A Chemistry Conversation with Brian Dodd
Join Matt Steen, co-founder of Chemistry Staffing, and Brian Dodd, Brian Dodd on Leadership and Injoy Stewardship Solutions, as they talk through what churches are doing to reopen well by setting expectations, strategy and culture.
Check out Brian Dodd's Resources:
- Article: 8 Steps To Successfully Communicating Wearing Masks In Church Services
- Website: Brian Dodd On Leadership website
- Book: Timeless: 10 Enduring Practices of Apex Leaders
- Social Media: Twitter, Instagram & Facebook
- Offering Resource (specifically for online audiences): 10 Offering Talks for Your Church's Reopening
We'd love to hear your strategies for addressing this with your congregation (just email us at email@example.com). As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Brian Dodd: Well, you're so kind. My exact title is Executive Director of New Ministry Partnerships. Which basically what that means is I'm John the Baptist. It's my job to make sure everything is working well at a church. So when it needs to expand its culture of generosity or raise significant resources or do leadership development, anything of that nature, I make sure everything runs well. And kind of like you, Matt, part of my job too is to make sure that everybody at our company is busy. So the church is served well, our team is served well, and yes that is definitely a full-time job.
Matt Steen: Nice. So you will hear as Brian comes into the room, "Oh, oh, look busy. Here comes Brian." Is that pretty much how that works?
Brian Dodd: You know, I wish people were more intimidated by me. It is probably quite the opposite.
Matt Steen: Oh, oh well. I'll keep my illusions. So Brian and I were talking the other day, and over the last few weeks Brian has been kind of playing Secret Shopper, just kind of bopping around to different churches that are open in the Atlanta area. Looking and seeing what's going on and visiting just to kind of learn what churches are doing well, what churches are struggling with as they start to reopen from COVID. Just wanted to have a quick conversation today, Brian, about what you're seeing churches are doing, what are they doing particularly well, what are they struggling with, that kind of thing. And just kind of share a little bit about what you're seeing. With that, let me tee it up with an incredibly broad and unfair question. So Brian, as you're visiting these churches, what are you seeing?
Brian Dodd: Yeah, you know the Secret Shopper thing, Matt, you know you just said that. That was totally unintentional. I love the church. I love the local church. The local church changed my life. I've been serving it in terms of volunteer leadership and professionally for thirty years now. When we were raising our daughter, we had this phrase, "On Sunday, the Dodds go to church." And by the way, if your friends come over, they're going to church. On Sunday, the Dodds go to church. That's one of the axioms of the Dodd household. We never knew how much it'd be needed. So anyway, the bottom line is churches would be opening at different periods of time. So my wife's on staff at a church, so we would fulfill those responsibilities and then we'd go to a live service. So we'd go to an early virtual service, then a live service. That Secret Shopper thing just kind of morphed out of that a little bit. But yeah, I've been able to see some things that I think are common trends across the board of all the churches I've visited. And one, and I want to really encourage pastors and church leaders with this, you should be very excited about your opening weekend or getting started. Because a lot of times people are just very concerned, and yes you should be concerned about safety and you should be concerned the protocols are met. You should be concerned about all that. But as it relates to the people, the people who come to those initial services want to be there. They're your church's core. They're your church's early adopters. They're so excited to be in the room that in my opinion in terms of, okay, feedback from the audience, which every pastor and church leader just dreads on Monday morning, or now Sunday afternoon, with that particular group that is your raving fans. So just be very encouraged. As those people begin to come back, it is truly a celebratory experience. Which leads to point number two. They are very forgiving of mistakes. And you know what, none of us have been through a global pandemic before. None of us have tried to... your church staff are doing jobs they were not hired for. Your volunteers may or may not be doing jobs that they are gifted in, that that's their gifting and passion and calling. I always used to say, everybody's getting under the heavy end of the log to pull these services off and pull off these virtual gatherings. Everybody's doing everything they can and therefore everybody's very forgiving. So as you reopen, if the traffic flow is not right or we had too many people in the restroom at a time or something, just anything you could come up with. The children are misbehaving in the audience or anything that may come up, people are just so excited to be there that number two, they are so incredibly forgiving. Now, this leads to point number three. So I've given you two really good positives, and now I want to give you one to keep an eye on. Whomever your nicest people are regardless of where they serve, you want them out front as churches return. I always go back to the movie Remember the Titans. It's the championship game near the end of the movie, and they've really found an opponent that they're going to have to really think outside the box to defeat. Coach Boone starts making players, "You're on offense. You're now on defense. You're playing both ways the entire game," you know. And everybody's job description is changing because the needs of the moment mandate it. And so what happens, you may be in children's ministry. You may be a youth worker. You may be a greeter already. You may be a Sunday School teacher, small group leader. You may be in worship and arts, technology. Wherever you may be, if you're one of the nicest people in church, you need to have them out front. From the parking lot to wherever your various points of contact are until they get into their seat. The last person you want checking people in, if your church elects to check temperatures, checking temperatures. I'll go back to the Jerry Seinfeld episode, The Soup Nazi. You don't want the COVID Nazi out front. You don't want somebody who goes, "I feel God is calling me to keep this place safe." Okay, well you're on the sanitation team. You're going to clean up between the services. You're not engaging the people. There was one service I attended that everybody was, it was their opening Sunday, everybody was so excited to be there. So people are talking in the lobby. The lobby is the gathering space. So out of muscle memory of your core people, they're going to gather in the gathering space unless you're very proactive in your messaging, which is also a very important factor. So I'll just call this individual the COVID Nazi then starts yelling at everybody in the vestibule. So we all disperse. And it really was water off our backs because everybody's just so excited to be there. But that individual creates culture. Is your church a celebratory church? Is your church a fearful church? Is your church very process-driven? Whomever you have out front is going to determine the culture and direction and intent of everybody that's attending, so put your nicest people out front, regardless.
