Jason Hamrock: On today’s podcast, I have Michael from Church Fuel. This organization helps thousands of churches around the country when it comes to strategic planning, and budgeting, and volunteers, and leadership, and they do so many things to help local churches. And they work with small churches, and large churches, and everybody in between. And so you’re going to learn a lot from Michael today. Enjoy.
Jason Hamrock: Hey, I am here with Michael. Michael, how are you doing today?
Michael Lukaszewski: I’m good, man, how about you?
Jason Hamrock: I can’t complain.
Michael Lukaszewski: Well, and it wouldn’t matter if we did. Right? So…
Jason Hamrock: Yeah, no one’s listening.
Michael Lukaszewski: No one cares about that, everybody’s got problems.
Jason Hamrock: That’s so true. So where are you located?
Michael Lukaszewski: You know, I’m north of Atlanta. So we moved to Atlanta back in the mid 2000s, actually to start a church, and love that. I grew up in Florida, but we live in Atlanta now. And our team, our team at Churchville, about half of us are in Atlanta, the other half are spread out all over the country, so.
Jason Hamrock: OK, well,
Michael Lukaszewski: I’m a good Southerner, I guess.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Just like us, it seems like more companies are some physical, and mostly virtual these days anyway, they’re all over.
Michael Lukaszewski: And it’s funny because even before covid showed up, we were kind of trending that way anyway. Even with an office, people just working from home were more efficient, like the mix and the freedom and all that, so, it worked for us.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah, absolutely. So you run an organization called Church Fuel. How did Church Fuel get started? And explain what you do and why you do it.
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah, thanks, thanks for that question. So, you know, I was, I grew up, I got my first job at a church when I was 18 years old. I was a freshman at Florida State University, and some church hired me to be their youth pastor. So I did a youth ministry for a long time, and then what brought my family and to Atlanta in the mid 2000s was planting a church. And so we started a church that was a portable church, it met in a movie theater, and the church grew really fast. Part of it was, I think we were doing a few things well, the other part of it was we were the only kind of church like us in a town, in the town we were in. And so as the church grew really fast, it kind of exposed a lot of problems that we have under the scenes. And it’s funny, I’ve talked to so many churches since then, it’s like, yeah, everything looks good on the outside, but man, inside we’re a mess, and we were disorganized, and we didn’t know how to do stuff. And so, you know, Rick Warren back in the day talked about the different kind of a crowd and a church, you know? And so I realized we had a bunch of people, we had a bunch of attenders, but we didn’t really have a good process for making disciples, or recruiting volunteers, or like managing money.
Michael Lukaszewski: And so we kind of put a pause, we hit a pause button, and we took several months and said we got to get this thing organized. And so we started writing down checklists, we started writing down processes. I read a great book called The Checklist Manifesto. And I was like, we need to have checklists, and processes, and systems for stuff. So we did we did all that, put it in place, and growth did not happen overnight. But what did happen was everybody was able to kind of calm down, and it took the crazy out of the church.
Michael Lukaszewski: So then as we continued to grow at a healthy pace, people started asking, well, how did you do that? Can we have that document? Can we you know you know, how how did you do this? And so that was really the genesis of Church Fuel, it was the organizational, how do we get the church, you know, kind of streamlined, organized, where we’re not all running around like crazy. And so I started Church Fuel about six years ago, and really to provide the kind of resources to churches that I wish we had when we were planting the church. And so our flavor, if you will, is kind of operations, how to run the church, recruiting volunteers, managing money, developing leaders. You know, not so much curriculum or theology and not because that’s unimportant, there’s just a lot of great sources for that. But there increasingly is becoming more and more of what we do, and that’s a good thing because we think churches ought to be some of the most well-run organizations on the planet, because what we do matters.
Jason Hamrock: Well, so it seems like it’s stuff that’s in addition to what you don’t necessarily learn at seminary.
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah.
Jason Hamrock: These are all the ins and outs of owning, and managing, and running a business.
