Podcast Episode #21: Larry Hubatka - How Elevation Church Structures Their Creative Team to Win
Posted: Jan 04 2016
Jared: Larry, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Larry: Thanks, Jared. Thanks for having me.
Jared: Absolutely. Let’s just go for it here. Give us a little back story. You’ve been at Elevation now for a decade or close to a decade. Is that right?
Larry: Yeah, I actually got here at the very beginning. When the church started, there were eight families that moved to Charlotte to start the church. I wasn't one of those eight. My wife and I happened to move to Charlotte from the northwest so we are from Seattle, then we moved to Portland, Oregon, then to Charlotte back in 2005. We moved out here for a different job, originally. I was working for a TV network and we were working with pro athletes who were surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. It was awesome. In a lot of ways, it was a dream job. We ended up in Charlotte. We found the church online and the irony behind this whole thing is that there are so many churches in Charlotte that we had to start filtering online, based on the websites. I’m sure we missed a lot of great churches, but you have to do something. So we started filtering churches and we found Elevation church because the website had this song playing, which is everything I’m opposed to now - having songs automatically playing when you fire up a website. It got my attention. Pastor Steven and I even laugh about it today that the song on the site, from an old album, is the thing that hooked me. Now, I oversee digital which is a part of our creative responsibility here at the church. It’s just a funny, small world. But that’s how we ended up finding the church back in 2005. We were here even before we started Sunday mornings in February 2006. In a lot of ways, the families that were here would probably consider our family as one of the original families, but we kind of came in the second wave right as the church was getting started. We’ve been here for 10 years now and I’ve been on staff for the past 8 years. It’s been awesome.
Jared: Very cool. Very cool. To jump back a little bit further, how long have you been a Christian? What’s your story of meeting Jesus?
Larry: Okay. I’m 39 right now, as of December 2015.
Jared: Hey, happy birthday!
Larry: Thanks. I’m sorry. I’m 39 meaning as of December 2015. My birthday was in October.
Jared: Well, happy birthday several months ago.
Larry: I’ve been married for 15 years. I have 4 kids - all girls. My wife and I met when we were in college at the University of Washington about 20 years ago. I graduated from high school in 1994 at Washington State. I’m kind of bouncing all over the place, but it’ll give you a picture of how I got here. I went to college and my very first day in college, I was sitting through freshman orientation at Pepperdine University. I had been involved with Young Life through high school, if you're familiar with that ministry.
Larry: I never gave my life to the Lord, but I had great relationships with the leaders. So big plug for Young Life. I really love the way that their ministry ministered to me. I went to camp and I did everything. Again, I never gave my life to the Lord. But the first day in college, during freshman orientation, I was actually listening to Josh McDowell. I had no idea who the guy was. It’s funny when I think back on it because he was talking to a bunch of freshmen at Pepperdine. I don't even know what he said. All I remember him saying was, “Hey, you're freshmen. If you want to get a fresh start today, you should do it because a lot of freshman get STD’s.” I was thinking, “What is going on here?” He was talking about all of these different things about paths you could take. He said, “Or you could give your life to Christ.” I thought, “I think I should do that.” I was literally sitting by myself in an auditorium with about 800 freshmen. In my heart, I just said, “Yes, God. I want to do that.” I consider that the day I gave my life to Christ. That would have been August of 1994. That was about 20 years ago. The irony behind the whole thing is that God took me out of the environment that I was in and sent me away to California for a year. I was only there for a year then I transferred back to the University of Washington where I reconnected with all of my friends and lived with them. God took me out of it and said I have something for you. I really fell in love with God. I started developing an interest in the local church. I went back to my old circle of friends and I was a different person. Through college, I discovered what it looked like to walk with God. Obviously, I’ve been doing it ever since.
Jared: Very cool. Very, very cool. I love that it was you can either get the STD’s or you can have Jesus. It was one or the other.
Larry: I probably am butchering it. If Josh McDowell ever hears this, he’s probably going to be like, “Come on, man. That’s not my message.” But that’s all I remember. That’s what the Holy Spirit had for me that day like, “Dude you don’t want STD’s. You want to be a Christian.” I was like, “Yeah, I think I do. I think you're right.”
Jared: Yes. And Josh McDowell, if you are listening, we are clearly joking. Please don’t hate us. So, let’s fast forward here. You're married. You have four daughters. That is something right there.
Larry: Yes. Four daughters. We’ve got an 8, 10, 12, and a 14 year old. So four girls and they are all evenly spaced. My wife, Kelly, and I decided that we wanted to be younger parents, if we had the option so we were trying. I was always trying, I guess. We ended up getting pregnant pretty quickly so by the end of our first year of marriage, we were pregnant with our first daughter. So we have Riley, Lilly, Audrey, and Lucy. I didn't come from a big family. I have 1 sister and she's 5 years older. I don't know what it was, but I had it in my brain that I would love to have a big family. We were both 23 when we got married. I was like, “Hey babe, if we get pregnant on the honeymoon, then I’m good. I’m ready to have a family.” I don't even know where that came from because I didn't draw that from anything. It wasn't even my personal experience but I guess that’s just how God wired me. We ended up having kids pretty quick. We had all of our kids by the time we were 30. We have one in high school, one in middle school, and a couple in elementary school. That’s all we know. I always meet people who are like, “I’m so sorry, “ when they hear that we have 4 girls. You need to not put your junk and your baggage on me. If you think that’s crazy, then that’s not what God had for you. It’s what we know and we love it. It’s a different story than what other people have to tell, but it’s our story. It’s fantastic.
