We recently had a chance to spend time with Landon Kyker of Livingston Church in San Antonio, Texas. Kevin Jones of the Portable Church team talked with Landon about the volunteer culture he has established at his new church plant. Enjoy the conversation!
Kevin: Alright. I am Kevin Jones from Portable Church Industries. I have Landon Kyker here with me today as well. We’re going to be talking about volunteers and how to recruit, how to retain, how to have an awesome team. Landon, you are from Living Stone. Your website is iamalivingstone.org. Is that right?
Kevin: So tell us a little about yourself before we get started: your church, where you’re at, some background information on you.
Landon: Yes, definitely. Like Kevin said, my name is Landon. I’ve been married to Kelly for almost twelve years. We planted a church last year with ARC in January. So we recently celebrated our one year anniversary and it’s been going very, very well. We’ve got a great team of volunteers, dream-teamers. The church is doing really well. We launched strong! We had PCI in the beginning and it’s just been an amazing experience. We have two services now, and we’ve just crossed over 400 people. We’ve had 167 decisions for Christ in the last 15 months. So just an amazing experience. We’ve been loving it down here in South Texas and we have our guys in Detroit to thank for getting us there. So that is a little bit of our story of who we are and what we’re doing down here .
Kevin: Thanks, Landon. I was on Landon’s delivery many months ago and I just kind of fell in love with your church and you and I just love watching your team grow. I love what you do on Facebook and the times we’ve been able to reconnect and learn about the things that you’re doing. It’s truly an honor to be connecting with you again today and being able to hear some of your story on volunteering and how you’re doing things. That being said, what have you done in your church to help create that atmosphere of volunteerism?
Landon: From the very beginning, it started out with a set of values. We don’t really champion what the church needs. Churches always need something, all the time. There’s always a need everywhere you turn around. Whether it be foundational, or equipment, or whatever…that never goes away. But, there’s something about the value; the church doesn’t exist for me, I am the church. We’ve always said that from the very beginning. That changed the mindsets of people so that volunteering, serving, giving of yourself was something we tried to set in our DNA from our first launch team meeting back in 2014. So when we launched on January 11, 2015, it was the heart of who we were and it was something we had been cultivating. The church does not exist to meet my needs. My needs get met as I serve. That’s the discipleship mechanism of the church and that’s what we use to help people become more like Jesus. So that was really goal number one in our church: get people saved and then teach them how to give of themselves. Creating that culture began from a set of values and that value was driven over and over and over and said in twenty different ways during everything we could come at from a different angle to get people focused on, “The church doesn’t exist to meet my needs, I am the church and I exist in the Lord.” Just repeating that over and over and over. So that came from that value from Day One.
Kevin: Yeah, so it’s kind of a just talking about “We were built for this. This is what we were made for.”
Kevin: As you enter into your journey with Christ, this is a natural response and action out of our love. It’s part of the discipleship process is to give back and to serve others in the church through our actions.
Kevin: So how did you do that? Like, did you have regular meetings with people before you launched? Is it something you keep talking about still and do you have structures in place that kind of talk about that? How do they really hear that vision from you?
