A Chemistry Conversation with Dave Travis
Most Pastors and leaders have felt lost, attacked, or unsure over the last eighteen months. So many have seen 2021 as a train wreck, wrapped in a tornado, circling a drain filled with our biggest hairball of fears!
But don’t give up! 2021 still has a lot of opportunities left for your church to grow and cast a big vision.
Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing and David Travis, the Director of Strategic Counsel to Pastors and Church Boards at Generis, have a paradigm-shifting conversation about the opportunities for growth, fundraising, and even succession to finish the year well.
Dave has a wealth of experience from pastoral ministry and the business world. He has worked as a pastor as well as consulted with many churches in different contexts. Through Leadership Network he has had the privilege of learning from many esteemed mentors. His involvement in this network has taken him all over the country to work with various ministries and with some of the country’s leading pastors.
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As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Matt Steen: Well hey, it’s Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. Today I am joined by Dave Travis. Dave is the Director of Strategic Counsel to Pastors and Church Boards at Generis, does a lot of great work walking alongside churches as they look to figure out what does their next 15 years look like, help them think through succession planning, and working with pastors to help them think about what the season ahead look like for them. Just put together a phenomenal resource, Pastor Legacy Life Plan, which he tells me he is giving away for free. Which is nuts, Dave. Can’t be sustainable. But thank you for making that resource available to churches. Dave, thanks for taking some time to talk.
Dave Travis: Yeah. In fact, if people do want that little booklet, they just need to email me at Dave.email@example.com, and if you’re US-based we’ll ship you one out. Don’t want to be shipping them overseas just yet. We are going to have a digital version sometime next year. It is a paper copy. You can read it in about 45 minutes.
Matt Steen: It’s a great resource. I think every pastor needs to be reading through this now.
Dave Travis: Thank you.
Matt Steen: I hope you have a warehouse full.
Dave Travis: We have boxes.
Matt Steen: So Dave, you’ve been a student of the church for years. I’ve always valued what you see in the church space. Man, it’s been - I think we were just talking. It’s a weird time to be serving in church. It’s a weird time to be working with churches. Because everything we used to think as a given has started to change. What are you learning, man? What are you seeing? What are you learning?
Dave Travis: I think in terms of buckets. It’s just typing and categorizing. But if people read my newsletter, Church Leader Insider, you’ll see I’m big on setting up four quadrants for everything. But yeah, one of the things I see here right now. Let’s call it three buckets as we look at churches and church leaders. I talk to about 20-30 pastors every week, either in group coaching calls or in individual clients or potential clients, and I would break up the world right now in this way. About 25% of the churches and church leaders are really looking back and they’re saying we want to get back to what we were doing and how we did it before the pandemic started. Let’s all acknowledge that this is the first time that every pastor in this generation has been through a pandemic season of this volume, magnitude, etc. I would say about half, the biggest group, are just kind of stalled. Like, we can’t decide what we want. We know we can’t really go back. We’re not sure the way forward. But we’re going to try some stuff. I’m cheering those that are at least going to try. I would say 50% are kind of stalled, we’re just kind of stuck in the mud here. And then finally 25% I think are thinking forward and have set at least a tentative strategy of, we’re moving forward, we’re planning for the new era and what that looks like for us. They’re trying stuff, and trying to say, this is what we’re going to be for the future. What that looks like looks different than the past. Most often, simpler. Streamlined when it comes to their paths forward. Putting focus, a lot more focus.
Matt Steen: So you mentioned 50% of the churches are in this stalled space. As you walk with them, what are some practical ways to get installed? Or is there?
Dave Travis: A couple things. I think, number one, the pastor has to be ready to move forward. And pastors are a little gun-shy right now to be honest. 2020 was a battle ground year in a lot of ways, between pandemic, protests, presidency races, things like that. So getting your head out of the foxhole and getting shot at was not a fun thing. So first of all, the pastor has to be ready to move forward. And then, I work a lot with church boards, and I think that is one of the untapped resources that most churches have is a robust board. A lot of boards are just like, yeah, we’re willing to go, but we’re not sure the people are ready to go yet. So they kind of put the brakes on some things. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying that is what is happening. So part of the way forward is getting your leadership core on board to say, you know what, we’re going to still be living in this season for another year. We might as well push on forward. So part of it is a decision of will. And part of it is a lot of what I do - what’s our next story line? What does our next story look like? Let’s begin writing that chapter, knowing that we’re going to have some challenges but might as well start writing it now.