Jared: That’s incredible. I hear that game nights, specifically board game nights, at your house are a big deal.
Larry: Yeah, we love them. I’ve been dying for my kids to come of age and become board game players. We started by playing Sorry and games that were a little easier to play. Because their ages range from 8-14, even our 8 year old is jumping in to playing anything the family plays, which is awesome for me. We played Sorry and it escalated to Clue and then Monopoly. I love games like Risk and Settlers of Catan. Just in the last year, all of us can play Settlers together, which is one of the greatest moments of my life.
Jared: Proud dad moment.
Larry: Yes, everyone can play. They like it, which is cool.
Jared: That is awesome.
Larry: Almost all of them like it. Well, 3 of them like it. One of them just plays because everyone else is.
Jared: That is so cool though. Making some amazing memories. That’s awesome.
Larry: Yeah, it’s awesome. I’m definitely a no mercy kind of dad where I’m like I’ll never ever let you win. So you better figure out how to play this or you’ll lose for the rest of your life. They’re good. Even my 8 year old, she almost beat us the other day. It was a lot faster than I was expecting.
Jared: I can respect that. I can respect that
Larry: Sorry, I am going off on this.
Jared: No, not at all.
Larry: I feel pretty strongly about this topic. I do not care for trophies for participation.
Larry: I think it hinders you in life. If you are one of my kids and I affirm you for just participating and making an effort, I’m like, ”I think you should make an effort for sure, but I don't want you to feel like everything is just gets handed to you.” In fact, I was the soccer coach for one of my daughters. I remember at the end of the season, this was when she was probably 6, we had one of the kids on the team who was like, “So coach, do we all get trophies?” I remember turning to him and saying, “You get trophies if you win. You don’t get a trophy for just participating.” I just think I would be doing you a disservice if I coddle you too much, whether you are one of my kids or you're someone who works for me in the creative department or as part of the staff.
Jared: I think that if you get nothing else from this podcast, that was worth it right there. I couldn't agree with you more. Alright, well let’s jump in here to the Elevation creative team. Is your title creative director or do you hold a different title than that?
Larry: My official title is creative pastor. Sometimes I can’t say that to people because they don't have any context for what it actually means. So creative pastor for us really does operate a lot like a creative director. Some churches have a creative arts pastor or a creative pastor who oversees more of the worship and the programming in the worship experience or in the service. For us, I play the role of creative pastor which is really more like a creative director meaning that I oversee design, marketing, communications, and brand management. It closely resembles what you would find in the general market. So, that’s my role.
Jared: So to some degree, you’re an ad agency for your church.
Larry: Yeah, that’s right. That’s the model we decided to build up early on. One of the very best things about my specific role is that I have so much freedom in what I get to do because Pastor Steven believes in presentation and how we package a message. So because he loves it, I have a lot of liberties that maybe other people in similar roles don't always get. It is so helpful. Back in the beginning, Pastor Steven said, “So how do you want to build this thing?” I gave him my best suggestion and said, “This agency model is one that I really think will work for us.” He said, “Go for it. If you think it can work, then do it.” It may not always be this, but we’ve done this for the past 8 or 9 years since I’ve been on staff. It’s working great!
Jared: That’s awesome. That’s one thing I love. Frank Bealer was on the podcast on episode 14.
Larry: You know, we call Frank, Frankenbeans.
Jared: That’s incredible. Well, Frankenbeans was on the podcast on episode 14. What I love about this is that you are echoing something he said. Family pastor, I think, is his title. You’re saying the same thing in that Elevation is very much about giving ownership away. Obviously appropriately and once people are vetted but very much about giving ownership away and letting you run and do what you do.
Larry: Yeah, it’s like a lot of things. If you're in the corporate world, it still rings true. I think that the principle is that your performance is what garners your freedom most of the time. If you have freedom and you handle it well and you're responsible with it, I think that your supervisor, your superior, your boss, or your pastor will probably say that you're doing something right and will continue to give you options and let you make decisions. Even in parenting, for me as a parent of girls, next to my kids really falling in love with Jesus, living their lives for him, and maintaining their purity until marriage, I pray that they would learn to be responsible with the freedom they have. It’s right at the top of your list. If you can learn that at a young age, then you're in really good shape. Ideally, no one is going to come in and regulate for you. Learn how to self regulate, know what you're responsible for and manage it - even in the little things. I can get up in the morning. I can get to work on time. I can hit a deadline even if no one is asking. I can return a phone call if I told someone I was going to do it. I’m not good at all of these things. I’m always trying to improve, but that’s the secret sauce. I know, for the people who report to me, if they do a great job, I’m like awesome. Do more of it. It’s straight out of the Bible. Be faithful with little and you'll be faithful with much. If you can manage a little bit of freedom, then you'll have a lot more. It’s absolutely what Pastor Steven has built. He’s like, “I want to hire good people. I want to trust them, but its on you. You’ve got to show me it’s a good decision.” If we do it, he’s like, “Cool, let’s keep doing it!”
