Rethinking Hospitality and the New Normal in Your Church with Experience Director Melissa Meiner

Rethinking ‘Hospitality’ and the ‘New Normal’ with Melissa Meiner. Melissa is the Experience Director at Bay Hope Church and former vocalist for the band Bellarive.

On Instagram: @mrs_meiner, @leaderoaks, @bayhopechurch, @bellarive

Middle School Mike Mage with his Dwight Schrute haircut:


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage
Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast.

Welcome to the healthy church growth podcast where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means live. I am your host, Mike Mage. And once again, we’re so glad that you have joined us for these really great conversations that we are able to have with people in the church world leaders in the church world thought leaders in the church world, especially for all of us having to tread through this really weird time that we’re going through right now. We just we have a lot of questions, and there’s a lot going on. And so we want to be able to discuss that with people. But we also want to maybe dig down a little deeper into some some more timeless truths as well. And we think that we can find a lot of those in these conversations. And if you love these conversations, and you want to be more a part of them, feel free to subscribe to share and to rate these and really engage with us on all of our social media platforms at the Facebook and Instagram. And we just we would love to get to know you. We would love to engage with you and hear. How are you doing? And maybe we can get some conversations going on what you think healthy church growth looks like as well. Joining me as always is my co host, Justin. Justin, how’s it going, man?

Justin Price
What’s up Mike, it’s going great.

Mike Mage
Today we have on the podcast, a great interview, if I may say so myself from the experience director of the church that I actually work at bay hope church in Tampa, Florida. And yeah,

Justin Price
You were so natural on that interview. Oh, yeah. Thank you. Like, it’s like it was like you knew the guests for years.

Mike Mage
It’s like, I might have known Melissa Meiner since the day that she was born. Would you say that?

Justin Price
Yeah. That was the feeling that I got from it. And there’s nothing like an interview where it just feels that natural. So that was a cool man. Great job. It was one of your best.

Mike Mage
Well, for those of you wondering what in the world we’re talking about Melissa Meiner, who is the experience director at bay hope church and also an incredible worship leader, just happens to be my sister as well, who just raved before this podcast, Justin said that she was older than me and I will let you know she is not older than me, we are very close in age. But I am actually older than she is. And, Justin, what I’m what we’re leading into this interview, what are some thoughts you have going into this interview?

Justin Price
I think for anybody who thinks about what it’s like to direct the experience at church, when that’s a part of your job or your entire job like Melissa, is this conversation to me just kind of unearth what a difficult switch. It has been to change everything about your job to change all of the ways that you did your job. That’s right. Really, really, incredibly difficult to do and the attitude that I think she has taken through it is so encouraging. I kind of it’s like, man, I really can’t complain about the changes I’ve had when I think about like, she has got a great attitude about it. And I love her honesty that she doesn’t necessarily have everything figured out. But she’s got a couple things that have been working really well and I really just crazy crazy, inspired by what she is trying to accomplish so quickly and the changes that she’s made so fast that I think our listeners think you guys are going to really get a couple of great nuggets. I was thinking like when I listen to a podcast if there is one thing I could take away and implement, or remember or write down or share. That’s a good podcast for me. This one’s probably got two or three and I’m gonna say we should listen to Melissa Meiner interview with Mike Mage and I right now

Melissa Meiner
However, you can harness authenticity, transparency and vulnerable vulnerability in your environment, do it.

Mike Mage
Today on our podcast, we have someone who I happen to know pretty well. Her name is Melissa Meiner. And she just happens to be my sister. However, that is not the only qualification. That that’s the only that’s not the only reason she’s here with us on the podcast. She’s going to be she’s going to be talking to us about a lot of really great things, especially in this time that we find ourselves in this pandemic time. And so Melissa, thank you so much for joining us.

Melissa Meiner
Welcome. It’s an honor.

Mike Mage
And Melissa is currently the experienced director and a worship leader at bay hope church, and we’ll get into talking about that a little bit. But Justin, I think that as we started here, I think you said you had some things you want to ask Melissa before we got going.

Justin Price
I do. Thanks so much for being here Melissa, we we’ve been excited about it. Good. Yeah. Mike is always just telling stories family stories about you. And, you know, when you when you were kids and embarrassing you and I know you’ve, you’ve heard some of those and and I thought this is the the chance for you to kind of level the playing field a little bit. And so, you know, I had really just, I wanted to know what it is, is probably the most embarrassing story that you can share with our audience about Mike. That will not get him in trouble.

Melissa Meiner
Okay, legally, very good boundary to draw. Thank you for drawing the

Mike Mage
The only boundary

Melissa Meiner
Right. So Mike and I are extremely well relatively close in age. So we’re only like 20 months apart. And that has caused us to walk through life in like a stair step manner. So basically, whatever He did, I would follow. So he’s an amazing leader. amazing guy, love his family love his wife. Um, that was all the niceties. I got them out of the way. So, yeah, it’s the preamble

most embarrassing thing about Mike.

