Transforming Team Culture: Karen Berge’s Insider View on the Shift from Unhealthy to Thriving

Thanks for joining us on the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Karen Berge, the Executive Pastor of Ministry at Flatirons Community Church. They are one of the fastest growing churches in the country with five physical campuses in Colorado as well as church online.

Many churches are able to say there are good things happening there. God is moving, people are coming to the Lord, and lives are being changed. But in the tyranny of the urgent, have you discovered that things might not be so great on your own staff team? Karen is here to share Flatirons’ story of growth and how they addressed an unhealthy team culture that had developed.

  • The tyranny of the urgent. // Flatirons Community Church is located in one of the least religious parts of the country yet attracts a unique mix of people who are unchurched or have experienced church hurt. The church has seen consistent growth over the years, which comes with its own set of challenges. During the early years of rapid growth, the focus was on dealing with urgent matters, such as like setting up chairs, expanding space, and addressing complex pastoral care situations, rather than developing processes and systems.
  • Focus on heart issues first. // The lack of structure led to significant organizational challenges, such as poor communication, a lack of clarity and direction within the organization, and an unhealthy team culture. Recognizing the need for change, the entire organization underwent a period of evaluation and reflection. During these types of situations it’s critical to address the heart issues before tackling the tactical aspects of improving the culture. The lead pastor stepped forward to meet with each staff member and addressed any hurts and misunderstandings so the team could move forward.
  • Take time to build trust. // Building trust among the leadership team was another critical step to bring about positive change. Open communication, valuing each team member’s input, and supporting one another were key to this process and had to happen before they moved forward to help the rest of the staff. The leadership also sought input from strategic outsiders to guide them through the process while staying true to the church’s mission and heart. 
  • Develop staff values. // To align the rest of the team and codify the changes, the Flatirons staff focused on developing staff values. No one knew what was really expected of them, how to interact with each other, how to do their job, what is important, and what are the deal breakers. The team thought about what someone from the outside would think if they looked at the staff. In the end they identified core values that were already inherent in who they were, aspirational values, and then unintentional values that needed to change.
  • Seven values. // The staff values of Flatirons have had a significant impact on the church’s culture and serve as a filter for decision-making. They remind the staff that everything they do should align with the mission of bringing the awesome life of Christ to people in a lost and broken world. All seven of the staff values also work together in a beautiful way to remind the staff of who they are and how they do ministry together. Ultimately the purpose of having a healthy staff and culture is not just for the sake of a positive work environment, but to effectively serve the congregation and fulfill the church’s mission in the community.

You can learn more about Flatirons Community Church and reach out to Karen at www.flatironschurch.com.

Plus hear more of the Flatirons story on Episode 515 of the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast: Jim Burgen and Jesse DeYoung on the Anatomy of Toxic Church Leadership, Church Growth and Identity, and How Leadership Crushes You.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in today. It’s going to be a great conversation, really looking forward to this, been looking forward to this for a while. We have the honor of have Karen Berge with us. She is the executive pastor of ministry at Flatirons Community Church. This is one of the fastest growing churches in the country. They have, if I’m counting right, five physical campuses in Colorado and plus church online. And listen, friends, Colorado is a fantastic place, but one of the things about Colorado, it’s one of the most non-religious areas in the country. It’s the kind of place, frankly, people do not wake up on a Sunday morning and say, hey I should go to church today. And Flatirons is thriving there and this is why I love pointing people towards ah towards Karen, towards the ministry at Flatirons. Welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Karen Berge — Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Rich Birch — Yeah, we’ve had Jesse DeYoung on in the past and I just love love your ministry and ah and it’s an honor that you would take some time to be with us today. Why don’t you kind of fill out the picture for folks that were listening in that maybe don’t know about Flatirons and then tell us about your role.