Jared: That’s awesome. So good. I love what you lead with all of that - that performance garners freedom. That’s incredible.
Larry: It has to. How else does it work? If you go the other way, you have superiors or bosses who are telling you everything that you're supposed to be doing. If that’s the case, go hire less expensive people who can just do production work and who don't know how to think and get more work done because you have a couple decision makers who make all of the decisions. Maybe in some seasons you do have to do that. Some supervisors might really have to tighten the reins and be a part of every decision made. That happens, I think, for a season. But ultimately, the goal is to free people up and let them go do the things that you hired them to do. Go create. Go build. Go make good decisions. Mess up in the process and learn well from it. Make new decisions or new failures next time.
Jared: Man, that’s good. With your team, first and foremost, how many people are on your team on staff, whether full-time or part-time?
Larry: I’m going to give you a general number because we’ve got a couple people part-time or they're interns. Our full-time paid staff in our creative department is about 35. Depending on the season, we do 3 different terms every year for interns. Typically people in the 18-25 year old range can come in and intern in any of the different departments. They do an online application and we keep that going on rolling basis all year long. We might have 5-10 interns at any given time, based on the different term. Summer is always bigger because people are typically out of school and looking for internships. Fall and spring tend to be a little lighter. The department is big and this is where I say that, on a staff of approximately 165 or so, we have a big department. It’s because Pastor Steven places a premium on making sure we present this message well.
Jared: Wow, that’s incredible. Do volunteers play a role with the creative team at all?
Larry: Yes, they do. I’ll describe it and it will probably sound like it’s this, big, dialed system and that it’s really nice and clean. It’s not. It’s not that perfect. To give you some context, for the 35 or so in the creative department, the biggest team would be the 2 film teams and video teams. That’s where we have the most people. Graphic design, motion graphics or animation, audio engineers, sound design, digital also falls on creative because of the way we have our department structured. Anything digital related for the church, whether it’s a flagship property or it’s an app, that all falls under digital. Then there’s a project management team. The project management team is 7 or 8 people. They are exactly what you think. They are managing the traffic control. In fact, the project management team would be the reason that the creative department can succeed because they would handle the operational side. Creative people are awesome and also in large part, some of the most disorganized people you'll ever meet. You do find hybrids. We definitely have some people on our team who are awesome at both sides of it, but generally you have to have complimentary people who make it work. So that’s how it’s broken up. To answer your question with volunteers, we set a goal in 2014 that by June 2015 we wanted 100 volunteers on our roster in the creative department. So, this is where it’s going to sound like its really dialed, and it’s not, but it does work. It is helpful. We said we wanted 100 people who were in our system, in our database, that were able to actively contribute. I can walk through some of the ways that we would acquire and procure volunteers, if it’s helpful.
Jared: Yes, please.
Larry: We put our roster together and said that we need people on multiple tiers who can contribute. The way that I always think about this, even though its a little more unofficial, is that there really are always going to be 3 tiers of volunteers. Let’s just say Tier A, Tier B and Tier C for the sake of conversation. Tier A would be your A-list talent. They are super accomplished, really good at what they do, probably love the church, active in the church, but because they are really good at what they do, they are probably not as readily available. They might not be as consistent in terms of when they can make a regular meeting or an event. You hope that they would, but let’s say you are freelance guy and your job takes you out of town. Sure, you want to be at an event that we are doing, but if you have a week long job at an agency because you're good and you're in demand, then you may not be as available. So there’s that Tier A talent, which usually is super talented, but you can’t necessarily hand responsibility off to them because they just aren't available. That’s such a big part is being able to volunteer. It’s awesome when you can get them. You just know that if your expectation is they can contribute but can’t really take charge of certain situations, then cool. Then there’s Tier B talent, which maybe they do it for a living, maybe they don’t. Maybe they work for an organization or maybe they are freelancing. They are a little more available. It really has to do with availability. Less talent, more availability. They are available, they can be at our weekly or biweekly functions that we have or events that we have. This is really the most helpful tier when it comes to volunteers. They are people that you can hand off full projects to. Maybe not every kind of project, but they can definitely handle a project start to finish depending on who the person is. That would become your B level talent. If they aren't doing it for a living, but are at least talented enough to do it or they can manage and lead well enough to do it. Then your Tier C would be people who probably don't have the experience of the other 2 tiers, maybe even no experience at all, but they are really excited and would really love to do something creative. That tier, in my opinion, has to exist because you have to have an entry point for people who want to come in and be a part. For us, that’s about cultivating people for the future. Tier C would be kind of a pipeline. That’s somebody that you're going to walk with for probably several years. We’re still discovering how to do it right now, I don't think we do it great. This is someone who says, “I’ve always wanted to do graphic design.” or “I always thought I could contribute to a marketing concept.” Cool, get them in the mix. If they show up, do their part, and they are around for a year or two, you can probably develop a skill set in them so that they can really contribute and become a Tier B contributor. They could even develop their skill set enough, depending on how motivated they are, where they could probably make a shift and jump in to doing something like this for a living. Again, it’s unofficial. That’s the way I think about it, so that Tier B is gold. We set this goal for 100 volunteers and then we hit it. Ironically, over half of them were photography volunteers. Do you ever watch Portlandia?