Well, it’s honestly it’s super hard to embarrass him. Because he is the life of the party, I would venture to say he gets away with a lot of stuff. He gets away with a ton of stuff that if it were like you, Justin and myself and Mike in a room, and we all three did the same thing. We would probably be forced out of the room or fired and he would just be having a grand old time. But in terms of embarrassment, I really want to hone in on his seventh grade wardrobe choices. So we went to

Mike Mage
Nobody has A good Middle School experience. Why are you doing this. This one thing

Justin Price
I love where this is going

Melissa Meiner
I honestly, I tell people that I kind of peaked in middle school in terms of how cool I was so that I had john lennon glasses and braces and my haircut looked like a men’s haircut. So that’s the best that you’re gonna get. Um, but I, he had this way about he was very stubborn about his wardrobe choices and in the middle of, I would say January or February. Now granted, this is Florida, so he wasn’t about to get hypothermia, but he would only only wear a short sleeve white shirt, like an undershirt wouldn’t wear anything over it. And then he would wear these very faded blue jeans and they were faded because he just wore them every day, and His hair was oddly reminiscent of the commonly known character of Dwight schrute from the office.

Justin Price
Like for real like, dude,

Melissa Meiner
it was it was so good. Um, but yeah, I will say that that’s a fairly embarrassing moment of Mike’s life now. It’s not really a moment it’s more of a stretch. It’s a I was an era, an embarrassing era. I can’t speak much more into that but not apart from that a moment that would be embarrassing was he left one shoe at the post office before his fifth grade year? One shoe, not both just one. He actually had to walk back in and ask for one shoe from the post office. So that was another embarrassing moment.

Mike Mage
I don’t know what I was doing or why it happened. But I used to take my shoes off in the car because we were waiting for Melissa in a voice lesson. So like what I need to make myself comfortable right. And somehow and I honestly I don’t know how it happened. But somehow I lost one shoe just one at a put at the post office because my mom had to go to the post office in between And she actually made me run in with one shoe on into the post office

Melissa Meiner
JustinIt was perfect. It was perfect

Mike Mage
to wait in line

Melissa Meiner
Disciplined.

Mike Mage
No, I even I was like, Yeah, my mom, get in there and ask about your shoe. As if someone is gonna return one shoe from the parking lot.

Justin Price
Did they have it?

Mike Mage
no

but it was the discipline of making a child go in to a public establishment with one shoe on. He learned his lesson Justin. He has both shoes on right now I think. Do you

Justin Price
are you wearing shoes at all?

Mike Mage
I am, no pants.

Melissa Meiner
I heard someone recently called jeans, hard pants.

They don’t want to wear anymore hard pants.

Justin Price
Well cool. I’m glad we got that out of the way. Thanks, Mike. Yeah,

thank you, Melissa. I will have that mental picture. In fact, I’m gonna maybe draw draw. I think that’s

Melissa Meiner
needed. Yeah, that

Justin Price
criminal sketches of MIke just so I could picture it.

Mike Mage
I wonder if we can put maybe on the healthy church growth website or something? Yeah, like, with the transcript or whatever, if we can put in with the notes like a picture of me in seventh grade.

Melissa Meiner
I think we need it.

Justin Price
I think our listeners should be going to the site right now. Yeah.

It’ll be in the show notes.

Melissa Meiner
Wow.

Mike Mage
All right. Well, thank you for joining us.

Melissa Meiner
I don’t need to do anything else. I am done.

Justin Price
Have a great night Melissa.

Melissa Meiner
Thanks so much.

Mike Mage
That’s all we needed. Okay, well, I’m too, maybe not better things, but maybe more important things as opposed to just roasting me. So we sort of we, you know, we sort of already established that you are the, obviously your worship leader and an incredible worship leader at that. But I would love to Know how you got to be at the position that you are in, obviously, you know, the experience director at bay hope church, maybe, maybe just give us a little bit of your backstory and in short format, obviously, but you know, how did you get to this this point to where we are now?

