Ron Edmondson on Church Turnarounds and the Importance of Systems


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ron_smallWe’re so fortunate to have Ron Edmondson joining us for today’s episode of the unSeminary podcast! Ron is a fantastic leader and provides some amazing insights into helping turn churches around and also the critical place that systems play in your church. Make sure to listen to the entire episode because has amazing insights throughout the entire show!

Ron Edmondson // [website] [twitter] [facebook]

Interview Highlights

01:39 // About Ron’s background coming out of the business world and it’s impact on his leadership.

03:51 // The importance of celebrating the history of where your church has come from.

04:23 // Churches have life cycles and what are we going to do differently to turn it around.

05:22 // What happens when people come to the church building but they stop coming to church.

05:43 // How positive things can be a barrier to church growth.

07:32 // Telling stories as a key to organizational change.

08:34 // Leading by example as a key to making community impact.

09:33 // Ron talks about his first time at the city council meeting.

 10:41 // Back to school outreach program idea and the impact it had on relating with other churches.

11:15 // How dropping in on a convenience store can help you communicate your church vision for community impact.

12:23 // Definition of church systems and the reality of them in your church.

13:10 // Systems need to be: Effective, Efficient and Purposeful.

14:26 // Description of how Ron made a change to a system at his current church.

17:01 // Use any term for ‘systems’ you want … you’re already doing them!

18:31 // Ron’s passion for helping pastors.

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Online Resource // Evernote [Sample of Ron’s eBook on Evernote for Pastors]

Books That are Having an Impact // Switch & Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath

Inspiring Leader // Carey Nieuwhof, Andy Stanley, John Maxwell, Zig Ziglar

What does he do for fun? // Run & hang out with his wife!

Check This Out // 4 Frameworks for Church Service Review Meetings (and 20 Evaluation Questions!)



Interview Transcript //

Rich: Well we’ve got a real treat today, Ron Edmonson is with us today, he’s from Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, I’m so happy to have Ron on the show. Thanks for being with us today.

Ron: Absolutely! I appreciate the invitation, been looking forward to it.

Rich: Ron is one of those guys that I love following on social media, love reading his blog. If you don’t follow him, you’re going to be in for a real treat today. As we kind of peer in a little bit inside his head and get some insight from him. Let us start by you telling us a little bit about your context, your church, even about your background, kind of you personally as well.

Ron: Well it is always important to know, when I talk to pastors, that I came out of the business world and a lot of times I still think in those terms. And and some people have, I get corrected in my language sometimes. I once used a word “revenue” around here and they were looking for the words tithe and offering, you know…

Rich: (laughing)

Ron: I’d still struggle with that but I’ve been in the ministry for 12 years. First year, helped the church kinda relaunch. Planted 2 churches. I’ve been here in the Immanuel Baptist Church, probably a lil’ more than a year. This is a 104 year old church, a very prominent church in Baptist circles especially in Kentucky and in Lexington. Long long history, a great church, long before I got here. I have seen some better days and we are trying to re-energize and get excited again and grow again and that sort of thing. And so its been a journey the last 14 months or so, been fun, its a great church.

Rich: Well, one of the things I am excited about to kinda hear from you is you’re a seasoned leader, whose accomplished a lot, there’s a lot of other church leaders that say “I did this thing 15 years ago and it was great!” but you’re in a middle of something right now, you’re actually wrestling with. A lot of times we talk with leaders who are like: “I did this thing 15 years ago and it was pretty amazing!” but you’re in the middle of it right now and I think a lot of church leaders can identify with what you’re saying. We’re trying to re-energize, its not quite a turn around, its not that kind of situation but , but its like hey thats how do we infuse some momentum into this church. People have to sense that what you are doing today at Immanuel to help that process take place?

Ron: Well you said its not a turn around and we have to turn around some of our thought processes. You know if we look at the history of this church in particular, and I think this is true for a lot of the churches. Numbers are just numbers but if you look at our number today, we just hit a big history wall. One of the things that I would encourage if you’re going to an older church is is to celebrate the history that you have to work with. So we just did a history wall we learned it from another church, celebrated from the birth of the church by decades to the present and in 1950’s we were running the same number that they were running when I got here.

Rich: Interesting, huh.