Matt Steen: That’s helpful. So you said some of the boards are saying, hey, I don’t think people are ready for that now. You say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We both know pastors that have gone hard-charging, blew off the board that said “hey, this probably isn’t the right time right now,” and sometimes they were right and lost the people in the process. Is there a time when being in a stalled space isn’t necessarily a bad thing? Do you understand what I’m asking?
Dave Travis: I know exactly what you’re asking. In fact, I use this a lot in my succession planning. There was an author who is no longer with us, but his name was William Bridges, and he invented a change methodology, which is found in his book Transitions. He says every successful transition has three distinct phases. Endings, a neutral zone, and then new beginnings. That kind of describes the three buckets as well that I mentioned earlier. You have people who still are in the ending phase. They haven’t left that behind, and they haven’t gotten to the neutral zone. The stall phase is the neutral zone if we say, let’s try some things and let’s navigate forward. That is one of the great advantages of the neutral zone is the opportunity to try stuff and innovate on some things before we can set a chapter that we will call the new beginning. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad to be in a neutral zone. I think you have to start letting people grieve the things that are lost, but then to say, okay, this is where we are. We can’t stay here. We’ve got to keep moving forward. It’s akin to - I’ll use it as a metaphor, not as a spiritual concept. It’s the children of Israel that loved Egypt, got through the Red Sea, now are in the wilderness. And what did God do to his people in the wilderness? He refined them. He had them scout out the land. He had them build a whole new culture before they could enter the new and promised land. Not to over-spiritualize that story. That’s just a metaphor of some of what’s going on.
Matt Steen: Yeah. So maybe there’s a piece of this where we really need to be leaning in and embracing the refining that comes from this weird in between before diving in whole heartedly. So we’re talking new beginnings and all that kind of thing. What are you seeing on the horizon that’s coming that we need to be thinking through?
Dave Travis: I will say - let me go back to one thing that I did see during this season and still see. Part of this was certain churches - it’s not all churches - but those that had robust small groups before the pandemic tended to come through this extreme well. And by robust small groups, what I mean is ongoing groups that people were a part of and that stuck together through this season. I think also the second piece of that is those churches that restarted small groups, even in the middle of the pandemic, or have restarted them since then are getting that sense of momentum. I think for relationally-driven churches - and that’s not all churches, Matt. For relationally-driven communities and churches, that was one of the pieces that was missing and was most missed in the pandemic. So people looked for ways to get connected to that. I’m working with a mainline church right now that does the old idea - or fairly old idea - of supper clubs. Where people sign up. It’s like 3-6 couples, and weekly they get together. It’s at a home, and they share a meal and they talk. They said the sign-ups for those have been phenomenal during this season. And those aren’t traditional small groups, mind you. And they didn’t have really a sense of small groups before this. But they said, we’ve just found that people were craving those kind of connections. So I think there’s some opportunities there. But on the horizons. Let’s go to the horizon. There’s a couple of societal trends or church trends that I think we need to be looking at. Number one, I think those churches that have looked to new constituencies more than old constituencies have done okay. And by new constituencies, I’m saying these are people that they tended to reach either during the pandemic or they said, this is a great opportunity for us. So those who were thinking about new constituencies, not just their past constituency. And this goes back to the first thing I said, those churches that are looking backwards, trying to get back, and trying to think how to regather people who were already a part of them. And I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m just saying we should focus more energy on what are our new constituencies that we need to reach. I think the other big trend that I’m not sure how we’re going to deal with it yet - and you guys have talked about this at Chemistry Staffing. A lot of people are talking about this frame of the great resignation.
Matt Steen: Yeah.