Matt Steen: And what you're saying there is you're not necessarily putting people there that are going to look the other way on the expectations or anything like that. You're just wanting gracious people that aren't going to go in with the bull horn and say, "Evacuate the area, you rule breakers," right?
Brian Dodd: This is where you want to be wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove. And this is where preparation and training leading up to the reopenings take place. A lot of churches do this, so I'm probably not giving any magical tip here that's going to revolution - but have practiced the services with your core people or something of that nature. Work out the kinks. You're going to make mistakes. The beauty of the local church is this. Every seven days we get another shot at it. And I don't think we're going to create anything that Jesus isn't powerful enough to overcome. So you go in gracious, you go in understanding that this isn't going to go perfect. But let's just properly evaluate. Let's make sure our people are safe. Let's make sure they have the best experience possible. Your job is not to take people's temperatures. Your job is not to keep people safe. Your job is not to ensure everybody wears a mask. Your job is to be a gracious host. And if you hosted somebody in your home during COVID-19, what would you want that experience to be like for them? Well now take that on a macro level. That's what you want to have happen at a local church.
Matt Steen: Gotcha. Gotcha. So that said, I want to go back to a story you told me 4th of July weekend, a church that you visited that seems to have done this really well. I mean, even starting weeks in advance. Tell me a little bit about that experience if you would.
Brian Dodd: Yeah, definitely. So a church I used to attend many years ago and where I was an elder at and then another church hired my wife to be the receptionist, so I became a staff spouse and followed my wife. But it's Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Georgia just north of Atlanta. The pastor is Crawford Loritts. You know, leadership determines direction. And the pulpit drives ministry, whether it's live or virtual. So they were brilliant, and Crawford was brilliant. He had a great team around him. Crawford’s obviously the face of it, but it's a team effort. What they did about three or four weeks leading up to it, masks became a big issue in their church. Or at least for a section of their church. For about three or four weeks leading up to it, they send out a weekly email. And Crawford talks about a number of things. General church information, obviously racial issues, particularly in the Atlanta area and our nation, what we're dealing with. And then he'd say, "Okay, we're going to be opening on July the 5th. By the way, we've got a lot of questions on this. I'm asking everybody to wear a mask." He goes, "You may fall in a variety of different places on that issue. I don't like wearing a mask, but I'm going to wear a mask because we operate under the law of love. And our church is about making disciples, and we want to make as many disciples as possible. If there's someone who's concerned or something of that nature, I want them to know if they walk into our sanctuary, two rows over with social distancing, they don't have to worry about that individual. They can just focus on connecting with the heart of God and having their life changed by the message. So what happened is, continually for three or four weeks that message kept being driven home. Now Crawford connected with those who might have issues by saying, "I don't want to wear one either," but he elevated the conversation.
Matt Steen: [INAUDIBLE] political quagmire that it's become and just attached it to the gospel.
Brian Dodd: Exactly. And it's not about your rights or your preferences or your privileges or your feelings. It's about, we are here and we exist, the law of love, we are here to disciple and love on and comfort and bless other people. So he made it about others. So that messaging, when you arrive in the parking lot, we're getting out of our cars and you start seeing people put on their mask at their cars. And then they're walking to it and Crawford - now Crawford is a nationally-known pastor, Gospel Coalition, just on and on, I could go on and on - Crawford's there in the lobby with his mask on celebrating with everybody as they enter the building.
