Passion for Potential

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

The CE Interview: Larry Brey, Campus Pastor, Elevation Church, Charlotte, NC

Larry Brey was a college professor and director of sports medicine at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC, when he decided he was created for more than what he had become. Against all logic, he joined a group of eight
families to follow a young, passionate pastor who wanted to change the world.

Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, would soon become one of America’s megachurches under the leadership of that young, passionate pastor: Steven Furtick. “Explosive” was how people described Elevation’s growth. In its first year, weekly attendance grew to more than 1,800.

Now, in its seventh year, Elevation welcomes 12,000 people each weekend across seven campuses.

“I think everyone [on the core team] knew very early on that God was going to do something big through Elevation; we just didn’t think it would be that fast,” says Brey.

But, fast didn’t mean easy. The year leading up to the church launch saw the core team wrestling with every imaginable curve ball, as well as some serious setbacks. On Feb. 5, 2006, when Elevation finally held its first Sunday experience in the auditorium of Providence High School, 121 people showed up. Brey, who took the attendance that Sunday, recalls the rundown: 98 adults, 23 kids.

Today, Brey serves as the campus pastor at Elevation’s University City location — and for the past seven years has been seeing people who are far from God raised into life in Christ.

What did the early days of Elevation Church look like? What was your role back then?

Those early days through the launch of the church were very hard. None of us were from Charlotte, and we had very few contacts in the city. Churches were starting left and right. People really didn’t want to be a part of something that didn’t exist yet.

As with any new church, everyone carried multiple roles. My official title was assimilation pastor, but you name it and I did it. I took care of facility rentals, volunteer scheduling, first-time guest follow-up, setting up mail and phone service, pulling trailers, and setting up our sound system until we launched. My biggest role revolved around creating a great guest experience and driving our first-time-guest follow-up processes.

When we started Elevation, we didn’t think of it becoming a multisite church; that came out of the rapid growth, and because we ran out of seats. When we launched a campus, we didn’t hire additional staff; we reallocated our current leadership staff and gave them additional duties. As we opened additional campuses, my role was to help launch the campus with the right structure and systems and to ensure that it operated with the right culture and DNA.

How does your role as campus pastor impact the entire Elevation movement?

As campus pastors, our primary role is to create an incredible weekend worship experience. It begins in the parking lot with an honoring and engaging experience from our guest services teams, and then flows through a seamless children’s-check-in experience, and continues through an amazing worship experience where guests feel like they’re in great hands because they know what’s coming next and are free from distractions. The impact is one life at a time.

When we can create a place where people feel loved and welcomed, where everything that happens makes sense, and where the sermon is engaging and applicable, lives will be transformed. We see it every weekend as God changes countless lives.

What does Elevation look for in a campus pastor?

We’re always looking for the best and the brightest leaders. The kind of people who would make great campus pastors are the ones who’ve been transformed by the church the most; the ones who “get” the vision and heart of the house.

The ones who aren’t looking for a stepping stone to the next thing, but are called to make an impact for a greater thing. People who are likeable and who make everyone around them better. They need to have the capacity to communicate in a compelling manner and multiply the culture/vision of Elevation in everyone who walks through the doors.

Is there competition among Elevation campus pastors?

I think anyone who’s a successful leader is competitive. The hard part is harnessing that spirit of competition into one that makes everyone better and raises the level of excellence. Pastor Steven is a fantastic leader in leveraging that spirit of competition. He has learned how to make us all better by fostering a healthy competition on our staff.

Often in a competition, there’s a winner and a loser. That’s divisive competition because it puts people on different teams. When that happens, people work against each other.

Healthy competition is when we recognize we’re teammates and we’re working for the same thing — to create the best possible worship experience, where people can meet Jesus. And if you have a better idea to accomplish that, and you’re getting better results, there’s something I need to learn from you!

Your weekly worship gathering happens at a YMCA facility. In this setting, what operational issues do you often have to address?

We have two permanent campuses and five portable campuses. The campus I oversee meets at a YMCA in the gymnasium. It’s by far our most portable campus and requires the greatest amount of gear, the greatest number of people engaged in the process, and the shortest tear-down time.

