Setting Roots, Spurring Growth: Thriving New Campus Location Growth with Aaron Stanski & Aaron Mora

Thanks for joining the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with two Aarons—Aaron Stanski, CEO and Founder of Risepointe, and Aaron Mora, the Alma Campus Pastor of Community Church in north central Michigan.

If your church is growing, chances are you’ve wrestled with questions about your location or building meeting your ministry needs. Tune in to hear the story of Community Church’s growth and how Risepointe walked alongside them as they tried to find a suitable location for their Alma campus.

  • The Needs Analysis. // Like Community Church, most of the churches that reach out to Risepointe go through The Needs Analysis process. This information helps Risepointe understand who they are as a church, problems they’re trying to solve, their unique ministry DNA, and who they’re trying to reach. For Community Church, not only did The Needs Analysis answer many of their questions, Aaron Mora recognizes it was critical to helping Risepointe get to know them and design what they wanted and needed.
  • Take the next step. // A building project is a step of faith. Anxiety and fear that might keep you from moving forward. Aaron Mora admits that while it’s tempting to stay comfortable, Community Church sensed God leading them in this direction. He recognizes that God provided Risepointe and their wealth of experience to offer the encouragement and expertise Community Church needed to move forward with confidence.
  • Set the guardrails. // As Aaron Stanski notes, buildings aren’t going to do ministry, people are. Risepointe is aware that they are handing over a tool to church leaders so they can further grow their ministry. As a result, Risepointe approaches a project with a church by measuring kingdom impact and how to unleash it in the area. Laying out a clear budget and cash flow positive plan that lines up with giving in the early phase is critical. Set guardrails in place regarding what is needed and what the budget is so you can drive the project toward success. 
  • Don’t let doubt creep in. // Expect that people will have opinions on what’s being done in a building project, but don’t receive it all as negative. Recognize that change will be hard for a lot of people; don’t let the comments cause you to doubt your decisions.
  • Renovating vs building new. // When considering a building project, it’s important to understand how you’re using your buildings. Be really intentional with the decisions you’re making and examine the pros and cons of building new versus renovating an existing space. Risepointe walks their clients through a decision making matrix to help them understand how they want to develop their sites. Aaron Stanski explains that, in general, you’ll spend about twice as much money building new as you would doing a renovation.
  • Follow God’s calling. // If you’re trying to decide whether to move forward with building or renovating a location versus portable church, ask yourself, is this what God is calling you to do? God leads us to different strategies in different seasons. Walking through The Needs Analysis with Risepointe doesn’t obligate you to a building project, but rather can help clarify the direction that’s best for your church in your current season of ministry.

You can learn more about Community Church at www.communitymi.org. Visit Risepointe’s website at www.risepointe.com to schedule a free call, walk through The Needs Analysis, or explore recent projects.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: The Giving Church

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Visit thegivingchurch.com/unseminary for a FREE PDF, 5 Ways To Grow Your Church Giving.

Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Man, I’m really looking forward to having you tune into today’s conversation. You know every once in a while we have a conversation where I’m like man I wish that you know thousands of leaders could tune in because I feel like I’m having this conversation time and again and today is one of those conversations. Really excited to have Aaron Mora with us. He’s the Campus Pastor of church called Community Church. It’s a large multisite church in North Central Michigan. Ah he leads the Alma campus and today we’re talking about their transition from portable to a permanent location.

Rich Birch — But we’re this is the two for one Aaron show today because we’re also joined by our friend Aaron Stanski, friend of the podcast. He is the CEO and founder of Risepointe and with fifteen plus years of really helping churches design you know and launch, project manage incredible projects at churches but not just churches also schools and nonprofits all across the country. He’s an expert in this area. Super excited to have both Aarons on welcome. So glad you’re both here today. Thanks for being here.

Aaron Stanski — Yeah.

Aaron Mora — Yeah, thanks.

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, thanks, Rich. Happy to do it.

Rich Birch — This is going to be good. Now I’m going to use your last names ah because you know I don’t want people to get lost. Um, you know so hopefully we’re like friends it’s like friends on a baseball team or something. Ah, but so Mora why don’t we start with you tell us about what was going on. Give us the kind of the the 50,000 foot view of Community Church. Tell us a bit of the story. What’s what was happening at the Alma campus here?

Aaron Mora — Yeah, and so um, Community Church initial campus in Mount Pleasant, Michigan – right in the heart of the mitten, if you’re a a Michigan familiar…

Rich Birch — Love it. Yes.

Aaron Mora — …and ah church was growing. And so actually a number of years. I’ve been on on staff about 14 years, you know, do you build a bigger building in Mount Pleasant and ah, an increasing radius of people that were driving. And so good things, you know growth, and so like many churches we we kind of walk down the road of multisite as an option of being able to grow. And so the Alma campus launched in a January of 2020 which in our

Rich Birch — Perfect, perfect timing.

Aaron Stanski — Strategy.

Aaron Mora — yeah, all of our strategy planning, ah pandemic was not part of it. But we launched about 20 minutes down the road in a town called Alma…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Aaron Mora — …our first multi-site location. And ended up it was actually a launch with a good core, about 150 people who were already from that community plugged into the church And we started portable. And so we met in a Youth for Christ building. Great ministry partners of ours. Had thirteen weeks before the pandemic actually hit. But you know still through that you know praise God navigated, still still growth, still momentum.

Aaron Mora — And um and so ah, probably a year, two in – probably ’21, end of ’21, start of ’22 – we were starting talking about, you know what is that permanent location.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — And um, yeah, so that that kind of a quick snapshot of what what connected us initially with Risepointe.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. Well I’m going to give away the punchline. So amazing thing, you guys launched here in ah right at the end of last year, 2023, in your permanent facility. And and here we are kind of end of April. Give us the punchline where are you at today. This is astonishing. I just love this. Where are you at from a growth point of view?

