Interview: Todd McMichen of Auxano on Church Vision & Generosity
Today we’re continuing the conversation with another person who helps churches raise money by getting church leadership teams.
Todd McMichen is at Auxano and is the Chief Campaign consultant over there. Todd has served for more than 30 years in a variety of roles in the local church, doing everything from planting churches to lead pastor.
Todd’s generosity roots arise from three capital campaigns he led for two local churches where he served as a staff member. Those two churches alone raised over $35,000,000.
Listen in on the conversation about what I believe is a radical prescription to thousands of churches out there in search of a different pace of ministry. A different outcome. A different intent.
Since 2000, Todd has been a well-established stewardship and generosity campaign coach, as well as a conference leader and speaker. Todd is a graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic College in West Palm Beach, Florida and Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife Theresa, and their two kids, Riley and Breanna. Visit Todd’s blog at www.toddmcmichen.com or follow on twitter @toddmcmichen.
GENEROSITY LABS INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
KENNY: Hey, everybody! My name is Kenny Jahng for another round of conversations. We are talking about the church and generosity and how those two things intersect. It’s been an interesting series of conversations that we’ve had. Today, I have a pleasure of bringing on board another expert in the area. Todd McMichen with Auxano. Welcome to the program today, Todd.
TODD: Thanks for having me.
KENNY: First of all, thank you so much for spending time with us. You are out there working with churches and ministries nonstop in this area. Before we begin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, your role at Auxano and the types of ministries and organizations that you serve.
TODD: I am a Chief Campaign Officer with Auxano. We have two corporate offices. One in Houston, Texas, the other in Nashville, Tennessee. We got like 12-13 navigators across the country. Consultants. We call them navigators. And, we are in and out of hundreds of churches every single year. Our foundation is vision clarity, and everything we do is based out of that. But to support the vision clarity work we do with clients, we do resourcing communication, execution, discipleship and a variety of other services to help folks lead out their vision and I get the privilege of helping folks resource their vision.
KENNY: I love the fact that you are doing the work in this specific, I guess, niche area. And what I think most people don’t understand, at least, in your approach and perspective, is it’s not just this little box that you can check off. Rather, it’s a pretty radical approach in a sense of refitting how you do everything, all of the church, right? It’s not just a program or something you buy and one and done.
TODD: And the church has been a fusion deficit and how it’s operated back in the 60s and 70s. All the church knew that resourcing was a three-year capital campaign. It’s about all everybody knew. And then, we went to this massive period of silence because money was such a bad topic in the church. The last decade started to resurface with the popular theme of generosity, which is really felt by some crisis like 9/11, Katrina, and things that caused pain in our country. Generosity started to surface. Of course, the recession was a big factor in that as well. But, we’re seeing now, several years after the recession broke, we’re seeing a new business model out there for churches. We’re actually practicing and living out a whole new model of generosity and that’s exciting.
KENNY: So, one of the key terms that I am hearing over and over again now, it seems to be a popular term is a culture of generosity. It’s something that needs to be developed, something that you guys live out, needs to be inserted into the DNA of the church. Tell me your perspective of what that phrase means and how important it is for not just the Senior Pastor but the leadership of the church to really understand what is it.
TODD: Right, so a culture generosity, when you popularly hear it today, is still largely limited to a short-run emphasis, either a message series or some kind of campaign or initiative. It might not be for a building. It might be for some kind of generosity effort in the community. But it’s not the full blown actual, what we would call a culture in which you would have an entire business model, and everything works 24/7 to the same… Actually, resourcing surplus. So, you’re living in surplus as opposed to living in deficit. A lot of times, generosity’s pursued because of the pain or the deficit that’s there as opposed to creating a system where you don’t have to live with those kind of challenges.
KENNY: It brings to mind a popular sermon that I am aware that keeps on coming up from our conversation, a Giving Rocket sermon recently said that only 16% of churches are at or above budget and 84% are actually below budget. And they are not living within the surplus you are talking about.
TODD: And that’s all self-induced, pretty much. When the church goes to establish its budget for the next year, it typically asks two driving question. One, what did we do last year, physically? And the second one is how much money do we want to spend next year? And churches typically, back in the hay day part of 2008, it wasn’t common for churches to increase their budget 5-15% because money was flowing so much. We just have that confidence that it was gonna happen. Well, churches still are increasing their annual budget spending every single year without the confidence that’s actually going to happen, so they have the self-induced pressure. So, we would abdicated a different way of setting up their spending plan in the future and that’s a big part of creating a cultural generosity.
KENNY: The more I learn about your approach in particular, there’s a resource that you shared with me moving from financial deficit to abundance. That kind of formalizes this framework and approach you have us to concept. Can you walk me through? This really counter to what everyone else seems to be doing or what people default to. Like you just said, let’s figure out a budget for the baseline, and then let’s figure out what new programs everyone wants to add, right? And everyone keeps on piling on. It‘s kind like D.C. congress, just adding to the bill and trying to figure out at the end of the day if it’s realistic or not. Then, let’s start to slash across the board. Your approach is quite different. The deficit to abundance is actually living with a means that you have margined. What does that mean? How does that actually carried out?