Jared: I have seen it a few times.
Larry: Okay, I cannot condone it for the record. but it’s a very funny show. Portlandia, and being from Portland it makes sense, but they did a sketch where they were, at one point, talking about how everybody was a DJ. Everybody who had a phone or a DJ app or a laptop was a DJ. I kind of feel that way now about photographers. Everyone thinks they are a photographer. When we put our volunteer roster together, literally it was about 50-70 people were photography volunteers. They are like, “I own a camera. I totally want to do this. I shot a friend’s wedding one time.” I’m like, “Oh man, okay. Come on.” It’s actually a pretty good category to have be the most robust category. It’s really helpful. But you have to know what you’re working with. Not everyone is a good photographer. I’m sure everyone has the potential to do that, but there is a small minority that are really great photographers. It’s because they are experienced and they’ve been doing it for a long time. A lot of them are doing it for a living. Anyways, we’ve got that volunteer roster of 100. Not all of them volunteer all of the time. We try to say that if you're actively volunteering at least once a month, then we’ll keep you on the roster. The truth is, we aren't auditing that roster religiously every single month. It probably happens maybe a couple times a year at best. That’s the expectation. We are trying to make sure that it’s a real roster. We don't feel good about ourselves if we can say we have 100 people, but there’s really 12 people that do something. So the photography people are pretty active. The other 30 or 40 are people who are very sporadic. They definitely don't all volunteer once a month because a lot of it depends on the projects we have. We try to incorporate people as frequently as we can. It’s easier for people to jump in and do things like graphic design than it is for somebody to jump in and take on an animated piece, a film project, or an audio project. You have to be committed to saying that some of these categories and some of these areas require people to be a little bit more invested. The projects are longer and they have to be able to give you a little more time, even if it’s collectively, in order to really contribute. So, it works. It’s a work in progress, I think.
Jared: To jump back to something you said, first of all, I love the analogy that you used, “I photographed a friend’s wedding once so I’m a photographer.”
Larry: Oh my gosh. It’s so true.
Jared: You said a minute ago, for these 100 creative volunteers, that they come to a weekly or biweekly function that you guys have. Can you explain a little more of what that is?
Larry: Yeah, no problem. We originally saw something that I think several churches were doing. I’m pretty sure it was inspired from what Hillsong was doing originally with their creative team. I think they call it team night.
Larry: It’s where they get people together and you have to forgive me if the details aren't right, but I think they do it every week. When we had a conversation with them originally, they said, ”We want people who are committed at that level. If they can come every week, that’s great.” For us, that’s wasn't necessarily the model that we wanted to duplicate, but we definitely were inspired by it. We created something called Fourward and we brought the 4 areas of the church together that are most connected to the creative side of the church. So that would be worship, creative, production, which is live event production, and tech. So those 4 areas get together and there’s obviously a play on words that we are trying to figure out how the 4 areas together can move the church forward. So that event has kind of evolved over the last year or year and a half. It originally started every other week and the idea was to get that team together because on the weekends, typically, when they are volunteering, they are focused, they are volunteering, and they aren't getting a lot of time to just hang and get to know each other. So we said let’s create an event where we can develop the camaraderie and really help people, but also train people at the same time. It really feels like a worship experience for us or a service where we get people together at 6:30. From 6:30-7:00, they are just mingling, there are light refreshments provided. From 7:00-8:00 is basically our time together where it’s primarily worship. There is a little 15 minute devotional by different people representing different departments. We try to always honor people from each of the areas. It’s a form of public affirmation to really make sure we are recognizing people and reinforcing the right values that we want people to really know we stand for. At 8:00, depending on what area you are in, there is typically some kind of a breakout where you do some training. That would be from 8:00-9:00. You might teach somebody, if you're in production, how to physically run a computer and know how to operate the ProPresenter software so you can manage the screens during a worship experience. If you’re in worship, you might be doing a drum tutorial, you might be doing some voice lessons or voice coaching. If you're in tech, you might be figuring out how to program lights. If you’re in creative, you might literally be working on projects. We do that every other week. Over time, it’s evolved even more so. Now, we do every other week. One week is really heavy, everybody is together. We do the breakouts in these labs and the off weeks, we spend a lot of time trying to get teams together because we have multiple locations. We’re trying to manage that now. How does this work? So we’re really trying to let people have some freedom and get together at their local campuses and really do more team building. Once a month is that and once a month is everybody together for worship and breakouts. For creative specifically, what we discovered, was we were trying to figure out how to invest in our volunteers and really speak life into them, help them, and coach them. We kept getting feedback from everybody pretty quick like, “Hey, that’s cool. We don’t really want to do that. We just want to help with some projects. Put us to work.” That was not what I expected, but that’s what the volunteers were saying. They wanted to contribute and they wanted to make a difference. So, the upside is that we are discovering that most people want to learn on their own. Part of it is that we are kind of in an age where people have access to information more than they ever had. They don’t need us to be like experts, coaching them and teaching them how to do things. They can go figure it out. They can go watch tutorials. They can figure out how to be a designer on YouTube if they watch enough videos, truthfully. You just spend some time practicing. It’s not like they really want us to coach them, even though we do have constructive conversations about how to improve and refine your skill. Most of the time, people just love the church, they want to contribute, they want to be a part, and they want to make a difference. So now, after worship on those Wednesday Fourward events, the creative team does what we call Lab and you just get to work. You probably have 200 people show up to Fourward. Maybe 30 of those or so would be creative team volunteers. I don't know if that number is correct. But they literally come and they just get to work. We work on projects and sometimes we are working on marketing campaigns. Sometimes we are working on lower level graphic design projects that you can knock out in an hour or two. It really is Wednesday at 8:00 when worship is done until whenever people want to leave. Sometimes it’s an hour and people take off really quick. Sometimes it’s 3 or 4 hours and you'll get high school kids who are here and they love it. They couldn't get enough of it and they’ll hang for 3 hours and tackle some film projects. It’s pretty cool because you really begin to see what it looks like to develop a pipeline.