Melissa Meiner
Yeah. So, um, I started my relationship with Jesus in the sixth grade. And that was honestly where I started leading worship. So I’ve been leading worship for two decades plus at this point, which is really crazy to think about, and one of one of the marking moments was when I got into college, and we started a band that I know that Mike has talked about on this podcast called bellarive. And we were just able to go to a lot of different venues, we were able to go to a lot of different churches, see different demographics of people, hang out with them, worship with them, experience what their normal was, and just kind of learn how to lead worship in all these different avenues. It was so beautiful. So we did that for a while. I finished up college over at UCF and I was working at a church over in Orlando and I just I love the local church I love. I love the community that it brings. I love the life that it brings. I love that. We’re the plan that God has chosen. I think that that’s a really powerful thing. And I never ever want to make light of that. So after the season with bellarive, I decided to move back to Tampa, from Atlanta. And I actually started working at what was then Vandike church now Bay hope church and I was the student worship leader. Mike was the main worship leader at our main campus and it was super cool. I learned so much in that position and forever grateful to the leadership of Van Dyck now Bay hope and just what they were able to pour into me and they honestly brought out I would say gifts that I didn’t know that God had placed inside of me at that point and one of them is to kind of see the whole experience. And so my job transitioned from being the student worship leader into being the associate worship leader, which Mike was my boss, which was really fun. He fired me four times. Maybe five. No, I’m just kidding. I’m wonderful boss. Great guy. Great guy. He’s not sitting across the table from me.

Mike Mage
It didn’t lead to any awkward conversations.

Melissa Meiner
Totally fine.

Justin Price
And can we record your next performance review? That’s really good for audience.

Melissa Meiner
I would love that only with the picture of his seventh grade road. Oh, yes. really bring him back to humble station. Thanks. So then, yeah, our our boss, his name is Zack and he kind of asked me to step into this role of experienced director which has been super fun. So I’ve been doing that for about a year and a half now along with this other role, that called The Oaks director, which is a leadership development program that’s run out of Bay hope church for high school and college age kids. And it’s just a blast. I mean, I love what I get to do, I get to have my hand and a lot of different worlds. And I get to hang out with a lot of different people that have different passions, but the centering focal point is people connecting to a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ, and that’s never gonna get old. So I love it.

Justin Price
That’s awesome. And then two months ago, all of your experiences changed.

Melissa Meiner
flew right out every window that’s ever existed. Yep, just right. Gone.

Justin Price
So how stressful has that been for you to adjust and adapt so quickly?

Melissa Meiner
Yeah. I think one of the most beautiful parts Well, actually, I’ll stop and I’ll tell you where our church specifically was at the the week that we decided to close the doors. And we were actually renovating our sanctuary and so We were already displaced. And I think that that is such a looking back. That’s like such a beautiful thing that God had already done that he had already uprooted us from what was normal, because we were meeting in this room that could hold close to 900 and close to 1000 people every service. And then we were forced to go into the lobby because construction was starting on this new, you know, worship center. So we had 550 chairs, just packed like sardines into the lobby. And that was the week that you know, hand sanitizer started coming out and you started seeing a bunch of different stuff and we met there the next day as a staff and we prayed and everybody was socially distance. Some people were starting to wear masks, which was starting to be really weird and, and then leadership kind of made the decision to shut the physical doors and just blow open online campus and yeah, honestly, it has been so Powerful, I mean, to see the engagement of online campus has been one of the most encouraging parts of this whole, crazy wild journey. And it’s just reminded me that God is not surprised. He is not fearful, he is not. Under this COVID-19 anxiety, like he very much knows what’s going on. And I believe that this is a spark for the local church for the capital C church for a new wave of normal. And that is really exciting to me. And so, in the midst of that, absolutely everything changed. You know, I haven’t seen our guest services, volunteers and 11 weeks, as a long time to not see your volunteers, and I love them. And I love our worship team. And we haven’t seen the majority of them face to face since then. And so there’s definitely things that are different, but we’ve adapted we now have Have a studio. And that’s where we’re shooting all of our online campus. programming and content. And the team that we have at Bay Hope is really incredible. Actually, our other brother Andy is the head of the online campus. And he’s just the Lord has been working through him in ways that like, it’s just crazy. It’s so awesome to see. And, yeah, it’s it’s been wild, and it’s been crazy. But

Mike Mage
obviously, you’re the experienced director and part of your job is about production is about creating, you know, this thing that looks like a Sunday morning production or you know, something like that. How would you say? I mean, it me knowing you and me knowing your role, obviously a little bit more behind the scenes and everything. What is the difference between like experience and production? Sure. Does that make sense?