TODD: Right, so I need a normal pattern just to create pain, which is to create a budget that we really can’t or don’t have a plan to meet it. But by faith and bold vision, imagine that it’s going to come in. You get competitive throughout the year, and you started cutting stuff back and it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good with anybody, right? So, let’s back up and let’s talk about a different way. One, vision clarity is really, really important because you don’t have to do everything you think you need to do, and you definitely need to do everything the most successful church down the street or around the country is doing. So, part of it is getting a clear vision as to what your resources are and where God’s at work in multiplying your ministry first. And that helps you say ‘no’ to things you are currently funding. That might not be the very best thing for you to be putting your resources towards. The larger the church gets the more it keeps funding other things that may or may not be the best use of those resources.
KENNY: Right, so one of the things I have heard you say is that your vision always outpaces your resources, leaders tend to think big, and they tend to think optimistically. When you use those terms vision clarity, is that just a code word for being ultra practical, saying that you shouldn’t be doing at all, you need to be really practical and double down on what you think you’re good at and you’re called at and get rid of this excess?
TODD: Yeah, it’s gotta be a huge gathering to go to because when you understand what has God called you to, you could imagine how much freedom that gives you to dream. When you see God focusing you in as a church, every church has a unique wiring. I mean, a lot of people have been listening to this. We have been on a lot of different churches and we could easily say this church is great at this, this is great at that. So, when you begin to lean towards how God uniquely wires you, you focus. It does create an exponential dream. An exponential dream. So, it wouldn’t shrink back your vision; it would focus your vision. So, then, when you began to align your ministries towards that, with everybody doing the same thing, you’re not asking anyone to do less in some regards, you just ask to put the energy all towards the main vision and the main dream which creates money savings and creates exponential return. And so then, also, your generosity front is no longer based on need or initiative or crisis. It’s now based on a clearly articulated vision that people intuitively get because they have watched how blessed you have been working in the past. So, I mean that’s a whole lot of practicality to it. Yes, it’s practical, but also it is exponential in terms of freedom to dream and think, too.
KENNY: That’s almost un-American though to live within your means, right?
TODD: Right. That’s what we don’t get. I know you wouldn’t plan your family this way. So, I wouldn’t plan my family’s next year budget to be spending 110% of my current earnings. You know what I mean? You just wouldn’t do that. I guess, many do, doesn’t mind how much they’re spending with their credit cards. You don’t go out and say, “I am going to force my life into living that kind of pressure”. But, you know one of the real trends that we see is that when we walk into a church, it is only spending 90% of its previous years’ receipts. Instead of budgeting on 110%, when has a clear vision, has focus and its resources are spending 90% of previous year’s receipts, it is amazing in the difference. One, in the tension in the room, and then, the conversation. It’s no longer what we can’t do. Everybody knows that we told God that we’re ready to whatever it is because we are financing it in advance.
KENNY: Interesting. So, one question is how transparent do you prescribe ministries to be? ‘Cause I know leadership team typically understands finances and how much margin inclusion that they have that doesn’t result to that. All the golden opportunities they are now able to serve when it comes their way instead of operating in a crisis mode. Do you filter that information all the way down to the people on the street? The actual ministry helpers, the staff, the entry-level staff, like how transparent are you with that type of financial structure and operations?
TODD: You have to be careful with that, how you answer that because some churches have really bad experiences, like their pastor’s salary being in threat. So, I want to make sure, I am not being heard to say that. But on a Sunday morning, in front of your entire audience, I will not be afraid and I would say regularly, you need to tell people how money works around there. Whether we like it or not we still live with the remnants of the 1980s when several popular ministries came under fire, right? So, today’s Pastors, young guys, who were watching Fox News or CNN or those things on the TV but they’re living as if it’s still happened yesterday. They don’t understand. We need to tell about our story, right? If you look at another nonprofit that’s not a church, they tell a great story all the time. They’re not embarrassed to tell their story at all and you have givers out there who need confidence in your organization. So, I would not be afraid to have an honest conversation with any employee, any volunteer, from the stage on Sunday morning, Saturday night, wherever your venue is, on a regular basis, to let them know, we handle money really, really well around here. It also goes to make a difference not just meet up a budget prices in our church, here are the great things that happened with it.
KENNY: From the communication’s perspective, that’s the role I typically play and help other ministries, do you see some of those opportunities where you are able to use a that 10% margin for an unscheduled good cost? Do you actually seize those opportunities for communications from the stage right from one to many perspective to say, “Hey. we were able to meet this need in the community because we are living out our ministries’ finances this way.” Is that something that you advocate? Or is is something that’s still you know, you normalize it and this is how it is.