Aaron Mora — It’s it’s ah it’s been incredible. In fact, um, you know through through the good portion of last year, 2023, was the project. In fact I think we were doing demolition in the the spring of 2023. Opened Christmas Eve 2023, and the average attendance over the last three or four months since we’ve launched I mean almost ah it’s been about 80% growth.

Rich Birch — Wow, wow!

Aaron Mora — So almost double which…

Rich Birch — That’s crazy.

Aaron Mora — …which praise God has exceeded our expectations. Those that are walking through the doors, it’s been lots of people who have have ah a category we’ve called de-churched. You know they haven’t been attending church for a number of years. And um and so to have a I think a beautiful, contemporary facility, you know a vibrant church, there’s just been God’s been using it powerfully. And so it’s it’s exceeded I think my my greatest expectations in a way that you know can only be I think something God’s doing.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s amazing. Well I’d love to kind of pick apart that process a little bit. I’m I’m sure I know there are leaders that are listening in today that are you know they’re they’re portable in a location and they’re thinking about this. They’re wondering about this. And I want to kind of pick apart that story. So Aaron Stanski, do you remember when you first got connected with Community and kind of what what did that some of those initial contacts look like?

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, I mean I I remember some phone conversations, Aaron. I think I think we might have even hopped on a quick Zoom. I know you guys were you know trying to figure some things out. We might have even popped up on a Google search or something…

Rich Birch — Nice.

Aaron Stanski — …ah, that you were doing. And so connected with them. We talked on the phone and then I think initially we were already over in your area like working on a different project or something. So we went ahead and swung by and I remembered zigzagging all over Alma, Michigan. I remember ah, looking at ah there was a weird abandoned hotel. Do you remember this?

Aaron Mora — I do remember this.

Rich Birch — Oh fun.

Aaron Stanski — It was like it had been abandoned for like five or six years. It’d be perfect for a haunted house or something. So we looked at some farm fields.

Aaron Stanski — And and we looked at ah yeah, a few buildings and stuff. We’re just trying to imagine…

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Stanski — …what a permanent facility would look like for for them, which was great.

Rich Birch — Nice.

Aaron Mora — Yeah, that and and so it going back to that initial look, um and and and, Rich, I think this this ties so well into what you were talking about. It’s our first time doing a building project for most of us on staff at at the church. And so we’d done a building building projects, you know, thirty years ago but it was before…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Mora — …most of us were there.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Aaron Mora — And so in that was it was ah absolutely a Google search. It was jumping online…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Aaron Mora — …saying you know, who do we look up? And and so I think I had ah I had a list of like 8 or and and then campus pastor Aaron, and they’re like, Aaron go find somebody.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Aaron Mora — Um, and so I I went line some architects. Um, you know so from from both the church world and and also just ones that just came up that did great designs that we saw we we tried to get some referrals. And I think initially for Risepointe it was a sense of a design and build, so not just designing but also you know, walking through the building project. And then even some of the other pieces that were there I think that initial conversation, and Aaron alluded to it already, was just so like, oh you’re telling me all the things I wanted to know are are here. You’re you’re talking about you know, planning and and more than just the build of having a great building. What do you need.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — And so it was ah it was an easy fit to where you know we’ve we’ve vetted through and end up going with Risepointe.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. Well the thing you know, Aaron Stanski’s a friend. I love him, and I literally all the time we were saying this before we get started, I feel like I’m consistently saying to church leaders, like have you talked with the guys over at Risepointe? Like they’re they’re so helpful. And um now I think you you do this thing called Needs Analysis, right?

Aaron Stanski — Ssure.

Rich Birch — That what what that sounds fancy, but what what is that, Mr. Stanski. Tell us about what is the ah you know the is that this zigzagging across the you know the Alma thing you did?

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, I mean The Needs Analysis for us, and it’s a process that most of the churches ah like Community that reach out to us go through. And so it’s a process for us at Risepointe to really learn who are they as a church? What are some of the problems they’re trying to solve? Like what is their unique ministry DNA?

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Stanski — Who are they trying to reach? Um and so The Needs Analysis is a process where we spend an extended period of time, usually an entire day, ah walking the the team and the staff through a series of exercises and questions and really getting to know them. And and then it’s asking and answering some specific questions around facility and saying okay, how do we solve these problems? So ah, if Alma already had a campus and they were already up and running we would probably be asking the question, How do we maximize ministry on site? Ah, how do we know when we have to expand or add on? What’s some low hanging fruit that just some some things that we think would be helpful for them to consider with their facility that we might have learned from other churches?

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Stanski — And then the last thing is like, man, what’s it all going to cost, right? And so if we can answer those questions and present that back in ah in a format that’s clear to understand, and we’re um and it’s answering those questions, then it gives church leaders a lot of times the what they need to kind of move forward and make some decisions.

Aaron Stanski — And so for Alma campus it was not only those things, it was like what what options exist for a building, right? I mean they could have bought a field and built new. They could have you know they could have you know bought some of these other properties. And so we sort of laid that framework out for them. And then they ended up you know, just finding a gem of a property a ah just a ah, really spectacular looking JCPenny building. And I I say that sarcastically. Ah just this JCPenny building that had been sitting there vacant – it was like five or six years right?

Aaron Mora — It had been a but been a while.

Aaron Stanski —Like it wasn’t it wasn’t occupied, right, Aaron?

Aaron Mora — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — And so, ah for them, it was like man, Okay, here’s this huge JCPenny building.

Aaron Stanski — Ah, it’s for sale. Ah, do we want to buy it? Ah, do we want to buy some of it, or all of it? Ah, and when we renovate it, how much do we want to renovate? What’s it going to cost? And so we walk them through a Needs Analysis to help them figure those things out.