Jared: Man, this is incredible.
Larry: Yeah, we love it. It works. It sounds like it’s so dialed and it’s perfect. It’s really not. Sometimes volunteers show up and they are supposed to RSVP so we know who is coming, but they show up without an RSVP and we realize we don’t have a staff member who is here that can actually help them or coach them. If they do show up, sometimes we give them projects that aren't beneath them, but maybe we didn't think through the project well enough on the front end so it really doesn't value them - it wastes their time. That has happened before, too. We are trying to refine it all as we go. What is good is that the bones to the system are great - that volunteers have a place that they can come. They have a place that they can contribute and we can develop some great relationships. So, that works.
Jared: That’s fantastic. This is a little bit of an offshoot. For your service schedule, do you have every Wednesday night service?
Larry: Nope, we don't have a Wednesday night. We do one on Saturday night, two on Sunday morning, and one Sunday night. Depending on the location, you might not have a Saturday or a Sunday night. We tried to make a point of very early on, as a church, to not occupy everybody on every night of the week. We are pretty sensitive to it. So if we are going to actually commit to something, we try to be thoughtful and mindful of peoples’ schedules. It’s cool if you work at the church because we come here and do this, but let’s be honest, most of the people who are volunteering are full-time employees somewhere. They have to come after work and sacrifice time with family and friends and whatever else they want to commit to. So if we aren't going to steward their time well, then this is another one of those faithful with little, meaning if God has given us people and their schedules to be apart of stewarding, then we’ve got to do it well or else I feel like God will give them to someone else.
Jared: That’s really good. The way you are structured, you guys function in more of an ad agency approach in that there is not a separate creative team for kids or youth. It is one creative team.
Larry: Well the way it’s structured now, it almost feels like a third party agency. Everybody is obviously very connected to the staff. It’s not like we are in our own building. We are a part of the staff just like everybody else. But if you look at it on paper, that’s the way it works. There is an agency and every department is a client. So different clients would be the administrative team, individual campuses, guest services, we call it E groups, but our small groups ministry would be a client. Kid’s ministry and students would be a client. You also have the main worship experience, Pastor Steven’s office, and the worship department. So you have all of these different clients and obviously you have these exceptions. Pastor Steven would be one of the principals in the agency. We are going to approach his work differently than we would approach just a standard client. You've got all of these different clients and we tried to create a system that we thought would scale as we grew. So far, so good. Something that would allow everybody take an advantage to the fact that we are very generously resourced as a creative department. So if kid’s ministry, for example, wants a piece of print collateral created - something that they want to hand out to their parents that says here’s the upcoming schedule for the spring. Well, they would submit a project request. We literally have an online form that we created. It’s nothing special in terms of using some crazy software. It’s a Wufoo form. They answer a handful of questions and depending on how they answer, they might have to answer other qualifying questions. That request gets submitted to the creative department and we ask for a 21 day lead time. Thursday at noon is our cutoff. So let’s say you got it in at 5:00 on Thursday, we would technically receive your request the following Thursday, so that would be the beginning of your 21 days. Again, I’m not going to say it’s a perfect system, but that is the structure that is built. We have stuck with it for many years now and it seems to be working. So we have 3 weeks to turn it around and once it’s in the system, we’ve got project management teams that are managing it. If we need to do a consult with you, we do something called a Date with Cate. It’s where we clarify any expectations that you might have. We define all of the action steps that we need you, as a client, to take. We firm up the timeline and then look at any expectations that may be nonnegotiable or that we haven't thought of. It’s just a simple consult. The structure is not brand new. It’s not like we created it, but it works for us. Once the consult is done, if it’s required, we go from there, go into production, and try to deliver whatever is needed to whomever requests it. I would say that, generally, our philosophy is that we want a “Yes” mentality. If you need it, we want to try to do it. Most of the time it’s yes, but there might have to be some concessions just to make sure that it flows correctly and that everybody gets their requests done in a timely manner. Sometimes you have to prioritize certain things. You can talk to some departments and they think they get bumped all the time or they get bumped occasionally and it’s because you’ve got to prioritize somewhere. What we are doing, going into this next year, we are trying something that hopefully will help spread some of the responsibility, and the weight, and maybe even accountability around. If you look to work with a regular agency, just like you would hire someone off the street, they would say, “Yeah, we can do whatever you want.” But there is a