Melissa Meiner
Yeah, totally. So experience has its hand in the entire experience of what somebody will come on to campus and see and feel and know and understand. So apart from the worship 60 minutes or however long your service is that’s what I define as the production element of it so that’s what the tech that’s what the lights that’s with the sound. That’s what the worship team, the pastor the announcements offering, the specials, the communion, the baptism, that all of that stuff that is the production element of what the guests will experience but outside of that, it’s the parking lot. It’s the lobby, it’s the coffee if the it is the coffee good. Are the bathrooms clean? Is there a place for a young mom to go if their baby’s crying are people being kind when they’re being walked to their new kids room, stuff like that. So it’s, I don’t want to say quality control because that makes it sound like Like retail, but it’s making sure that the first time guest is experiencing the next level of hospitality. And the reason why we do that it’s very intentional because Andy Stanley has this visual of a funnel that everything at church is a funnel. And I get the honor to be the start of the funnel. So from the moment that they step onto the campus, are they experiencing Jesus even if they don’t know it yet? Is Is it engaging? Is it welcoming, because one thing can set somebody off, and then mate, who knows, like, who knows what their relationship will do with Jesus would be like, one way or another. And so our goal is to really make sure that they feel like they are wanted there and that they are welcome and that they’re not alone. And you know, the ultimate the final goal is that they would engage with Jesus and that their life would be changed and then their family would be changed and then they would bring their friends and that they have experience that. So I would say that production is definitely a huge component. And I have my hand in that as well. But for me, it’s more of the global Yeah. Sunday morning experience. Right. Right.

Justin Price
It sounds it sounds like some churches might call that a hospitality mixed in with maybe just giving a hospitality position a bit more oversight and ownership.

Melissa Meiner
Yeah,definitely.

Mike Mage
Well, and like one of the reasons that I think it’s it’s cool that we’re talking about this is because, you know, most churches I think in America don’t have either the bandwidth or even the budget really to like and I think it is becoming more of a thing though hospitality is people are starting to understand more and more that like this experience is goes beyond the 60 minutes service or however long your services and extends far beyond what’s after in what’s before it, but I just I remember and just I don’t know if You are we’re like this at all like when you were working in churches, but when I was the worship leader at a smaller church, the idea that church started when someone arrived on campus, and that it didn’t, that it ended when people drove off the campus, and even extended when they’re in their car after that as well, like those thoughts never crept into my mind. And so I just, I think it’s it’s super important for whoever’s listening, whether you’re, whether you’re the worship leader, or whether you’re the communications person or even, you know, some sort of in the creative arts department. What you’re doing is impacting and affecting a lot more than just that moment that you’re doing something this Yep, it just did you have those thoughts at all, when you were leading worship at a church because I definitely didn’t.

Justin Price
Early early on, I didn’t but I think as a creative director, I had some really great mentors who were both experiential designers. So they, you know, they were doing digital things that were pretty groundbreaking I think and helped me understand how to translate that to the church. And then also had, I got connected with a friend of mine, named her name is Jacki Arena. And she’s a hospitality designer. So she just, she’s the one who like designs, all of the rules for Marriott, and for like, these big, you know, hotel brands. And so she was going to the church and she’s like, I feel like God’s called me to volunteer somehow, but like, I don’t really know how and I was like, This is crazy. Yeah. And so she actually helped a lot and I was like, man, every church building should be treated like a hospitality building. Totally. And we should think through like the like, and this is somebody who’s dedicated their whole career. I mean, she’s, she’s been doing this for 25 years. She has designed hotels all over the country and different countries. So she brought in everything from just, you know, material wear and tear to the design of materials to understanding and picking surfaces that you touch. how that translates to the user that we were going after the specific type of audience we wanted at that church. And then that kind of worked so well, when we redesigned and started to take the brand into a physical form that we actually said, we’re going to carry this all the way to the ends of the property. And so the Front Entry signage, we wanted to carry the brand story all the way from there. And so as you came in, and as you entered, we were starting to tell this story, what was what God was doing and what we intended for people to do. And that sounds like really philosophical, but it was as simple as like, we put out signs on an A frame, right? And that started preparing people to think about it and it wasn’t because we saw some other church doing it. It was it was beautiful. It was becoming we felt like God was calling us to do something with our, with our congregation.

Mike Mage
Let’s think about that for just a second. So, like a church who might not have, you know, the budget or the capacity to think or to hire like a hospitality or experienced director? What are some like? What are some tips that you could give them some practical ideas on how they can think outside of just the music or outside of just the message or outside of how do these lights look? You know, what are some tips to maybe get them thinking outside of the production element of the service?