Rich Birch — Right? yeah.

Rich Birch — Okay so ah, just sticking with The Needs Analysis there for a second. So the thing I’ve said to other people—correct me if I’m wrong on this—is man, I would call Risepointe early in the process, like as you know even when you’re in the like we’re not even sure really the questions we’re asking. Is that true? Because the thing I’ve said behind your back, Aaron Stanski, is like if you call them early, you’re going to leverage all their thinking on some of those early foundational questions that could save you huge dollars and time. And you know sure, you could come and say, ah this is the building. We’ve got this building already; help us renovate it. But man, is it better to call earlier, you know, Aaron Stanski?

Aaron Stanski — Um, yeah I mean the earlier the better.

Rich Birch — Right, okay.

Aaron Stanski — If you feel like you’re getting to a point where you’re either running out of space…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Stanski — …or if you’re getting to the point where you feel like man, we’re not meeting the needs of the community. We’re not able to say yes to some of the the requests that we’re getting.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — Or we feel like the facility just isn’t working as well as we think it should. Then definitely reach out.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — Ah for a lot of churches like yeah, it’s time to go. It’s time to raise money and stuff. And for a lot of them. It’s like oh these are the things we need to be thinking about…

Rich Birch — Thinking about this stuff. Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — …as we manage our largest capital asset, right? Our our building. So.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love that. And I know you’ll even just book it on a ah call. Which I think is crazy. Like I’m like you’re not even charging for those first kind of discovery call kind of things, which is crazy to me. I’m like that’s nuts, but people should take advantage of that.

Aaron Stanski — Right.

Rich Birch — Well, Aaron Mora, let’s talk about maybe some surprises in that in those early, the early phases. As you were thinking about the project, what was something that you know, kind of bubbled up in the process that was like, oh here’s some you know some kind of thing that I didn’t anticipate or didn’t really see um, through this that you know maybe was a bit surprising?

Aaron Mora — Sure, and and even going back to that Needs Analysis, um, and um I imagine those listening there’s probably a few out there that are similar to me – we’re pretty cheap, you know frugal.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Mora — Like trying to say you know how how can we get through this spending the least amount of money…

Rich Birch —Yes.

Aaron Mora — …at least not spending needlessly.

Rich Birch —Yep.

Aaron Mora — And so for a Needs Analysis, I think in that first call was a sense of, you know, is this something that we really need? You know we we know we need a building, so is that something that that’s worth the time? And I think I think um on on one hand um, quick quickly walking through it, that process is first of all gold for us. I think there were a lot of answers that we came to that we wouldn’t have otherwise. But then also I think it was also so helpful for Risepointe to really get to know us as part of the the process of getting to that design, so they were able to design something that just fit what we were wanting to do.

Aaron Mora — And so yeah, that initial kind of drive around exploring the community getting to know the community. That particular hotel that that Stanski was was talking about, I think that their their response was you know, maybe buy it and bulldoze it. Like that’s not that’s not worth going into. But even that sense of like, I I don’t know is that just options that we’re looking around at um.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Aaron Mora — One one of the pieces even even related to the the space that we landed on which was a JCPenny, ah it was the JCPenny itself was about 60,000 square feet.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Aaron Mora — It’s right on the main drag going through… Alma’s ah, a small Michigan town of maybe 20,000 people. And so the the main kind of line through town where all the Walmarts and Meijers and everything’s at, ah this JCPenny was right there. So beautiful location. And the initial thought was oh well, let’s buy the whole thing. Um, and so the the thinking though is if you buy 60,000 square feet based on even with some significant growth, what we’d actually need going back to even that budget question of you know what can you afford for for the congregation? You know what do you need it to to do? And I remember us going through you know. feeling this, like well if we don’t buy it now and you know will we regret it in the future? And Risepointe was instrumental to say you know based on your current attendance, based on growth, this is the square footage that you need.

Aaron Mora — And actually made ah something that would have kept me up at night, just a major decision—like do we buy all of it, do we buy part part of it…

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — …was saying you can do everything you want to in this footprint that you buy.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — So we ended up buying about 30,000 square feet.

That’s great.

Aaron Mora — And in that we we initially built in this phase about 22-, 23,000 square feet of that.

Rich Birch — Okay, yep.

Aaron Mora — And it and it’s ah it’s for right us right now ah, a perfect footprint of what we’re in.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great.

Aaron Mora — And so even walking through those types of decisions, I think it was a sense of saying I don’t know if I don’t think I could have Googled an answer to that solution.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Mora — I think there there was a part of this process that kind of walked us through um in that. And that didn’t that didn’t finish through the design. I think that Risepointe also being a firm that walked all the way through the project, um like Aaron and then ah Chris, one of the the chief architect on the on the project, were just a constant connection, which not every not every organization does, not every designer does.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Aaron Mora — Um and it it really was a relationship.

Rich Birch — Yeah, for sure. Well and I love that, you know, we and when you come to a key decision like that, like there’s one thing you can’t sure you can Google you can find some sort of calculator online. But man, you want to talk to somebody who’s been through this a bunch and has done a bunch of projects. And you know Aaron and the team you know over Risepointe can do that.

Rich Birch — Talk to us from a kind of a campus pastor, pastoral care, you know the kind of spiritual dynamics that that you went through as a church. There’s a part of this that’s you know 20,000 square feet – it’s colors, it’s color swatches, it’s you know, picking chairs, all that stuff. But what what was some of that kind of internal transformation that you went through as a team? How did that, you know, it’s not just about buildings, obviously. What, talk to us about that.