Ron: And you know, that’s an indication to me that you would think this would be the progressive growth throughout the years but that’s just not the case. Churches have life cycles, in and out at that. And this is a good case study for a church 100 years old that had periods of rapid growth, periods of rapid decline, periods of stability and experience. So we do have to start thinking, if we’re going to go to those next levels, what are we going to do differently than what we’re doing right now? And some of that is a turn around, turn around about thought process. And one of the things that happened when I got here is… this is a… I give tours of our building quite a bit for a history to come, because we do have an incredible facility here. 300,000 square foot of space, huge footprint on our community and we do a great job for getting people to come to our building for other than church. So this is a building that they allow that to happen but what happens is, two things. One, when people are already coming, and or you get into a period of stability or decline, we’ve seen here in the last few years. People get to start to lock arms around each other and get very comfortable with each other and form this little groups with each other. One of the barriers in this church to growth for example, is a bit positive thing, its Sunday School, because most of our classes, 20 people, 10 people, 50 people, depending on the size of the class had not had new people coming in to them for about 4-5 years.

Rich: Okay

Ron: So if you did come in, you are like a real stranger because there are a lot of hidden, there were a lot of inside jokes, and people knew everybody knew the names of kids, that sort of thing. And you just didn’t feel that welcome, and that is a barrier to new people coming in. So to turn around, we have to start somehow thinking differently. How do we think beyond what is here. Sure there are people in our campus. We started counting people when we got here. Everybody walks on our campuses we count and we’d walk around just to get a perspective of how busy this place is. In fact the number will astound you, we have some 13,000 people walk through our doors in any given week.

Rich: Wow that’s amazing

Ron: And yet we don’t go outside our walls. We weren’t investing in our community, we weren’t doing a lot of things in the community. We did some things, hit or miss but not really intentional things. So that is a turn around. Turning our thought process to something new. And so that’s basically what we’re doing, re-thinking how we do church.

Rich: Now what are you doing to help people re-think? What are some practical tactics that you employ to help people think differently? The counting this is huge to helping people understand what is happening in your building but what are the things that you are up to.

Ron: Well I tell a lot of stories. I have to lead by example and so I hit the ground running getting involved around the community and I tell stories about that. I joined a leadership program. Every community has some sort of leadership program that takes leaders to the community. We learned the process and we learn more about the community. I signed up for that program, and frankly played politics with the influencers within the church to make sure I‘m part of that program that I signed up for that. Sunday… on a sunday when a baptist church vote in for their pastor, after that official vote, I’d turn in my application the next Monday for this program, that was the deadline.But I got in the program , met a lot of people, got to know the community, people who are influencers in the community, I came back and told the church about and so I was able to lead by example of getting out into the community. Then through the same people we were able to send key people to the community. Here’s a group of people and come back and tell those stories. And so really making a wave in the community so to speak, in the community around us. Get a picture of this, this is a town of 300,000. This is a building of 300,000 square feet, this is the largest church buildings in our community. We are less than a mile from University Kentucky. We are, Lexington has basically 2 circles, there are spokes within the wheel of those 2 circles. We are one of those spokes. We cannot be better strategically located than where we are in this community from a building perspective. I was invited to go to the city council, a couple of months after I got here, to do the prayer and a great way for pastors to become community leaders too. But I went to the city council and met with all the council people. Half of those asked me where the church was.

Rich: Really? Hah!

Ron: And I said, you know I didn’t say this to them, but I was thinking “You have got to be kidding me!”, You know we take up 20 something acres in the heart of this city and we’re almost in downtown and you don’t know where we are?! That’s not an indictment for that city council or any person who asked the same question, but that is an indictment against us. We have not been outside our walls. I came back and told our church that. You gotta be kidding, how can they not know we exist? We gotta change that.

So we started to send people out and come back with stories and just continually do that . We just had a, we zeroed in on a specific area in town that we would like to invest in. Just less than a month ago, we went out to that community and did a huge back to school, medical, doing sports, physicals and that sort of thing,

Rich: That’s cool

Ron: and have about 400 people involved and it was a huge success. We partnered with a church in that community and we put their name on it not ours.

Rich: hmmm very cool, love that.

Ron: And so we were able to go into that. And so our church now knows, about 400 people now know “hey we gotta be outside our walls”. Hopefully that’s going to impact some of those others. And it will probably took a year to get to that point, you know. Invest into a community, leading people in the community, dealing with other pastors in the community, you know that sort of thing.