TODD: No, I think it’s a great tool to use with your people. If crisis happens to your city, and instead of having to ask for emergency giving, you stand up or even put out in social media during the week, “That day, we want you to know that on your behalf, we already acted. We have sent x amounts of bottles of water in the city. Thank you for being generous, so we can do that.” It shows that you can act immediately; it’s a great discipleship moment. But also, you have to think about the time that something big happens. Like the multiple churches I am working with now they have been given entire campuses in the middle of the year. No one budgets for God to give you a campus to start running, right? Because they have access and surplus, they’re immediate. They can seize that God-given opportunity there. So, imagine telling that story on the weekend. Imagine telling that volunteers to go be a part of something that’s a God movement. When you are staying in a platform of vision and surplus and get to, it releases a lot of great stuff in your church, versus always trying to push yourself to climb up that mountain to get to where you need to pay something that happened in the past.
KENNY: I’ll push back a little bit here. What do you say to those 84% of those churches that aren’t meeting budget right now, and you’re telling them to live within less means? How do you transition those scenarios that you meet? That’s the circumstances.
TODD: Right, so, here’s the confidence that whatever God calls us to do, He resources. Every church today can fulfill God’s dream for their life today. If you are spending more than God has giving you, I think that’s a leadership question. I think you have to have a hard conversation, depending on the size of your church. A lot of times, in the small or medium sized churches there maybe people running ministries, their finance team committed their friends. Because it’s really hard to have money conversation with friends. So that’s how things can get out of control, but, it takes time, too. If it’s a big issue, we see churches spending say, 50, 60, 70% on staff, we help them understand that we need to move that number down. It takes a little time to work yourself on something like this. You can give yourself years; it’s especially painful but it doesn’t take long as long as you think, and it doesn’t excuse misspending money. We should not do that.
KENNY: Never. As we close, there’s a great tool that you have, the generosity dream tool but I think, it’s probably one of the first steps to becoming self-aware in articulating a lot of the things we have talked about today. Can you share a little bit about that dream tool?
TODD: Right, yeah. It’s really practical we help a church think through some of the issues in the whole generosity new business plans, as we call it, versus cultural initiative and at the end of the tool we actually give you the chance to plug in some of your numbers and watch your church over and over time begin to achieve some financial dreams. We run a little bit on a church that has a thousand people and has $1.5 million budget. We just adjust, what we call their generosity drivers. We adjust the generosity drivers by 2% each year. 2% is just not very much, right? A church of a thousand, with $1.5 million budget, over 5 years achieve over $600,000 of surplus by just adjusting 3 generosity drivers at 2%. And that’s how we were getting them to go from 100% to a 90%. When you see it, it sounds crazy when we first introduce it to churches and I think it’s ridiculously impossible. And there’s a lot of churches already operating this way. They’re just not getting the attention that they need because what we know is, you know, financial management class, we go through a three-year capital campaign and we know this drives that money in quick and we think that’s generosity culture as opposed to actually being unstoppable strategy that’s behind the scenes.
KENNY: Interesting, very interesting. You know at the end of it, it does seem common sense. If you are living a healthy, integrated, intentional program, your whole budget and all your programs are lined up that way, it just makes sense that you have opportunities to grow and be steady in everything that you do in delivering all the ministries.
TODD: It’s not rocket science for sure. Unfortunately, what you see feels like rocket science. It feels very common sense but when your late people starts to watch you operate that way, their confidence in you as an organization, goes way up. it just encourages more and more generosity. That’s the part we start to get in this exponential experience.
KENNY: From your perspective, this isn’t an 18-month campaign or a 40-day campaign. This actually needs fundamental commitment to changing how you do the business of ministry, right?
TODD: It’s the way I would say, I have my own business for over a decade. It’s a brand new business model for the church. It’s not an initiative or an emphasis; it’s a brand new way of doing business that after you get an attention for 3-5 years to get your systems ligned up, but after that you are operating on overflowed in.
KENNY: I also know that you have a book that actually lays the foundation for much of this work. Someone who is watching today could pick up and really start to consume and get the insights of what you are trying to lay the foundation for. Share what the book is and where they can get it?
TODD: The book is called Leading a Generous Church and that’s actually a staff tool that’s made for staff discussion and collaboration. It’s a walk through the book of Proverbs. There are exercises to do every day, and then each week, we put a two or three hour collaborative session for a staff that tackle one issue of a generous culture. In the back, there are sermon options for you. It’s got a sample calendar in the back. So, you can get it in amazon.com. It’s called Leading a Generous Church. It came out last April 10. Inexpensive purchase. I think $5, digitally. $10, hard copy. It’s made for staff; it’s not something you want to distribute to your church. It’s made for late leadership who are making financial decisions, and getting a common conversation going.
KENNY: You can actually help disciple an entire group together, so you are on the same page, I guess.
TODD: We take a little walk with churches’ leadership and staff. And then they in turn, take maybe elders, deacons, finance whoever controls their money. And they will begin to filter through the whole other deciders.
KENNY: Fantastic. Thank you once again for spending the time with us today. What is the best way for people to get in touch with you? What’s the easiest way?
TODD: Easiest way is by e-mail, [email protected]
KENNY: Thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it. Drop a comment below. Like and share this post so we can continue to share with the Kingdom across the world. Thank you so much for joining us today.
TODD: Thank you.