Systems That Work for Community Christian Church in Chicago
Before I go any further, let me say this: If you’re not leading a multisite church, don’t skip this episode. There’s something important here for you. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
I very rarely see a multisite church succeed with live-teaching at each campus. If you’ve engaged with any of my multisite content in recent years, you’ll recall that my team and I don’t usually recommend that model.
There’s a good reason for that: We’ve seen the majority who try to use live teachers at each campus ultimately get stuck.
Many times they end up with division they never anticipated and find themselves splitting into a bunch of disconnected churches instead of a family of church campuses, without having intended to reach that destination.
So naturally, we wanted to get to the bottom of why live teaching at each campus works so well at Community Christian Church in the Chicago area.
It’s the only example I know where this model works and actually helps a church thrive at empowering more people to do ministry and reproduce leaders.
I got a chance to interview Tammy Melchien from Community Christian Church about their principles and their process. If you’re leading a multisite church or considering a multisite model, you should take a minute to learn from what this church is doing.
If you’re not, the creative systems and strategies CCC has implemented to keep raising up new leaders to teach the Gospel will give you plenty to consider even within your single site. (I even think some of what they’re doing could help churches better prepare for smooth succession plans.)
In this conversation, we discussed:
- Having tried both video-teaching and live teaching, why they settled on the latter.
- The principles and systems that make it work there.
- How they assess readiness for teaching in people they identify as having teaching gifts.
- How they have built a team of people who have writing gifts and on-stage delivery gifts to complement one another.
- How they maintain consistency of message while still empowering leaders to leverage their own style and personal experiences.
Join the Conversation
We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in. Some things we are hoping to discuss:
- Do you know of any other multisite churches that have had a healthy experience using live teaching at each of their campuses?
- Have you tried live teaching and switched to video teaching? If so, does anything about what CCC is doing address issues you experienced?
- What other systems or processes do you use to “reproduce” excellent teachers at your church?
- What are the challenges you experience when trying to prepare messages on your own? With a team?
About Tammy Melchien
Tammy Melchien is the Teaching Team Pastor at Community Christian Church in Chicago, Illinois. In her role, she oversees the development of the weekly messages that are delivered at all Community locations. She has been on the staff at Community since 2002, having served in a variety of roles at many different campuses including launching the Lincoln Square Campus and serving for four years as its first Campus Pastor. Tammy lives in Chicago.
More Resources on This Topic
- Is Your Multisite Strategy Working? | The Unstuck Church Podcast
- Multisite Models: Which Is Best?
- Strategic Planning for Multisite
- Online Course—Multisite Unstuck
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Tony: 00:56 Welcome to the unstuck church podcast. I’m Tony Morgan, and each week we share a conversation our team’s having about getting churches unstuck. You know, one of the key areas we see multisite churches getting stuck is in their teaching model, often having different teachers at different campuses. Well that can lead to some division in many times less growth. We’ve identified one church though where this approach is really working, and so recently I had a chance to interview Tammy Melchein. Tammy is the teaching team pastor at Community Christian Church in the Chicagoland area and she’s going to share some insights into how they make a live teaching model work in a multisite church. So here’s my interview with Tammy… I’m looking forward to today’s conversation. It’s always interesting when we’re talking about multisite strategy. One of the key questions that pops up is how do we teach now, not exactly how we teach the message, but how, how does the message get delivered and we’ve had a lot of churches that have of course used live teachers at their campuses and we have had a lot of churches that have streamed through video the messages to all their campuses and we certainly have a bias about this and I’ve shared a little bit about that in the past, but the one church for my impression that really does do incur some live teaching well at their campuses is Community Christian church. And that’s why I’m excited today to have Tammy. Tammy is over the teaching team at Community Christian Church in the Chicagoland area and Tammy, it’s good to have you for today’s conversation.
Tammy: 02:41 Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Tony: 02:42 So, uh, before we dive into the specifics about teaching, give us a little bit background about a Community Christian church, how many campuses, things like that?
Tammy: 02:53 Well, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this next year and so we currently a multisite church that has 10 locations, eight of which are in the suburbs of Chicago, two that are in the actual city limits of Chicago. And so, and then we also have been involved in church planting really around the world through New Thing, which is a kind of looking to be a catalyst for reproducing churches.