Aaron Mora — No I think that anytime you’re like a building project is a step of faith. Like you’re probably stepping out into the sense of will will the money come in? You know will will people step in? Will people show up? Is it is it going to be something where you put all this money into something and you don’t grow? And so there is a faith aspect of saying um you know, God we’re we’re we’re we’re sensing you leading us this direction. And that started you know before that even even before we got to multisite. And so there’s there’s a bit of you know, anxiety or fear could keep you in this place of saying, well let’s not do anything. You know, we’re comfortable.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah.

Aaron Mora — And um and so I think that the part of the relationship with Risepointe could be the sense of someone who’s there giving you confidence beyond, you know, the Holy Spirit, beyond God. But even this this sense of saying, God using, you know, a firm to be able to to walk alongside and encourage and say, oh nope, we’ve seen this done before. You know other people have walked this road. Different problems or things that we bumped in during the project, even say hey we’ve we’ve seen this in other spots. You know, we we can show up at a town town meeting conversation zoning thing, talk the language. I think all of that was incredibly helpful.

Aaron Mora — And I think in that was this this sense of ah the stress didn’t necessarily go away because a building project, there’s lots of different moving pieces and decisions and and things going through there. But I do think having a good relationship with your designer, um with with the architect allows you to be able to navigate that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — And that was incredibly helpful for us.

Rich Birch – Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Yeah, there’s that Proverbs 12:15 right, the the way of the fool is right in his own eyes. But the wise listens to counsel. And you know I think this is one of those examples of that.

Rich Birch — Well, Aaron Stanski, talk us through when you you know you approach ah ah, church like this comes to you and is like, hey we’re we’re thinking about this kind of thing, give us some of the steps that your or some of the questions those kind of early kind of decision-making points. How are you helping guide them through you know, this decision making process? How do you come alongside them and kind of integrate with their leadership development, or their leadership not leadership development their leadership process for making decisions?

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, I mean I think at Risepointe like we’re we’re constantly measuring kingdom impact, right?

Rich Birch — Good.

Aaron Stanski — And so we want to figure out, man, how do we unleash kingdom impact ah in Alma, Michigan? And so we know buildings aren’t going to do ministry, people are. And so like as we as we grow this thing and build it and stuff like as architects, sure, like 60,000 square feet sounds twice as big and twice as much stuff.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Stanski — And if it was about us and like you know putting projects on our website that would be one thing. But we know we have to hand over a tool ah, to Aaron Mora and his staff and his team that they’re going to use and continue to grow. Ah so yeah, that one big piece that like we’re always trying to you know, develop a plan, a budget plan, a cash flow plan ah, that’s going to set us up for success. So.

Aaron Stanski — Um, you know when we sat down with their leadership and we were looking at their options like the ability to say, no, we can we can only buy half of the building. And then we’re not even going to build all of it out.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Stanski — But we’re going to design it in a really unique way with a phase two in mind so that they do have options to grow. Um, and we’re going to create an entrance that looks really cool ah in sort of the corner of this JCPenney building and we’re just going to bring it back to life, you know. And so being able to lay out a really clear ah budget and cash, you know, cash flow positive plan that we feel like ah lines up with um, you know giving and all of those things is really critical in the early phases. Because if we can if we can set set those parameters in place, if we can get the guardrails in place, and say okay we we need this many seats, we need this type of a tool when we’re done, and this is the budgets and you know sort of the things that we feel like God has given us from a resources standpoint, ah then as as Christians and as designers and as partners with the church, we can say, all right, this is the highway we’re on and we can drive that project toward success.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. Yeah you you brought up the money question. I appreciate you bringing that up Aaron Stanski. Um Aaron Mora, talk to us about that piece of it. I’m sure there’s lots of churches out there that are portable right now…

Aaron Mora — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and they would say, yeah, we’d love to get into a permanent location, but man we just there’s no way, we we can’t afford that. And maybe they haven’t even looked into it. Talk to us through what kind of how did that piece of the conversation – whatever you feel comfortable sharing um, you know on that front.

Aaron Mora — Um, yeah, well and and I think it was ah it definitely was part part of that that part of that step of faith was we’re rural central Michigan. There’s not necessarily deep deep pockets. And not that that you know and every church I think that probably is an aspect of trying to gauge, you know, what is a step of of faith. But for us there really hadn’t been this sense of, you know, ah you know certain individuals that could give write a check…

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — …you know, and build a building type type thing. And so in that was a sense of you know what is what is responsible? What’s reasonable? You know what are we able to to walk into?

Aaron Mora — Um, and so ah and with that having Also you know a faithful foundation that’s within the church. But absolutely it was a sense of how do we get into this to get an amazing building for for the least amount to be good stewards. And you know even going back to the initial thought of looking at fields. There was this thought of you know if you build it from scratch, you get exactly what you want.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — But you know you know what what would it take to make something that right now is an empty box, ah former store, into something that’s incredible. And and I think that ah, this was also helpful in that none of some of those initial conversations just looking at Risepointe’s portfolio and saying oh this is actually stuff that we’ve done in other spaces, in other places. And you can kind of see, okay, that that gives you an example of you know what could be done.

Aaron Mora — Um I I also appreciated I think that Risepointe former projects that they had done, they were able to also talk to ah builders, construction firms in Michigan, and be like hey can you give us right now like you know you just did a project last year, what’s the cost per square foot that you can expect?

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

Aaron Mora — And then even beyond the construction, looking at FF&E and you know furniture, fixtures, and all those extra pieces. And those were all things that probably wasn’t on our initial list…

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — …but part of that part of that strategic that that ah that initial plan was to say, okay, here’s here’s looking at the whole picture to get into the building. And so it gave us ah a sense of confidence and a plan. Um and praise God I think also a congregation that was saying, but you know let’s keep going; we feel like this is where this is where we’re heading. This is the next step. And so we had you know a lot of unity on that as well.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Aaron Stanski — I love that you threw out just FF and E

Aaron Mora — That’s right and learning the jargon.