Karen Berge — Yeah, but happy to do that. Um Flatirons is, as you said, we’re in Colorado. Um beyond even being in Colorado, we’re in Boulder County East Boulder County…

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — …which if you say Colorado is not necessarily ah the buckle of the bible belt, certainly Boulder County is the the pinnacle of the…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Karen Berge — …the unchurched. We don’t get up and go to church. We get up and go to the mountains…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Karen Berge — …or go skiing or whatever. Um, so we’re in this spot where it um, there’s a lot of I would say unchurched, not interested in in God, not particularly interested in the bible. Also ah, dechurched. A lot of the folks that are part of Flatirons were part of a church, have been in a church, have suffered church hurt. Um, but it’s it’s this weird collection of of folks who on the surface you might look and go I never thought I would see them walk through the doors of a church. And those are our people. That’s that’s what we do. That’s how we do ministry. And and it’s great. Honestly I wouldn’t do it any other way.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it. And tell us about your role, Executive Pastor of Ministries; give give us a sense of what that frames up, how you spend your days.

Karen Berge — Yeah, I’m actually we we shift things a little bit. I am Executive Pastor of Campuses…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Karen Berge — …which is sort of a um, when you have multisite most people who are involved in multisite would know this, um, there’s the ministry piece and there’s the operational piece of campuses. So I work with our campus pastors directly, some of our operational central services, and then um, our ministry leads for students, kids, and ah community connections groups, spiritual formation. We sort of work together around what happens at campuses and how that’s aligned. So I spend a lot of time thinking about how are we all Flatirons, but how are we distinctly campuses as well. So it’s it’s kind of what it looks like.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. I love talking to executive pastors. That’s my own background. The thing I love about it is every Executive Pastor role looks a little different.

Karen Berge — Yeah.

Rich Birch — You know, there just there’s they’re not it’s why it’s always good to get clarity on that. Well, you know Flatirons is is a great church for a lot of different reasons. One of the interesting things about your church is ah you’re consistently fast growing. There’s a lot of churches that will end up being fast-growing maybe for a year or two, but that is not the story of Flatirons. It’s like, man, God just continues to bless your ministry, continues to bring people to it, and people stick and stay. And that’s like over an extended period of time. I wonder if you could give us a sense of what is that like on the inside. I know we look at that on the outside and we’re like that’s just all good news. It’s all fun. But I’m sure I know obviously say that tongue in cheek. There’s a lot of tension, a lot of stress, a lot of um, it can be tough leading within that kind of environment. I wonder if you can kind of tell us that story a little bit.

Karen Berge — Yeah, it’s um, the interesting thing for me was I was a part of the church as an attender—we don’t really do membership but it’s the easiest thing for people to understand—before I took a position on staff. So Flatirons was my home church 20 years ago, 21 years ago when I found it. Um and it was, like you said, it was crazy. We I started attending, we were in an old carpet store, and within a couple of months had moved into just down the block into what was actually a feed store, like a ranch feed store that we remodeled.

Rich Birch — Upgrade from carpet to feed.

Karen Berge — Yeah. Yeah, we are not we are not proud at all. We’re will we’ll meet anywhere. It doesn’t really matter. Um…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Karen Berge — …but we moved into this this bigger space that we thought was going to be it take years to fill it up. It’ll take forever to to get people in all the seats. And it things just continue to roll. It has been a fast growing place, always. I would say with the arrival of a new lead pastor things really ramped up. When when Jim came on board as the lead pastor we saw there were years where we were seeing 20, 25% growth year over year.

Karen Berge — And so what happens then at that point I’m on staff you’re just um, you’re just surviving. You’re thriving, but you’re surviving. You’re certainly not working on processes and systems in the background. You’re not writing staff handbooks at that point. Um, you’re just yelling at people to move chairs around and knock walls down…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Karen Berge — …get some speakers out on the sidewalk so people sitting on the sidewalk can hear.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Karen Berge — Um and in our case, put ah heaters on the sidewalk because it’s a little too cold in the wintertime. We’ve actually done that that’s a real thing. So um.

Rich Birch — Right. Wow, wow.

