Executive Pastor | Elevate Life Church | Jacksonville, FL
By Rez Gopez-Sindac
Mark Mellen was 26 years old and a homeless drug addict when God called him out of misery into a life of purpose. After finishing college with a degree in finance, he went to Bethel Seminary and graduated with a master’s of arts in theological studies.
The best learnings, however, came from ministry experiences and mentorship from church leaders who, Mellen says, “took a shot on me.” At different times, from 2008 to 2013, Mellen served on staff at Substance Church (MN) and Church of the Highlands (AL) — two of the country’s fastest-growing churches — where he took leadership roles in the launch of satellite locations, leadership development, church growth and discipleship.
In January 2014, Mellen moved his family to Florida to join the team at Elevate Life Church. As the executive pastor, he serves alongside lead pastor Tim Staier, supporting him and the rest of the staff so they can live out their calling. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says.
What are you passionate about as executive pastor of Elevate Life Church?
I get excited about helping others live out their callings. I feel this role empowers me to do this. I get excited about helping my pastors execute the vision they have for our church. I get to help develop our staff and release them to fulfill God’s call on their lives. I get to help the people in our church discover what God has created them to do and equip them for ministry.
What attracts people to Elevate?
Pastor Tim is an amazing communicator and has a unique ability to share profound biblical truths in a relevant way. The Sunday morning experience is about reaching those far from God and helping them experience Christ. We have created a culture of invitation so that everyone feels comfortable inviting those in their personal circles. We work all week to create an environment that removes distractions and allows people to encounter Jesus.
How important is your relationship with Pastor Tim to your church’s health?
Pastor Tim is not only my pastor, but also one of my closest friends in the world. We spend a lot of time together throughout the week talking through church stuff, life stuff, and just hanging out as friends. Our relationship is absolutely important to the health of the church. The time we spend together allows me to constantly learn the heart and vision of Pastor Tim and Kristal. My job is to execute their vision. If we’re not on the same page, it will cause chaos and confusion in the staff and in the church. Alignment of vision creates alignment on the team, which is essential for an efficient and effective team achieving increasingly better results now and in the future.
What projects or efforts have you led since coming on board as Elevate’s executive pastor?
Answering questions like:
• Who are we as a staff?
• How do we behave?
• What do we reward?
• Writing down and managing our behavioral and cultural values for staff is critical to creating a strong healthy staff culture.
• No Limits is our campaign to buy land and build our first building. Our goal was $1 million. Within a year, we raised $1.2 million.
• Buying Land
• We bought 25 acres of land in the heart of Oakleaf for $1 million.
• We went from two weekend services to five, including two video services.
Launch of New Campus
• The Fleming Island location launched with 571 in attendance and is averaging 400 on weekends.
Any lessons learned?
Culture is everything. We take staff culture and how we behave as a team seriously. This has allowed our small staff to accomplish some amazing things. We believe a healthy staff culture leads to low turnover, low politics and high morale. We base our reviews on our eight values, and we value attitude over aptitude.
Tell us more about the No Limits campaign.
This has been an amazing move of God! Just a year ago, we announced the launch of our No Limits campaign to build Elevate Life Church’s first permanent facility. The high school where we were meeting had laid down the gauntlet: make significant steps toward your long-term location or be forced out. We knew there were no viable options to lease or purchase existing space in our community. With the school’s deadline of June 30th looming and only one option left, the people of Elevate Life Church stepped up.
I saw the poorest family in our church scrape together every valuable they could find and sell it to help build a place for us to call home. I saw more than one family liquidate their entire retirement savings to invest in something they believed was even more important than their own financial security. It was the greatest movement of sacrificial generosity I have ever personally witnessed. When all was done, the people of our church had given $450,000 — half our annual budget — in one day, and a total of $1.2 million in cash, plus pledges. Their response allowed us to purchase 25 acres of prime property in the heart of our community for just $990,000 — almost half the market value. This has bought us some much-needed time with the school.
As the year went on, we felt God calling us to launch our first satellite campus. So, in the middle of our campaign, the people of Elevate Life rallied behind another audacious goal to launch a new location with two services. On Feb. 8, 2015, our Fleming Island campus launched with 571 in attendance. A month and a half later, we finished out our No Limits campaign. The people of Elevate life not only started well, but they finished with an extreme level of generosity. We hope to break ground this fall on an 800-seat auditorium.
What challenges are inherent in the type of venues your church uses?
Our cafetorium is the worst. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. We use pipe and drape and mobile walls heavily. Our setup takes six hours from start to finish.
How involved are you in leadership development at Elevate?
I am heavily involved in our leadership development. We have a hire-within culture and use our Elevate Leadership Academy (ELA) program to raise up, train and develop future staff. ELA is a leadership program that helps enhance people’s leadership skills in ways that are both applicable in the for-profit and nonprofit environments. All the while giving them a hands-on look at what full-time ministry is like. This allows them to grow in their leadership while finding out if full-time ministry is for them.
What do you need to be more effective in this role?
I need to clearly understand my pastor’s vision and goals, which is why my relationship with them is so important. I need a team that is humble, teachable and willing to work hard to make the vision a reality. I need mentors in my life that have been here before.
How do you see your role evolving in the next few years?
Right now, we have a small staff, and I play a few key roles. I would see my role become more specialized into staff development, strategic planning, initiative execution, and making my pastor’s vision a reality.
Quick Facts about Elevate Life Church
Year started: 2010
Lead pastor: Tim Staier
Number of locations: 2
Combined weekly attendance: 1,600
2015 budget: $1.4 million