The Staff Health Puzzle: How Central Christian Operationalizes Alignment with Joe Platania

Thanks for joining in the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Joe Platania today, the Executive Pastor of Human Resources, Staff Development, and the Central Leadership Institute at Central Christian Church in Arizona.

Maintaining a healthy staff culture at a growing church is no small feat, particularly when you have multiple campuses. How do you lay a healthy foundation and build upon it well? Tune in as Joe shares a wealth of wisdom about leadership modeling, staff development, deep dives into organizational health, and more.

  • Health starts at the top. // Functioning with a healthy staff culture all begins with the foundation being laid by the leadership. A church’s senior leadership needs to model healthy behaviors, being transparent, vulnerable, and accountable. These are the pillars that support a thriving organizational culture. At Central Christian they’ve also developed leadership promises, a set of commitments that guide their leaders in fostering this positive environment.
  • Build it and then sustain it. // With the leadership creating a healthy foundation, it’s important to continue to cultivate that health by keeping the church in certain rhythms. Create a church calendar, policies, processes, and practices that keep the church moving forward in ways that sustain health, and then drive it through the organization. Build trust with your staff by addressing the problems they see. Ask them for feedback and then focus on process improvement.
  • Be accountable with each other. // Some things that Joe and his team worked on to improve their team culture at Central Christian were leadership promises, model clarity, and role clarity. Every January the leadership go through a 360 review process based on the leadership promises, which allows staff to provide feedback and keeps leadership accountable.
  • Maintain alignment. // One of the most challenging aspects of a multisite church is maintaining alignment and role clarity across campuses. Like other churches, Central Christian has their mission and vision. However, they are also crystal clear about being a centralized model of ministry and ensuring decisions, staff roles and job descriptions across their campuses support that model.
  • Deep dive with your team. // Joe maintains organizational health by meeting with his ministry teams for “deep dives”. These data-gathering sessions are crucial for celebrating wins, measuring important metrics, evaluating systems and processes, assessing leadership effectiveness, and pinpointing areas for improvement. The data collected from these sessions is then used to develop actionable plans and measure the success of implemented solutions.

Learn more about Central Christian Church at www.centralaz.com and click here to download a Team Reflection Deep Dive PDF which details the six deep dive questions that Joe discusses.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well, hey, everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Man I’m so excited that you’re tuned in today. Really looking for today’s conversation with Joe Platania. He is the Executive Pastor of Human Resources, Staff Development, and the Central Leadership Institute at Central Christian Church. This is a multisite church in Arizona that if you’re not tracking, you should be. They’ve got, if I’m counting correctly, 5 locations plus church online. It’s one of the fastest growing churches in the country and they’ve got a mission to lead people to discover and fully own a faith in Jesus. So Joe, just so glad that you’re here today. Thanks for being here.

Joe Platania — Thanks, Rich. I’m excited to talk to you today.

Rich Birch — Yeah, why don’t we fill out the picture – kind of tell us a little bit more about Central. Kind of give us the flavor if people were to come this weekend. What would they experience?

Joe Platania — Yeah, you know I think they’d have a great experience with worship, incredible messaging and a culture that is ah, an inviting culture. We we want to create an environment on weekends where people feel comfortable, they feel welcome, but they are also getting a message that’s very biblically centered. We’ll a lot of times preach really almost in an expository fashion but in a way that’s applicable. So a lot of people really these days seem to appreciate that authentic approach to God’s word.

Rich Birch — Oh absolutely.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah, for sure, we’ve seen that that’s one of the you know, kind of misnomers of fast growing churches is is they think, oh like they don’t really preach from the Bible. That’s not true at all and Central is a great example of that.

Joe Platania — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — You know, just if that’s what people are looking for. Ultimately they want timeless truths that’s applicable to today. That’s great. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your role; give us a sense of kind of the every executive password looks a little bit different but give us kind of a sense of of your piece of the puzzle.

Joe Platania — Yeah, and that’s a great way to put a piece of the puzzle. At Central there are 4 of us who sit in that executive pastor space and my part of it is the human resource space, I guess for lack of a better term. I certainly oversee our hiring and are handbook and our practices and um policy when it comes down to that. But I also get to work on our culture and I get to help ah my teammates my peer group ah work on you know, healthy processes and kind of digging in when something’s not quite right in their Ministry space and I’ll tell you that’s.

Joe Platania — That’s tricky sometimes because there has to be a lot of trust between us. Um, you know we’re we’re clearly in it together and I think we the the 4 of us recognize that so that allows me some some true in route to their ministry where I get to work and support them. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love that. Yeah that I’d love to really dig into that. Anybody that’s led a church of any size knows that developing a healthy staff culture can be difficult. It can be hard and you know there there can be this kind of misnomer out there – let’s use that word twice in one podcast – that you know people come and work, everybody loves Jesus and the staff will be amazing because of that.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Ah, but we know that it can be difficult. Why is that why do so many of us seem to struggle to have healthy staff cultures? What’s what’s your diagnosis of that issue?

