Systems That Precede Success - An Interview with Blake Stanley


With a new year right around the corner, there's no better time than the present for leaders and pastors to be thinking about their systems. Will the systems you have in place take you to where you want the organization to go in 2018? Having the right ones in place is a game changer.

What do you want to see God do in the church? What do you want to see God do inside of 2018?

According to CourageToLead coach Blake Stanley, now is the perfect time to gather your team together and ask these important questions. This January, Blake will be coaching a small handful of leaders on solving their toughest systems. More on that below!

Blake is currently the Executive Pastor at 3Circle Church in Fairhope, Alabama, which is one of the fastest growing churches in Alabama and one of the top 100 fastest growing churches in the country. He has served on executive teams ranging from 2500 to 10,000 members, and his expertise orbits around building and implementing systems that work. Efficiency and strategic thinking are his trademarks. 

With his virtual cohort coming up in January, and with the new year being right around the corner, we wanted to take the opportunity to talk to Blake about how to get systems that will set you up for success in 2018.


CTL: One of the most common questions we get from leaders is how do I grow my organization? Can an organization's systems hold it back from reaching its growth potential?

BS: First of all, growing is probably the only mechanism that we don’t have any control over. People ask me all the time, How is your church growing? The answer to that question is I have no idea. The IT factor is the Holy Spirit. It’s God. You take him out of the equation, growth doesn’t happen. You put him into the equation, and growth happens. It’s like growing a crop. There are things you’re in charge of as the person in charge of creating the environment for that crop to grow in. There’s tilling the dirt up, planting the seed, and seeing maturation. Then you reap the benefits for what you planted. But nowhere aside from planting and reaping are you responsible for making it grow.

Don’t beat yourself up if your church isn’t growing at the pace you think it should be. Let God be concerned about that. The things that you should be concerned about are the things that you can control.

I heard someone say one time, do all that you can do, and God will do all he can do. We’ve got to put in the work, and God will put in what he’s capable of doing inside our lives.

I was actually just talking to our superintendent as we’re working on a massive building project at 3Circle Church. We got on a tangent of starting a company. He said that someone had shared with him that the quickest thing to close down your company is not just having enough work but having too much work. What he meant by that is that there are times that growth happens and the infrastructure is not robust enough to handle the growth that is happening inside the organization. The worst thing God could do is to just give them way too much and them not to have the infrastructure and support mechanisms in place to support that growth. I think like Andy Stanley says, “You’re perfectly structured for getting the results you’re getting right now.”  

Of course, we all know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

In order to experience more growth, your structure is going to have to change, and it is not something that changes with time; it’s something that changes multiple times.

CTL: Can systems drive the structure of the company?

BS: I think the first thing you’ve got to decide is structure, and then you’ve got to build systems around that structure. Usually, you build a structure based on how the leader is wired. For me, I was Shawn Lovejoy’s executive pastor for seven years. The worst thing I could have done is come in with this job description and put it on Shawn’s desk and say this is how you need to act within this structure. I think the best way to handle it is to let the leader operate how they’re wired, and build a structure around that. I’m the executive pastor at a church in Fairhope, Alabama, 3 Circle Church. The way we have structured our organization now is completely different than the way we structured and engineered the organization with Shawn Lovejoy. It’s two completely different leaders. I’m looking at our lead pastor now and assessing how he is gifted and wired, and we’ve built a structure based on how he is gifted and wired. Once the vision is set, then you build a system to make sure that the desired outcomes of a variety of things -- that those systems start serving those desired outcomes. That’s my philosophy on structure and systems.

Figure out the wiring of your leader, structure based on his wiring, and build systems to help bring his desired outcome to pass.

CTL: Let's shift gears to leaders that are just getting started and putting systems in place. You have talked about a whiteboard session being one of the first steps. Talk about what that looks like and how they get started.

BS: One of the easiest ways to start engineering your systems is to get into the room with people who are helping you make decisions. If you’re the only one making decisions, you need to find a group of people that you can put in a room with you. I guarantee you that if you build a team around you, your decisions are going to be a lot better. Once you have formed your team or your posse, you can pull them into a room. This is the perfect time of year to do this because we are about to cross the threshold of 2017 to 2018. Sit in the room and ask, what do we want to see God do in the church? What do we want to see God do inside of 2018? Then let them talk. Write down all the stuff they’re saying. We want to baptize this amount of people. We want to grow the bottom line by this amount. We want to start this new division inside of the company. Let them dream. Write it all down. Once you have a board populated with all of these things, then say if all of the stuff is important on this board, then none of it is. Then you begin to prioritize. You’re not going to be able to do all of the above. You can pick a few things and expand on those few things. Most people are better at setting priorities than they realize -- especially with it all sitting in front of their face. We allow the room to vocalize, Here’s my top 5. One of the exercises we do with a team of people is I’ll hand everybody a magic marker, and I’ll let them pick their top 5. It’s unbelievable how most people in the room put a tick mark beside common things. For the most part, you have a clear call to action. If there is a tiebreaker, I let the leader of the organization make that call. That has tremendous power because you have given people a voice at the table.

CTL: Once the team comes together and agrees on what the priorities are, how are the wins determined? How do you measure that?

BS: I think it depends on how micro you want to go. Some things are easy to measure -- like do we want to baptize 150 people? That’s defining the win. Then you reverse engine. What do we do to get to 150 baptisms by the end of the calendar year next year? That right there, plain and simple is Systemizing 101 -- saying this is where we want to go. Now how do we need to get there? What road do we need to take in order to get there? So you reverse engineer based on that. Some of the more micro stuff that may be a little more difficult to define the win -- like a communications strategy for instance. Once you drill down deeper on that at a micro level and start defining what communication looks like inside of your organization, then it helps to declare and define what those wins are.

CTL: Once you have systems in place, how do you keep an eye on, is this working? Is this the right system? Do we need to adjust? How often do you monitor that, and how do you determine whether it’s working?

BS: If it’s not delivering the results that you’re looking to achieve, then it is time to change the system. So I remember having a conversation about membership with a lead pastor, and they said that their membership numbers were down. I told him that was from one of three reasons. One, someone is not following that system. Or two, this system needs to go away. Or three, the system is not good. Through those three filters I just mentioned, we were able to diagnose the issue. The issue was that the person in charge of the membership class wasn’t doing a good job of following the system. Once they started following the system again, then all of a sudden they saw their membership numbers go up.

If a system stops being effective, you’ll know that quickly because it’s not going to be delivering the results that you’re looking for.

Then you’ve also got to build a weekly and monthly rhythm to make sure that the systems you have in place are in fact working. One of the things we’re going to do in 2018 at 3Circle Church, we’re going to do a monthly meeting with just our ministry leadership team. We’ll sit in the room and talk about specific systems that are near and dear to stewarding people well. We’re going to ask the question -- is the system we have in place working and effective? For instance, we’re going to have a very thorough conversation about how we follow up with first-time guests at 3Circle Church. That is a system. Same thing with baptism process. We won't do this with bookkeeping -- just the systems that will help us steward the growth and steward the people God has blessed us with.

Are your systems holding you back? We can only grow to the extent that our systems can support it. Join CourageToLead coach Blake Stanley this January along with a small handful of leaders to tackle your toughest systems! Click to learn more!