Melissa Meiner
Sure. I think a main thing for me is I try to pray three words, over and over, either when I’m leading worship or just leading a group of people, whether it’s the Oaks kids or whether it’s in a hospitality setting, and it’s authenticity, transparency and vulnerability. And those three keys I feel like are going to unlock A lot of things in people’s lives. And so However, you can harness authenticity, transparency and vulnerability in your environment, do it. For us, that looks a lot like in our lobby, we have a lot of space that are that’s open, where people can stand and they can talk to one another. But we also have spaces where you can sit and you can kind of huddle. And I’ve seen people use that space to talk and to hang out and sometimes they’re praying and sometimes it becomes like this like super sacred moment and you’re like, Oh my gosh, I gotta get out of here, you know, like, but I would say whatever it takes to allow people to be real and to to fight the monster of having to button up to come to church. I don’t think that that has any sort of room in our culture today because everything is so levelled, especially right now, and I think that that’s going to be part of the new normal walking into churches is the megachurch pastor and the worship leader that is faithfully shepherding his flock of 72 people. They’re on the same level right now. And they’re on the same social media platform, and they’re on the same YouTube. And I just think it’s going to be really important to put your best foot forward that people might be honest. And so that’s a tip. However, you can harness that honesty. I think that not every church is the same. I think that whoever’s listening you have different demographic of people I am no I am in no way, shape or form claiming to be an expert on anything. But I do know that God has put you in this place for a specific reason. And so however you can seek God within your strategy for the new normal, I think is is really critical. And I’m reading through Genesis right now. And so I’m reading Through these different characters, and it’s wild and untamed and so crazy, and I’m reading through Joseph, and he’s an amazing leader, because he has taken his circumstance and his situation. You know, his other brothers, they left him for dead literally, they thought he was dead for years and years. Lo and behold, he’s like second in command of all of Egypt. And he has this dream, and he tells them and that’s how this whole thing starts. And then the dream comes true. And there’s a famine and, you know, he has this incredible head on his shoulders where he’s able to pull his perspective out of the current moment and look at all of it and he was able to say to his brothers, don’t be upset, don’t be angry, because God has preserved life through this situation. And to, to have that sort of mentality in what we’re walking through right now to pull yourself out of whatever situation you might be walking through. Whatever demographic you might be leading into, just say, like, God’s doing a good work here. How can I harness that in every aspect of what somebody is going to see touch, feel, hear, drink, if it’s coffee, you know, how can I harness that for the good?

Justin Price
I want to I do really want to ask you about this, like so you used to be able to impact people’s experience by offering services, whether that would be mints in the bathroom, totally making sure that the bathrooms were clean, you had coffee, and now you are in this level playing field going against productions. pastors, worship teams, who have access to your audience now, right. 24 seven, and they, you know, they’re different. And again, I it’s hard to say they’re not competition, but they’re certainly vying for for people’s time. And you want to create that experience that God has called you guys to do but, you’ve lost like all of the tools in your tool belt like the the different pieces that you would typically be able to get their attention with when you could even hold their attention on your campus and maybe put them in a socially an environment where it was socially unacceptable to be just staring at their phone the whole time now, you only have the phone to talk to them and those texts still come through. Yeah, those Instagram you know, notifications still pop up in the middle of your worship set. So Holy cow, and that’s why I’m like How are you? How are you even awake right now? How are you not stressed out or, or mental hospital because, you know, that is such a difficult thing to just to take on. You know and I I’m guessing I think your team has done an amazing job. You guys really are absolutely killing it. But you know, man, what a crazy thought to think like, why can’t you use your volunteer team to to be somehow engaging online, right? Have you figured that out? Have you hit any hurdles with that? Is there things that you’ve been able to transition? to kind of bring that to life?

Melissa Meiner
Yeah, I think that that’s an awesome question. And I had I pulled up this. I have a manila folder for all things reopening. And it’s just getting bigger. And because there’s just more things coming out every day, but Tony Morgan, his unstuck group did a survey of 500 churches in one of the first weeks of April, and they were talking about online engagement and offering online services and yada yada yada and some of the data has been, like pretty incredible. So only half of the churches that were surveyed had online campuses, online services before the crisis. The larger the church, the more likely they were to be offering online services, but now nearly, well, sorry, nearly 80% of mega churches had online services. before the crisis will only 27% of small churches had an online option. Now, almost all churches are using online services in some format, only 5% of churches that they interviewed in all 500, 5% of church churches do not have online options. So like the way that the local church has pivoted has been remarkable. And it’s so cool. It’s so it’s beautiful to see the online engagement, the guest services volunteers, something that we’ve been that we’ve been doing Justin as we have virtual lobbies before the service. And so our guest services coordinator, she’s on there, one of our pastors is on there. And some of our guest services team hop on there just to like, say, hey, and that has seen, like increased engagement every week, which is really cool. And you’re not talking about anything groundbreaking. I mean, it’s 10 or 15 minutes before the online stream starts. You know, it’s an open zoom and we have people but the really cool thing about that is that it’s a lot of. The older demographic, yeah, it’s a lot of the 60 plus people that have been stuck inside their house, and they are just loving it. And, you know, and so we say like, Alright guys, like, go find your seat in the worst, you know, and like, they just turn off the zoom call, and then they’re into church. And so I would say that there’s definitely ways that that we have started to engage people. That’s cool. Yeah. And and the new normal is definitely going to be something that we all have to get used to. But I think if, you know, the virtual lobby works for our church, it might not work for another church, that that could be listening, but there are things that we can do creatively, to engage our community. It’s just been really powerful.