Karen Berge — So it’s um I when I I say sometimes that we we function kind of tyranny of the urgent, but that really is a little bit what it is. All week long you’re thinking about, hey Sunday is coming. Um, do we have enough chairs? Do we have enough space for kids to show up., you know? Are we going to… it’s crazy. And at the same time because we’re this church of um, ah a different kind of congregation I would I would say than what you might see in a more in a more bible belt location or in the south, um, you’re you’re getting calls and you’re dealing with things that are just…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Karen Berge — …in some cases things you never thought you’d have to talk about, you know?

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah, absolutely. Complex pastoral care situations.

Karen Berge — Yeah. Yeah, very much so. It’s heavy emotionally, spiritually. And you’re you’re like just making space for people week after week.

Rich Birch — Totally, totally. Yeah.

Karen Berge — So it’s it’s nutty. It’s a different kind of stress. I mean all, there’s stress in all ministry. Um, but it was it was crazy. And in the best possible way.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — I think it was so exciting that the staff was like, we’re just gonna do it. We don’t care. So yeah.

Rich Birch — Bring it on.

Karen Berge — Next.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I love that.

Karen Berge — Exactly.

Rich Birch — Well I think you know, but you might be listening in listeners say like that’s not my church I’m not sure I’ve got stuff to learn. Well you absolutely do because all of our churches, the thing I love that you touched on there for us, Karen, is this tyranny of the urgent. That, you know, we I was joking with some church leaders just last week, I said, you know, the thing about Sundays is they come around with uncanny regularity. It’s like we’re constantly bombarded with oh my… and that’s true whether you’re a church of, you know, 500, 5000, 15,000 – they just they it is constantly coming at us. And we’ve got to push back and figure out not how do we just work in it, but how do we work on it. And I want to really pull that apart and understand what’s happened at Flatirons on that, you know, from that point of view. Maybe help us understand that; pull us tell us a bit of the story of how you how as a team you were able to shift from that and being able to, you know, kind of fight back against the tyranny of the urgent and actually try to take some steps forward. What were some of those those initial steps that start to think, hmmm we’ve got to do something different.

Karen Berge — Yeah, um I would say ah we’ve always had a staff over the years, even back in the days of just craziness that um, loved Jesus and were body, and and loved specifically the mission of Flatirons that we’re gonna even in mission partners around the world we’re going to go places where nobody else wants to go. We’ll do the hard stuff. That’s always been kind of the vibe and the mojo. And our staff were always bought into that. That’s why they wanted to be a part of Flatirons.

Karen Berge — Um I think that we in the in the running hard and fast and just trying to make sure we could accommodate the people that were showing up, um, we were also we had this vibe of anti-corporate. We don’t want to we don’t want almost like do not use the word system. Do not use the word process.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — And if you did, you’d get jeered out of the room, you know. So we don’t want to be corporate.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Karen Berge — We’re we’re Jesus we’re meeting people where they are, and we’re we’re meeting people that have had church hurt. So it came out of a good place that idea of um, we don’t want a lot of a lot of religious stuff that isn’t going to change anybody’s life and is just going to impede them for really understanding who Jesus is.

Karen Berge — So um, that’s great. The the sentiment behind that is great. What happened for us was we found ourselves, you can operate like that I think when you’re a small staff. Um when I took a position on staff initially I think there were 30 of us or so… 25, 30 people on staff. Every meeting we had everybody was in it pretty much…

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — …sitting around a table. Um, and then you start this growth path over a number of years. Um, and by 2019 we had 165 people on staff.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — Um and we did not have—this is just an example—but we did not have an application for employment until 2018.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Karen Berge — So there’s all these years of craziness and of adding you know 4X the number of staff that you have, um and you’re just doing it however, you think is the best way to do it…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Karen Berge — …because we haven’t put anything in place to sort of scaffold all of those things that you need to do. So what happened was we’re growing, growing, growing and and maybe the people in the seats attending wouldn’t have known some of this, I think that your culture it leaks out and eventually the people attending your church, they they do know if there are struggles. Um but we looked up and realized we’re we’re in a really rough spot. We’ve got some real unhealth. Our communication was horrible between leadership and staff, and through throughout the staff.