Rich: In my own community where we launch campuses, sometimes after the church has been there for a while, I will just walk up and down the street by where we’re located and going to the convenient store, drop by the McDonalds, you know where there are public folks and I just going to buy a pack of gum and I would go like: “Hey do you know something about that church over there, tell me about that church?” And you’ll be amazed at what people say, and its a great way to generate those kinds of stories that you’re talking about there. And sadly, its that response that of like: “I don’t really know anything about. I have no idea what they do and who they are.”

Ron: Absolutely

Rich: Changing gears a little bit, a part of what I appreciate about your thinking and your writing, you talk a lot about systems and how the systems that you can use to help churches, you know, gain momentum, and help them keep focused about their future, can you tell me a little bit about that, what does it mean when you talk about systems in the church? What does it look like?

Ron: You know the systems are just the way you get things done. What happens in any church and in any organization is that, your systems becomes tired over time. You know they simply do and what once work doesn’t work any longer. And we all have systems whether we know it or not, the standard way that we do things, that is your system. And so one of the ways that you can improve the performance, is to be intentional about improving your systems. And that requires you to step back and ask what are we trying to accomplish. How’s the best way to get that accomplished? Who are the right people to do that? You know just strategically thinking.  And when I think systems I always try to think: effective, efficient and purposeful. Is it an effective system? Is it efficient? You know in a lot of our churches, we have a system in place, that it used to be a very vibrant ministry. Lots of people involved now only a few people, its just not very effective and efficient anymore. And we have some systems in place, you know, why are we doing that? What is the purpose of that? What is it that we’re doing to help us accomplish what we do? So just asking bigger questions about ours systems that’s very, very important.

Rich: Can you give me an example of your current systems that you work on either with your current context or even in your past church? How did you dig in, you know? Try to make it practical for folks so they get a sense of what you were thinking.

Ron: Let me think of one in particular. We’ve had so many, since we’ve been here of systems of doing things. One is our system of how we staff. The system of hiring people and placing people. And that could be depending on the size of the church. That could be a volunteers or it could be a paid staff. In our case it is mostly paid staff or lot of these that we are talking about. We started thinking in terms of, what we are trying to accomplish, who are the best people to do that? When I got here, we have a bunch of solos. In other words: Here’s our children’s ministry, here’s our adult ministry, here’s our whatever and all of those different ministries. Everybody have a system under that. So you have all these solos. That system doesn’t work anymore as well.

You know business communities think, how do we do more with less for a long time. Churches are gonna have to start thinking that way too. And so how do we staff, what is our system for staffing and for recruiting volunteers that gets the job done, that’s effective , efficient and purposeful. Not that it looks like it always looks before. Its going to be a lot messier, its going to be… you know this person has 4 different jobs and works in 4 different areas. But that is what is needed to move forward. For example we had one person in our team, she’s a tremendous event planner. But she only plans events in her area, so, because that’s our system. You stay in your area, you stay in your area. What if we remove some things off of her that she doesn’t even like to do that or she’s not great at and allow her to work with events in other areas. That makes all of our events better. Gives her a fulfillment in her work, and probably keeps us from hiring somebody in those areas.

Rich: Right. Right.

Ron: That’s just an example

Rich: That’s pretty good. I think a lot of times for churches, they. A couple of things I appreciate you said there. One, is that we all have systems. Whether we know it or not, the reality there is that we have a regular way of getting things done. The question is, is it good or not, is it working? Is it pushing us in the direction we wanna go? And I think that is a key learning for us church leaders. You know I think sometimes we get scared when we hear the word systems. What does that mean? That sounds kinda “corporate” like what you are saying earlier.

Ron: Absolutely and yet we’re doing them. And I always say to Pastors, you can use whatever terms you want, you are already doing it. So use any term that you want, you’re already doing it. whatever that is. We’re doing things that aren’t clearly spelled out in Scriptures, already. Your times of your services, that’s not really spelled out in scriptures, unless you are going to the book of Numbers or something. So figure out what works for you and call it what you want, but making those systems better actually will makes things more effective, efficient and purposeful.

Rich: Right, so fantastic. Is there anything before we get into the lightning round, How can people get in touch with you? How can they, you know follow you on various social channels? Is there anything else?