Mike Mage
Yeah, churches are talking more and more about reopening. And I know that for you, that is a slew of problems to solve and just new situations or rising and all that kind of stuff. So as churches begin to like open back up, how are our experiences going to be different? Like, what do you think we should be expecting? And maybe like a 30,000 foot level maybe like on the ground floor level, you know, somewhere in between? I don’t know. Yeah, what you’re thinking of?

Melissa Meiner
Yeah. So the 30,000 foot level is that no one’s done this. Yeah. So this is all brand new territory. So please just extend grace to yourself, extend grace to your team. The ground is ripe for things to fall through the cracks, and that’s okay. Because this is, this is really difficult. And one of the local churches main taglines, since I’ve been a part of it, is we’re just going to keep doing it this way. Because we’ve always done it this way.

Mike Mage
You’re talking like church, big, big church.

Melissa Meiner
capital C church, we’re going to continue to do it this way, even though it hasn’t worked in years, because we’ve always done it this way and I have always loathed that comment. I am not one for just letting things be swept under the carpet like that are swept under the rug. Some sort of thing that you put on the ground. That’s fluffy. That’s not

Justin Price
that’s a red flag comment for me. Anytime I hear that I’m like, woah,

Melissa Meiner
Yes. Yeah, like why why did we not? Yeah, it lazy at best. Yeah, and much worse. It could. It could be really yeah. So anytime I hear that I kind of cringy church comment, but that’s not really able to be used right now. And like that’s really awesome because that means that we are allowed to do things that are new, that are fresh, that are going to be part of the new normal. And I’ve been working a lot with I wouldn’t say a lot but I’ve been Working some with this guy. His name is Reverend Alex Shanks and he’s brilliant. He’s a brilliant mind. He’s from the United Methodist conference and he had written this post about why reopening church is different than like reopening a retail store. And he, he basically said, returning to the way things used to be would fly in the face of the Jesus who warned against pouring new wine into old wine skins. We are creatures of habit and averse to change. So we will have to make every effort to create a new model of church. And I love that.

Justin Price
Drop the mic.

Melissa Meiner
Yeah, seriously, like, it’s so encouraging. Because, like, Jesus was the one that said that. Yeah, you know, like, it wasn’t like Alex was the one that originally said that like Jesus was the one that was like, it’s okay to do new stuff. Yeah, and it’s not gonna work the old way anymore. And at best, it’s gonna break both right? So like, just go ahead and move into the new territory. So I’ve been using that as a ton of encouragement. And so hopefully for you guys that are listening, like just be encouraged and know that it’s gonna feel different. And I think that that’s a really great place to be. So that’s some of the 30,000 foot level, the more on the ground stuff. I know that you guys are probably working with some sort of other person, whether it’s a part time person, full time person, maybe you have a staff that’s really large, maybe the staff isn’t so big, but I think one of the main things is to over communicate to your staff right now. I don’t think that you can communicate enough. There’s so many news articles that are coming out every day, every hour, every minute, it feels like something is different and changing and the guidelines and the protocol and the phases and the this and that and it’s just so much onslaught that there’s no there’s no greater way to validate your team’s worth than to communicate with them. At this point, so communicate anything communicate what you’ve heard the latest updates to be, what the plan is currently, how you’re currently planning to accomplish the plan. You know, I had a great leadership mentor that said, plan the work and work the plan. And that’s really, he operated his life out of that. So and once again, there’s going to be, as we get closer and more churches start to open. We’ve already heard rumblings of that here in the Tampa Bay area. I would highly encourage you to extend grace to your members that are asking the question, when are we going to open again, because to say I don’t know, is a totally honest response. And you can you can fill that comment with grace and I would highly encourage you to do that.

Justin Price
When are you guys going to open up again?

Melissa Meiner
We don’t know. We are we are looking at it right now. One of the main so I’ve kind of crafted around the reopening plan. Since a lot of it has fallen into my lap, not all of it, praise Him, but some of it has. My mission is for everybody that walks onto the campus, no matter what age where you come from that they that they would be safe, and that they would feel safe. And we have an amazing facilities team here. So the being safe is going to come way more quickly than the feeling safe. And you know, I’ve been thinking about the five year old and the 85 year old that are going to want to walk back onto campus on the same day, and they’re going to need different things. And I want to open when both of them feel like they can have an experience worth attending.

Justin Price
I think like what’s at stake? I don’t know how if we have to like spend much time on it, but what’s at stake is just being that church that had a big outbreak, and what that would cost and I think, not what it would cost your reputation or your brand but the fact that you would be putting your congregation at risk for that, you know, and to lose, you know, members of your church because you really couldn’t wait to have worship back in the in the sanctuary together.

