Jack Taylor, Director of Operations, Sycamore Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, OH

By Ronald E. Keener

Jack Taylor knows how to write a message for a roadside billboard. “Seven to 10 words was the max you wanted to use because of the drive time and the attention span going down the highway,” says the former sales and general manager for outside advertising firms. “You had to get your message across within that parameter in a very short time frame, so the elements of art work and words all had to marry up to get the image across,” he recalls.

Taylor is illustrative of the varied career fields that many church business administrators have had before moving to church positions, and many, like Taylor, learned their basic business skills in other careers and on the job.

Much of his business experience was gained in that outdoor advertising career. “It was all seat of the pants, trial and error kind of stuff. I was never good in college in the financial area, but in Indianapolis [at the agency], I was promoted to sales manager with a $12 million sales budget to run.

“In Cincinnati, when I moved here, I ran the whole business, the expense and profit side, but it was trial and error
for me.”

It was there that the educational training of the National Association of Church Business Administration came into play. Years later, Taylor is now a certified CBA and this month concludes his two-year term as chairman of NACBA.

In his first position, as business administrator of The Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, where he spent 12 years, “I knew I needed some sort of way to transition from the secular to the religious world. Not that there is truly a huge difference.”

In what way?

I’ve told this to parishioners over the years and they raise their eyebrows at me, but we’re [church and secular work] all in business — we have product, we have income and we have overhead. That’s not very religious but that’s really what we do and so there’s a very business side to this.

In addition to the denominational and legal nuances and how they affect what we do in the religious side of things, I just knew that I needed some support and some help, somewhere to go. So what I found in NACBA was a mechanism that I could use to build and learn and it’s been remarkable for me.

I started going to the national conference in 1996, the summer after I came to Knox, and began my certification that same year, became certified in 1999 and then was recertified a couple years ago.

Your college degree was in broadcast communications and you did some radio work for awhile. How did you get into church work from the secular advertising side?

It was the summer of 1995 and I was on the buildings and grounds committee at the church where we were then attending and I had been at the church doing some work that day. Knox church had designed their first CBA position at that time and they sent the job description out to all of the churches in the presbytery.

Somehow that job description wound up in my buildings and grounds mailbox. Was it a hint from God or one of the parishioners, I thought? But you know, it got here, so I called Knox and had three or four interviews and got the job. That’s how I got into this.

I tell you it was a little bit of a gamble on my part because Knox was just in the closing stages of an interim pastor; they had not yet called their new pastor and I took that job knowing full well in six or eight months I could be out the door.

Did you ever use your outdoor ad experience with the churches you’ve been at?

No, not in the classic sense of outdoor advertising. I learned some of the creative concepts from some remarkable artists who designed and painted those big signs. And some of those concepts were helpful in designing other things for the churches, such as publications, Web sites and smaller on-premise signage, but neither Knox or Sycamore has done any outdoor advertising as yet.

After 12 years at Knox you moved to the director of operations post with Sycamore Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. What’s your work there?

We have about 1,050 members and we are in a very upscale northern area of Cincinnati, an area that is growing considerably. Back in the mid-90s the church went through a transitional time in its leadership, not at all unlike what other churches go through from time to time.

We saw some membership declines and as I understand it, I wasn’t here, but I really think it was a period of adjustment the church had to go through in order to prepare it for what I think is happening here right now and is going to happen.

About four years ago the church called Larry Kent as pastor and he has done a remarkable job of healing those transitional wounds and has brought the church together very nicely, but not without the leadership of those folks who stuck through it.

We’ve seen some steady growth over the past three years and the church does virtually no marketing. The growth to the greatest extent here so far has been word of mouth. Last fall the church contracted with a company called Living Stones Associates to do some strategic planning and an assessment of pretty much every part of the church life.

We’ve gotten a few hints of what’s coming out of that report, perhaps a few recommended directions, but more than anything their input to us is going to be facts in what they have seen and what they have observed with a few recommended things that we can do.

I view this as one tool that Sycamore is going to be using over the next year to assess where God is leading us, what we need to do to be responsive to that, and then to make a plan to actually implement that response.

Some churches shy away from consultants. Churches need to ask for help some times?

Absolutely. Sometimes that helps the leadership of the church step away from the situation and gives them a separate set of eyes, a separate view from the outside. We’re already finding that. Some folks before I came were suggesting certain things be done. When it appears in an independent report from eyes outside the organization, it helps lend credibility to that and we’re finding that in some of the early briefings from Living Stones.

With NACBA, you’ve had two years as chairman. What stands out as a couple of accomplishments?

One of the biggest accomplishments that we have had is this whole transition to policy governance. It’s been huge internally for this board and for the staff, but it was one  we had to do. The byproduct of that has been empowering  CEO Simeon May for the responsibility of the day-to-day operation of the Association. That in turns empowers the board to better guide and direct what we do.

In terms of accomplishment, I’m huge on what helped me, and that is the educational components of what we do. I think we have progressed well in our conference: It has quadrupled in four years in size, our teleweb seminars we started on a quarterly basis are now monthly. We initiated an e-mail Weekly Update.

We are going to regional gatherings starting this year, with three on tap. We’re targeting CBAs of all levels and all church sizes. One of the suggestions we’ve had over the years is from folks at larger churches who have different needs than folks who are at smaller churches. We are trying to focus more of our attention on the folks who have those different kinds of needs and issues that they are dealing with.

When we spoke two years ago you mentioned the role of executive pastors being a membership objective.

We are making some slow and deliberate progress. We realize that many of the aspects of XPastors and CBAs are the same but there are again those nuances that differentiate the two somewhat. One of the things we are doing is we’re in pretty close conversations with some of our members who are also executive pastors. They’re helping us with input on what we can do to begin to help the XPastor in those nuances in their roles. One of the outgrowths of those conversations is a new track at this year’s conference.