currency that has to exchange hands. The currency is really the accountability. If you said, “Can you do this?” and they said, “Yes, no problem. It’ll be $10,000.” Then you said, “Great. We would love to do it.” Then you came back to them and wanted revisions. They might have included to a round or two of revisions, but if you kept coming back and saying, “I just don't like it quite yet. I don’t really love it. Can you tweak this?” They would be like, “Yeah, no problem. It’ll just be another $3,000.” The client would then make a decision and say, “You know what, I think I’m good.” Then the next time they come to the table, they would be a little more prepared knowing that if I make more than a couple of rounds of revisions, i’ll end up paying for it. So we’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to do better work in advance, we’ve got to be more prepared going into this. So we’re trying to create that model with our different departments and different clients now by using what we call a credit system. This is where every department is given a quarterly budget of so many credits. The credits are loosely based on hours and seasons in the church so it’s not like one hour is one credit necessarily. It is heavily influenced by the hours that we have, the number of people, how many designs hours they do a week, our total capacity, and then trying to divvy that up to different people. I’m literally doing it right now. I’m sending an email today to tell everybody what their budgets are for the first two quarters of 2016. We’ll see how it works. I hope it works well. It’ll at least create some accountability. They now know the resources they have to works with. If they use them, then great. Create what you want. Once they’re gone - they’re gone. There’s not a lot of mechanism in place that says if you want 100 projects, you can submit 100 projects and we are going to try to say yes because we trust that you've thought through this and that you actually need these to make your ministry function at the highest level. This now creates some accountability to say we have resources as we continue to grow. Let’s give people the responsibility of saying, “I’m going to prioritize what's most important and submit those things first. Then, if I have other projects that need to be taken care of, I’ll do that afterwards.” It helps us so that everybody carries the weight versus everybody saying, “Let's just throw out requests for all of these different projects to the magic creative machine and hopefully they'll just spit out the things that we want,” which is what a lot of people run into.
Jared: This is a really cool system. This is super helpful just for me personally. Once these projects are submitted, how frequent are your creative meetings?
Larry: So regarding specific projects, it would be based on the projects. If it’s really involved you might have to have a project manager, designers, and a client sit down together for clarification. It would always be project to project based on a specific request that came in. If you're talking about just standard meetings that we have every week, Mondays are generally our big meeting days. We are off on Fridays. I know a lot of churches are off on Mondays, but we take Fridays off. We try to start the week off right on Mondays. I will meet the 4 people, who report to me, first thing Monday morning. I have a communications director, a creative director, a digital director, and the person who oversees all of project management, so our lead project manager. Those 4 report to me. I’ll meet with them first on Monday mornings. It really is a development time. We’re not talking about projects. We’re not talking about specifics or details. It’s development time to make sure that we’re all synced up and going the right direction. Then, they will go and meet with their specific team, which is all of the people that they oversee. They may use it for development time. They may use it for practical, logistical, or operational stuff. Then I’ll bring everybody back together who has a direct report, which is all of the supervisors. They all come back in to a meeting, which is about an hour. I literally call it the super meeting for all of the supervisors. That’s where we talk about anything that’s really big picture that I need all of them to know. This would to keep all of us in sync. It’s also where we talk about specific projects, where everybody in the room who is supervising people, needs to be familiar with. This past week, we didn't talk a whole lot about specific projects, but we talked about what quarter one looks like for us. We talked through the 7 or 8 priorities in quarter one. I tried to give some clarity to the things that are important to me and why so that people understand. They now know that they can build their priorities around what the department priorities are. We do that meeting and break from there, then we do a full department meeting with everybody for 30 minutes. That’s to get everyone together and typically, it’s a little bit of inspiration and it’s practical. That all happens from 9-12 on Mondays. We stack Monday mornings with having everyone in meetings so that we are all in meetings at the same time. We go back-to-back with different groups of people. Everybody meets with everybody. Then we are done with our big, team meetings for the week. Some departments will do daily meetings to touch base throughout the week or have to reconvene for other things. But if we can truck the course on Mondays for the first half of the day, then hopefully everybody is set in motion for the week.
Jared: That’s terrific. I saw on Twitter or Instagram that you guys do a monthly Flying V?
Larry: Yeah, we call it Flying V.
Jared: Is it derived from The Mighty Ducks?