Joe Platania — That’s a great question. I think I think if you and I could figure that out today, we could retire and and live well and the kingdom would be advanced because of it. Ah boy, I’ll tell you I I think it’s different from place to place. But I think there are some foundational truths that are in place when you have a healthy culture. And then I think there’s a layer on top of that that continue that healthy culture.

Joe Platania — So I I think you have to have that healthy foundation. You know I think that looks like first your leadership from from the top down has to be healthy. They have to act healthy. They have to interact with each other in a way that’s healthy. They have to model health.

Joe Platania — Um, and and then that looks like them being vulnerable, them being transparent even even when it’s hard to be transparent, and them to be accountable. And when when your leadership is that way, boy it’s kind of hard for the rest of organization to to not follow suit. So.

Joe Platania — So I think first of all those foundational pieces have to be in place. But then you have to continue to cultivate that health. And that’s just what I’ve learned. It’s like okay, let’s get this big rock in place, this foundational health in place. And now let’s continue it well, how do we do that.

Joe Platania — Now part of this by keeping the church in certain rhythms and and you do that with with a healthy calendar, with a process um and policies and practices that keep the church moving forward in ways that are healthy um and and driving it down through the organization. I think it’s hard at any size church. I think the bigger the church is, it It gets harder, especially when you start getting into multiple campuses. You know we we I don’t want to use the word struggle but it’s definitely a tension for us to continue to manage alignment not only through our ministries but through our campuses. I have to believe anybody who works in multisite church understands that alignment is tough and and clarity role clarity is tough.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s true.

Joe Platania — And those are those things though that you have to build on top of that healthy foundation. So build it and then sustain it. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love that that challenge of even for us at the senior leaders table, hey like it’s got to start with us. It’s not like we can’t point at everybody else and say, hey you got to be healthy.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — But then when we look at around at our relationships we say, man is this because really I really do believe that that kind of what starts at that level ends up rippling throughout the entire organization, staff team and then ultimately out from there.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch —Let’s talk about some of those rhythms. You talked about calendar, processes, practices.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Help us unpack that. Try to get a little practical there around some of those things. What are you doing at Central to try to help drive the healthy staff culture through you know, great calendaring, processes, practices, that sort of thing.

Joe Platania — Yeah, it’s it’s a great question. So with our calendar process, it’s something that we are really developing right now. We have it in place. But when I say developing we’re working on improving even in on that process. Um.

Joe Platania — We did a best Christian workplace survey in the fall of last year. And our score was good and but there’s always room for growth. And you know one of the tension points that our staff shared with us is hey we feel um, overwhelmed. And sometimes it feels like we’re doing too much. So we said hey we need to look at our calendar and make sure that um, it’s clear what we’re doing when we’re doing it that the the return on it. Um, and not only that, what is required for everyone to be at and what is something we’re doing as a church.

Joe Platania — So we went to work on that. We we went through a problem solving process where we we collected a lot of data from our staff after um the survey and then we we went through an orderly process solving um, a solution developing mandates and then really an approach. And now ah where we’re about to execute that. We’ve also put in place some hey how do we know when we’re successful with that approach.

Joe Platania — So we’ve gone to work on our calendar and I’m really excited. We just shared with our lead team on this last week hey here’s here’s some things we’re doing to provide you with clarity, and better detail in organization. And I was just listening to it I’m like wow we are we followed a process of improvement and now we’re providing really, the ask of our staff last fall when they said, hey this is a hard thing about working here.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania —Like help us, fix this. And like, okay here we go. So now it’s sharing that so we shared it with lead team…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Joe Platania —…next next month at staff meeting we’re gonna share it with them. And then we’re gonna ask them, hey hold us accountable to it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania —Like here’s what you said, here’s what we’re doing to fix it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — And here’s how we think we’ll know we’re successful, but you got to help us. You got you know, but that’s where that foundational stuff, Rich, that we talked about. Like if they can’t trust us, if they can’t believe that we’re there, that we’re not going to give them like a beat down for sharing feedback with us…

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — …then we’ll never hear it. So that foundational health has to be in place ah for for that layered health to continue.

Rich Birch — Oh I love this. I’m fascinated by this. I’d love to kind of pick that apart.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — I’d love to get to the process of how you got to that. So like kind of the meta idea of…

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …okay, how did we how do you go about listening? And then you know and then okay so we took that feedback, now we’re trying to actually live it out. But let’s stick with just the calendar thing there for a second. Unpack what you kind of discovered. It sounds like there was a tension around, we’re not sure you know even what people should come up, show to, you know what is you know… I know this is like a common thing. It’s like I know I work here. We do you know, Easter’s got 78 services…

Joe Platania — Right.