Landon: Yes, to all of what you just said. We had seven months of a pre-launch season before launch day. In that seven months, six of those months were all about vision. One of those months we did take in use for growth track. We even did a series of growth track classes that are still about the vision of the church and what you’re doing with your life. But, we talked about it over and over and over. It was a big deal. Once we launched, we started that process of getting people on board as quick as we could. I think we only had three Sundays that we didn’t have a class that was designated to get people on board. We say this a lot, and it’s sort of a common language around here that if there’s a barrier we’re gonna knock it down. So, we don’t really do signup sheets for anything…not even for our baptisms. You just show up and we’ll dunk ya! I mean, we got a shirt for you and some towels. It’s just we don’t want there to be any barriers even down to that detail. There’s something even about serving; there doesn’t need to be a barrier. Another thing that we do a lot is that we mention serving at least two times a Sunday. At least somewhere in the message or in the welcome or in the video. Serving is always being broadcast. I always find a way to weave it into our message somehow. I could be talking about the end times and I would bring up something about serving. It’s gonna be in there somewhere because we really believe that’s what’s going to take people to the next level. It’s not a series of I’m gonna sit here and learn a bunch of disciple courses. Our church wants people to do that, but they have to enact the faith. So, that’s the system that’s in place; what can we do to on board you as quick as we can as easy as we can. So, to use a PCI example, since I’m on the call with you Kevin. I’ve actually used this example to people before. We could have went out and piecemealed our system. We could have done that, but it would have been a giant headache. Or we could have hired y’all. We could have found the trailer and then it wouldn’t have worked and the door would not have come down the right away and then there’s this plate on the PCI trailer that folds down over that gap so the cases won’t roll out. We had one of those kind of pop off and I had to screw it back into the trailer. I remember that I used that as an example in one of the classes. If you don’t have that cover, if that barrier is there and you’re not giving them an on ramp, things break, people break, things fall, we drop the ball. And then you’re playing emergency response system. Then you’re playing cleanup. Instead of a smooth transition into a setup for something great you’re now playing oh no; you’re playing clean up, you’ve got the broom out to fix the problem. So we’re always looking for that bridge. We’re always looking for that on ramp. Where can we cover up a crack? Where can we make it easier for people to connect? It’s a never changing process. I don’t think churches ever have it perfect. I don’t think there’s ever a way to say, “Oh that church has it exactly right.” That’s because you have different locals. What works in Detroit won’t work in San Antonio and vice versa. It’s different. America is so huge. We have to constantly be tinkering with things. This may sound a little Texas, but we don’t believe in the saying “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” We don’t believe in that. What we believe is if it isn’t broken then we’re going to break it so we can rebuild it better. So, were always looking for things to adjust and that definitely includes our systems on recruiting our team of volunteers. That is a primary thing we talk about a lot in the office. So, that’s a big part of what we do.
Kevin: There’s a lot of content. I think what you just talked about could probably be another, I don’t know, another three blog series just in those comments right there. It’s huge just finding people like where they fit and making that transition nice and easy. I’ve never heard someone talk about volunteering two times in a service. So you say you do that every single service?
Landon: Every single service.
Kevin: So are you trying to recruit people for set up and take out? What kind of stuff are you recruiting them for?
Landon: Well, we don’t even talk about what it is. We just finished a series. In fact, we went over those values, the main values, like the church doesn’t exist for me, I exist in the Lord. We had a whole sermon on that. So you better believe I hit it hard that day. It’s not ok for us to come receive, receive, receive, receive. We even use this as part of the sermon: you brought in your kids and you checked them in with somebody who giving of their time and giving of their life. Then you drop your kids off to a volunteer who’s going to take care of them so you can do the work. Before you go into the service, you go get a free cup of coffee delivered to you by somebody who’s giving of their time and themselves. And then you go sit in a chair that’s paid for by someone else’s tithe money, but you don’t give anything. And you sit there week after week after week, and you call yourself a disciple of Jesus. Now, I said that very lovingly in the best way I can, “We do not believe that is okay and we have to give of ourselves. The kingdom is so much bigger than just soaking, soaking, soaking, soaking. You’ve got much more to give to the world.” That’s how we approach it, with talks like that. It’s not “Hey, we’ve only got twelve set up guys. We need fifteen. If you love Jesus, you’re going to serve.” I’ve heard it done that way and it doesn’t work at all. It just frustrates everybody. You get to the place where it’s about they have something in them that God put in there that he wants to come out. In some ways, it is in the parking lot holding a big sign. For some people, it is bringing that cup of coffee. For some people, it is being there at 6:30 in the morning set-up/tear-down. For some people it’s teaching, for some people it’s worship leading. We won’t know what that is unless we get them in a process and help them find that out. Because we all know, people that show up at your church that come to you from day one and tell you everything that their good at…they scare you. You don’t wanna put them in a place where they’re like, “Oh I’m this. I’m a prophet. I’m this, and I’m great at that.” You’ll be, like, “Oh my God.” And then they’ll never come back because they’re kind of crazy. There’s something to be said about the people in their seats. They’re not going to come to you and say, “Oh this is what I’m great at. Employ me.” That doesn’t happen. So, we as a church have to find out how we are going to get what’s in them out in the open and then help them become confident in that gift that God gave him. That’s constantly what we’re talking about.