Aaron Stanski — That’s right. Like you’ve you’ve learned…

Rich Birch — Yes, that yeah that tells you’ve just come through a project. Yeah, yeah, when you’re saying FF and E. Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, you’ve learned a lot on the construction and design side through this whole thing.

Aaron Mora — Well and even so even going back to the heart of you know your your ministry, Rich. Like like even going to the heart of of unSeminary. I did not, when I went through seminary, went to reform theological seminary, there was not a class on building projects and…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Aaron Mora — And I I think in that there I mean what a what a great topic to say there is a lot of it. I remember one of the that initial Needs Analysis, ah the term FF&E was thrown out and I had to Google it on my phone under the table because I had no idea that and no idea what that meant.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Mora — Ah, but it is It is amazing to see like through that um, yeah, it is kind of a ah learn as you go. And you want wise people around you to help you figure it out.

Rich Birch — Okay, so talk to us about, so you’re you know four or five months into the building. Have you had any experiences now that you’re up and running and you’re like, oh, we should have done this different, or we should have done this different. Is there anything like that that’s kind of, you know, you you pass on, because I’m hoping you’re gonna do for your other campuses you’re gonna do more buildings.

Aaron Mora — Yeah.

Rich Birch — So you know what you what what lessons are you learning?

Aaron Mora — I think one of the biggest lessons actually is before before you get to anything that we’re like I wish I would have done this differently, is um I felt like I was talking to my staff, and also talking to some of my key leaders to say, change is hard.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Aaron Mora — And even if it’s a good change, even if it’s a exciting change, we’re moving into a new building, all this thing, there are some people where change is just hard. Um I want to go back. I want to go you know to you know I liked it, you know, the old way. And so in that to say, you know, people giving comments or responses, A- expect it. It’s going to come. People are going to have opinions about the color. People are going to have opinions about the sound system PA. People and have opinions about everything. Um, expect it. And then also don’t take it just as negative. And I think that was very helpful…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Aaron Mora — …as I was talking to my staff because you just get this barrage of people saying things. And it would be easy to have this negative mindset of saying, oh man did did we did we mess up or something? Or you are all these mistakes.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — And I think it’s a sense of of you have overwhelming change with things like a building project moving in. We fortunately have a ah I think amazing congregation. Um, but you know through a lot of the design process we kind of kept a certain number of select leaders in that because you didn’t want everyone’s input…

Rich Birch — Right right.

Aaron Mora — …into a lot of those, you know, decisions that are going through. But that being said I think that ah you know, expecting that change is going to be a little bit hard for people.

Aaron Mora — And then there are going to be so there’s ah, there’s a short list of saying, oh yeah I you know I might have changed, I might have done it differently. Nothing overwhelming, but even you know, one small example that I’ve I’ve been going back and forth with Risepointe a little bit is, in our our lobby we have this beautiful lobby as you enter into the building. None of our other campuses have such an intentional space

Rich Birch — Love it.

Aaron Mora — And but sound treatment. So like in that space, it’s a little echoey.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Aaron Mora —And we really didn’t know until you had 200 bodies in there.

Rich Birch — Yeah, so you actually run it. Yeah, yeah, totally.

Aaron Mora —You know what’s it what’s it going to sound like.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — And and then even Risepointe ah Chris who was kind of our our primary connect with saying you know some people love that, you know, kind of the ambient noise echo going through. Um, sometimes it can also be a little overwhelming.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — Um, and so that’s one thing we’re like we got to figure something out, but that’s not so not something we need to figure out today.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — You know in the meantime we have an amazing space that we’re in.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Aaron Mora — Um, other other small things I think that there were there were things that we figured out getting into it that now that we’re now that you’re in the building, you’re kind of living with it, but nothing that was like a complete miss. I think they’re all small tweaks and changes that you expect…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Aaron Mora — …when you’re moving into a new space.

Rich Birch — Well that, good for you. Like I we opened um I’ve opened a bunch of buildings over the years, and this was not a Risepointe project. Another with another outfit and we opened 107-, 8000 square foots of big, giant building.

Aaron Mora — That’s huge.

Rich Birch — And literally on opening weekend I’m standing watching. We we have the one side we had like this big ramp and all this to get you know help people get in because it was on we was a renovated building as well. And um, I’m standing watching moms pick up their strollers and come up this set of staircase. We put the ramp on the wrong side of the building.

Aaron Mora — Oh no.

Rich Birch — I literally opening opening weekend I’m standing there looking and I was like, oh my word. Like we got all the kids ministries here, but the ramps on the other side. Why did we? Ah! You know so good for you that the fact that you don’t that’s like a pain point for me in my life. And it’s still to this day that project’s 20 years old and that ramp’s never been fixed. So it’s ah it’s a funny, a funny project. But and again not a Risepointe project. So you cannot blame our our Risepointe friends for that.

Aaron Mora — Yeah, there you go.

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, see there, you go.

Rich Birch — Stanski talked to us about just going back to that decision point around green field versus renovating a box. Talk to us at kind of a principles level around that because I think there’s something there for us to kind of think through a little bit if we’re early on in a project if other people are wrestling through that. Talk to us through just in general maybe not specifically this project..

Aaron Stanski — Yeah I mean in general, ah I mean we have to be really intentional with the decisions that we’re making and understanding how we’re using our buildings and how we’re leveraging those things. Ah so you know for churches that are looking at, for churches that are multisites or ah, you know, or trying to understand how they’re developing their campuses and their sites, like there’s a whole decision make making matrix that we kind of walk through. Ah but in general I mean you’re gonna be so you’re gonna spend about twice as much money building new as you would renovating. Now there’s…

Rich Birch — Okay, wow.