Matt Steen: So now I want to unpack that for a minute. Because you told me something that I think would probably surprise people about his wiring, and he's a little bit more introverted, right?
Brian Dodd: Correct.
Matt Steen: So it's not typical for him to be out front in front of the crowds and hanging out with people and all that on a typical week, right?
Brian Dodd: Crawford’s one of my dearest friends and I love him immensely on a personal level. Crawford was never one to "work the room." But Crawford did not hide in the green room either. Crawford would come out, and he always sat on the front row. Well there's kind of that radius there that he'd talk to all the people in the radius. Well then by that time, the clock had run out and the service was starting. Well this time, Crawford was intuitive enough that the needs of the moment mandated he lead from out front in a specific area.
Matt Steen: That's a big deal.
Brian Dodd: Both in graciousness and well as the process. What he did brilliantly, because introverts, people with the gift of administration, anything like that, they have a natural bend to prioritize processes over people. Just how God wired them, and we need those individuals obviously. Somebody's got to get the job done. Crawford this time stepped out of that because of the needs of the moment, and he prioritized people over the process. And here's the interesting thing, Matt. Because he did that, the people willingly accepted the process.
Matt Steen: That's brilliant. That's brilliant. Good on him, man. That's so cool to hear.
Brian Dodd: Yeah, it's interesting, I wrote a post about that. And I saw Crawford, we connected and he's like, "You know, Brian, we really have to be careful when you show up in a service because you're going to get [UNCLEAR]." And I said, "Well I only shared good news, first and foremost" I don't use my platform to throw people under the bus, so that's number one. Number two, yeah, you did amazing work, and I was glad that I was able to share that story and that story was able to help literally thousands of churches.” But yeah, a couple things from that. Prepare, repare. Anybody who reads your material, watches your content understands the value of preparation. You cannot over-prepare during COVID-19. You cannot over-communicate during COVID-19. And you have to lead with the law of love. You have to understand that people are in a myriad of spectrums. We've never faced this before. They're all processing it different. And you have to model the behavior and build bridges so that as many people as possible can be affected by your mission and vision.
Matt Steen: That's awesome. So we'll link off to that blog post that you mentioned. I think you have eight things that they did really well as a church, and a lot of that comes from the leadership of Crawford. We'll link off to that. Brian, I want to be respectful of your time and everybody else's, so I'll ask you one more question and we'll kind of jump out if that's okay. So as we wrap this up, as you're bobbing from church to church in this season, seeing what people are doing well and not so well. What's one thing that you'd leave the pastors and the church leaders that are listening to this right now, what's one thing that you would leave with them as they lean into this season that seminary never got them ready for?
Brian Dodd: You know, Matt, that's a fair question and a very tough question. Here's what I'd like to say. We live in a world now that people find a tweet that you sent out 15 years ago or something of that nature. And the interesting thing is, I've done a lot of these interviews as have a lot of people. We're taking a snapshot of how people are feeling on that day on that moment knowing that things could change and tomorrow they will have a completely different opinion. With that being said as an overview, asking for grace, here's the one thing that I'd want to leave for pastors. And you have to understand the context of which I'm going to say this. I love the local church. And the gathering of people, I've given my life for the gathering of people. And that type of thing. Hebrews 10:25 is a verse we got to wrestle with. And you're all familiar with the verse. "Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day draw near." We used to weaponize that verse for guilt in church attendance. Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together. Okay. However, now I think the second half of that verse, we do have to wrestle with it as pastors, church staff, elders, church leaders. "All the more, as you see the day drawing near." I think the question church leaders must ask in their leadership team as they let the bible in a biblical context, in a biblical worldview shape their decision-making moving forward is this - do you see the day drawing near? Yes or no. That's question number one. If the answer is no, then okay, there's not going to be some heavy decisions made after that. But if it's like, "Yeah, we're in the end times. We can at least see the signs" or "The end is drawing near," then you have to wrestle with the statement above that, which is, "don't neglect meeting together all the more." So if you see the day drawing near, just the domino effect of those decisions is this, what does "all the more" mean? All the more means Sundays are a given. Should we crank up and resurrect Sunday nights, Wednesday nights. That's an extreme deal or something of that nature. But we've got to wrestle with the second half of that verse and what that verse means. And here's what I think. A lot of churches are waiting, okay, we're not going to regather. No cases are spiking, but we're not going to regather until we can bring everybody back as it was. That may not be able to happen. So gathering together in person, not virtually online but in person, we probably need to reimagine what that - I'll call it "sixty-minute live experience" is like. And honestly Matt, I'm 54 years old. It may wind up looking like how I grew up. Kids are in the service. You know, I got admit we practiced social distancing back then but I guess it's because we were a small church. it was not by design. It was by default. So I just leave pastors with that. In your context - and by the way, here's what else I've learned. The context of one church here is different than the context of a church one mile away. Different leadership, different experiences, different age groups. So obviously the context in Georgia is going to be different than the context in Maryland or California or Idaho or New York. So within your context, within your leadership, within your people, wrestle with the second half of Hebrews 10:25 and let your biblical worldview of that text and passage shape how you make decisions moving forward.