We are also doing a track featuring Val Hastings talking about coaching up, about how XPastors and CBAs can help mentor the senior leadership. It is still a work in progress for us. But we realize it’s a market that we think we can serve, we just want to do it the right way and sometimes that’s a deliberate way.

What about membership growth in general?

A couple years ago we hit the 3,000 mark and we are well over that mark now. We hear that quite a few associations are somewhat on a decline and I think we are bucking that trend. We are incrementally growing and we’re pleased with that.

Over the next two years the association is working at doing more of the same?

One of the things the governance transition has allowed us to do as a board was to focus on long-term thinking. We completed a process last fall that allowed us to go through more of a strategic plan and identify areas where we need to identify and focus on.

I think on balance what you’re going to see NACBA working on most is what we are good at, and that is developing our educational offerings. We have to focus, we have to continue to remain on the cutting edge of the educational side of this thing. I believe we will do that.

You once spoke about churches who were large enough for a business administrator but haven’t done it.  Why do churches hold back?

You have budgetary matters involved. You’ve got churches and pastors who just don’t realize the value of having a CBA. It is becoming more critical in our time as we deal with the increasing litigation issues, legal and tax issues, all the things that are impacting ministry now days.  It is critical that there be someone on staff trained to help recognize those kind of situations and avoid them.

Besides that, I’m not convinced that pastors who are called to that ministry by God realize how freeing to that ministry the off loading of the day-to-day stuff can be. It is like a flower that can’t fully bloom until they divest themselves of some of that daily routine.

That is a long way of saying that I think there may be a marketing problem here for all of us. I don’t think we’ve done the best job of educating and reaching those smaller and middle range churches who can certainly use an administrator but either just don’t think about it or don’t plan for it.

Your bio says you’ve had a connection with the Indianapolis 500 Raceway.

I’ve never been a racer and I don’t have any involvement with it now. It’s one of those things that spices up life a little bit. I spent 17 years in a couple different capacities with the Indy 500 through my association with the United States Auto Club. They were the sanctioning body of the 500 for almost as long as the 500 has been around. I had a very distant relative on my mother’s side who had been chief timer of the races since the 1940s.

In passing I mentioned to him that if there’s anything I can do I wouldn’t mind getting involved. He gave me a call the next year and gave me a minor qualifying weekend assignment. I didn’t have any race day assignment at that point. I did that for a couple years and moved into the timing and scoring booth, and then worked with him as his assistant. I was there for a few years until he retired and I took over for him.

And that was basically timing the qualifying attempts for all the qualifiers on the tour. Then I became what they call chief scoring observer on race day. That was a separate team of 16 individuals who were stationed at various places around the track. My sole responsibility was to track the leader. We had to know where the leader was at all times, even if he was in the pits. And after a leadership change we needed to know who it was.

When the speedway formed the Indy Racing League about 1995, I was asked by USAC to be on the traveling, timing, and scoring crew to score those races and I did that for a couple years. The speedway all along was positioning itself to assume the sanctioning of its own race and that happened in about 1997 or 1998. So USAC took a back seat and the IRL sanctioned its own race, so I went on down the road. But it was fun. You never know where you’re going to end up.

You’re also building a cabin in Sturgeon Lake, Ontario? Retirement plans?

I go up to mid-Canada in mid-June to clear the property that I bought last year and then back up for three weeks in late August to build the cabin and at least get it under roof and get the walls up. I’m not going to retire there probably. It’s about a 22 and a half hour drive from Cincinnati to the landing and then more time by boat. It’s also 90 minutes to the nearest town.

And that’s called fun?

It is incredible. This lake is 51 miles long and 8 1/2 miles wide at its widest point but it is more than a place to fish. It is a place to see God for me. It’s truly spiritual. When I can sit on my dock at 11:00 at night and watch the Northern Lights move through the sky, watch the satellites and count shooting stars, and see more than an occasional black bear and bald eagle, that’s a great time. I’d probably go if there wasn’t a fish in the lake.  It’s remarkable.

Conference has sessions for ‘Head of Staff’ roles

“Head of Staff” is a relatively new position to church administration and catches up such job titles as executive pastor, associate pastor, chief operating officer, chief of staff, and others.

It is also a function that the National Association of Church Business Administration is attempting to appeal to in its programming and membership efforts. (See comments of Chairman Jack Taylor in nearby interview.)

To that end, two Monday breakout sessions will be held at the NACBA’s convention July 12-16, in Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland, that focus directly on the Head of Staff role:

  • Mike Bonem, co-author with Roger Patterson of Leading From the Second Chair will bring a work session on the role of second chair leaders, at 1:00 pm. Bonem is minister of discipleship at West University Baptist Church in Houston.
  • Allen Walworth of Generis and Bonem are facilitating a roundtable discussion at a 3:45 p.m. session. Walworth led one congregation to move to a head of staff model in navigating the changes in relationships required.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer Phill Martin says that “we are aware that the demands of the head of staff role in a large congregation carry with it unique responsibilities that other administrative roles do not have.”

Keynote speakers and some 92 educational sessions on a variety of topics of interest to church administrators will occupy the week, plus the trade show of more than 200 exhibitors (including Church Executive).

The “growth experience” will be presented as well in four powerful speakers:

  • Dr. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources
  • Dave Ramsey, a personal money management expert and best selling author of The Total Money Makeover
  • Dr. Roberta Bondi, professor of church history emerita at Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Tim Sanders, sought-after speaker and experienced in cutting-edge businesses such as broadcast.com and Yahoo. Registration and program information is at nacba.net.


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