Ron: You know, this is what I do, being online as much as you are. I’d rather have my name out there as much. I’m kinda, an introvert and am but people wanna know who you are and so you kinda have you name. You kinda have a platform around your name and so: Ron Edmondson, you can pretty much find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and my blog is using just that name. So everything just has that Ron Edmondson in it.

Rich: That’s Fantastic

Ron: And you know, I really see that God has given me a platform for a reason, because I really believe in that Pastor that’s just trying to figure out how to do it. You know? They don’t teach some of this in seminary, and so just trying to help that Pastor, be a better leader. You now I even get pushed back when I say Pastors or leaders. But they are. God has, uses people, to lead the church. Now Christ is the head of the church, there’s no doubt about that you know, but this is we see, somebody put… I have one guy in particular that pushes me all the time, “Where is leader in the Bible?” Call Moses what you want, but Moses is a leader. Jethro helped him lead better, David lead people, Paul lead people, so I really think God has given me a platform to help Pastors lead better. So if I could help in anyway I am always available.

Rich: Alright, well we’ve hit the lightning round. Well that part of this program where we jump through a series of quick questions, for an amazing church leader. As we can learn a little bit more about their world. So, Ron do you have an online resource that you’ve been using these days that you have been using to help your ministry?

Ron: Well, I would have to say, I don’t know if this is what you are looking for but, Evernote, its just a jewel for me. You know I wrote about a “Evernote for Pastor’s” book. I wouldn’t buy it, you can figure it out on your own but it has helped me, so I always have a place to keep my notes. Whether I am on my phone, Ipad or desktop.They all sync together, so I think, in the day we’re living, man you gotta have Evernote.

Rich: Yeah, it seems… I’m not like an Evernote guy but I can see the use for it. You know a lot of people say that, particularly, when you’re preaching, when you’re creating content all the time. You know a lot of those ideas don’t come, when you are just sitting down to write.

Ron: Absolutely, every sermon that I got coming up for the next 3 months, theres a file there, and if something hits me, I can put it on that file and its there when I need it.

Rich: Yeah that’s huge, that’s great. Evernote. A book that you read in the last 6 months to a year that’s impacted your ministry and why?

Ron: I read all the time and I’m telling you I am giving you author instead of a book, Chip and Dan Heath, get everything they got and read it. I think they’re easy to read and they’re extremely helpful. “Switch” on change is tremendous. Their most recent one on how to make decisions, i think it is.

Rich: Decisive its called.

Ron: Decisive. Right. Great Book. So, they got another one. So read their work. Great Stuff.

Rich: Yeah its fantastic. Decisive – their most recent book is amazing. They are so well written.

Ron: Oh absolutely. They’re helpful. You read their books and you definitely walk away with something insightful.

Rich: Yeah definitely, that’s a fantastic. So a leader that you would love to spend, if you get to spend 15 minutes with them, You know, who’d you love to spend some time with?

Ron: Well there’s a bunch. I mean honestly, you’re friends with, Carey Nieuwhof, but we’ve never been in the same room together. I’d probably have the same go to answer, Andy Stanley. It would be great to pick his brain for a little while. John Maxwell – I did have the opportunity to do this type thing, interview Zig Ziglar within the last couple of years before he died. You know I’d quote him all the time. You know we spent an hour and half together and I just quote him all the time.

Rich: He’s one of those guys that’s he’s so influential, was so influential.

Ron: Absolutely. I would, You know, to those who are listening, I learned from a small town pastor. I really do. They are on the frontline, everyday. Every time I am with one I pick something up that is very helpful to me.

Rich: So What do you like to do for fun Ron, when you are not counting all those 13,000 people that come into the building? What do you do for fun?

Ron: Thankful i am not counting them, but the ah, I like to run, its just a pleasure for me. I’m introverted so that’s my downtime. I like to hang out with my wife, I give her Saturday, I protect Saturday as much as I can. She can do anything she wants and I will do it with her. So those are probably the 2 things that fuel me for the week.

Rich: Thats amazing. I once heard this quote about running “Running is like the worst part of sports, that they just made into a sport”.

Ron: Absolutely! Absolutely! And I should probably quit and do something else and be careful to my knees someday, but I just love it.

Rich: You caught that the bug, my wife’s a runner too. Well, thank you so much Ron, I really appreciate you being on the show. Thanks for taking the time out, I know you are a very busy guy. Thank you for investing in us today. Thank you so much.

Ron: Thank 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.