Aaron Stanski — …there’s a little bit there’s a cost, right? You have to buy the renovated building and so you have to add that in just like, and it’s going to be more expensive than buying flat land. But in general, it’s about twice as much to build new. And so ah in in situations where you know churches have, you know, they’ve already, you know, planted or sent multisites out several times, and they no longer have the option of sending out 150, you know, folks to launch the next campus or places where they’re completely landlocked, or may or may not have an open JCPenny, it’s certainly an option to take a look at what does building new look like and and how do we get there. But yeah, if you can if you can find ah a space that’s ah that works for assembly and is going to meet code and do all of those things, ah, it can be an option to you know to buy an existing space and you’ll definitely save some money there.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s cool. We’ve done we’ve done multiple of of those. In fact, I don’t think any of the projects I’ve done have ever been from a green field. But the the thing about a renovating I found as just a leader renovating a space, in a weird way if the church is looking and you’re actively kind of like paying attention to the market. Um, we can move faster in some cases we can move faster than other people can, which on the people that are selling these properties can actually be really positive.

Rich Birch — And so we we had one of our our campuses was exactly that. It was a it was a company that was they were shutting down this particular operation. They were literally and it came down to like there was a guy from Texas who was still running this project, and he was like I want to go back to Texas and like they were done. They had already written off all their their loss as ah as a corporation. And it literally was like, if you guys can move fast enough, we’ll sell it to you. And it was like a significant discount – 30% under under market.

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — Because they were just like, hey you know we’re done. And so we were like, let’s jump on it…

Aaron Stanski — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and see if we can make it happen. That’s so…

Aaron Stanski — Now what you have to do with existing buildings though is have more contingency…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Aaron Stanski — …because you’re going to run into things that you don’t expect. And ah…

Rich Birch — Yes. You open up a wall and that did not anticipate there was that there.

Aaron Stanski — Now we did we did open up a wall on the Community Church project after we had done all of the inspections to make sure there was no asbestos anywhere, and we were good to go.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Stanski — And we went and opened up the first wall—do you remember this, ah Aaron Mora…

Aaron Mora — Yeah, it was on the the outside facade.

Aaron Stanski — …and here’s the first wall…

Aaron Mora — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — …and it was spray painted ah asbestos. Do not do not demo.

Rich Birch — Ah, oh my goodness. Oh gosh.

Aaron Stanski — And so that was that was a stinger right at the very beginning of the project, right? You’re like shoot.

Rich Birch — Ouch. Yeah, yeah, totally.

Aaron Mora — Hard hard to ignore it when they they write it on. But and that was I think that some of that some of thats that you expect walking into it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — And I think rolling with the punches like I feel like my skin’s a little thicker after walking through…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Aaron Mora — …even just a sense of expecting some of those surprises as they come through. Um, but overall I think that you you you can just keep persevering and you get to the finish line.

Rich Birch — Yup. I kind of liked frankly the the constraint of an existing box to fit the thing into. We’re we’re going through a building project right now. It sounds similar size 20,000 square feet. And and I like I walk in there and I’m like this is fantastic, like it’s great. And a part of it is because it’s like we’re not thinking about how big the box is. We’re trying to figure out what we can do to get it into this box.

Aaron Mora — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — Mmm-hmm.

Rich Birch — And all the creativity’s around that which is is fantastic. Well Aaron Mora, talk to us you know, there’s leaders that are listening in who are hesitating on even maybe starting this kind of project. They’re like ah, you know, I’m not this feels like they get indigestion just thinking about it. Talk to that leader who, and I want to push them over the edge to say, hey let’s let’s actually get the ball rolling.

Aaron Mora — Um, yeah.

Rich Birch — What would you say to somebody now on this end, you know you’re a couple years in. You know you now have actually opened. Talk to us what you’ve learned, how what what kind of words of encouragement would you say to them?

Aaron Mora — Yeah, I think even thinking back to our initial steps. Um I think that you have to say is is this what we’re called to?

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Aaron Mora — You know because I think that there is different strategy for different times. And honestly I think that if God if we felt like God was saying, hey stay portable. I think I think we we hope that we would have responded to that well. Because sometimes you can just chase growth for growth’s sake, and I don’t know if that is always good. One of the things that allowed us to even I think land with Risepointe was I think one of the lines Aaron I think you you shared with me one of our first conversations is like, we know churches. We talk church language.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Mora — You know, even as we’re getting into some of those kind of Needs Analysis. It’s also this it’s this faith component of saying, is this something that A, God is leading us towards? And then B, is feasible? And I think that those should correlate, right, between the the two of them. But even just a sense of saying um ah A Needs Analysis didn’t obligate us to break ground…

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — …or to to get into a building.

Rich Birch — No.

Aaron Mora — It also you know is part of that that discerning part of that figuring out you know where are we sitting? Um, and then I think in all of it like for us um I think that we we felt pretty confident that even as a portable campus, permanency, having a permanent location was going to was gonna also communicate to the community that hey we’re not just trying this.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Mora — We’re not, we’re not you know as the maybe the bigger church that’s up the road in another town. We’re not just trying to you know, kind of see if we can fleece you know people coming in or whatever else. Um I think that permanency also communicates a sense of, hey we’re part of this community.

Aaron Mora — Um there was also even just some being portable some challenge of ah of even being associated with the the wonderful ministry that we were meeting in. But sometimes that could even create some confusion…

Oh sure.

Aaron Mora — …around like well is is it a church or is it h it is it this Youth Ministry thing…

Rich Birch — Is that a YFC thing? Or yeah, yeah, yeah.

