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An Interview With Chad Stuart
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Internal and External Communication

Editor’s Notes: Chad Stuart (CS) has been senior pastor at Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church for about a year. In this interview he sits down with David Kim (DK), associate pastor of the Spencerville Korean Church to get an idea of how this large institutional church communicates internally and externally. This is a transcript of that interview.

DK:       So, Pastor Chad, communication is so core to the gospel; the gospel is communication. How do you see it and, how do you see its significance in using it for the church?

CS:       Well, I think everything that we do is communication in some form, some manner, and everything communicates either for the good or for the bad.  If we’re not intentional and focused on what we’re communicating, oftentimes people can become confused, people can get the wrong message—a message we’re not even intending to say can be delivered.  It is important for people to spend more time focusing on communication, not just from the standpoint of preaching, but recognizing that all aspects of church communicates something. 

DK:       How do you make sure that what you’re communicating is consistent?

CS:       Everything has to be done with quality.  We analyze everything, and things that are not being done with quality, we work to raise the bar. When start new things,  we launch them with quality. 

              Churches don’t always do that. People will throw up a church website and there will be a thousand pages that say “under construction,” “under construction, “under construction,” “under construction.”  We’re working on a church website right now, and it’s not going to be released until it’s done and it’s at the quality that we want it. 

              Also everything needs to be branded consistently, the same look, the same style, the same feel.  Sometimes you’ll have one ministry in some churches that communicates almost a totally different value or level of who you are within a church.  I mean, if you look around Spencerville it has a high church feel to it.  If we were going to do neon and flashy designs and things, it would be totally inconsistent with who this church is.

And then we make sure that we’re communicating on the same schedule, so people learn to expect communication at a specific time.
DK:       I’m envious of Spencerville and its resources.  How might we in smaller churches scale it to your level?

CS:       That’s a great question. I had a church in California, the Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church, a wonderful church, and we planted a church out of that church, called the Ark. The first year and a half, out of 33 people we baptized, 27 were completely unchurched.  But there were only about five or six of us that made up the core planting group. We didn’t get any money from the conference; we didn’t get any money from the mother church.  It was all managed out of the five or six of us.  We found the right laity and the right talent. 

              You know, you look for those people within your church who have those gifts and have those talents.  You sell the vision to them, you communicate that vision, and you communicate very specifically how they can impact the world with God’s love; how they can have an impact on the kingdom of God.  I think that many people have a deep desire to make a difference in this world.  But they just don’t know how. It’s our responsibility as pastors, to communicate to those individuals the vision, and then with clarity and consistency and conciseness, exactly how they can impact the world. 

DK:       Did you run into any opposition about the whole concept of marketing a church?

CS:       When people hear the word marketing everyone’s so worried about churches being too business-minded or whatever.  But, but in my opinion, Jesus is very clear that we need to be as wise, he even uses the word as “sly” as those in the world. 

              We have the most important message in the world: the love of Jesus Christ and how he can change and impact lives for eternity yet we don’t even spend two minutes thinking about how people are receiving that on a consistent basis. So when people had opposition to it or didn’t like the term marketing, we might think about the words we use.  But overall, we knew that it was right thing, so we moved forward in spite of those things.

              The majority of people, even if they have initial reservation, once they see the value of it, the success of these things, then they begin to buy in. As they’ve seen the value of branding added to our evangelistic meetings that we just had, and the branding and the design they become much more open and engaged.

              You can’t argue someone out of their position, so you have to show them the fruits. I think people have adjusted there on that. You’re always going to have your naysayers, David, right?  So you love everyone and you move with the movers. 

DK:       So in communication you have different audiences. Howe do you work through those layers?

CS:       Well, we’re still working on a lot of those things, as far as internal communication goes. I’m following a pastor who was here for 18 years, and much of the staff that’s here was under that leadership, and so they had a specific way of doing things.  You adjust and learn to relate to people in a different way. I can’t just come in here and say “we’re doing nothing the same; it’s all going to be different.”