Larry: It probably was inspired by The Mighty Ducks. It was probably more inspired by a message that Pastor Steven preached where he was talking about flying in formation, which is the same thing that The Mighty Ducks were about. It’s our monthly creative meeting with Pastor Steven. It’s the only time that creative gets together with Pastor Steven. It really is only a handful of us from creative. There’s about the same from worship and a couple people from production and tech. It’s just to stay synched up. It’s to talk really big picture with him. It’s to talk about programming and to make sure we are on the same page. Are we in formation? Are we all prioritizing the same things the same way? We’ll preview assets. We try to have everything finished for the first preview two and a half weeks out. So if I’m going to show something this weekend, then hopefully we will have seen it two and a half weeks ago for the first time. You might make a couple of rounds of revisions, but we’ll preview assets in that meeting. We’ll talk strategy on some bigger initiatives. We’ll get clarification and ask questions. It’s just an afternoon, once a month meeting, where we sit down with Pastor Steven and we talk about the creative side of the church. What are we doing? Where are we going? How are we doing? Is it right? We evaluate stuff. It’s a good meeting. He loves the creative side to the church, so he has a lot of fun, not just contributing, but if he’s going to be in the meeting, he’s probably going to drive a lot of stuff. That’s because he’s excited about it and he’s passionate about it. At the same time, he really does a nice job of walking that line and saying, “I know I could come in here and take over this meeting, but I also need you guys to feel like you're bringing good stuff to the table. You’re prepared when we come in so we can have really informed and educated conversations.”
Jared: That is really cool. Well we’ve got about five minutes here so I don't know if we’ll be able to get really deep into this. We may have to see if we can get you back on the show at one point. So your creative process probably varies depending on which one of the different areas we are referring to, but I guess if we can dive in to that just a little bit. Maybe even from a high level view, you’ve been at Elevation now for over a decade. Can you talk about how things have changed from when you first started to today? I realize that’s a big question, but if you could dive into that just a little bit.
Larry: Sure. You have to work what you have. Pastor Steven preached this in our church from the beginning. Work what you got. Work what you got. Work what you got. What we had from the beginning was one graphic designer. In fact, we hired one graphic designer. I don’t know if I’m going to get this exactly right. I just looked at this the other day. We made our first creative department hire and it was a graphic designer. This would have been about a year in when we had about 1,000 people. No, in fact, we had one person until we hit about 2,000 or 2,500 people. That’s what it is. For people who feel like, “I don't have a big team. I can’t make this work.” We only had one graphic designer until we had about 2,500 people and we made it work. There were a couple of people who could volunteer and a couple of people who had some skill and we made it work and pieced it all together. You have to do what you can do with what you have. Over time, we made another 4 or 5 hires in the next year and we started to build from there. The process early on was that everybody was going to do a little bit of everything. It’s so common for churches to describe their situation that way. What we’ve had the luxury of doing, as we’ve grown with our numbers, is that now we have people who are a lot more specialized in what they do. I’m going to give you a generic process. It’s really not unique to us. It’s really a generic, creative process, but we try to adhere to this the best way we can. Sometimes we scramble because we get behind in production or sometimes we oversight and don't manage the schedule or the calendar well. Generally, a brief starts everything. A brief really just has to answer one question - What problem are we trying to solve? If you’ve got a brief that answers that question, you probably have enough to get running. It could answer these questions: What problem are we trying to solve? What’s the tone? What’s the message we are trying to deliver? Who are we talking to? How do we want to talk to them? When do we talk to them? How does this work into programming? You can take a brief and really build the thing out, but at the very least you can answer what the problem is that you're trying to solve. Let’s just say it’s a promotional piece and you're trying to get people to come to Christmas. The problem we’re trying to solve might be, and I always try to put it in first person so that you can emphasize the person you're creating for, why would I go to church this Christmas? Maybe that’s it. It’s a first person problem. If I say, “That’s the brief. Solve the problem.” We’ve got teens that we hired to be creative people, so go out and create. Solve that problem. Why would I want to come to church this Christmas? They might put together a promo. You can solve that problem or answer that question 100 different ways. You can say, “Well you should come because you know you go to church every Christmas and it's the one time of the year that you go, so don’t miss it.” You can take that angle. You can say, “Our worship experience is going to be so hot that you're going to want to be here.” You can make it so intriguing that someone’s like, “Man, I can’t miss it.” You can say, “We’re going to build an incentive. Invite a friend and we’ll give them a free t-shirt.” I’m just making stuff up, but you can do anything you want. You can say, “We’re going to do an invitation so bring a friend and make sure that you know that we’re going to invite people to give their lives to Christ.” Different things motivate different people. You figure out how to solve that problem. So if we put that brief out there, we would break up into different teams. Any team, ideally, would be an art director and a copywriter. It’s not like you have 10 art directors and 10 copywriters on any staff, so somebody has to play the role of both. You have somebody who is a campus pastor who gets to be a copywriter because they’re like, “I can probably come up with something that would work for this team.” They come up with the message they want to deliver and they kind of fumble through the art direction, but they come up with the pitch that solved that problem. Now, you've got 4 or 5 different pairs, or teams, that are working on these different pitches. Literally