Kevin: So you talk about it twice on stage. Is there like a follow-up? Are there signup sheets? Do you engage with your current volunteers to make sure they are connecting with those that are in the seats next to them? I imagine it’s more than just talking and hoping they respond. What’s the next step after that?
Landon: Yeah, that’s very good. Well, like most churches, we’ve got places on our connection card for them to check “I want more info on serving.” Honestly, we don’t get a lot of those boxes checked. So we’ve switched over to text this word to this number, and we’ve had more people do that. So, like, in the service while I’m talking about it, they’re texting in and asking questions about serving. So that’s been better, but you hit the nail on the head when you said the other volunteers. They are our best recruiting tool. Other volunteers, when they’re excited and will say, “I love what I’m doing,” they are our best recruiters. In fact, most of our dream team have come from other volunteers recruiting other volunteers, not growth track. You’ve got to have a system, but for the most part it’s been a lot of people saying, “Hey, come meet my director. Come serve with me. Let’s see if they’ll let you shadow.” That’s kind of been what it is. When people are excited and when they know what they’re doing is making a difference, then we talk about how many get saved. We talk about it all the time. We tell stories all the time. We celebrate the wins because what gets rewarded gets repeated. We’re consistently talking about that. That just builds people’s faith and they go, “Yeah, I’m making a big difference.” That just really, really changes the psyche of “Oh, it’s my day to serve.” That’s normal, that’s normal for churches. “Oh man, I’m on schedule today. I got a reminder email on Friday through the system. I’ve got to get up early and pull the trailer.” What they need to be doing is… “You know, today I’ve decided to get up because fifteen people aren’t going to hell today.”
Landon: “You know, I had a part in it.” I’ll tell you this much, people are naturally cynical. They’re naturally sarcastic. Most people don’t wake up all excited and ready to serve Jesus. That doesn’t happen. And if they do, hire more staff, I mean that just doesn’t naturally happen. What usually happens is you feel like a broken record and you’re just repeating the vision, repeating the vision, repeating the vision of this is why we’re here. And if we don’t communicate the why behind the what, then they become sarcastic, they become cynical, and they get aggravated and they feel tired. But people will serve and they’ll do more than you ever ask them to do when they see a huge why behind the what and the how. So we’re consistently pushing that envelope.
Kevin: Yeah, when you make it about them, not about the church. I’ve always loved getting those emails, “We are so desperately in need for this and that. You must come and serve.” And it’s like “But why?” When the emails come across its like wow here’s a huge opportunity and here are the benefits and here are the people it connects with and you are needed to help make this happen. Come engage and see Christ move. That’s definitely way more motivating than a “We’re in desperate need. Help.”
Landon: Oh, absolutely. And that comes from the value of we care more about you than what you do for us and so when people want to switch teams or they need three months off. When we launched, we had our kids workers in the back for three months straight. So our kid’s volunteers didn’t come to a service until, like, our fourth month whenever they could start rotating. They knew that going into it and they knew that we were going to give them a break. They knew that was coming, but they were serving back there for twelve weeks straight knowing that hundreds of people that didn’t even know each other are now able to call themselves the local church because I’m back there taking care of their kids. On Sunday, we went 423 people and 78 of them were children. That’s the most kids we’ve ever had in service. And their parents were able to make decisions because those guys were back there and so the ones that were there in the beginning… they remember what that felt like in that season and they need to celebrate even more. Because they know we care more about them than any skill they have or any talent they have. We care more about them as a person. If that can get communicated all the time, even for rewards, even to be cheering them on with our family, pastoring them, they’ll do more than you ever thought they could do and you won’t even have to ask. And it changes the game for them, for sure.