Tony: 03:22 I’ve had Dave Ferguson on the podcast and done conversations with him in the past, too. So, Dave and his brother John and other many other great leaders are at the church. But Tammy, we’re going to focus on the teaching aspect of the ministry today. And so I’m just curious why, first of all, did Community Christian Church to sign on in-person teaching versus video teaching for their multisite strategy?
Tammy: 03:50 Okay. Well, we’ve done both at different times in our history. I’ve been here for 16 years. When I first joined we were at, I think three, locations, soon to go to five and at that time the original three were using in-person teaching. But then as we added the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, and that, those first few, beyond that we were actually using video teaching. So at that time we had three primary teachers, Dave, John Ferguson, and one other guy that was leading the teaching team at that time and they would rotate between those sites. And then the one from our original site was the video that went to all the other locations. And so we were doing that for quite a while. But one thing that we realized along the way, one of the things we try to live and breathe,. is reproducing—reproducing on every level level, reproducing leaders, reproducing churches. And, and we recognize that one of the things that we were not doing was reproducing teachers and, you know, that’s kind of counter to our DNA. And we also honestly found that a lot of people that were interested in becoming a campus pastors, we call them community pastors now, but they also wanted to teach. And so we began looking at that and realize that because of the way that we do our teaching, even back then, the writing of our talks was being done collaboratively because of that, we were able to, to recognize we could still keep our DNA and beyond the same page because of that centralized collaboratively produced manuscript. Even if we were reproducing teaching pastors who were delivering it live at all of our locations. And so I would say it’s about nine or 10 years ago that we made that shift. And, and ever since we’ve been in-person teaching it all locations for all services.
Tony: 05:49 And is that always the case? Is it a 100 percent in-person teaching or do you ever revert back to using video teaching?
Tammy: 05:56 The only exceptions have tended to be when we occasionally maybe once or twice a year we have. Like we want all of our entire church to hear from Dave Ferguson or Dave and John Ferguson, and so then we will produce a video teaching. It doesn’t happen simulcasts, but will produce a video that then has shown at all locations. So it’s really, that’s more decided when we have a reason for wanting everyone to hear it from Dave.
Tony: 06:27 Right. So, uh, that, that lays the foundation for in person, live teachers at all your campuses. So let’s kind of back up from there then. How do you determine who’s qualified to do the teaching and how do you make that assessment of their readiness?
Tammy: 06:43 Okay. Well, we actually we have two. I would say when we look at who makes up our teaching team, there are really two different groups of people now. There’s a lot of overlap, so like a lot of those people play on both of those teams. But, we have the actual teaching pastors who stand up and deliver the messages and then we also have what I would say is our writing team, our teaching writing team. And so which one do you want me to start with?
Tony: 07:11 Start with the people that are actually delivering them.
Tammy: 07:13 They actually deliver the message. We put together an assessment process that we do now obviously when we’re hiring somebody to be a community campus pastor, this is part of their interview process, but it can extend beyond just our community pastor. So what we do is we, we have this assessment process where I’m actually a community pastor, if they have someone at their location, whether that be another staff member, whether that be a lay leader, you know, sometimes we have people that used to be in ministry and they are now in the marketplace, something like that. But if they have someone that they identify that they think has a teaching gift, they can choose to put that person through our assessment process. And so that process, it’s multiple layers. I mean, some of it begins with just, you know, making sure you’re clear on that person’s character and our leadership expectations of who we would put on our platform.
Tammy: 08:15 It begins with giving them some opportunities to do a smaller moments like maybe lead the communion meditation or the offering moment or be the host or that kind of thing. I want them to have opportunities to teach in front of groups of people, whether that be a spiritual gifts class or a time to get up and teach our students or things like that. And then if they’re progressing in that and this community pastor wants to see them move forward, they take one of our big idea message manuscripts and they have to kind of make it their own, rehearse it. They teach it to that community pastor and they video it. And if they think they’re ready, they’ll send that video to an assessment team that’s made up of three of our, four of our main teachers. We have a professional theater person on that team. We have a professional speaker on that team and so we will set aside a day, a couple times a year for these candidates to come and they actually have to then teach that message in front of our team and it’s more intimidating than actually teaching on a Sunday morning because you got six people there with clipboards and we give feedback in the moment and we also follow up with feedback, but our assessment team then decides whether or not that person is ready to teach on a Sunday morning and then also what frequency they’re approved to teach at and kind of the breadth of how many locations they can teach at.
Tony: 09:50 So what do you think after the first 10 minutes of us knowing each other? Would I be qualified for that teaching team, Tammy?