Karen Berge — Um I think um, our leaders at the top of the of the organization were carrying things that they really shouldn’t have been carrying. They were making decisions way down in the weeds and that just impedes you from doing what you’re called to do and what you’re really gifted to do. So for us, um, there was there was a kind of a screeching halt. The brakes go on, lead pastor goes on sabbatical. Um and and it was and it he it wasn’t he’s unhealthy.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — We, the whole organization, was unhealthy. And I think those of us in a leadership role, we I certainly knew—I’ll speak for myself—that our staff was just it it needed some help. Um.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — And they were all great individually. It wasn’t that we had bad people. Um, we just had not ever taken the time to go, how are we doing this?

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — I think more importantly, who are we? Who do we want to be…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Karen Berge — …in the staff? When people look at us, what should they be able to see about who we are? So we we kind of hit a brick wall.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about that. I I um I think an interesting insight, right? You come to a point where you say, hey the whole organization is unhealthy. The thing you know the way we’re ah the way we do life together just isn’t isn’t positive. And you know, I think there’s that’s an interesting tension we can find is that in the doing of what God has called us to do, sometimes um, you know and that can be really good, the outcomes can be great. Obviously people were coming to the Lord, people were getting baptized, good things were happening in people’s lives. They were being changed. But then we looked at our own team and said, oh things were not great there. What were some of those telltale signs from your perspective? You looked around and said, ooh this just doesn’t seem right. This doesn’t seem to be fitting well.

Karen Berge — Yeah, I think um, we were a very relational staff. We still are. There’s nothing there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re very relational. Um, but without anybody understanding or having clarity around, how do you get things done here? How do you get something approved that you want to do? How do you get an answer to a question?

Karen Berge — How do you get to start an initiative? When you don’t know how to do that we wound up in the spot where I think everybody believed that the way that you make things happen is to make sure you have access to the guy at the top.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — Make sure you have access to the lead pastor. Um, take your thing to him, get him to like it and approve it. And so there’s this weird jockeying for position and jockeying for influence. Um, and at the same time. One of the other things that really was alarming to me was I think we had fallen into this habit of um, we didn’t have any any real lines of communication that we had sort of clarified to staff: this is healthy; this is how we want you to approach communicating with each other or resolving conflict or um, having a face-to-face conversation when, you know, something is wrong. So everything was sideways. All of the communication was sideways. Um, people would talk around each other as opposed to um, that whole Matthew 18. I’m I’m gonna this is there’s something going on here and I’m going to go and speak to my brother or sister and I’m gonna figure out what it is. Um, we we didn’t really I didn’t see any of that. Um, and.

Karen Berge — I would say we were very much ministries were separate. You you didn’t in a lot of cases you didn’t know anybody in in a ministry…

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — …that was not yours…

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — …or at least outside of a ministry that you had day-to-day contact with.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — And what that does is it leads to when things are not going well, it’s very easy to vilify because you don’t know them. They’re not at…

Rich Birch — I I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Karen Berge — I know nobody’s experienced that just ah…

Rich Birch — Ah yeah, that never happens in any church.

Karen Berge — Right. Um, and so of course that’s what happens…

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely.

Karen Berge — …it becomes ah um, they they you dehumanize people a little bit and and it’s ah I feel like they’re not working as many hours as I’m working. I don’t think that team’s job is as hard as mine. That is a telltale sign.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Karen Berge — When everybody lives in this the space of we’re we’re the ugly stepchild.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — We don’t get the resources we need. Everybody else does.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — So there are a few things, but those are I those are the top ones.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good. I like that insight around just there at the end too of like teams thinking, hey we’re the ones they were the only ones that are really working here. You know, which just isn’t true. We know that.

Karen Berge — Right.

Rich Birch — So when when you when it came to kind of turning the culture around and improving things, you know, there’s maybe two ends of the spectrum. One is like mission/vision/values, like big picture ideas. Like I joke with my my lead pastor friends like their answer to every problem is get in front of somebody and preach. There’s like the big idea thing. And then there’s like the tactics hey we’ve got to solve agendas for meetings…

Karen Berge — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and proper communication lines and… Which of those… was it both/and that you worked on, or is, you know, did one come before the other?