Dave Travis: And I’m not talking about the church side. I’m talking about church constituencies. If Gallup is right, 40% of Americans say they’ll be working somewhere else this time next year or not working. That’s an incredible societal shift. As people are devaluing their work, which has been one of the primary drivers of Americans, is what do you do for a living. And we have this whole social thinking now that’s saying, you know what, it’s not that important what I do for a living. Somewhat around a third of Americans now are able to work remotely. What does that mean for churches? I’m not talking about church staff. So what does that mean for our people? How do we reach them in new ways? Because they’re not commuting to work. I read earlier today of the number of working mothers, whether married or not, that are exiting the workforce.
Matt Steen: Oh yeah.
Dave Travis: Now it’s only about a third of working moms. That’s a very narrow slice really. I’m not saying this is every female. My wife who is a working mom, but our kids are grown and out of the house. It’s not what we mean by working mothers. What we mean is those who have kids that are still school age or younger. The church had to make massive adjustments when mothers entered the workforce in the 70s, 80s as to what that program looks like. But now we have this exit from the workforce of many of these. Here again, driven by their values of, do I just want to work all the time or do I not want to burn out and do this. I’m not sure what the opportunities are, but I think there are opportunities there to reach those constituencies especially. I think this great resignation season - I’m not sure how we leverage it, but it’s a societal trend out there we’ve got to figure out.
Matt Steen: Absolutely. Almost have the ability to begin to speak into identity questions in ways that we’ve just been waiting for years and years and years to do I would imagine.
Dave Travis: I think the other horizon issues, by the way - I didn’t look at it today or yesterday, but at the end of last month, there was more money in accounts - I’m talking checking, savings, liquid money accounts - than ever before in Americans’ accounts. Now, it’s not evenly distributed. I want to make that clear. But the money is out there for giving and generosity initiatives from our people. Record giving in 2020, of course. We could see it in 2021. I haven’t seen as many churches finding creative ways to ask for dollars from their people. But the money’s there. It’s in accounts. We just haven’t necessarily tapped it. The final horizon issue I’ll mention, I think that 2022 could be rough for pastors and churches, mainly because it’s an election year again.
Matt Steen: Oh geez, thanks for bringing that up.
Dave Travis: Exactly. I think that in some context, pastors are going to be really caught in the middle again. We still have pandemic issues we’ll be dealing with. The political issues surrounding left, right, center, democrat, republican, red, blue. In certain contexts. There are certain parts of the country where it’s just not an issue. But in places like where I live, and where you live for that matter, Matt, there will be issues. And because of that, there will be other protests around certain social issues. Rightly, wrongly, they’re going to happen because the outrage cycle will drive those to happen.
Matt Steen: So as you walk through this with the churches that you’re working with, outside of the biggest thing right now that everybody is yelling about is vaccines and vaccine mandates and all that kind of stuff. We won’t touch that. But it’s cooled down a little bit. How are you counseling churches to prepare for that piece? The re-firing up of the election cycle and the outrage and hate that comes out of that. You talk about the great resignation on the civilian side. On the church side, we’re seeing a lot of that with pastors that are going to sell real estate because they’re tired of being wrong over every decision they’ve made over the last 18 months and are licking their wounds from all that. How are you coaching them to prepare for this joy?
Dave Travis: I’m seeing this not just in pastoral fields, but in other business leader fields. Get off social media now. Social media is not the right place for appropriate and good discourse conversations. I saw this not just with pastors, but with other influencers, saying you know what, I’ve decided I’m going to cut my Twitter feed or Facebook feed or you fill in the blank of what your favorite - TikTok, reels, whatever the one of the hour is - and said I’m only going to speak out and do a little bit of promotion for a Sunday worship service, or here’s our next series. We’re going to get off that bandwagon. I think the other thing I’ve seen a rise in, and I think this is a healthy discourse, is when we’re going to address some of these issues, we’re going to do it in a podcast and it’s going to be a conversation. We’re not going to try to show all views or anything like that. We’re going to make it more conversational, and we’re going to point people to those kinds of forums where we can have longer-framed conversations. Or we’re going to take a bigger issue and break it up into chunks. We’re going to address people that way. We’re not going to make that a focus of our ministry next year or in the past. So I think those that are using those types of tools to disciple and to pour into people, even though they may not have huge constituencies, they will draw those who are polarized one way or another and hopefully help to counsel and disciple people in whatever direction that pastor/leader does kind of lean in. And so that we can go deep with those conversations and not just hit surface and Twitter-length feeds or Instagram things. I read a business leader the other day said, “Hey, I had to save my soul” - their words, not mine. And they’re not a pastor, Christian leader, or anything like that - “by resigning from Facebook and Twitter because it just became too toxic and drove me crazy.” I think those pastors and leaders that say, look, I’m not going to use the image burnishing tool to promote myself to certain constituencies and feed the outrage and feed the cycle. Instead I’m just going to get off and focus on what I think my work is as a pastor, however they choose to define that.