              The first layer is staff. We have staff meeting every Monday morning, and there in staff meeting we go through the various things for the week. We’ll usually bring one or two items to that meeting in which we’re going to discuss some big-picture concepts or ideas that we want to move forward with.  And then we also break down the weekly calendar, or the monthly and weekly calendars and those things.  So the staff meeting is really where we do a lot of our communication.  And then as the week goes on, because we’re all very busy on our pastoral staff, it’s mainly done through e-mail.  If it’s an important issue in which there needs to be a decision, I always encourage my team to do face-to-face meetings.  And so if we need to, we’ll sit down one on one and have face-to-face meetings on certain issues.

DK:       So one of my key concerns is engaging the millennials.  How does your communication approach deal with the millennials?

CS:       We emphasize relational communication, because millennials are very relational individuals. One of the big things we did at this church was asking “how are we communicating the value of people in relationships?” We realized that we really weren’t doing a very good job.  You could walk into this church many Sabbaths and never have anyone say anything to you; maybe not even have someone smile at you.  Not because the people were bad, not because the people didn’t care about others.  It’s just that we all by human nature get kind of in our ruts and in our modes.  And so we had to be intentional about saying, every week we’re going to look out for one another and we’re going to start being more relational.

              So we redesigned our whole hospitality ministries, which is our greeters and our parking-lot attendants (which are new), and our welcome desk team.  And we joined that all together in what’s called HIS teams, which are Help, Inform, and Support. They are tremendous, and it’s really changed the culture of the church.  There’s, a warmth now within the church. A lot of Sabbaths we have food and we have drink right out in the foyer.  There used to be a sign up in the foyer that said “No food or drink beyond these doors.”  We took that sign down. 

              People stand around now and they visit and they talk.  We also created value by bringing many young people in leadership.  I have several elders that are 35 years or younger. We communicate value by giving them leadership and we communicate value be being engaged in the things they’re engaged in. I think these are some of the ways that we communicate with the young adults. 

              So with communicating to millennials, it’s not so much about the papers that you have or the design, although they’re very into quality and branding and those types of things.  With millennials it’s more about communicating through your actions and how you place value on them, and we place value on them through the relational ministries that we have, that we engage with them, and by placing them in leadership and showing them that their voice is just as equal as anybody else’s voice within the congregation.

              Then also we try to communicate to them through the style in which I preach, is probably, has a little bit more of a millennial value to it and speaks to that demographic.

DK:       So what about in terms of communicating to the outside world, externally?

CS:       Well, again, that’s also similar to the relationship with the millennials.  Your communication can’t just be mailers and can’t just be a website, it can’t just be social media (all things that we do and all things we believe in) but it also has to be the way you go out into the community and engage with them.  So we’re working on building our outreach ministries and engaging the community more in that way.  We want to strategically look at ways in which we can reach specific demographics.  We have a fairly affluent church and we’re in a fairly affluent area.  You know, Mrs. White tells us that we as a church do not do a very good job at engaging the affluent, those who are of means.  And so we’re trying to say, okay, how can we do that better?  And a lot of that is through relational aspects of ministry.

But you know, David, the greatest communication beyond your walls is each member that is sitting in your pew, and getting them to have a passion for those people beyond your walls.  That’s really what it is.  You can send out all the mailers in the world, you can send out, you can be all over Twitter and all over Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, and all these things that we’re involved in.  You can send out the greatest mailers and have the most beautiful website, and if your members are not out there communicating the value of being a part of this church family, then it is of no value. However when the membership starts to engage and communicate beyond the walls of the church themselves, that’s when the community takes notice. 

              You know, it’s not about a day of mission here or this or that there.  It’s about a consistency. It’s about the members consistently engaged in the community, inviting people, talking to people, relating to people and encouraging others.  And then as people see that, they come in; they begin to want to engage with the church more.

DK:       Chad, what brings you the most joy about being a pastor?

CS:       Seeing people come to know and love Jesus more. There is something so beautiful, David, about a member that’s been sitting in the pew for 40, 50 years, and one day they come to you with tears in their eyes, and they’re like, I finally get it.  I finally get it.  You know, there’s a beauty in seeing the teenager that everybody’s given up on, and start to engage, and suddenly you see them moving closer and closer to the front of the church.  Suddenly they’re saying ‘hi’ to you at the door, and you realize there’s something going on there.  You begin to engage with them. 