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah, and it’s funny, and people are like this is the stuff you didn’t learn in seminary, and then I think, I’m not sure this is the stuff you even should learn in seminary. Because I mean, I went to seminary, and I loved my Bible classes, I loved my theology classes, and I have a very high regard for that, for pastoral training. But the the the places I think to learn business, and practices like that, are from other businesses that are that are doing this. And so it’s funny, we talk to pastors are like, well, I didn’t realize, I got into running a church, and I didn’t realize I had to run a business at the same time. And so we say things like, there are a lot of things in your church that should not be run like a business, a church is not a business. But there are some things in your church that should be run like a business, because you are at least a business, right? So you’re more than a business, but you’re at least a business. And so you hire people, you deal with payroll, you have contracts, you have to pay rent or mortgage, you have systems and processes, standard operating procedures, and so we can learn how to do that stuff. I didn’t know how to do it, I mean, I was like a youth pastor, so, you know, I had to learn the hard way. And so if we can help people not learn the hard way, that’s a win for us.
Jason Hamrock: Ok, so that’s the why. It’s like Pastors are in this role there, it’s kind of dysfunctional, it seems like it looks great on the outside, but in the inside you’re like craziness going on. How do you actually help churches?
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah, so again, great question. So the core of what we do is we have a membership program called Church Fuel. And a church, typically it’s the pastor, the pastor with the church credit card will go sign up and join, and we try to keep it very affordable. And what they get, right, what a church gets for that is really how this helps, is so we create online courses. And so throughout the year, we’ll release three or four pretty in-depth courses on the topics that kind of I just described. So leadership, stewardship, volunteers, managing data, you know, all these different topics? And so we’ll spend several months creating a course, getting the experts, writing the resources, putting together those checklists and stuff, and our community kind of gets those and goes through them.
Michael Lukaszewski: And what’s fascinating is COVID has actually accelerated for us the ability for people to interact with this content, because it’s all digital. And so we’ll have pastors at their office, in their home at night, go through with their team, watch on a Zoom call together. And so because the stuff is so easily distributed, it’s actually reaching a wider audience now. And so I certainly don’t wish COVID on anybody, we’re all sick of it. But at the same time, the virtual, I don’t even like that word virtual, but the digital distribution model, it helps. So they consume all these, we have all those courses, and then there’s resources that you can download, templates. We do this thing called labs, where we kind of work on little projects together. And so it’s really kind of this cool combination of a community of pastors that are trying to grow a healthy church, and then just kind of get better info, you know, professional development, if you will.
Jason Hamrock: Ok, so access to different resources. I think you mentioned like people, and systems, culture, strategic, and spiritual.
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah, and so really, what we try to do, and you guys actually do a good job of this too, it’s like we try to identify what are the barriers, like where are churches getting stuck? Where are the barriers where churches are trying to grow, and they’re not, and they’re not able to move forward? And so what’s funny is most people throughout the last, I don’t know, 10 or 15 years, have been saying you’ve got to cast a good vision, you’ve got to cast a vision, you’ve got to cast a vision. Like vision is this miracle cure for all problems. And I can take you to tons of churches where there are pastors that have great visions for their church, and nothing’s happening, and so vision is not this magic solution that the experts have made it out to be. In fact, vision doesn’t even really unite us, as much as we think it does, it’s actually the strategy that unites us.
Michael Lukaszewski: So, for example, if you and I have, like let’s say we have a shared vision to go to Disneyland. And I want to drive cross-country and take 14 days, and stop at all the national parks, and you want to take a plane ride because it’s only 90 minutes. And we’re aligned on the destination, but we’re not aligned on the journey, and so we’re not united. And so many pastors are like, here’s the vision, we’re trying to reach people, reach people. Well, you’re running into these roadblocks because vision isn’t your roadblock. System, strategy, people, culture,there are spiritual things at play. Like you can have a great vision, but there are spiritual barriers in place. And so all of our courses, and all of our resources, are kind of designed to help. They’re the catalysts, right, they’re the tools to help a pastor kind of lead their church through that barrier that they’re facing.
Jason Hamrock: Wow. Yeah, and you offer you offer one to one coaching then?