Karen Berge — No.

Rich Birch — Is is there, you know, kind of advice you’d give us on and from your experience kind of which of those did you tackle first, or you know that kind of thing? Give me a sense of that.

Karen Berge — Yeah, that’s a really great great question. Um I think that it’s both, but I would say um, looking at looking at how it played out for us, certainly it started at at the very top and was that we had to address some of the heart issues first before we addressed the tactical pieces. And 100% we could not have gone there we couldn’t have gotten to any semblance of health without the the lead pastor stepping back onto staff with a posture of I’m going to meet with every single person on the staff. I’m going to address um, whatever the hurts are whatever the misunderstandings are. So that whole idea of leaders go first, um I think we saw that and we experienced that and it laid the groundwork for us to be able to then to dig in and do some um, still still heart work with our staff as well.

Karen Berge — Ah but to answer your question more specifically, one of the things we realized was um that we needed—I mean, I could be wrong; you can correct me if I’m wrong—mostly pastors that are gifted communicators and visionaries and and are God is leading them, the Holy Spirit is directing them to this is where I want you to take this body, um, they’re usually not gifted in the tactical day-to-day um…

Rich Birch — Right. No, that’s true.

Karen Berge — …integrating all that needs to be integrated. And so but we had somebody that could do that. We just didn’t have the structure set up in a way that lent itself to them both functioning well that way. So one of the first things we did after our senior pastor came back in and really sort of led the way in, hey here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna fix this and we’re gonna we’re gonna start at the root of it um, was change the leadership org structure so that we had somebody, Jesse, who you mentioned—our executive lead pastor—really integrating and leading the charge on the tactical pieces the day-to-day um, so that our senior pastor could do what what God had gifted it and called him to do in the first place. Um, and our our lack of health and our lack of focus on how are we doing this? had just gotten us to a place where he was having to do everything.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Karen Berge — Um and it honestly it got us to brokenness. So.

Rich Birch — Yeah. I’d I’d encourage folks to take a listen to ah so Jim and Jesse were on Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, episode 515. The title of that is The Anatomy of Toxic Church Leadership: Church Growth and Identity and How Leadership Crushes You. That’s a very encouraging title for episode, but it’s a great episode really talking through the inside of exactly the transition we’re talking about here. It’s well worth your hour plus time to listen to that. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

Rich Birch — So from there I get that there’s like this alignment issues. We kind of get some of that core stuff aligned well, which is great. Um, what were some of those next steps that or and maybe it’s even things that today you look back and say, wow that has real positive impact in our culture. Those things that continue to resonate that help kind of keep us aligned, keep us pushing in the same direction. What would be some of those steps that were taken as a church?

Karen Berge — Um, one of the things was when I was just kind of making notes to myself of of what’s really been the impact and what’s kind of the chronological order of how that all played out was um as we as we changed the structure and we shifted and we put in place a leadership team, um, that really had kind of oversight tactically over every part of the organization, um, we we really dug into the the how do we manage things. At the same time um, digging into, do we even know who we are? So it was both pieces sort of riding both rails at the same time. The um, the heart of who we are, what do we value, who do we want to be um, based on the mission that God’s entrusted with us to us in Boulder County. Um, and then how do we make that happen? I would say, honestly, and and not not just to to pub Jim here but his posture and attitude as we started to do that and building the trust with the team, because what he’s got to do at that point is let those of us on the leadership team take those things…

Rich Birch — Right. That’s huge.

