you love it here and what are the behaviors that your staff really reflect in order to make them love it here, then there’s a chance you’ll lose it and you won’t really be able to know why.”

Rich – Oh that’s a good insight.

Mike – He said, “You guys have got to sit down and figure out what are some of those things.” So from that, it really spurred us on to say, “Alright, why do we have a great culture here? What are the things that we love? What are the behaviors,” which I think is such a great question to ask the staff in general, “What are the behaviors that you want everyone on your team to reflect? What are the behaviors, that if they were to do these, they would be successful in your organization?”

So we sat down and we drew up and we really made out, what are our behaviors that we think, if you do these things you’ll win here? Like what’s the target on the wall as far as behavior, because I think a lot of times we look at the weekend, we look at different things and we think we’re going to create a great church but a lot of that, and we just know this, it stems from the behavior the staff, the culture of the staff, the health of the staff. One of the things we recognized which was so huge, and I think this is true with our Lead Pastor, I mean all of it flows down. So if your Lead Pastor doesn’t believe some it, it’s a tough deal.

Rich – Yes.

Mike – One of the things that he’s always pushed is, we’ve got to get more healthy, we’ve got to keep growing to move them forward.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So he’s continued to move in that direction and what we found is, the more healthy your staff culture is, the more healthy people you attract and the more your culture actually naturally kind of dispels the unhealthy people. So for us, the better culture you can create, the more it attracts people you want and kind of detracts the people you don’t want in that.

Rich – Yeah absolutely. The thing I love that you’re saying there is, I think sometimes when we think about organizational clarity or kind of, where are we heading, it sometimes can be very ethereal, but I like what you’re saying around behaviors, like this is what you’re doing. Why don’t we dig into some of those, what are some of those behaviors that are driving the culture at your church?

Mike – We have 7 and I would say 7 is probably about the max, right?

Rich – Okay.

Mike – Because you want people to memorize them, you want them to be able to live them out and honestly, the question we’ve been having a little bit now is, “How do we actually make them into some sort of an acronym, like how do we actually make them into… because they’re not that now, but how do you actually do that?

Rich – Right.

Mike – We’re thinking about changing some of the names of them, not necessarily change the values, but change them. So we have 7 of them, so I’ll kind of talk through our 7 of them.

Rich – Sure, yeah.

Mike – The first one that we kind of have is number one on the list, or at least the first one we put down, we just put down fun. Every great culture has fun, every great culture is a fun culture. I read, there’s actually a study done by Forbes that talks about the best companies to work for and I think it was somewhere around 83% of those people that were surveyed, of all of those companies, described their workplaces as a fun place to be. Great cultures are fun cultures. They don’t have to be silly, they don’t have to be goofy, but there is an element of, if people aren’t having fun then they just don’t want to be there and some people will say, “Well if they’re having fun how do they get work done?” What we say to them is, “Listen where are you going to work harder at? Are you going to work harder at a place that’s fun or work harder at a place that you hate going to work at?”

Rich – Yes.

Mike – Like taking the fun away is not the way to do it.

Rich – Yes.

Mike – So fun’s a big one. The second one is trust. For us it’s really big, we have to create a culture of trust. Patrick Lencioni talks through, in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which is a great book, but the idea that trust is the foundation for every relationship, trust is the foundation for every good thing that you want to accomplish, if you’re going to get results you’ve got to start with trust.

So for us we’re all about, we have to continue to build trust on our team, we have to have healthy conflict, we’ve got to talk about it. Unity does not come through the absence of conflict, it comes through conflict and we have to do it in healthy ways. So for us we’re constantly talking to our staff about, we have to keep having hard conversations, we have to keep talking. Again we have to do it in mature ways, we have to do it in the right ways, we’ve got to talk through it, but in order to do it we have to make sure we have trust.

The third one is loyalty for us.

Rich – Okay.

Mike – For us it’s all about having each other’s back. We want to make sure we have each other’s back, so we’ll give each other the benefit of the doubt every single time and we’ll go through that.

The fourth one is resourcefulness, which is we don’t take no for an answer. The whole things is, we’re church planters.

Rich – Yes people, come on.

Mike – We figure it out, we don’t take no for an answer.

Rich – Right.