those teams come in and they pitch. We would have a meeting where it’s literally a pitch meeting. People come in and they pitch their ideas. We say, “You’ve got 5 minutes. Pitch at whatever level you think is appropriate. All you need to do is make sure that this makes sense.” If I’m on the receiving end of your pitch, I need to think, “Man, that is good. I need to see more.” Sometimes in order to get there, you have to create an animatic, you have to write a script, you have to play something on the acoustic, or you have to show me visually references. Your goal is to get me to want to see more. It’s a little bit like an interview. You don't necessarily win a job with the resume. You want a call back with the resume. That’s a little bit of what we’re doing with the pitch. If you nail the pitch, we might just say right there on the spot, “Done. You're hired. Let's do this.” But typically, it’s like, “Yes. I love that. I want to see more.” If 10 pitches came in, we might take 3 or 4 of those and say, “Cool. Let’s go to round 2 with these. Build them out even more and take them to a place that we can visualize the final piece. At that point, if the piece is great, then we will go to production, build it out, and try to make it work with the schedules. Again, it sounds nice and neat, as if you're only working on one project at a time. Currently, we could be working on 100 projects at the same time that are sitting in queue in our project management system. Some of them have to be done right now. Some of them are for the worship experience. Some of them are for a campus. Some are mailers or e-mails that are getting sent out. We’ve got different lead times on all of them. We are trying to figure out how you manage all of these things concurrently. This is where I would say we just really have a good team. They’re smart about how they use their time. They have a lot of freedom in how they use their time - a lot of liberty. I might see 8 people from the creative team playing ping pong in the middle of the day. I don't mind as long as they are still delivering. It’s seasonal. Sometimes we deliver better. Sometimes we will struggle to manage our time well, but everybody is good at receiving feedback. As long as we stay there, then I’m okay going in and out of seasons. Pastor Steven is good about saying, “Manage the team and make sure we are still performing at the highest level. Don’t be afraid to switch things up if you need to.” Generally, if we follow that format for the creative process, we’ll get there. We’ll solve the right problems. If people know what they're trying to accomplish, then you can actually release people to go solve problems versus just creating things that I, as the creative pastor, tell them to do. If I’m like, “No. Do this. Do this.” Why would I need them? I could just get some minimum wage guys and have them do exactly what I want. If I actually believe that I don’t have all of the answers and that some of the answers will come from people that we don't expect to deliver them, then cool. Creative people should go create. We should have a system set up that gives them the freedom to create and also is realistic enough that we can refine thoughts, pitches, and ideas in the process. Then we can land on the best things.
Jared: That’s fantastic. I know you've got to jump off here. If you don't mind, maybe a closing thought for someone who is listening right now who is thinking, “Man, this is amazing information. Where do I start?”
Larry: Sure. It’s a little bit of what I said just a moment ago. It’s something we preach from the top down. Pastor Steven would say it. Every supervisor would say it. I think every person on our staff would be able to say it. Do the absolute best you can right now with what you have. So many of us live like, “If I only had… then I would.” This “if then” paradigm is so unhealthy. You start dreaming about all of the things you would do if you had all of these resources. You start dreaming about all of these things you could do if you could live outside the box, but you don't live outside the box. You have real parameters. Sometimes your parameters are that you have one person on your team where you've got 3 volunteers and that’s it. If that’s all you have, then you've got to figure out how to make it work with what you have. The consolation in all of that is, “I guess I just don’t believe that God has set any of us up to do work in the local church without equipping us.” I think sometimes the equipping looks a lot different than we imagined. Sometimes we think it’s 8 hires and He’s like, “Well you’ve got some really talented designers in your church and they should probably volunteer. You better do the leg work and figure out how to get them involved or else I’m going to give the responsibility to someone else who is willing to go do what they need to do.” We try to live by that. Do what you can with what you have. We get totally caught up in it. We have moments where we feel entitled. We feel like, “Man, I can’t believe we don’t have this.” Then if you stop and look around and say, “Wait a second. We have more than what most people have in their entire ministry career.” It’s really hard to ever get in that mindset. That’s part of my job more than anything is coaching people on perspectives, mindsets, and attitudes. I feel like the team is probably more creative than I’ll ever be. If I can lead them well, then that’s probably where I make the best contribution these days.
Jared: That’s fantastic. Larry, this interview has been incredible. If folks want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do it?
Larry: Social media is probably the easiest - @larryhubatka. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Obviously you can email us anytime at the church - info@elevationchurch. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I always try to respond quickly. I love to get to know people who are doing good work. The reality is that we might be a large church right now that’s been doing this for 10 years, but some of the best inspiration, for me, still comes from talking to people who have 300 people in their church. In a lot of ways, they still have a fire. They are still taking the risks that we took early on and the risks that, I like to believe, we are still taking. There is something that comes with growth that sometimes makes you a little gun shy because you feel like, “Man, there’s more at risk now. There’s more to lose.” I feel like I need to talk to somebody who is a year in and say, “Tell me what you're doing that you're really excited about.” I get as inspired by that than I do anything.
Jared: That’s incredible. Larry, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. Can’t wait to have you back on.