Melissa Meiner
Right.

Justin Price
And that’s just that’s a very, very difficult weight to bear. I think for every staff right now, totally. Man, and I’m super grateful that I don’t have to make that decision.

Melissa Meiner
I know, it’s hard. And, you know, the words mitigating risk. If I could, I could make a million dollars if I would get $1 every time I heard that phrase, but that’s really the number one question right now. And I know it’s uncomfortable. I know it’s not always fun to stay at home or to wear a mask inside of a target or whatever. But a lot of people are under the assumption and the awareness that they’re not doing. Those things for themselves, you know, they’re doing those things for the safety of other people. And I think that that’s a really beautiful missional mindset to the whole COVID-19 thing is to just acknowledge, like, I am not the only human that exists. This is not all about my comfort. I am going to stay home when I would rather go to my favorite restaurant tonight. You know, that’s a it’s flying in the face of the selfishness of the Western culture. And I think it’s calling out a lot of really hard things that we’ve been unable to process in the past and it’s literally making us stare at it. In the face.

Mike Mage
Yeah. So I know you’ve been, you know, talking about reopening and everything I know you’ve been talking to a lot of pastors and church leaders in at least the Florida conference, the Florida area, and where Bay hope is, you know, United Methodist Church, so uh, you obviously have been in contact with a lot of United Methodist Church pastors. What is like the general, You know, the general feeling about reopening?

Melissa Meiner
So there’s, I’ve been able to be on a call with small churches that are desperate to open. And then larger churches that have a thriving online platform that could stand to wait a few weeks and or months. Yeah, I mean, there, there’s a church in the area that doesn’t want to open until there’s a vaccine. And, and that’s a hard thing, you know, but then you look back at their demographic, and it makes total sense because they don’t want to put anybody at risk.

Mike Mage
Right. They don’t want to be the cause.

Melissa Meiner
Absolutely. So I the general feeling is that no one wants to do the wrong thing.

Mike Mage
Yeah.

Melissa Meiner
And that’s really difficult. I think. I’m trying to minimize the risk trying to let everyone know that the staff and the volunteers are looking out for the well being that’s a that’s very much a red thread through the conversation. There’s a lot of offshoots of that, you know, broad strokes, there’s nothing that you’re going to touch anymore on a campus and if you are, they’re going to wash it after you leave. That’s a very, very general thing. Like no more offering passing, no more. communion, no more handouts, no more this no more that was communion just in the way in a different way. Everything’s going to be pivoted to allot for safety. Yeah. Which is, I think is great, you know. So that’s some of the general feel some and then. So that’s like the middle of the road, where everybody it’s like a Venn diagram, you know, of extremes of people really, really wanting to open early and then people really, really, really wanting to wait. And so that’s kind of the middle and then some of the outliers are some people have already opened You know, 4% of churches have already opened or never closed, and just kind of flew under the radar, you know, like that’s in this unstuck group thing. Like, that’s wild to me. And then there’s churches that are going to mandate masks. There’s churches that have, there’s a huge debate going on right now about congregational singing. And so being aware of that, and knowing that singing in the how loud you talk or how soft you talk has an effect on the droplets that are being released into the air and I am not a scientist and I do not pretend to be but these are the small things that I know is that it goes further if you talk louder, or if you’re singing, that’s an outbreak that happened out west. You know, a lot of people got sick out there because of that. Yeah. So you really have to weigh a lot of factors. And I just keep coming back to the reality of like, God put you here. You’re here man, like and it’s a crazy season. To be here, but you’re here and God trusts you with your people.

Mike Mage
Well, and the reason I asked, I asked all these questions is just, I think the biggest thing that we can all come back to is kind of what you said earlier in, that no one has done this before, specifically in this context. And I know that a lot of people, you know, you go online, and you Oh, what songs are the is this church doing? What are the children’s stuff that this church is doing? What? You know, what design elements is this church doing or whatever, but like there is no consensus when it comes to reopening your church and how to experience church in this day and age, especially as we move forward over the next couple of months. So I think what Melissa said is right is just give yourself some grace. And, you know, maybe like, it’s okay that you think this is really hard because it Really is.

Melissa Meiner
Genuinely just is.

Mike Mage
Justin, do you have anything else as we finish up here?

Justin Price
I have so many questions right now that I’m trying to process what would be most valuable to talk about. Because, man, there’s just my my biggest takeaway this is this is unfortunately, part of my personality of that I believe there’s just a lot of room for us to get better. Yeah. I you know, and I think that there is an online experience that is proven itself. But quite if I, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I’m tired of the online church experience.