Rich Birch — …do I need to be at all 78 services for Easter?

Joe Platania — Right.

Rich Birch — Is it that kind of thing you’re wrestling with? Help us understand that a little bit.

Joe Platania — I would say on some level it is. It’s really interesting, I think there’s two things I think first of all, we’re a really active church. We’re trying to reach people um, who who are either far away, who don’t know Jesus. And then we’re trying to provide ah environments for people who know Jesus to grow in him. So you know because of that and that sounds like well yeah, every church is doing that. Well some churches are a little more direct in one or the other.

Joe Platania — One of the things I I find about Central is we try to do a little bit of both. You know we we want to provide environments and ways that we’re reaching the lost but also ways that we’re developing and helping the church grow spiritually. So that probably won’t surprise you kind of ends up in a busy calendar. So yeah, we’ve got Waster and a lot of services. But then we’ve got a lot of other different things that end up on our calendar.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — And so then when you have 5 campuses what you realize is, well, you’ve got these big rocks that you know Central services is putting on the calendar. Then each campus has their own things that they’re doing to try to reach their community to try to you know foster ah community amongst their their congregants. And then, what’s funny is then some of those things are like groups and and ministry settings. Well those ministry settings have things, you know.

Joe Platania — So like last weekend I was talking to one of our campus pastors and I was saying man, it’s so funny. I said we we have one thing on the calendar this weeken. But I don’t know about you but I’ve got 5 church things to do in the next day and a half.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Joe Platania — And so so you know, um, and so we we’re trying to solve that – that’s a second tension. So the first thing is we need to do as a church is make sure everything we’re putting on a calendar is in alignment with our mission, our vision, our strategy, that there’s an ROI, and we’re measuring that ROI, and we understand that. But then we’re giving our staff clarity is like hey these are things you really have to do – these are tier 1.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — And then these are tier 2. These these are, hey we hope you’ll do them, or if you have time to do them, or capacity to do them, if tier 2. And then I’ll tell you it’s a part of it that we haven’t solved yet and we’re going to need to go to work on—maybe it’s solving 1 before you can solve 2—is like how do we help our staff to even organize things on that third level of like, hey on my campus in my community…

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — Because you know even though Central’s got one thing in ten days, I’ve got nine. So yeah and it’s helping that. And I think some of that, and you probably you know know this, Rich, in ministry we don’t do so well with boundaries. So we’re often our own worst enemy.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Joe Platania — And I do wonder if some of that’s like ah ah you know teaching our staff on setting boundaries…

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — …and understanding like, hey it’s okay to say no. Because it doesn’t always feel okay to say no um, in ministry you know. And so that’s it. So that’s I would say we’re we’re making good traction. I love um the work we’ve done in our calendar. I love the the rigor we’re putting to it that’s going to only help keep it keep us in rhythm, but provide clarity. But um I do think there’s work to be done um, on that next level.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. There is something about I had a friend who you know always joked. He said you know our mission is a bottomless pit.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Kind of a little bit of surgeons black humor there of like ah…

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …but it’s true, right?

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Like there is always more to do, but the reality of it is we’ve got to help our teams kind of pick and choose and prioritize because there will always be more to try to accomplish the mission that we’re you know a part of, so. Let’s let’s talk a little bit more maybe about another aspect of your culture that over the last number of years you’ve looked at and said, hey here’s an area where we could pursue towards health. I understand this calendering piece. Are there other things other initiatives that you’ve kind of attacked as an organization to help improve your team culture?

Joe Platania — Yeah I’ll give you three right off the top and we could talk about any of the ones that you’d like.

Rich Birch — Yes, okay. Yeah.

Joe Platania — One kind of speaks to that foundational health I was talking about. And one thing we developed was called Leadership Promises. And I can share a little bit about that if you’d like. But then there’s two other things that we’ve really had to work on, I would say in the last two years that have been really helpful. And they’re they’re that second tier of of health. Um, and one is model clarity and alignment, and then role clarity and then alignment to model. And so you know ah we have mission, vision, model, strategy, you know. I think we’re really clear, in my opinion, very clear in our mission and vision. Um I think we’re clear in our strategy. But I think when we start to get into you know, model, alignment again, especially with multiple campuses and diverse communities, it gets tricky. So you know. So leadership promises was foundational…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — …and that’s going to help keep a strong, and then model and role clarity.

Rich Birch — Let’s talk about Leadership Promises. That that that’s intriguing. What what did you mean by that? What was the problem you were trying to solve with that?