Matt Steen: And to be clear, you're not necessarily saying that we need to rush back to large gatherings and all that stuff. You're saying maybe part of what we need to be doing is thinking about what does that gathering look like in this particular context for the foreseeable future, or am I mishearing it?
Brian Dodd: You don't want to be reckless, but you don't want to be fearful.
Matt Steen: Right. Be wise, right?
Brian Dodd: Correct. Wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove. What that may mean - once again, it's context. Context is king on this.
Matt Steen: This is July 13th of 2020 at 10:43am, and we reserve the right to change our minds.
Brian Dodd: With new and additional information, exactly. Look, here's the thing. If you're a pastor who says, you know what, things are spiking, I just don't know if I feel good about it. That is different than, four of my staff people have COVID. Those are two different contexts. So don't be reckless, but simultaneously don't be fearful, and wrestle with the second half of that verse. And once again, if we meet it may not look like it did. Now that will depress your youth pastor and your children's pastor, okay. But hey look, we're all figuring it out as we go. I will say this. If you meet and you pull back, no one likes playing for a losing team. The local church is facing a global pandemic, we can't beat it. Facing racial unrest, can't beat it. Facing organizations whose doctrinal statements literally attack the local church, can't beat it. Governors, mayors, you know. So when you take ground, don't give up ground. That would be another thing I'd tell churches. I tell you, no one has a harder job right now than a pastor.
Matt Steen: Oh that's true.
Brian Dodd: Every decision they make, a minimum of a third of their congregation will vehemently disagree with it.
Matt Steen: That's if they're lucky, right?
Brian Dodd: Yeah, if they're lucky. By the way, that's the importance of your elders. I mean, that's why God biblically in the New Testament put those individuals around you, for that spiritual leadership and guidance. Therefore, you kind of have a unified leadership front. Here's another interesting thing Matt, and you can I could talk for days. COVID is the greatest mirror/fillet knife/accelerator I've ever seen in my life. COVID is showing churches and individuals who they are. It's a mirror. A fillet knife opens it up. We've all been opened up and exposed for who we are. Our temperaments, our viewpoints, our passions. And it's an accelerator in the fact that however we feel and whatever's going on in our life is exponentially lived out on a daily basis. And that's what pastors are dealing with. By the way, every individual person is going through that, but every individual church is going through the mirror, fillet knife, and accelerator process as well.
Matt Steen: Absolutely, absolutely. Well Brian, thank you. Thanks for taking some time and sharing with us today. We'll link off to Brian's blog and every social media channel he's got and even some of his books down below. But Brian, thanks so much for your time.
Brian Dodd: Well anytime. Can I say one final word to your listeners?
Matt Steen: Sure.
Brian Dodd: I want to give an unpaid endorsement for Chemistry Staffing. And you're laughing. Look, and I'm serious, Chemistry Staffing's one of my favorite organizations. I deal with church leaders all day. That's all I do. There's not two more equipped, better, smarter, more pastor-loving people than Matt Steen and Todd Rhodes. And churches, I've written about it, I've talked about it. Now is the time to put together your dream team. As you're reimagining your church, reimagine the staff you wish you had. And it may not be an entire staff. It may be this area or that area or something of that nature. Because people are available right now, and this is the time to actually have a post-COVID vision and begin to build the staff that will allow you to impact your community in a post-COVID world. And there's not two better people who can help you with that than Todd and Matt, and I can't recommend them enough. And seriously pastors, have a post-COVID vision. Look at your staff, see where the world's going. Do you have the staff with the skills, training, talents, abilities, giftedness, and calling to reach that. And if not, you need a conversation with Todd and Matt.
Matt Steen: Well Brian, thank you. That was definitely unexpected and that has secured your place on the Christmas card list this year. Thanks for that. And thanks to all of you guys who are popping in to watch this. We're grateful for your willingness to spend some time with us. Hope these are helpful for you guys. Thank you.