Karen Berge — …um, and start to put put things in place, we spent a lot of time together um, developing trust. Because it was… and boy it didn’t come immediately, but it did as we really really spent time together um, and as we argued some things out. It was never just we all just have to agree with the lead pastor, with the executive lead pastor. It’s everybody trusting that they brought something to the table that was important and that was valuable. Um, and that we were going to pray for each other, love each other, support each other, and build this this sort of little team of of trust so that we could then start to do that with the full full staff. So if we hadn’t done that first, we wouldn’t have been able to go forward I don’t think. That was that was a huge piece of it.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s a huge deal. Like I think we skip really quickly to like, what was the tactic? What was the great communications plan? What what is the, you know, what is the rollout? How do we how do we say, “now we’re going to be healthy” to everyone as opposed to saying, hey no, we actually need to slow down, spend a bunch of time together, get to know each other more, um and actually trust each other as a team. That’s a that’s a valuable insight. Um…

Karen Berge — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …so what what was there anything in that phase, particularly any was it like a retreat or something you went on or some experience that was particularly helpful, when you think back at that phase?

Karen Berge — There were a lot of things along the way. I will say this, we got some outside help. We went to executive pastors in organizations that we knew and consultants that we knew um, had experience and could help guide us. Um, knowing that, we were always very protective of the ethos of Flatirons and what God had called us to, the way he had called us to do what we’re doing. But we had people that we trusted to come in…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Karen Berge — …and walk us through some of these pieces. So yeah, we did. We did some retreats. We did some work on our own. We began to to bring in um little little teams of our staff throughout the organization all the way from leadership roles to part-time staff so that we had buy-in from everybody across the board and that everybody knew there’s a whole bunch of people that are a part of this now as we begin to work through this.

Karen Berge — But at the very beginning in the early stages, especially in the pieces where the leadership team was working, we had people come in and help us outside people, which is great because you get a perspective that you your your blind spots are your blind spots.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yep.

Karen Berge — And so having somebody there to go, Okay now, here’s what I heard and this is what this sounds like. And to kind of get us back on track was really important to the process.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. That’s a good thing to underline. You know the the role of a strategic outsider can be super valuable in the in the life of a church and, you know, somebody that’s trusted and you know can make a big difference.

Rich Birch — Well so then what what did you develop as a team to try to help codify some of these changes? Like okay, we’re we’re trying to push in a better you know was there was there any kind of tactic was there anything that helped um, you know, communicate to the rest of the team and and try to align the rest of the team around maybe some some new behaviors?

Karen Berge — Um, yeah, there’s a lot, but but what I will say to kind of as a preamble to this is. We’re what? Three years, three years in based on the start, 4 years in we’re still working on this.

Rich Birch — Yeah, of course. That’s wonderful.

Karen Berge — It’s it’s not it’s not like ah it was a year and now we’re healthy. Um, we’re we’re in a really good place. I was mentioning before we started that we just got back from a staff retreat. And I think all of us felt so you feel the difference is that understanding of, I can’t believe we are where we are now based on where we were before. So we know that. Um, but it’s continuous work to now, and we know what the work is going forward from here too. It’s an ongoing thing. So it’s It’s certainly not overnight. Um to answer your question more specifically, I think the next steps of as we got staff involved. We still had some outside sort of expert help, knowing that the next step for us was we needed to develop staff values. We’ve always had church values. This is who we are. This is what people could understand we were chasing after. But as a staff I don’t think anybody knew and nobody knew what was expected of them in terms of how you interact with each other, how you do how you do your job, what do we value, what is important here and what are the deal breakers. That’s really what your values are, right, is this is how we’re going to function and outside of this could be a deal breaker. But our staff didn’t know that because we we’d never even worked on that.

Karen Berge — So as we put together this larger team of folks with some outside help, um, we started with if somebody was looking at our staff from the outside and just evaluating, what would they say our values are? And that was both alarming and insightful, um, sad…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Karen Berge — …I don’t I don’t even there were some things that came up that were like, oh my gosh. That’s an unintentional value. And so you’re cleaning stuff up, right?

Rich Birch — Right. Interesting. Well, I love… you sent me a copy of this ahead of time which we’ll include in the show notes, friends. And, you know, just to underline um, lots of churches do have values or often churches have a value that they’ve articulated for the organization. But this idea of then trying to push those one step further to say, Okay, how do we how do we do life together as a team? Um man, this is a best practice and really is ah is a great way to kind of align, to continue to try to align and have something to to talk towards. When you put these together, um, how much of this was like things like you said there you identified in yourself, like oh this is who we were? How much of this was oh this is what we want to become? Um you know, what how did that what did the mix of that look like?