Because of the volume of gear and people required, we set up on Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Each Saturday, 120 volunteers will unload three 20-foot storage pods, two 16-foot trailers, two box trucks, and two 12-foot trailers. We set up the auditorium in the gym, where we put down a flooring surface; then, we set up a 40-foot-by-20-foot stage, three 16-foot-by-9-foot screens, 340 feet of 18-foot-tall velour pipe and drape, and 200 feet of 8-foot-tall pipe and drape. We bring six lighting trusses up two flights of stairs and run hundreds of feet of lighting, power and audio cable. We also set up more than a dozen rooms for our eKidz ministry, as well as stage all the hallways to look like Elevation. When we launched the campus, we realized the amount of work it would take to set it up. But, we embraced the challenge and, as Pastor Steven has taught us, “We think  inside the box.” What many would have seen as a huge obstacle to overcome with Saturday night set-up, turned into the greatest opportunity for our campus to develop community and instill the culture deep into the volunteer base.

What are the advantages of meeting for worship at a community facility?

Our operating costs are significantly decreased through renting a facility on the weekends. It’s a very cost-effective way to open new campuses. The rent we pay provides YMCA an income that helps it offer greater services to the community.

The advantage is not only financial. People come to YMCA on the weekends to work out, but then find a church meeting there. So, they come on in and worship with us, and many end up giving their lives to Christ — that never gets old!

How do you identify high-caliber people and develop them into church leaders?

LarryBrey-4I think that’s one question that every church is wrestling with. Excellence attracts excellence. If we operate at the highest capacity, people are drawn to that, and they want to be a part of it. Those people are walking in and out of our doors every weekend; our opportunity is to inspire them for something greater, something more.

One opportunity is to invite some of them to come on staff. But, the greater opportunity is for people to do what they’re doing in a greater way. We encourage and equip them to use their current platform to advance the kingdom, and we remind them that God has called them into the marketplace not just to survive it, but to transform it. We try to provide multiple on-ramps to help identify high-caliber people, such as volunteering, leading our small groups or [taking on] leadership [roles] based on their giving and generosity.

There are a lot of high-caliber leaders who need someone to step into their lives and challenge them for more. At Elevation, campus leaders and staff are the ones stepping into the traffic lanes and into people’s lives, inviting them into a life of greater.

How do you keep up with a visionary leader like Steven Furtick?

Pastor Steven is the most anointed and forward-thinking leader I’ve ever been around. He’s thinking months and years ahead of the rest of the church, and that’s the way it should be.

Our job isn’t to keep up with him, because we really can’t; our job is to keep him at the right altitude. When he’s at the right altitude, he can deal with things that only he can do. He’s getting time with God and seeking clear direction for the church. When he’s at that altitude, he’s looking at things from the right perspective and asking questions that can only be asked from that vantage point.

When we, as leaders, aren’t executing the things he’s entrusted to our care, it means that he has to come down to a lower altitude — air space we’re called to occupy — and deal with something he shouldn’t be touching. Every time that happens, it slows forward momentum. Our role is to do the things that we’re called to do, so that he can do the things that only he can do.

How does Elevation run a lean and mean megachurch?

Elevation has experienced explosive growth, with more than 12,000 people each weekend across our seven campuses in seven years of ministry. What God has done is incredible, and only he can take the credit. If we were to settle in and think we’ve arrived, we could let up. But we don’t think we’ve arrived; we really feel like we’re just getting started.

We don’t compare ourselves to what has happened; we compare ourselves to the need that exists.

There are more than one million people in the Charlotte area. When we compare ourselves against that need, we’ve barely scratched the surface.

We’re intentionally understaffed because our role isn’t to do the work of the ministry — it’s to equip the people for the work of the ministry. Elevation wouldn’t exist were it not for the thousands of volunteers who use their gifts for God’s glory each and every week. They really are the engine that makes everything happen. A great staff member is one that empowers people to do what they were created to do. If a staff member can’t figure that out, they won’t be on staff very long.

What’s the biggest strength that you bring to the leadership table at Elevation?

I think my greatest contribution to the staff is a relentless passion for creating a culture of honor. A culture that lives out 360 degrees of honor — honor for those above you, alongside you and entrusted to your care because of the position and potential of each individual in your life. That passion is constantly trying to raise the bar of our culture to a level consistent with the vision God gave Pastor Steven for Elevation.

What’s heavy on your heart as a church leader?

There’s greatness inside of everyone, and the burden I feel is the burden of complacency. People are settling for less than God’s best because good becomes good enough. Time talks people out of their dreams, or they feel like their past disqualifies them from their destiny.

I have an insatiable desire for people to step into the fullness of becoming the person God created them to be.

Larry Brey, campus pastor
Phone: (704) 246-0813 — Office
Twitter: @lbrey


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