Aaron Mora — …and is it YFC thing? And I think that’s just inevitable just from, again, not not being visibly there. And so walking through the whole thing I think there was a sense of permanency did bring a certain level of hey we’re we’re here to stay. And then surprisingly you can do all the social media advertising you want, all the word of mouth, but just having ah a big old building with ah with a sign on the main drag, I had no idea you guys existed. And so I think there’s also just a sense…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Mora — …of you know, if you build they will come. Um, we built a auditorium that was actually a pretty big step of faith, and I think that was going through Needs Analysis saying you know what what size auditorium could we build? It was built with a stage that can actually expand to be slightly larger, which is which was wise, and you know thinking about a potential phase two down the road. But we are already at at two services ah close to, I mean we’re we’re at 90 were 95% full in first service last week…

Aaron Stanski — Wow.

Aaron Mora — …which is significant. And then in our other service, it’s a little more open but it’s you know, 70% full. Most metrics I’ve seen is 80% tends to be when you’re feeling kind of…

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Mora — …ah too full on Sundays. And so we’re already looking at a third service which makes me also say, man, my faith should have been bigger. Like why why didn’t we build this bigger?

Rich Birch — Where’s that expansion with with here’s those other 8000 square feet – let’s go!

Aaron Mora — But but in but in that is a sense also also the sense of saying though, you know, we couldn’t have known.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Aaron Mora — And I think that um and not every situation is going to be that way. There’s been other areas of growth where we’ve not seen that same automatic return. So it’s not even like you know that we did something right. But for whatever reason I feel like God is using this, this project and saying, hey like you you just see people walking in who I mentioned before a lot of them walked away from church…

Rich Birch — Yeah, so good.

Aaron Mora — …five years ago at the start of the pandemic, or they walked away from church. They just stopped attending years ago. Lots of wonderful churches but very traditional churches in this area. Not many that are that are, you know, more contemporary in in Mid-Michigan.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Aaron Mora — And so even just that, this sense of coming in and hearing the gospel. Um, ah those who are far from God and you think, man, God’s using this to reach all these people who had disconnected from the the body of Christ. And and I’m like man that was that was worth it because you know there there were a lot of months last year that were a little stressful, you know?

Rich Birch — Yeah, oh for sure.

Aaron Mora — Yeah that were, you know, kind of ah long hours working through different things. But seeing the fruit of it causes me to say, man, that was that was so worth it. I’ll do that again in a heartbeat…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Mora — …if that’s something that leads to this this sense of you know, expanding ah, God’s reach through this local church.

Rich Birch — I love that. That’s such a great encouragement. And and I’m ah I’m a big fan of portable. This is not like an anti portable conversation. I think there’s a good developmental step for lots of churches.

Aaron Mora — Absolutely.

Rich Birch — I think it’s a great way to get rolling. And but there is I would echo what you’re saying. Um, I’ve said this in other contexts there is a tangible intangibility that about going permanent that is it’s hard to get onto a spreadsheet. It’s hard to know like how does that how does that fit? Um, you know what I do know is if I was to walk around Alma, Michigan today and say, Hey tell me about a good church in town. Where is a good church? And I just talked to people on the street they’re going to point at buildings. They’re going to point at, now we know that the body of Christ and the church is the collected body of believers – that it’s it’s a group of people. It’s not a physical building. We know that.

Rich Birch — But that’s not what people who don’t go to church that’s not what they think about.

Aaron Mora — Yeah.

Rich Birch — They think about the actual physical building. And there’s something to that that is that makes a difference to or the excel it can be an accelerating factor ah in our growth. Aaron Stanski, talk to maybe ah, an executive pastor person who’s leaning in today who’s listening. And they’re like maybe a little bit more of the nickels, and you know measuring the the pencils, and thinking about that. You know I love Executive Pastors, friends who are listening in. I’m not making fun of you. Ah, but what would you say to them if they’re thinking about this kind of step? What should their takeaway be from that side? Um you know, if they’re thinking, man, I wonder if we should move these campuses in or this campus into a physical location?

Aaron Stanski — Ah, yeah I mean, I think there’s a lot of things to count there. Um, but I know I know one of the things that we that we quickly noticed and you know Aaron Mora had pointed this out at their portable location is that there were lids that were preventing them from growing. Um.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Aaron Stanski — They had plenty of seats in the gym that they were you know setting up in and stuff, but there were other places of the facility, some kids rooms that were completely maxed out, zero community space with hallways and some other things. And it it does get cold in Michigan so it’s kind of important to have some indoor gathering space. So there were some lids that were going to prevent them from growing.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Stanski — And so like how are we going to address those lids. And you know I’m sure if my wife and I I mean we’re christians already, if we moved over to Alma, Michigan we’d find community and like we’d participate and stuff, and that would be great. Um, but the question becomes like if if they were still portable and those lids were existed existing there, and the Holy Spirit told me, man, I need to invite my lost neighbor or my coworker to come to church with me. If the next thought out of my brain is but I got to tell them to get there early so that they get a parking spot.

Aaron Stanski — Or I have to explain to them, go down the weird hallway and like the, or kids or if there’s some sort of excuse that I have to make ah in that invitation, then that’s a problem, right? And you can address it a lot of different ways, right? And we’ve talked about them on this podcast, and we should consider them, like adding more services ah like, you know, expanding expanding campuses, all of those other things. But when we’ve exhausted those resources and those families live in that community and want to go to a place that loves on their kids and they can learn about Jesus and stuff, that’s when it’s time to make room for more.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Aaron Stanski — And we have to figure out the best most effective way to do it.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. What what um, give us a sense ah if a church has A Needs Analysis, I want to underline something that that was said. Like the assumption isn’t that oh you’re necessarily going to do a building project like.

Aaron Mora — No.

Rich Birch — You know I’ve said to church leaders who are facing facility issues, I’ve said man, you should you really should get Aaron and his team in from Risepointe because you know they they might convince you out of a building project and say actually, let’s make these three changes and that’ll get you another 2 years and then that gives you more time. Talk to us about that Aaron Stanski…

Aaron Stanski — Yeah I mean we’ve done that.