Tammy: 09:56 My guess is you probably would.
Tony: 10:00 All right. So I think this next question is actually going to get to the second half or the second team that you were discussing because the question is this: You mentioned 10 campuses, if I walked into a few different campuses on any given Sunday morning, what I hear different messages or would I hear an identical message?
Tammy: 10:22 It’s somewhere in between the two. You will hear the same message but interpreted through that particular speaker’s voice and perspective. And so you will hear the same big idea through it. You will hear the same main scripture passage. You will hear the same major moves or points, but the stories will be crafted by each person to be their own story. Here’s an idea that is in the message and you need to communicate that idea. And for some people they might be, okay I’m just going to stick to the teaching material. I’m just going to teach the way it is. Some people might say, hey, I have an experience that makes that point. I’m going to tell my story to make that point. I’m going to put it in my own words to make that point. And so you will know that you’re hearing the same message, but it’ll take on the personality of the person delivering it.
Tony: 11:36 So the team that’s actually creating the messages that are researching and writing and crafting the messages. How big is that team, Tammy?
Tammy: 11:46 I think the last couple of years we’ve had around 22 or 23 people contribute during a year. Now there are, there are like six of us that carry the bulk of that probably. Maybe between nine and 14 times a year. But then there are others that write maybe six times a year, some of them write four times a year and some that just write maybe once a year. And so I have different levels of involvement that enable us to use subject experts for certain talks. Some of it enables us just to explore who might have a gift for this even though their job or their role isn’t ever going to have them be a main teaching pastor. There are actually a lot more people, I think, that can deliver content. Well then there are those that can write it well.
Tony: 12:58 I would be one of those people.
Tammy: 13:03 And I mean I think that’s true. And that’s what we found too. I think right now we probably have more, I think mid-thirties in terms of assessed, approved teachers and you know, but the, so there are more people I think that can present it well. And so honestly, some of our community pastors, they do a great job. I’m delivering it. But some of them, the writing it is really not their giftedness and so they maybe contribute to one or two messages writing a year, but they primarily just play on this side where you have some people then that are pretty good at both and those tend to be the ones that make up the core of the team when I say the six people. But then we have other people that really do have a writing gifts that the last thing they ever want to do is get up on stage, deliver it. And so we’ve been able to use some of their giftedness in that way. And especially some of those people tend to be people that have in a particular area, for example, the woman who leads our restore our justice and compassion ministry. She’s a really good writer. And so the last message we had that was geared towards that. In our writing team, you’re always partnered with someone. So I partnered her with Dave Ferguson to write that message. And it was, she did a fantastic job. Now she’s probably never going to be someone to stand on stage and deliver it. But it equipped all other 10 teaching pastors to deliver excellent content.
Tony: 14:41 You know, you just gave a lot of teaching pastors hives that are listening to this conversation because for years they’ve been preparing their messages on their own.
Tammy: 14:51 They’re probably in that camp of being good at both of them that well.
Tony: 14:55 So when you’re trying to get that level of collaboration though, how do you systemize the message preparation process? Can you give us a sense of what that looks like?
Tammy: 15:06 Yeah. And this is just stop me if this gets too complicated because I also, I also think we’re a 30 year old church, 10 location and all that. And so it’s, it’s almost more there are principles to take from what we do than necessarily just implementing our system. You have to be ahead of the game in planning. Every year at the beginning of May… well actually for me it starts in March because I take about two months of doing a lot of brainstorming meetings and, you know, some retreat days and stuff like that until we come to the point…. The beginning of May we plan out our entire year of talks or kind of series ideas from September through the following August. And so then we really plan probably four months out from when a series starts. I have to begin doing brainstorming the processes and all of that.
Tony: 16:09 So not the the Wednesday before the Sunday?
Tammy: 16:10 Part of what this enables us to do that is… because I have this role but I don’t have a local campus… I kind of have to keep the whole system moving forward. So it involves a lot of advanced planning. So like for example, right now, I have mapped out all the writing meetings that we’re going to have and assigned all the writers through the end of December. And so, and a lot of that is playing a jigsaw puzzle with everybody’s schedule, but also like, okay, who would be good on this topic? Who would be good on this, you know, and putting that altogether. So we start early and about about four months out, start thinking about a series, about three months out, we have what we call a map that really shows where we’re going. We actually started a couple years ago doing some kind of contract work with research because that’s helped with our system because, we have these research briefs prepared that then a week before we get together to brainstorm, I send those out to the people that are the two people that are writing that message. And, they know that they are to come to the brainstorm the following week prepared to lead the discussion of ideas on their meeting. And so, you know, kind of equip them in that way to take the ownership of that. And then what happens is about two months out from when the series starts, we have our brainstorming meeting where I am in every one of those,, and then I usually have one of my key writers in there with me, but then these other, these other writers rotate in and out of the meeting.