Mike – Because what we found is, when you’re a church planter, you think, “When we get bigger, then we’ll have the staff, then…” What we found is, actually what happens is, as you grow, people’s options are limited because they think the answer is money and staff. So it’s the idea that, if you have money you think you’re limited to the amount of money you have.

Rich – That’s a good insight.

Mike – But if you don’t have money God can do anything.

Rich – Yes, exactly, exactly.

Mike – You can figure it out in innovation. So for us we want to be innovative on a cutting edge, so we talk about, “Hey the answer is not always staff and have money, we’ve got to be innovative, we’ve got to lead leaders, figure it out. Anyway, don’t take no for an answer.”

Rich – Yeah very cool.

Mike – So growth and teachability is the next one. Growth and teachability, we’re always getting better. We think if a church grows, the leaders in it have to grow and if not what happens is, a church will grow and then the leader, if it’s not growing as fast, there is a gap between where the organization is, where your church is and where the leader needs to be.

Rich – Yes.

Mike – They’ll just get gaps and they won’t be able to hang, they won’t be able to stay on your staff.

Rich – Yeah absolutely.

Mike – The next one is execution with excellence, which is basically, we’re going to get stuff done and we’re going to do it well.

Rich – Right.

Mike – That’s a big value for us and the last one is sacrifice. Sacrifice is all about heart. Sacrifice is all about, are you willing to go above and beyond?

Rich – Right.

Mike – It’s not going above and beyond, everybody does that, but are you willing, is it in your heart to do that? So those 7 values really guide us.

Rich – Drive you.

Mike – And drive our behaviors and we sit down with our staff and we say, on their very first day of being on staff at Next Level we say, “Okay, here’s your 7 core values. If you’re going to be successful here, you will be successful here through these 7 things and basically put these somewhere, memorize these. These are your target on the wall,” and what we found is, creating this clarity, it brings peace because they know how to win. I think a lot of churches, a lot of organizations are not clear in telling their teams how they win to be on their staff and I think when there is no clarity there’s confusion and when there’s confusion there’s chaos and everyone walks around going, “Am I going to get fired? Am I going to get fired?”

Rich – Right, right, right, right.

Mike – Because they’re not sure and for us we’ve said, “Here are our 7 things,” and we’ve tried to be very clear with that to help them understand how to win as a part of our staff.

Rich – So two questions. First of all, what’s been the value that’s been the hardest to drive in that you’d say, “Gosh that one has been the trickiest to kind of get traction on with people.”

Mike – That’s a great question. I would say that different seasons is different things.

Rich – Right, okay yeah.

Mike – I would say loyalty is a big one. Loyalty is a big one because any time there’s any group of people the tendency is to talk to people about people. So what happens is and I love Dave Ramsey, he says, “Listen, the definition of gossip is talking to someone about an issue who doesn’t have the ability to fix the issue.”

Rich – It’s true.

Mike – You have these pockets of people that kind of gossip and talk about each other. Even within our teams, not necessarily intentionally. Nobody starts any sort of gossip with a bad heart, they’re just venting, they’re just talking to someone.

Rich – Yes.

Mike – What happens is, is that you get a couple of people who are frustrated with someone and they start talking, well that frustrates and elevates and it gets way bigger in their mind.

Rich – Right.

Mike – So for us it is the constant, any frustration demands a conversation. So if you’re frustrated with someone, you’ve got to talk to them, and if someone comes to you with a frustration, you have to do two things, one you have to give them the benefit of the doubt; “You know what, I know Rich, Rich is a great guy and if he said it that way, I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.”

Rich – Right.

Mike – You’ve got to give the benefit of the doubt and then you have to send them on to have a conversation. So, “He’s a great guy, you have to go and talk to him.”

Rich – Yes.

Mike – So those two things are our drivers for us and having conversations, but I would say those two things are probably, we’ve just got to keep pushing those, keep pushing those, keep pushing those. Then probably, there’s maybe three now. But the growth thing is pretty huge because as you grow, it kind of like, think of it like building a house. As you grow higher, you have to work on your foundation deeper.

Rich – Ah that’s very good.