Rich Birch — …that kind of dynamic. Right. Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — We’ve done that plenty of times.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Stanski — I mean at the heart of what we do, we’re church leaders ourselves.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — We’re all actively serving and like at our churches and stuff too. And so the assumption isn’t that building is the solution, right?

Rich Birch — Right. It’s good.

Aaron Stanski — The assumption is God is doing something unique in and through this community and we have to understand how are we using our building.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — How are we aligning our building in our facility to our mission and vision and is there an opportunity to do it at ah at a better scale.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — And so yeah for lots of churches iIt’s like man, what what makes you unique? What are how are you serving your community, and what does it look like to do some of those things? Some churches it’s It’s like we’ve moved offices out.

Rich Birch — Right.

Aaron Stanski — And by doing that that’s high space and we’re able to add more seats and and some of those other things…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Aaron Stanski — …and for a fraction of the cost of what it would, you know you know, be to do something else we’ve identified a solution that yeah is going to unleash them for the next two years three years four years, and if God continues to bless, you know, then we can look at brick and mortar.

Rich Birch — Love that. Again, bad for business. Great for the kingdom. I’m like you should every solution should be build a new building. Ah, but again, this is why I love Aaron and the team at Risepointe because they really are trying to come alongside. These people love churches and they want to help. And this has been just such a great conversation today.

Rich Birch — Well it’s kind of have last words. Aaron Mora, if people want to kind of track with Community Church and you know track with the church, where do we want to send them online to kind of follow along, to check out the story, that sort of thing?

Aaron Mora — Yeah, because Community Church is kind of a generic name. In fact, a couple years ago we went through a process of rebranding.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Mora — And we went around, had a whole process of finding finding names for churches and we actually loved, came back to our name, Community Church.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Aaron Mora — Which um so community MI – MI as in Michigan – communitymi.org…

Rich Birch — Michigan. Yep.

Aaron Mora — …is our website. And of course Facebook and other spots as well. Um, and so you want to check it out. I think that ah you know even looking at the the Alma campus specifically, um, we just finished the project but I think there’s some pictures probably getting posted on Risepointe’s site um, to be able to to peek in and see what it looks like. And I just have to tell you I am so stinking proud like of what we ended up with.

Rich Birch — Aw that’s good.

Aaron Mora — Um, you know, even like some of the the colors coming from between the carpet, going up the walls in the kids space, and indoor playground, which in Michigan is killer…

Rich Birch — Big deal. Yep.

Aaron Mora — …place for for moms groups to be able to already start meeting in. Um, it just it it looks fantastic. In fact, I think ah we’re in a more rural context. We’re about an hour north of Lansing, about 2 hours north of Detroit, Michigan. People walk in and be like, I can’t believe this church is here.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it.

Aaron Mora — So check it out – I’m ah super super happy with the project.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s that’s good to hear, man. That’s that that makes me happy because there are a lot of church leaders who go through these things and they come to the end of them and they’re like, man we just burned so much money, time, effort, energy. I lost way too much time with my kids…

Aaron Mora — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and I walk around this building and feel like, it’s okay, you know. So I love the fact that you’re you know you’re feeling that. And I did see some of those pictures and it’s funny as we’re going through, I’m like this is the problem with podcasts is like, it’s a beautiful facility – just trust us!

Aaron Mora — It’s good.

Rich Birch — So Aaron Stanski where do we want to send people to actually see pictures of this project?

Aaron Stanski — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And if they want to you know, connect with you and do A Needs Analysis, all that stuff, where do we want to send them online?

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, you can just go to risepointe.com – that’s Risepointe with an E dot com. And ah yeah, actually the ah the Alma project is going to be right on our homepage. You just scroll down there and you’re going to see it. There’ll be 2 projects down there but you can click on that one. There’s going to be tons of photos. So you’ll see some of the finished photos of the space. Ah there’s also going to be some of the renderings. So some of the initial renderings of what did we what did we pitch and how did it actually get done. And then I think we’ll even have a cleaned up site ah floor plan.

Rich Birch — Oh great.

Aaron Stanski — So if you kind of want to get a sense of what does that floor plan look like, what are some things that ah you might compare to you know, kind of some of your spaces at your church – that’ll be on there. You’ll also notice that we took the entire floor plan and we just kind of kinked it about 15 degrees or so. I think we’ve all walked into a big box store and we didn’t want it to feel like a box. We wanted it to feel very community-oriented. So just a little bit of ah of a tilt there on the floor plan will give you a sense of of some of the things that we did.

Aaron Stanski — Um, and yeah, if you want to get connected with us, there’s buttons right there on the on the homepage of Risepointe as well. Ah, you can click right on that if you want to have a conversation, you just fill out a little form and pick a time that works for you. We’d love to connect, hear more about what God is doing at your church, and how we at Risepointe could help.

Rich Birch — That’s crazy again. I say that right on the front page. I’ve said this to Aaron before, it’s just a click a schedule to call schedule a call button – that’s nuts that they make it so easy. So that’s ah, you really should do that friends I know there’s people that are listening in that you as we’ve been talking today, you’re like, man, that really does describe a campus or that describes our church and man we’re early. We’re not even sure. I feel nervous talking to these guys. No no, reach out click that button, book the call. That’s a great next step.

Rich Birch — I appreciate you guys being on this on the on the call today and being a part of the podcast. Ah, thanks for being here, the two Aarons. It’s been a great.

Aaron Mora — That’s right.

Rich Birch — The first time I’ve had a double Aaron podcast. So glad for you guys being here today. Thanks for being here. Take care.

Aaron Stanski — Yeah, thanks, Rich.

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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.