Tammy: 18:10 And like if it’s a four week series and four hours on a Thursday morning, we will plan, we will plan an outline for all four of those things when you have one hour for one message of let’s get the ideas on the board, let’s put it into an outline. And then those two writers take that and, and, and write a first draft manuscript. Then another thing that has helped us in the collaboration then is once that first draft is done, we all come back together again. So we’re now about six weeks out from the start of the series and we read those manuscripts allowed to one another. We take notes on what needs to be edited and what needs, you know, giving, just feedback from that and then the manuscript goes through a process of editing, a two more stages of editing before we get to the week where we’re actually going to deliver it.
Tammy: 19:03 So by the time you’re standing on stage to deliver one of these, you know, between the people that helped with the concepts and the brainstorm and the writing and the feedback given to it. And then the editing, you know, that you’re standing there in about eight different people have helped make this talk what it is and it also like as a teaching pastor gives me a lot of competence that no, if something didn’t make sense or was theologically that there are so many checks and balances that, that it would have been caught.
Tony: 19:40 So I was trying to do the math in my head. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, Tammy, do you know for any given Sunday message the combined number of hours that have been invested in that?
Tammy: 19:52 I don’t. I don’t know, but yeah, I’m not really sure what the total would be. Um, but I think one of the things our system also does is it now obviously this is my role, I’m sure that I put the most hours into it, but if you are, if you are that, if you are a community pastor, campus pastor that’s teaching this, you know, I read some of them have said, you know, five to seven hours of making their own edit and rehearsing and they’re ready to go.
Tony: 20:28 I’m glad you shared that because this is one of the challenges I have seen for multisite churches that have chosen the route of in-person live teachers at all their campuses is when they make that choice commonly it’s not with the collaborative effort, and it becomes the 20 to 25 or 30 hours and it takes away all the hours that campus pastor really needs to be investing in leadership.
Tammy: 20:57 That’s what we don’t want to do. And that’s part of why we have the system the way we have. I mean, we have it because partly for that and also because we believe that we’re better together than any one of us would be on our own, so we believe that these talks are not my talks, the talks of our community. If you’ve not been a part of the writing, I would say five to seven hours now if you, if you also were the person that you know, contributed to that talk, you probably add two and a half more hours for the meetings that you’ve been in, maybe another hour and a half that you spent preparing. Then maybe a couple of hours that it took you to write your half of the draft. And so even in that you’re still looking at and if they’re doing that, they’re like, if they’re a writer, they’re probably only doing that once every six weeks. The other weeks they’re getting the one that other people have written.
Tony: 21:59 So you just proved John Maxwell was right. Again, the team outperforms the individual every time, right? Tammy?
Tammy: 22:05 I hope so.
Tony: 22:07 All right. So last question, when it comes to this, again, this dynamic of how we deliver messages and multisite churches in person, live teachers versus video teaching, any other final do’s or don’t see, you’d like to share with those who are listening in?
Tammy: 22:26 The last thing that I’d say… we’re better together. No matter how you choose to do it, I feel like figuring out how you can collaborate on that. So even if it is just the one person delivering something through a video of simulcasts or something like that, what’s the team behind you know, behind that?, Because I really, really think that’s the beauty in it is that it’s the community contributing. It’s a number of different voices, different perspectives and, I really do think it makes us better than anyone of us can be on our own. And so I feel like no matter which model you take, don’t go alone.
Tony: 23:10 Yeah, I fully agree with that. Actually think it’s also a great reflection of the body of Christ in action, even with the teaching that happens in our churches. So Tammy, thanks again for joining us today, really appreciate your perspective and wisdom when it comes to the teaching that’s happening at Community Christian Church and I really do think this is going to be an encouragement to other churches. So thanks for joining us today.
Tammy: 23:35 Alright, thanks for having me.
Tony: 23:36 Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation. Please be sure to subscribe to the podcast and if you want to learn more about how to get your church on stock, check out what my team does at theunstuckgroup.com.