Karen Berge — Yeah. It was a really great process, and this happened this was over the course of probably nine months to a year. We had these little teams of 5 or 6 people um, that were not the the leadership team. They were all of our staff from all the different ministries at all different levels of employment and time of employment ah, to kind of go out and put together like what would you say our values are? You’ve you’ve worked here, you’re part of the staff. And they they’d come back with a list and we put them all on a whiteboard, like millions of them.

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — And there was overlap…

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — …so you begin to narrow down. Yeah, this is the same as this. And um, and then you then you start to do the hard work of working through. Um some of them we were like we’d love that to be a value. We’re not doing that at all. That’s that’s not a value. What people were bringing back was, in some cases, we would love it if we were this if this was important to us and this was a value. Um, and so we began to sort of differentiate the things that we came up with that all of this team came up with that were like this is who we are. This is core to us. It’s already in us. We couldn’t change it if we wanted to, and we like it. And then we we would pull out the things that we were like um this is important because we’re hearing it in feedback. But we’re not even close to there yet.

Karen Berge — So we had aspirational values, we had core values that were inherent already in who we were. And then what wound up being on the board were some unintentional values that we had to look at and go, um how did that happen? Is it… for instance, we had an outsider at one point who was just here working with us on something and we were very much a, you know, poke fun at people kind of a kind of a staff.

Rich Birch — Okay, yeah, a little bit sarcastic, a little…yeah.

Karen Berge — …make jokes…yeah, yeah, very much so. And he jokingly said at one point after hanging out that, it’s like you guys have this um this culture of dishonor. And that was like, ooh ouch.

Rich Birch — Oh oh that hurts? Yeah, right.

Karen Berge — Yeah, exactly. But but it wasn’t wrong. It was it was actually true. And I think the things that were inherent in us, one of which is we really value having fun together, um, and we we one of our values is that we’re we’re raw and real. And that means a bunch of different things. But it’s it’s a very transparent, honest sort of ah of a vibe that we value. Um those things in when you let sin creep in…I’m going to get a little churchy there.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Karen Berge — But when you let sin creep in um, that fun value and the raw and real value, what we saw was it it sort of leaked into dishonor, and fun and humor at somebody else’s expense, um, sarcasm that was hurtful. So but but recognizing those things did lead us to we we added a value of competing to honor each other…

Rich Birch — Okay, yeah.

Karen Berge — …which is sort of the guardian, the governor on the fun and the raw and the real. So some of our values became um the guardrails for some of the other values.

Rich Birch — Right. Okay.

Karen Berge — So it was a really interesting process and I would say we worked on that whiteboard and went back and forth and and pulled things out and added things in over the course of a bunch of months. Until we ended with with what we knew were um who we are at the core, who God had called us to be uniquely as Flatirons, and where we wanted to go that we had not ever been able to because of our our real brokenness.

Rich Birch — Okay, that’s that…

Karen Berge — Um, and we we landed with kind of the 7 values that we have now.

Rich Birch — Love it. Okay, so I’m going to rattle through them quickly.

Karen Berge — Okay.

Rich Birch — Um, and I not to disrespect; I know there’s a ton to each one of these, but I’d love for you to talk to… so we talked about we compete to honor. That’s one of the values. Um which other of these values has had like ah you know a lever on the culture. So I’ll go through them and then tell us like which one has been kind of an interesting one to see it how it’s impacted.

Karen Berge — Sure.

Rich Birch — So the other ones are we live we live mission minded. We know this is important, we take risks, we are raw and real, we pursue growth and development, we have fun, and then the final one, we compete to honor. Um, which one of those, you know, as it… and now obviously they’ve all impacted your culture but is there anyone in particular that you could think of another way that, oh that’s really kind of helping shape our culture, is kind of had its impact as you’ve been kind of living with it as as a team.