Michael Lukaszewski: Yes, so when a pastor joins, they get immediate access to all these courses, all this digital, all these digital resources. I think Shannon, from our team, who runs our content, just added like 40 more documents to the resource library. So there’s, I mean, there’s just a ton of stuff in there. But the other thing we do, and I actually think this is the secret sauce of Church Fuel, is we have coaches that we that we pay, that are basically on call all throughout the month. So that any time somebody is stuck, whether it’s with our resource or not, any time they need just some outside opinion, outside advice, that they can go on the site and book a call with one of our coaches. And some of our members will book standing calls, you know, once a month just to check in with the same coach. Some will jump around to different ones. Some will just use it when they get, like, have a sticky situation. And they say I don’t know if I need to, you know, make a leadership change, or what do I do here? And so that’s all included in membership, is that kind of on demand, anytime you need to talk to somebody, and for us, it kind of makes it real, that yes there’s a bunch of digital stuff. But if you need to talk to a real person who is on staff at a church, who knows the church world, but doesn’t know your people, and that’s important, right? Because we as pastors, we get all involved in our context, and sometimes we can’t see forest through the trees. And that outside opinion comes in and goes, well, clearly, this is the solution. And you’re like, oh, no kidding, I should have saw that. And it’s not that you’re dumb, it’s that you’re in it. And when we’re in it, we don’t see it all the time. So, yes, we have these coaches that will talk to anybody about anything.
Jason Hamrock: Well, not only would it be really good wisdom, it’s also a safe place for a pastor to go to speak to somebody who understands what they’re dealing with, but isn’t very close to the situation. So, you know, sometimes you have those situations, you don’t want anybody else to know, this would be a safe place to kind of have a conversation and keep it confidential.
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah, and like, so talking about team dynamic is a perfect example. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to go into a staff meeting and you go, hey, one of you is not going to make it, one of you is the problem. You know, I mean that’d be a fun staff meeting, but probably shouldn’t do that. So sometimes it’s good to talk to somebody about like, here’s what’s going on, here’s the dynamic, here’s the people, you know, what do you think? And the fact that it’s not just a random business coach, it’s somebody who lives and breathes the church, but not your church, they’re able to kind of step back and give some good counsel. And that’s, I mean, that’s a biblical thing, right, a multitude of advisors. Right? We need to have people speaking into us in that way.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah. You’ve been doing this for so long, and you’ve worked with so many churches, I imagine you do not see anything new. Like you’ve seen everything that pretty much can happen in a church, you’ve probably experienced it, or you’ve coached somebody through it, or your coaches have coached another church through it. Which just, you know, I mean, it’s the same thing, we talk to a lot of churches. It’s this, I never hear of a new problem, it’s rare. You know, it’s always, yep, ok, I understand what you’re dealing with, and we can help you in that space. So what would be, like, what would be one of your most powerful tools that you guys offer? Is it the coaching, or is there something else that you just see churches really love this tool,they use it all the time?
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah. So, I mean, the coaching is really good, the coaching is helpful. But I think I do have an answer for that question is, so when somebody joins, we have a course called Building Your Ministry Plan, and it’s a course that actually helps people create almost a business plan for the church, but it’s simplified. And so, just a couple of weeks ago, I was searching for church strategic plans, and I found one that was sixty seven pages long. And I was like, there’s no way a 67 page plan is going to be even read much less followed, it’s crazy. So ours is two pages, and so we walk a church through these two pages. And page one, helps you get real clear on who you are as a church, like what’s your purpose, what’s your mission, what’s your vision, and what are your values? And we have videos to kind of help guide people, we have examples of churches that do that well. And then the second page, is all about what you do, what are your programs, what are your ministries, what are the metrics that you’re using to know if they’re effective? And so overall, there’s thirteen little boxes, and the boxes are very small, and all this fits on two pages, because that’s about the capacity of people to understand what’s going on.
Michael Lukaszewski: And what we ask all churches to do, and we guide them through the process, is the first thing we want to do is create a draft of this two page plan. And then from there, there’s going to be ones that you’re like, I wasn’t sure what to write in that box, or I don’t know if this is right. And that’s what kind of leads you in deeper, and then we can kind of work on it with the coaches, and we have more resources, and more examples. But for us, that two page plan is, what we think, about 90 percent of churches should do first. Just go ahead and get a draft of that, and then let that kind of guide your next steps. And again, planning solves so many problems for churches, you know.