Kevin: One thing that you mention was like the swapping of volunteers. When you see them in a wrong environment and you think they fit better in a different environment. I know that in my portable church we are always swapping people around and we had a really good relationship amongst the leaders where we would introduce people to different areas. But, talk a very short bit about how do you do that? How do you transition somebody from one area that they think they’re good in to an area that they probably are actually better in.
Landon: Well, short of going, “Dude, you’re terrible at this…” There are some issues that are a little more touchy. On the worship team it is always a touchy thing. You’ve seen American Idol. People think they’re good when they’re not. So that’s an awkward kind of moment. But, for the most part, we’ve had people be grateful that we were thinking ahead for them and about them, and it really showed them that we really do care about them. So we’ll say “You know, you’ve been in this ministry for nine months and while we know you’re really good at it and you’ve been serving faithfully and have always responded to serving requests on time, you’re on time, you’re a great culture setter. I’m curious to see what you would think about moving up into this role.” It opens up their mind to, “I could pull that off.” So we approach it that way. And it’s not just wording, you really might have more skills than you think you do. You see a guy out in the parking lot and he’s great at making an environment out in the parking lot but he’s a leader. We’ll make him a leader of that team or move him to another team and say, “I’m going to give you three months to grow this thing.” You’re constantly thinking about how to raise up people. One thing that I really try to keep in the forefront of my mind is I know it’s God when everybody gets promoted. Now there’s sometimes when there are disciplinary things and you’re having to knock somebody down, but for the most part, if I make a change and it brings you higher, it brings them higher, it brings the team higher, it brings our church higher, it was the right move. If I’m just moving people for the sake of moving people then just leave them alone, but there’s got to be some type of promotional element to the move.
Kevin: Yeah, I think there’s a big piece to educating your leaders to replace themselves.
Landon: Oh, absolutely.
Kevin: It’s not about holding on to that position, but how can I raise up more leaders to replace myself? It’s a huge piece of it and it really helps people understand that they’re way more valuable than they think they are, or more skilled than they think they are. One last quick question. How do you retain your volunteers?
Landon: Oh man, love the snot out of them!
Kevin: You are a huge celebrator of people on Facebook. I get to see it from many miles away. I think it’s an area you excel in, for sure.
Landon: Well, I appreciate that. I know it really takes a level of kind of stepping back and going, “There is no way any of this is possible without these guys.” That really just resets your thinking and so it kind of takes you off the high horse every once in a while because it’s not my preaching that’s getting everybody saved, it’s not charisma, it’s not cool clothes..a tie and vest and, you know, fancy haircuts. It’s not any of that. It’s, man, these dream teamers are showing the love of Jesus and all they did was wave in the parking lot and help a mom carry in her baby. Thinking through that has really helped us create a system where we reward and celebrate every time we get together, every time. So, we actually plan our huddles and plan our meetings around stories. So, we don’t just show up at a meeting and hope it goes well. We come prepared just like you would for a sermon. We come prepared with that story and we also have of course a once-a-year big dream team blowout and we budget for that thing and make it a big deal. And for a new church it’s a lot of money, it kind of freaks you out when you just realize when they tell you how much you going to spend on that. And you’re like “Oh my Gosh,” but it’s so, so worth it and so this year when we wrote our budget we doubled the amount of investment in that the once a year dream team thing. This year their planning a luau. We’re going to like roast a stuffed pig and have luau dancers and this whole Hawaiian theme. We’re going to do that on a ranch, and give away hotel stays. I don’t think out of all the ideas, I just say, “Great idea.” To be honest, they really do a good job loving our volunteers. I think Craig Rochelle calls it the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your time is investing in your people. Twenty percent of your time is finding your people, but 80% of your time and your money is rewarding, celebrating and investing in those who have already said yes.
Kevin: That’s good.