Joe Platania — Yeah, so it’s it’s funny. I’ve been with Central for about two and a half years now and so I wasn’t actually part of this, but um, some of my teammates were telling me right before I joined the team they were in an interview with a candidate. And the candidate said, Hey you you guys ask a lot from the staff. Um, we had something that we shared with them called cultural distinctives, and they were just like hey um, here’s what it’s like to work in a church. And it’s awesome, but it’s hard. And so we were sharing cultural distinctives with them and this was what it’s like really. And they said but what do you promise? What do you promise to the people who work there?

Joe Platania — And and I remember um one of my teammates said to our executive group, hey I think it’d be really wise for us to develop um some things that we promise. So we went about the work. We worked with our executive team, with our lead pastor, and and then our lead team, and we developed like here are promises. These are commitments that our leadership is going to make. These are those foundational things which I was telling you about that. We’re going to commit to you. And then here’s what we’re going to do. Because ah promises are great, but if you’re not going to be accountable, your promises are pretty much useless. And honestly I think they’re negative.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — Um, and so what we do is each year, and we do it every January, um we do a 360 review and everyone in leadership. And the basis for that 360 review is our leadership promises. So we we cascade our leadership promises out to our entire staff, and we ask them to evaluate their leaders. And then we also send that to um peers and and supervisors. So leader is going to get feedback once a year on how they’re living out our leadership promises from their their teammates um who they who report to them, their peer group, and their supervisor. And and said it’s an accountability thing. So hey we promise you these healthy behaviors…

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — …and now we’re going to hold ourselves accountable to them. And yeah I love that. That’s been in place, this is our second year – we’re in or in April now. So we just came through our second cycle of that. I love it. I love it. Big fan of it. We’ll probably go to work this summer on making some improvements to that process now that it’s two years old. But ah it’s working.

Rich Birch — Yeah, talk to me about what some of those leadership promises are – maybe maybe 1 or 2 that ah provided kind of the the biggest leverage point, or maybe area of concern or improvement that you need to as ah as a team. What would be some of those Leadership Promises? What’s the kind of thing you’re you’re holding yourselves accountable to for your team? Which I love that idea, I think it’s fantastic.

Joe Platania — Yeah I would say a lot of it was based on narratives that we had heard from our staff and we talked to them about, but also things we wanted to make sure that we reinforce. So first of all, we wanted to make sure that we committed to our staff that we we were going to our leadership are going to be men and women of prayer. That we were and that’s the first thing on the, hey church, we are going to be praying. We’re going to ask God for guidance and clarity ah above and before all things. So that’s the first

Joe Platania — And then there’s other things in there that are really helpful that we’re going to be living transparently and we’re going to share authentically. We’re going to ask for feedback. You know we’re not going to wait for you to come. So one of the things that was an output of of our leadership promises was something that we do in our monthly reviews. And we call those reps, but it’s ah every thirty days everybody gets a 1 on 1 with their supervisor. And go over the normal things that you would go over in a 1 on 1. But one of the things is like, hey what feedback do you have for me? What can I be doing better? How can I support you better? But that came out of that like, hey we’re going to ask for feedback regularly. So of course we do our 360 once a year, but every month every supervisor should be asking, hey you know what what can I do to help?

Joe Platania — Other things and I’ll just give you one more that’s interesting and maybe this will resonate with you. Um, in the church world we I always like to say I think we’ve we have ruined the word family. I you know, starting in church it’s like, hey my church family. Well we’ve weaponized that word to some degree as a as a capital “C” Church and we use it to make people feel guilty about leaving, or growing and going elsewhere. So one of our promises was like, hey we’re gonna pour into you. We’re gonna invest in your personal and professional development, and then if you take that and leave we are gonna celebrate you for that.

Joe Platania — And and so that is, and you know my previous experience in church. And and not so much even with the church I’m with, it’s just the culture of church that wasn’t it. When you said, I’m leaving, the answer was like, how can you do this?

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — You’re, you know, you’re traitorous!

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — And now we’re saying the opposite. Like we’re going to make a kingdom investment in you and we hope you stay forever.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — But if you don’t, go with God and and grow the kingdom and we will celebrate that. So those were just some of the things.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Joe Platania — I I think we have about 10 or 12 different leadership promises.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Joe Platania — And um, you know, and it’s just again, it’s a promise to our staff…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Joe Platania — …ah that we’re going to be healthy.

Rich Birch — I love that. I love that even that idea of you know how we what’s our posture as we leave, if you’re leaving…

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …if you’re, you know, I like that going on to a new kingdom assignment.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Because that is one of the telltale signs, I think, of a culture that’s maybe gone sideways a little bit is, you know, is you… and I’ve had this happen as somebody who’s in the role I’m in. You know, I’ll hear from leaders who are saying like, hey, I’m thinking about moving on, but please don’t tell X. Please don’t you know.