Jason Hamrock: Oh, yeah. And you know, and maybe you’ll find this to be true, and I’d love your input. But this really is for almost any size church. And it could be a start up church, you know, there a church plant, they’ve got 20 or 30 people, and they’re wanting to grow fast. Or could be a church of a few thousand, or maybe even ten or fifteen thousand, it might just be somebody who’s stepping into the new leadership role.
Michael Lukaszewski: That’s right.
Jason Hamrock: And they are inheriting what they inherit, could be good, bad, or ugly, what they’re inheriting. So who would be, I guess, talk about the target audience of Church Fuel, because you have thousands of churches that subscribe and use Church Fuel, which is amazing. What does that look like, and who’s the, who is the target church for your platform?
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah. So that’s a really good question. We actually did some demographic study about, I don’t know, it’s probably been a little more than a year ago, maybe 18 months ago. Feels like a hundred years now, right, when you start talking about a year ago. But so all sizes, it’s crazy, so all sizes, all denominations, all rural, city, you know, all over the place. But the common denominator, and it’s really a psychographic not a demographic, the common denominator is the church is trying to reach new people. And I know that seems like, well aren’t all churches trying to reach new people? But you and I know, they’re not, you know, some churches are very content to keep, you know, their members happy. And I mean and that is a part of church that we need to wrestle with. But the common denominator for us, it’s churches and leaders, whether it’s a solo pastor, I had a pastor join last week, he’s the only person on staff, thirty five people in their church. And he’s like, is this going to work for me? And the the answer is yes, because he’s trying to reach new people, he’s trying to do some things. He’s not just willing to sit around and blame culture, and nobody goes to church anymore, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So whether it’s a smaller church, or a normal sized church, or a big church, or whatever, it’s are we trying to reach people? That’s the common denominator, because that really is that mission that unites so many types of churches. So you might be a Lutheran church, you might be a Baptist church, you might be a two year old nondenominational church. But if you are trying to reach people, then this will help you.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Yeah. And it seems like, you know, so we’re talking about this pandemic. Where here we are almost at the end of the year of 2020, getting ready to get into 2021, and it can’t come quick enough, probably. But what have you, you know, what have you seen happen in the church over the last eight to ten months?
Michael Lukaszewski: You know, so I’ve seen the acceleration of a lot of what was already in motion. Right? And so I distinctly remember back in March, the church we go to in Atlanta was one of the first churches that I remember canceling. You know, cancelling services or not having in-person services, and they were one of the earlier churches to say we’re staying on line through the end of the year, and it’s a big church. But a lot of churches have ebb and flowed through that. Right? We’ve started, we’ve met in person, we’re not, so churches are all over the place because of their unique context or locals things at play. But here’s what I’ve seen happen, is this digital shift, it was already happening. It was already happening, it just made us do it quicker than we wanted to. So in March or April, a lot of churches who have never live streamed anything, like in a period of a week figured out like, oh no, we can’t meet in the building on Sunday, so let’s let’s stick an iPhone on a tripod that we got at Best Buy and Facebook live the service. And so that was a shift, right, that was just an immediate, like, we don’t have another choice, we have to do this.
Michael Lukaszewski: But that’s a very dramatic example, but what we share online, how we position our church, how we talk about our church, how we talk about inviting people to church, I mean, everything has shifted, and it’s shifted out of necessity. And what happened is in the first two or three months, is churches made quick decisions, as we should have. Like we’ve got to get this going by this week, let’s figure it out. People give with envelopes by via check, you know, we can’t do that anymore because we don’t have a service. So let’s very quickly, let’s, like, make it happen. Well, now we’re eight, nine, ten months into this or whatever, we’re going, alright, did the decisions we made quickly, were those are the right decisions tactically? Do we sign up for the right service? Did we put our dollars, did we repurpose our dollars in the right way? Because we’re realizing that this is not just an immediate shift, and then we’ll go back, this is the new way. Right? So I think COVID accelerated trends and shifts that were already happening, and churches that just make gathering or re-gathering and getting back to normal, are going to lose in this. Churches that embrace the shift in strategy, and say things have changed, our purpose hasn’t changed, we’re here to make disciples. But how we do that is changing, and those who embrace that, I think will win.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah. And you speak to when things got shut down, we work with a lot of churches that rent a facility, that can no longer rent a facility. So they literally are kind of going back to the drawing board and figuring out, okay, we’ll just keep doing this thing, but then we’re going to have to have a relaunch at some point. It feels like that two page strategic plan is, should be right up. If you don’t have that, church, like that thing alone would probably do wonders to help you get in the right direction.