              It’s also great to see the person that doesn’t know Jesus at all, and comes and connects.  That’s what thrills me about pastoring.  You know I was far from God, and by his grace he drew me in without any intention on my own part.  I didn’t even realize what he was doing, and he was slowly drawing me in.  And God never allowed me to forget what it feels like to be far from him and separated from a relationship with him. Then when I see other people come to that relationship with him, it just thrills my heart.

              You know, even little things, like the person who never gives, and suddenly they become a tither.  That’s so awesome to me.  And the person who for the first time invites a friend to church, and they’re so excited, they come to you, “Pastor, I invited my friend and they came!”  And they’re so excited. So as a pastor to see those types of things take place just blesses my heart and keeps me going from day to day.

DK:       What about communicating stewardship?

CS:       Stewardship is a challenge in almost every church. People kind of get offended when we talk about stewardship.  But I really have taken a business approach to stewardship and the intentionality of stewardship.

              And so when it comes to stewardship, I do three or four sermons a year on stewardship and then I do at least one series. I try to communicate about stewardship when no one expects it. Everybody expects the stewardship sermon to come in December or the very beginning of January.

I also try to talk about stewardship when I know it’s going to be a full Sabbath.  So we keep very close track of our attendance so that we can start to see the trends of when most of the people are here.  We want to communicate some of our biggest ideas on those Sabbaths when the most people are here. 

              We also, with stewardship, say thank-you.  If I send something to It Is Written, I’ll get a thank-you gift back.  If I send something to the local firemen’s union or whatever, they’ll send me something as a thank-you.  In church, what is our thank-you most of the time?  We get up front and we say, hey, thanks for giving this year, we met budget.  And that’s all that’s said.  So what we do is we send a letter to everybody who gave anything.  Say you only gave two dollars, you would get the same gift as a person who gave fifty thousand dollars in our church.

              And I always give a book.  With the book I always try to think about what I want to communicate?  So this coming year I’m going to preach a series on the Sabbath.  Well, the book I’m giving out this year is a book, is Elizabeth Talbot’s book I Will Give You Rest, which is a book about the Sabbath and the value of the Sabbath and seeing the Sabbath from the perspective of its true meaning, which is in Jesus Christ.

              Then we also say thank-you to our first-time givers.  If you give at this church for the first time, you get a book that I give called Treasure Principle and you get a written note by me, saying thank you so much for your first-time gift, and we thank you for your generosity.

We say thank you in many other ways.  So if you get baptized here you receive a leather Andrews Study Bible. It has the name of the person engraved on it, and the name of the church engraved on it.

              I started doing this back in California and the church board said “we can’t afford this.”  I said, “if we do not see giving go up as a reason for doing this whole stewardship project I will personally pay for it.”  Well, praise God, the giving went up.

              Also, when do you take up your offering in your service?  You know, most people take it up when they have the fewest amount of people there.  You need to take it up when you have the majority of your people there.  In our first service we had very few people there.  Starting in the New Year, offering is going to be taken up at the end of the service. 

              And then, I always try to help people understand that giving is a spiritual practice, and that God wants us to continue to grow in this area.  We also track giving. 

              A lot of people would say, “well, you know, Spencerville has a lot of resources.” But if you look at the metrics you would see how many more resources we could have if we had a larger percentage of members consistently giving. Healthy is when the whole church family participates in the journey.

DK:       Lately, one of your church members has been really big in the news, Dr. Ben Carson.
CS:       Never heard of him…just kidding!

DK:       Have you had to deal with the larger media about this whole thing?

CS:       We’ve had to deal with the media almost on a weekly basis for the last two and a half months. It definitely is a challenge.  We appreciate the North American Division for their support and their guidance. They brought me in and gave me some PR training, which was helpful.  

              The position that we’ve taken is this: we’ll always be happy to talk with someone if they want to talk specifically about the church, who we are and what we believe.  Where we draw the line is that we won’t talk about members, and that’s not just Ben Carson, it’s any member.  All of our members are of equal value and equal in the eyes of God, so we won’t go and delve into anybody’s personal life with the media.

              When we’ve said that to media outlets, the majority of them have backed away. Some have taken us up on that offer, and for the most part those experiences have been, have been positive.  We just try to stay on message, keeping it clear, communicating who we are, what we value, and highlighting, really, the mission that we are called to fulfill as Seventh-day Adventists.