Joe Platania — Yeah, yes.

Rich Birch — And and and the problem is like I I which, I understand. I’m not there’s not any judgment behind that.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — I understand why people say that. But that is I think once once we trip over that in our brains and realize, man I can’t even talk to my person about the fact that I’m thinking about leaving, or it’s like you’re dead to me, right?

Joe Platania — Right.

Rich Birch — They’ll be like, you know, you’re cut off you know, kind of thing.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — I love that. That’s so good. Can we pivot and talk a little bit about multisite? I think…

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …you know ah, let’s picture there’s a lot of multisite churches that are listening in, executive pastor of maybe a church of a couple thousand people.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — We’ve got 3 or 4 locations. And I hear you talking about church health and I’m like I have a hard time getting handle on where things are at in multiple locations. It feels like as church leaders were trained to kind of lead things when we’re in the room, but when we’re not in the room, it’s hard for our influence to continue to ripple, and multisite is you know that on steroids.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — So talk us through how how are you wrestling with kind of ensuring alignment around some of these health issues across all your locations. What are you learning in that process?

Joe Platania — Yeah, I think that kind of goes to the other things I was talking to you about where I think you have to have some really important things in place like model clarity, model alignment and then you know from that, hey this is what we are we – ah a centralized model church are we decentralized? Okay, great. What does that mean to be and and how should we act?

Joe Platania — And then from there it’s role clarity. Like do our roles align with that model. One of the things that I talked to some friends in the church world that I hear as a disconnect in multiside churches. They have a good idea of what kind of model church. They are not everyone does, honestly. But some do. But then they’ll they’ll create roles and job descriptions that are just not in alignment with that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — Or at least their their staff and we had some of that for sure at Central. And so one of the things we’ve been working on is first like hey guys here’s who we are. This is our model. This is the kind of church we want to be on all 5 campuses. And then here are our roles, here are job descriptions.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Joe Platania — So we yeah, and you know that sounds so easy. But as you can imagine you have I think we’re a well over a hundred staff right now. That’s a lot.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Joe Platania — Yeah, you know it’s a lot to do across 5 campuses. Um, so it’s it’s only a full time job. And and ah yeah, it takes a ah lot of collaboration among all of our team. Not only our campus staff. Our central service staff but our executive and lead team as well.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Joe Platania — But that’s that’s how we drive it. It’s like hey you know, healthy healthy culture, clarity at the model alignment level. And now let’s push that down to the “me” level, the person level, through role clarity. And I you know I do have some some tools that I use that I’ve just developed over the years that help ah deliver us at at spots of role clarity, and and even model clarity. And so when we we kind of start to feel those tensions. We’re like hey, maybe this team needs to do a role clarity exercise and help us.

Rich Birch — Um, yeah, let’s talk about that. Um, you’ve talked about model clarity a few times. And um I suspect that there are people that are listening in that are like, I’m really not sure what he’s talking about there.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — What what do you mean by model clarity?

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Um, and then let’s kind of scale that down then into role clarity a little bit.

Joe Platania — Yeah, so you know when when you’re a multisite church, there are things that get easier honestly and there are things that get harder. And one of the things that’s harder is keeping everyone on the same page. So you know the way I’ve learned to help keep larger groups on the same page is to be as foundationally strong and to build good solid brick levels at each spot.

Joe Platania — So one of the first spots is just understanding what operating model we’re going to follow. So are are we a church that is going to be, you know one church many locations. You know so really centralized. Are we going to be a church that really allows a lot of autonomy at the campus level. So we’re going to have some synergy and some redundancy from from the broadcast campus. And will allow those efficiencies to help our campuses but largely they’re going to be autonomous to reach our communities the way they think is best

Joe Platania — And I think you know there’s a spectrum of that. And I think you need to decide as an organization, are we going to be…

Rich Birch — Right.

Joe Platania — …and these very well may be my words. I don’t know that everyone uses decentralized and centralized, but it was just the easiest way I could think you know are you going to be a decentralized organization or a centralized. And at Central we’ve chosen to be a centralized model church.

Joe Platania — So we we’re one church, multiple locations, and so everything kind of falls under that banner and follows that order. So then you start to get to a funnel, what I would call a clarity funnel of, okay so everything falls on – we know who we are, now here’s what we do and how we do it. Because of that.

Rich Birch — Well, let’s let so yeah, this is ah so I’ve been doing multisite for you know 25 years, since really since 2000, 2002 – so almost twenty five years. And I was at a thing recently um, was speaking at this conference and we were talking about multisite and and I was joking with a friend of mine. I said you know you, could take the questions from today’s from the leaders in this room today are like the same questions that we were asking in 2001, 2002. It’s like dotted line, solid line. You know campus versus central.