Matt Steen: That makes sense. If more of us got off social media in general, I think the whole world would be a healthier place. But I don’t know, a comment like that might get us fired.
Dave Travis: Maybe so.
Matt Steen: Well Dave, this has been helpful. Tell me, as you’re looking around, what encouragement are you giving to pastors now as they lean into this season and potentially what sounds like another election season. Thanks for reminding us of that.
Dave Travis: Here’s the encouragement I have. First of all for 2021, and I’m not sure when this will be distributed, but for 2021, we still have a huge opportunity to finish the year strong financially. I think it’s too late to reprogram anything for 2021, but to finish the year potentially strong we have lots of opportunity. We should be asking. We should be casting vision and asking for gifts now to support next year. There are a few tax provisions this year that will probably not be available in 2022. For those where taxes are a consideration, which are fewer people than you think - about 15% of our givers, but some of those can give large gifts to support. Go ahead and ask for the funds now. At Generis, we do a lot of generosity initiatives. I don’t do that kind of work, just to make people understand that, but some of my colleagues do. I see this as a great opportunity to finish the year strong financially. Most churches did not get extended - 2020 was helped by the PPP loans and some other financial support. We didn’t have that this year. We are not going to have that next year, I don’t think, so we might as well ask for giving now. Next year can be better. We can begin to think - here again, thinking in terms of those buckets, thinking in terms of those tradition zones - now is the time to start moving people forward. I think people are ready for a new story to be written in their personal life, in their professional life, their social life, their congregational life. One of the things I didn’t mention, but I think this can be an encouraging thing, I’ve heard for 20 years now that youth sports has taken over the social lives of teenagers and younger people and their parents. Youth sports are down about 40% overall.
Matt Steen: Oh wow.
Dave Travis: If you look at the Aspen State of Play report that was written this year and last year, people aren’t returning to sports. Parents aren’t returning their kids to a lot of the organized sports. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Matt Steen: It’s an opportunity though.
Dave Travis: It’s an opportunity. And what parents are saying is, you know what, we realized during the pandemic that we were spending way too much time on that soccer activity. There’s still going to be a few that are in the elite sports category, and they’re going to be die hards. They’re going to keep going with travel ball, travel dance. It’s not just sports. It’s those extracurricular, heavily expensive, intensive activities for a certain segment of the population. However for the rest of the population, 80% of the people either weren’t there or they’re not going there or they’re cutting back on their recreational sports to spend more time with family and to say, what does it look like to support our family spiritually, developmentally, emotionally. And how are we replacing that? I think that’s an encouragement to say, look, yeah, we’re going to have some of our people that are driven by the sports culture. Not as many as we think.
Matt Steen: Not nearly as many. How do we start to fill in that identity hole too, you know?
Dave Travis: Exactly.
Matt Steen: That’s really cool. I hadn’t heard that, and that’s fascinating to me. Dave, thank you for that. Thanks for sharing that. Dave, if you don’t know, has a fantastic resource called Church Leader Insider that he puts out on a weekly basis. Short read, but filled with just helpful, helpful stats and studies that he’s seeing that I’m convinced will significantly impact your ministry. We’ll link off down below so you can sign up for that. I promise it’s not spam. It really is helpful insight on a weekly basis.
Dave Travis: That was my colleague, Greg Ligon. I want to give Greg some props for that.
Matt Steen: Oh yeah, absolutely. Well Dave, thanks so much for the time, man. Really appreciate it.
Dave Travis: Okay, thank you.