Michael Lukaszewski: And if you had one, it’s all wrong now. So it’s like, you know, I think even like I know a lot of what you guys do for churches and how you all serve churches. So a lot of tactics that we’re doing have changed, but here’s the thing, before COVID and after COVID, people are still going to Google searching for stuff. Right? So, I mean, whoever is listening or watching this, I mean, just type in, open up Google and type in the name of your city and the word divorce and see what comes up, and what’s going to come up is a bunch of divorce attorneys. Well, people before COVID were searching for help for divorce, after COVID are going to be searching for that, that’s going to be a big problem. Why can’t our church show up in that area? Why aren’t churches showing up in the search results, rather than just divorce attorneys? And so, that’s a perfect example of that was an opportunity pre-COVID, and it’s just as big of an opportunity after COVID, is the churches that realize that and go, you know what, we’re going to show up in that digital environment, and not just hope that anybody who’s going through tough times is going to find our church service. You know, those being intentional.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah, love it. All right, so how do churches, they can go to churchfuel.com, pick up a subscription. And you’ve made it such an easy way to get engaged, and the price point is really low as well. So let’s talk a little bit about that.
Michael Lukaszewski: Yeah. I mean, so it’s a monthly deal, but we don’t do any contracts. So, literally you can join for a month, check it all out, and go, nope, this is not what I thought, and you can cancel right from the portal. You don’t have to call anybody, you know, to cancel. I always hate it when I sign up for stuff. I am like, oh, you made it easy to sign up, but to cancel, you need to fax over a letter. Anyway, you go to churchfuel.com, and you can sign up. And you could start with that two page plan, that Building Your Ministry Plan course is there. You can see the resources, you can see all that stuff, and you can stay as long as you want. Now, our members tend to stay for a long time, because they really feel a sense of community. And they, you know, they meet some of the coaches, and they meet some other people, and they realize, hey, for less than the cost of, I don’t know, a lot of things that we spend money on in church, that I can have actually a support system to help going forward. Yeah, so you just sign up, and get started right away, and we’ll start helping you.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Love it. Love it. All right, church, you’ve heard it from the man here, you’ve got to go and take advantage of this. I talk to a lot of churches that use Church Fuel, thousands of churches do, it’s a great resource, it’s a very affordable resource. And if you’re dealing with, I mean, what church isn’t dealing with some kind of an issue? Right? And so getting the subscription just to learn, get connected to a coach, I mean, come on, that’s like a no brainer to me, so…
Michael Lukaszewski: Man, I know sometimes I get stuck, and I’m like, who should I, I’m going to call one of our coaches and ask them a question. That’s what they’re there for, they love it.
Jason Hamrock: Yeah, what a great resource. Well, thank you so much, Michael. I appreciate you, I appreciate Church Fuel, and glad to have you today, man, thank you.
Michael Lukaszewski: Absolutely, man, thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Jason Hamrock: All right, we’ll talk to you soon.
Jason Hamrock: Ok, church, we just learned from Michael what Church Fuel is all about, and how they’re helping countless pastors in churches today. And I encourage you to go check them out, churchfuel.com, and sign up for their platform. It’s cost effective, as Michael said, there’s no contracts. You get to actually speak to a coach, another pastor, who will help you when you’re dealing with things like staffing issues, or budgeting issues, or you just have questions, and you want to keep that conversation confidential. Church Fuel, it’s a great platform, so I highly encourage you to do that. Until next time, God bless, and take care.