Joe Platania — Yes.

Rich Birch — You know, all of that kind of stuff. It’s like man, we we find ourselves asking the same kind of questions. How do you talk about those issues when you try to define so you say centralized. What does that mean for like staffing and you know those kind of things.

Joe Platania — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — What’s some of the language help us understand how how you talk about that at Central.

Joe Platania — Yeah, that’s really that’s a really good, and and so I would say what we start with with that… First of all, there is always a tension when you have that centralized approach who who leads the staff at the campus level. So you know you have ah you have an executive level that sits under the lead pastor. And then you have a lead team. And then you have a central service, central support level, and then you have your campuses. And that’s not necessarily a hierarchy. Um, but you have to decide, do our campus staff, which is a lot of our you know church-facing staff – the people who are neck deep in ministry, who do they report to?

Joe Platania — So you know we have an org chart that provides really clarity of that. You know we have we have straight lines and dotted lines and everyone knows the answer. And for us what we’ve chosen in this season and, and again I don’t want to say that this is the only right way.

Rich Birch — Right. Yes.

Joe Platania — This is just the way we chose. Rich, I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more I figure out there’s more than one right way to do something. So you…

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely oh for sure for sure. But I think the take, the key on that though that I want to that I want to underline for people is I think the thing that you’re 100% or 110% true on is you’ve got to be clear in your church what your your approach to these issues. Because if it gets I literally was saying this to somebody two days ago – they were talking about multisite, they got a couple locations. And I was like you got to get clarity because if if you don’t then you’ll leave your team hanging out there and they’ll just guess, and you know and then you’ll have problems.

Rich Birch — So yeah I agree. There’s not there’s not one way to do this, but you got to be super clear on it. Sorry I interrupted you there.

Joe Platania — No, no.

Rich Birch — I was just giving you a hearty amen.

Joe Platania — Yeah, no and I and you’re so right. And so we try to provide that and so what we’ve chosen for this season is that our our campus level staff are going to report to you know central central service leader. So like our our kids staff on our campus report to our lead kids pastor, our student… Now they have a dotted line relationship with the campus pastor who sits on lead team as well. And and then of course the campus staff, associate campus pastors, they’re reporting to our our campus pastor.

Joe Platania — But we have that that we have that organizational alignment. We have a org chart. Again, some of this is just communicating who we are clearly. And so we have that. But it it can’t stop there. You you know you, then you have to continue to add texture and layers and context. And so while we have an org chart, now we have to build job descriptions that are really clear and in line with that that model of church that we want to run. And um and one of the things we’ve done with some of our groups and this will be a summer project is with some others is we not only want to have um, a job description that supports our the alignment of our model. But we want to have success behaviors that fuel our job description. So this is another layer, right?

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Joe Platania — So you have a model, you have clear job descriptions. What… Okay, that’s great, but what is what, you know, I can have 15 tasks or actions on my job description. That’s not super helpful. So I got to practice with this a little bit a couple of years ago with our campus pastors. And here’s what was kind of mind blowing. Um, we had we we developed some clarity for them, and and then we worked on hey let’s develop some success behaviors. I think we developed the 123 things that they do on a regular basis. I don’t know about you, but that feels like a lot.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s a lot. Wow.

Joe Platania — It’s a big job that our campus pastors have.

RIch Birch — Yes, yes, yes.

Joe Platania — And I’m confident like no matter who we looked at at staff, it’s going to be in that ballpark.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Joe Platania — And we’re just we have a lot going on.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — But what that does is is it allows now them to understand, Okay, here’s what it looks like for me to be successful. And then there’s another level of that like, hey I need to rank. I need to rank these behaviors. Like these are the behaviors I need to weigh and put first. So if I’m gonna only be able to do eighty of these 123, here’s the 80 I’m going to do first. But this is a multi-generational thing. So it’s like let’s start with this and you gotta work your way down. So these are things I’m hoping to continue to develop as we go into the summer and into the fall and yeah.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — That’s good. I love that. I love the you know continue to just push for for increasing clarity and increasing um helpfulness, really for our team…

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and and really to define hey here are the success behaviors that we’re attempting to drive towards. When you think about alignment, are there other areas that have been particularly helpful, whether it’s you know across campuses or within your team that have you know any processes or approach or practices that have been helpful to kind of drive clarity for for you?

Joe Platania — Yeah, yeah, so again, maybe we go on to like the maintenance phase of all of this.

Rich Birch — Sure, sure.