Karen Berge — I would say so the the three that were looks like they’re so deeply in who we are, they’re their core values, they’re inherent is the raw and real value – we are raw and real, um the taking risks – we take risks, and we have fun. Um, and so those are so core to who we are um, what has happened is the mission minded piece has really impacted how we begin to move forward and help the staff understand how the values play out. Because if you’re taking risks, um the absolute filter that you have to use if you’re going to take a risk, and we do let people try things all the time, but what what is our mission? Everything has to run through the filter of we exist to bring the awesome life of Christ to people in the lost and broken world.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Karen Berge — Um, with that idea of unchurched folks, you’re always thinking about that person who’s sitting on the front row that maybe 3 hours ago on Sunday morning, you know, they were at a club and they just stumbled in here with the same clothes on from the night before. Think think about use the filter of who we are, who are we reaching. Um, and so are you talking about, if you’re going to take a risk, are you talking about a pet project? Are you talking about your personal preference? Or are you talking about something that is going to move the needle on reaching people that are far from God in a lost and broken world? So really beginning to understand that that’s the filter through which we do everything…

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — …I think has impacted our staff in ah in a big way. Um, competing to honor, I mentioned that already, but it certainly has provided guardrails and sort of a refocus on what is our heart in all that we’re doing and what we’re saying. Um and then um…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Karen Berge — Yeah, they they all what I love about them is and I think we’re not this smart. We didn’t think about this ahead of time. But we’ve realized God is just good and so they they work together in a really beautiful way to point us back to I I think where everybody’s beginning to understand, this is really who we are as a staff…

Rich Birch — Right.

Karen Berge — …and this is how we do ministry together.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it. So good. Well we’ll like I say, friends, we’ll include that document in in our show notes so that you can download it. And see that and it’s interesting because um, even in our kind of pre um, you know back and forth with email preparing for this, at one point you said like oh looking forward to this conversation or something like that. It was in one of the emails, one of the preps. But you even mentioned that you’re like and, you know you know, like and hopefully it’ll help the mission of other churches move forward, like it’s not just about staff health. It’s not like, hey…

Karen Berge — Yeah.

…we want to have a healthy staff. So there’s like this Kumbaya experience – isn’t this the best place to work in in the world. No, like we want that because ultimately that will help push the mission forward, right? That will help us impact the communities we’re in, which I just I think this is great.

Rich Birch — Well, just as we’re kind of wrapping up today’s episode, anything else you’d you’d like to say? There’s a ton we could talk about here but any kind of final thoughts as we as we land the plane?

Karen Berge — Um I I tend to this is the way my brain works and kind of how I’m wired, but I tend to really love the the tactical, practical, strategic planning kind of a thing. Ah and I one of the things we’re working on with our staff is the idea that um you you have all different personalities and people that are their whole everything about them is pastoral. the their calling and their gifting is around people coming to know Jesus and and sitting and praying with people, working through tough times. And we we have that everybody has some of that in different measures. Um and the the practical, tactical, strategic pieces are not um, they’re not antipathy to that. It’s everything works together so that we we’ve talked to our staff about all of us growing and learning and getting better at all the pieces of our work in vocational ministry is is what moves us forward. And the significance, the eternal significance of what we’re doing as a church um, that’s worth working and growing and learning and digging deep into the hard stuff. So ah I’m just… I feel honored and privileged that what what we walked through and trying to create health. Um we’re still here. I mean that’s kind of things can can break it down and tear you up and and we lose churches over that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s true.

Karen Berge — So always just hopeful that something God redeems it and it gets used somewhere. So thank you for the opportunity.

Rich Birch — It’s so great. Well, Karen, I really appreciate you taking time to be here with us today. What an honor. If people want to track with you or track with the church, where do we want to send them online?

Karen Berge — Ah, just Flatiron’s website. I show up there along with the rest of our our leadership team – www.flatironschurch.com so check it out.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much. Really appreciate you being here today. Thank you so much.

Karen Berge — Thank you, 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.