Landon: And even in regards to knowledge and training. We have monthly trainings we do with these guys to grow their leadership capacity, but it’s definitely helped us retained volunteers. I’ll tell you this Kevin… This is the first church I’ve ever been a member of where all of the kids volunteer and aren’t trying to leave. Have you ever been in a church like that? Like, people feel like if they get into the nursery it’s the abyss for churches. You’re never gonna be in church again for the rest of your life. You’re always stuck in the nursery. I’ve never been in a church that until this one where our kids leaders are having to tell our workers, “You have to stop serving because you need to be in church.” It’s the first time that’s ever happened because they love their people, they celebrate them. But here’s the other side of that coin, they resource them, too.They don’t just say, “Well if you love them then you get that craft ready.” No, they help each other and make it happen and have crafting parties where they build everything for the whole month and they make it fun. We try to make everything a party. I know that sounds like some guys say, “Well, if the Holy Spirit’s there it shouldn’t feel like a party.” Well, you’re crazy because we try to make everything feel like there’s life there. So at 6 o’clock in the morning the trailer guys get there, we got music all over the building and even out in the parking lot already, like loud, ridiculous music at 6am. It’s awesome. I love it. And if I could get strobe lights out there, I would. It’s just one of those things you want people to show up and they know it’s been prepared, it’s been prayed over, and they’re ready to rock. I’m not walking in rubbing sleep out of my eyes. You know they’re coming in it six and we’re high fiving, yelling, screaming, clapping, going over the stuff. We get the whole church set up in fifteen minutes. They just knock it out of the park. but you have to prepare that environment. Resource them, prepare the environment, and make it fun. I don’t want to do anything that’s not fun. Forget it. There’s just certain things I don’t want to do cause it’s not fun, you know. But man, I’ll go deer hunting. Let’s go! That’s fun! And you know, another guy is going to say, “I’m not going to sit in a box till I’m cold and shiver,” and that’s fun to me. I want to do that! But, you find out what’s fun for them and you can make it fun for almost any personality type if you keep the why behind the what. That’s a big part of what we do to retain people. We rain them gift cards in the mail. I say rain them. You got somebody in your mind, you got them a card and you send them a Starbucks gift card and say “Thanks for what you do.” We buy giant boxes of Living Stone stationary so we can just send out cards to dream teamers and we’re always investing in our team. So that might be more than you bargained for but that’s the way we do that.
Kevin: No that’s great. I’ve been at a lot of churches, helped start churches, I’ve led teams. I wanna come serve at your church. You’ve got me I’m in.
Landon: Let’s do it baby.
Kevin: There’s probably a lot of people after this interview coming to knock on your door and want to serve on one of your teams. I’ve always told my team, “You know, what were doing here, it’s set-up and take-down. But it’s not just set-up and take-down. This is an act of worship just as big as the guy onstage with that beautiful voice. This is worship and so worship is fun. You know, it’s to be celebrated. It’s big and it’s exciting and so let’s make it big and exciting, and I love how you do that with the loud music and imaginary strobe light. We need to wrap up this meeting, this interview, and just really want to thank you for your time Landon. You are a favorite. Absolutely love what you’re doing down in San Antonio. Is there a way people can contact you? A website or email address?
Landon: Yeah, absolutely. My email is email@example.com. Or if you just go to the webpage there’s a contact us page and if you fill that out they’ll get that information to me. But we love to help out any way we can. We love helping church planters, it’s a big part of what we do. We’ve got guys flying in from Houston tomorrow just to come to our office and hang out with some of our people and ask questions. It’s just, we love doing that. We’re church planters. You’ll never not be a church planter and it becomes part of your DNA. You’ll always just want to help people even if you watch this video and you’re an established church and you’re turning the titanic, you’re planting a church and so we’re still here for you. In some ways, you’ve got it harder than the guy who’s parachute planting. It’s different, but you got it hard. So we’re here to help anyway we can. Any resources that Living Stone has we have freely received so we will feely give. We’re in your corner.
Kevin: Landon I love you, praying for you.
Landon: Thank you guys.
Kevin: Thank you so much for your time and thank for the wisdom that you shared today.
Landon: Appreciate you guys and may the Lord bless you and keep you.