Joe Platania — Like hey, it’s great. You have organizational health, and you have model clarity. Now you have role clarity. And okay, well, that’s great. So then we’re going to put all of these best practices in. And we’re going to go into execution mode. We’re gonna operate, right? There’s what we do, every every day every week. And so um, here’s here’s what happens: it doesn’t all work. Um, you know it’s not like the best laid plans, right?

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yeah.

Joe Platania — You know, um I’m confident. There’s a lot of you know, football coaches who develop a game plan and they they go into the game confident they’re gonna you know, blow out the other team. And they doesn’t work, it don’t work that way. So we go in execution mode.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — And um and so we need to measure, hey how is this going? So one of the things that we’ve been working on and again I’m gonna use the words that I use.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — But I think maybe some of your listeners might be able to, you know, understand it better as a SWOT analysis or something like that. I don’t use that word and I use ah a different process. Um, you know I spent some time in in the secular world and we I was taught a process called DMAIC and it was ah a ah, process improvement process. And so I’ve adopted some of that. And ah we go through the – I call them Deep Dives. So we we meet in a ministry setting and man, I’ll tell you ah the more nuclear the setting the better.

Joe Platania — So what I mean by that is ah I want um I have 6 different questions that you know we’ll go through so you know to help ah, uncover how things are going. Not only what’s working well so we can keep doing, but hey what needs to be changed, what needs to be modified, what needs to be improved.

Joe Platania — Um and we can do that – let’s say we can pull the whole kids staff together. Like you know we have 9 or 10 different kids team members. That’s good. You know what’s better is if I go to our Queen Creek campus and I meet with the kids staff there and 8 of their key volunteers and some campus staff and we do the deep dive at that nuclear level. So I don’t think it’s unimportant to do it at the higher level. But, boy, you just get all sorts of deeper, richer information the deeper you go into the the heart of the church.

Joe Platania —And so we we what happens is because I’m weird, I like to type with my thumbs. I sit there on my phone. I ask these questions and um and I’m just making notes. And ah then I share those notes with with my teammates on lead team and the executive team. And and it just depends on you know, leader to leader how they want to handle it from there. Sometimes they can use those notes um to work with their team. Sometimes I work with them to develop solutions and approaches to improve. But here’s the thing. Um I would say that doing regular, what I call deep dives, is really important to maintain our maintenance mode of of this health.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — And I can just tell you what I learned. Again I’ve only been at central for a little over two years. At other churches ah when I hit the third year of these, and it’s Central I’m really just in about the first year of this practice. Um, The third year was really weird because the first year we had we we uncovered a lot. In the second year we uncovered a few other things. The third year I would say we spent more of our time saying, this is so awesome. You remember the first year we talked about that? It’s better! And and this…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joe Platania — Now that doesn’t mean we’re perfect and there’s no problems. I’m just saying there’s less. Less problems

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Joe Platania — And we have just a better grasp then hey there’s always going to be problems I feel like are unsolvable.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — Um, you know what what what are the two things that you know we all wish we could control but we can’t. You know time and often money so. You know those are problems that we want to address authentically but you know you got to be really careful about like hey this isn’t a utopian thing where like we can pour all the money in the world on this. So you got to be careful with that too. So.

Rich Birch — I love that. I the thing I think you’ve hit on, well there’s a lot there. There was so much. Friends, if you if you missed anything you got to go back there and unpack there. There was a bunch there that you said was super helpful. But one of the things I think that would be really helpful for many of our churches is as our teams grow, as our church grows, as the complexity of what we do grows, yeah are the information that we get as a senior leadership team can become very filtered, and become very like unclear.

Rich Birch — And you know people know what they want people your people know what you want to hear and so they’ll tell you what you want to hear. They’ll, you know, and it’s not that they’re lying but they’re they just will things get changed. And so this idea of like let’s have some these kind of nuclear deep dives, I love that.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Um, and man, even just doing that adding that to our practices I think could be super helpful.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — What are those, you said there were six questions that you ask, common questions.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Do you mind running through those quickly, even just for documentation? What would those what are those six questions? I’d be intrigued to hear what those are.

Joe Platania — I I don’t mind. Um, you mind if I I’m gonna pull them up on my phone?

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely for sure.

Joe Platania — Um because you know I did turn fifty this year and I don’t remember them as well as I’d like to tell you I remember them.

Rich Birch — That’s great.

Joe Platania — But I will first of all, um, the first thing I do is I share rules.

RIch Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — And and the rules are are things like, hey this is there’s no fixing. Um this this is not time to be in problem solve mode. So you want to establish that ah, first. Like this is a data dump. This is like a brain dump…

Rich Birch — Yeah, weere just listening. Yeah yeah.