Mike – So as your influence grows, as your ministry gets bigger, as things happens, there are things that are deeper and I just think this is, not to use numbers but maybe experience, but I know for me, I could do some things when our church was 500 people and honestly I could do some things in my personal life with 500 people, but as I grew, like God would bring those up or there would be things that would hold me back that didn’t hold me back when our church was a little bit smaller, but holds me back now. So that’s everything from, people have to work on their marriage in a different way, they’ve got to work on their personal life, they’ve got to work on every area of their life, even growth wise. So they have to continue to move forward and that can be very painful.

So people, to do the hard work, especially at 3000 people, our church of 3000 people, we’re successful and God is doing amazing things, people look on and go, “Oh you guys are doing great.” So the urgency, when you’re 100 people like, “We’re going to figure it out, we’re going to grow.”

Rich – Yes, right, right.

Mike – Like, “We’re good.” So it’s constantly not letting them get back on their heel but staying on the balls of their feet, ready to move forward, ready to grow and continue to be teachable and continue to grow.

Rich – Cool, what are some of the ways that you articulate these core values to your team? I’m sure you’re doing it in a bunch of different ways, what are some of those ways you keep it in front of them?

Mike – That’s a fun question, because for us it is constantly driving it down. So the first day of every staff person, the first day we sit down and we talk about these. Every Monday, we still do an all staff Monday meeting.

Rich – Okay great.

Mike – All staff meet on Mondays and then we do a 20 minute teaching to reinforce culture.

Rich – Wow.

Mike – So we do wins, which for us a win is a name and a story. So we talk about a name, we talk about a story. We do some departmental updates and then we do a teaching where it’s reinforcing culture and laying that down. Then once a month, you know Andy Stanley says what gets celebrated gets repeated, once a month we do, we call it our Staff Core Value Award.

Rich – Okay.

Mike – We went and got a $12 trophy, every month we give out the same trophy, so you don’t keep it for the whole time. We give out the trophy and we say, “Actually you did amazing this month,” and we’ll just kind of brag about her and talk about her and we talk about it and it’s amazing because it’s a $12 trophy and these core values, but when people get these, they cry, I mean they’re just so honored, they’re so humbled by it.

Rich – Yes.

Mike – But I’m telling you, it continues to communicate, “These are our values and these are the behaviors.” So for us we constantly look them up. Then at the end of the year we do, we call them, kinda going from The Office TV show that had the Dundies, we have the Nextees.

Rich – Okay.

Mike – We give one award away for each of the core values when we do a staff member of the year and all of the staff vote on it. So it’s not us, it’s not leadership deciding, all of the staff vote on it. So it’s pretty awesome, it’s fun to be able to give those away and again, for those we give away coffee mugs with the core value on it and their name and they love them, it’s just such a big deal. So for us it’s constantly celebrating it, constantly pointing it out, talking about it in all our one on one meeting and our reviews. We do reviews twice a year and they’re based on these 7 things.

Rich – Okay.

Mike – So it’s all about continuing to reinforce and let them know, because if all you do is put these 7 and go, “We have 7 values,” but you never talk about them, never do anything with them, I heard somebody say, “They live on the wall but they don’t happen on the all.”

Rich – Yes.

Mike – That’s such a danger in some of this, so we have to continually talk about it. We’ve got to call it out when things aren’t going well, we have to put out when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do and then we need to celebrate it when they’re doing what we want them to do.

Rich – Absolutely. Well I hope people caught that. There was a lot packed in there about a whole bunch of different ways to kind of keep the values, behaviors in front of folks for sure. This has been amazing, anything else you want to share with us before we transition onto the next part of the show? This has been incredible, is there anything else around how you’re communicating core values, what you’re doing to drive this behavior deep in your organization?

Mike – That’s a great question. You know I would say, if there’s anything I would tell people as far as creating a healthy culture, I think clarity is such a big deal, but I think it all stems out of a leader. I think that if you want to get a healthy culture, you want to get a great culture, you have to work on yourself and that usually happens from looking internally and working on yourself. So if I could encourage anybody to do anything it would be, come on look inside, work on your heart, work on your heart stuff. Your heart will hold you back more than any skills. So you have to get better, you have to continue to embrace all of that, because I think man, there’s so much digging out stuff in your past.

6 years ago, or 8 years ago, I went through counseling, and I am back, any counseling, continuing to work on stuff from my heart because as you grow, more things get revealed in the foundation and you’ve got to keep working them out, keep digging them out.

Leave a Response

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.