Joe Platania — …of what you feel. Yeah, because what happens is you get a bunch of passionate ministry people around a table and what they want to do is they start identifying problems and they want to go right into problem solving mode. Like yeah, there will be a time for that. So you know also no arguing. No no, no negativity, but disagreeing is okay.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Joe Platania — So Rich, if you’re like, you know, Joe, I feel like this is it. Yeah I don’t feel that way but let’s share it. Let’s have that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Joe Platania — Yeah, and then um, here are the questions though. And I’ll I’ll read them to you. The first one is: what do we have to celebrate over the last year? Where are we winning? Why is that happening? How can we keep winning and win bigger? And then I’ll stop and you know we’ll collect things but just let them kind of marinate.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — Second question is: we measure what is important – does this team have an established set of metrics? Do you know what they are? How are you doing in relation to them? How can we improve our metrics? The next one is…

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s good.

Joe Platania —Yeah. Systems. Systems and processes are the highways that vision travels on. Are our systems and processes the right one for our teams and church? What needs to improve?

Rich Birch — So good.

Um, couple more. One is leaders. Leaders are vision ambassadors. Do we have the right people in the right places? What changes to our organizational structure do we need to make to be more effective and efficient?

Joe Platania — And actually there are two more.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Joe Platania — One is: we must be consistent in all we do; the rhythm and planning of the church is is critical. How does your team make plans and set goals? How can this be improved? What is coming next that we need to be prepared for?

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Joe Platania — And then finally it’s a it’s it’s a catch-all category. Um, you know, what what did we miss? What what is right that needs to be amplified? What is wrong that needs to be fixed? What is missing that needs to be developed? What is confusing and needs to be clarified? Um, so those are the questions and I’ll be typing away. I would say um I get when we do that exercise usually takes about three hours, two and a half, three hours.

Rich Birch — Wow, yeah.

Joe Platania — And I usually get between 70 and 150 data points.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Joe Platania — And it’s amazing and just the information you get. And man, and you’re sitting with people who like are these are their their babies. They are so passionate and they’re like yes, let me tell you about my baby, and you know, all the… And but then it’s an interesting thing because they also want to tell you some of the things that they don’t like that’s happening with their baby.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Joe Platania — And so you just get the to hear. And then you got to take all of that information and process it and develop plans. Um, and then really one of the worst things you can do is to spend that time and get that investment from folks and do nothing. .

Joe Platania — So one of the things we talk about is like hey this is great information. Let’s glean what we can and let’s really be good about sharing, hey here’s what we heard and now here’s what we’re going to do and executing that. And then checking in, like that’s where I said that’s always cyclical.

Joe Platania — How do I know now that I was successful on that fix? So I did a deep dive, I gather data, I’ve prepared a solution. Um, then I’m going to measure how’d I do. How’d I do, how’d we do with this? Um you know so you’re constantly evaluating and Rich, it never and it shouldn’t.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, that’s so good.

Joe Platania — It’s this we’re living, we’re living a breathing organization, right? So.

Rich Birch — Yes, so good. Well Joe, this has been very rich, super helpful. Thanks for for running through those, but then just all of this has been super, super helpful. As we wrap up today’s episode…

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …is there anything else you’d like to share with us as we kind of you know, look to land the plane here today?

Joe Platania — Yeah, first just thank you for the time. Great to talk to you. Ah the work we do is so important and and the the only thing I would say is um I would encourage people if if they haven’t figured this out, and I’m sure many have, that that health is in my opinion layered.

Joe Platania — And it is does start with a bedrock foundation. Um, and then you just build on top of that. I that’s biblical I guess. Um and so looking at it that way, and so when I’m trying to manage health I want to understand how’s my foundation? How’s my next level? How’s my next level? And just breaking it down um in that kind of detail is so important…

Rich Birch — That’s so good.

Joe Platania — …not only to just to developing it, but sustaining the health. Because it’s again, it’s not easy, but a lot of us can make health. The trick I think is sustaining it, like how do you keep it going. That would be it. You know make sure we keep it going.

Rich Birch — So good.

Joe Platania — Yeah.

Rich Birch — So good. I really appreciate this. Joe, if if people want to track with you or with the church online where do we want to send them?

Joe Platania — Yeah, centralaz.com is is the easiest place to go.

Rich Birch — Perfect.

Joe Platania —You can watch us. You can connect with with me or any of our our leadership that way. Yeah, absolutely.

Rich Birch — That’s great.

Joe Platania —Would love to love to connect with anybody who wants to talk more this. Much like you, Rich, I’m sure, this is a passion for me. I would do it for free…

Rich Birch — Totally.

Joe Platania — …if I could afford to. I can’t, but nonetheless um I love it. So love talking about it…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Joe Platania —…and love to talk to other churches and learn.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much. Thanks for being here today, Joe – really appreciate you being on the show.

Joe Platania — Yes, sir. 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.