Mike Mage
I think a ton of people are

Justin Price
I think it’s that there’s not enough engagement and interaction. I think that sure I don’t go to church to be talked to. I go to church because of the community that’s there. And right now, the way most churches are doing online church does not actually provide that even I love the lobby, the open lobby thing that you had brought up. I have not heard of that, or I had not seen that. Yeah, I just I don’t think that what we’re doing right now can replace church. And that might be why so many people are anxious to get back to church. And for me personally, you know, I would love to have another conversation with you, Melissa just helped challenge and how even just like hear how you’re processing and making better because you guys are doing so many great things. But I feel like there is the answer is not to go run back to church necessarily, but maybe to figure out what steps we’re missing in the online experience, and that people are actually potentially on our campus. And we’re not yet designing the experience for them on our digital campus or, you know, and that, really they’re living with us all the time. And how well are we using our apps you know, some of us have these apps that we just push out sermons on. But our apps can turn on notifications. And we can be communicating with our, with our congregation so many more times than we are with. And we can also segment those communications. So, you know, there are, to me a lot of untouched things that are super hard and I’m not being judgmental or blaming anybody who’s figuring this out for the first time right now. But I really do. I think there is a lot of room for us to grow the church. We know there’s a viable market for online church campuses. Now the question is, how can we make that a good experience? Yeah. I you know, so, anyways, that’s, that is where my head is at right now. Is that I think, Mike, we’d need to do a follow up.

Mike Mage
That sounds good. Well, Melissa, this has been incredible. And I would love to have you on again, just like Justin said, Is there any sort of parting wisdom you’d like to leave our audience

Melissa Meiner
Well, probably not wisdom, but words short, I just want to encourage whoever’s listening that the new normal will be worth it. You are actually living in the new normal, whatever your new normal is right now. And I, I believe that God has shaken the religious Foundation, not his relationship with you, but the religious foundation of where we are as a culture. And it’s going to be a beautiful outcome. And so, if you are at your wits end right now, I am just I am praying that you would be able to fall back into your relationship with Jesus and know that he is so proud of you right now. He It’s been a long couple of weeks for all of us. And it’s been a long couple months and I don’t think it’s it’s going to be over anytime soon. But please press on. Don’t give up meeting together whether it’s online for right now. In the interim or in person. It is worth it. And God is seen in that community. So yeah, I just think take heart. Yeah, because he’s overcome the world. And he’s not afraid of what’s going on right now. Sure. And I am so super, super honored that I got to hang out with you guys today.

Mike Mage
Well, thank you so much. And if you want to find Melissa on Instagram, which is where she probably is the most, I would guess first.

Melissa Meiner
I definitely don’t have a tick tock, not because I don’t want one but because I don’t understand it. So if someone wants to teach me how to tik tok, well, that’s gonna be my new normal.

Mike Mage
you can teach Melissa to tick tock on her Instagram. Yes, @Mrs_meiner which is her last name. You can find her there. And then also another thing I do want to talk to you about at some point is the Oaks development program. Yeah, where can where Can someone find out a little bit more about Oak

Melissa Meiner
Before we do that podcast, we have a website called oaksleader.com. Yeah. And you can go there you can go to @leaderoaks on so you just switch them around on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter.

Mike Mage
Cool. Yeah. Awesome. Well, so cool. Thank you so much. Absolutely. So for joining us,

Justin Price
it’s been a pleasure. Thanks. I did I really I really want to close out with just saying thank you for I love your positive outlook. I know I’m over here like I can’t get better right now. And you’re just like, take heart. I really do. I love your outlook in your attitude. I think you are doing a really great job. And

Thanks, Melissa. It’s been super encouraging for me. I am not going to sleep tonight. My wheels are spinning.

Melissa Meiner
Awesome. Thanks, guys.

Justin Price
Mike, I don’t think it’s really fair that Melissa got a chance to tell an embarrassing story about you. It was nice that we didn’t embarrass her you know.

Next time we get her on the podcast, I think it’s only fair that you, as the older brother get to say to tell an embarrasing story.

Mike Mage
I think that that’s that. Yeah, that’s a good one. She, she might have a few. And you, the audience will just have to just hold on to that. Just hold on to that little thing in the back of your brain. You know, there’s there’s some things about Melissa Meiner, that might be a tad bit embarrassing, but it’s fine. I think, Yeah, probably. It’s probably podcasting one on one not to embarrass your guests. So I’ll take the brunt of that, you know, I’ll sacrifice my pride for that. And that’s fine.

Justin Price
You know, it’s it was kind of weird to think we’re on. We’ve done more than a dozen interviews so far on this podcast, and that was our first female. I definitely think we need to hear some more women who are working in this department. But really, Mike, what did you feel like was the biggest takeaway from the conversation with Melissa?

Mike Mage
I think at best She’s in between a rock and a hard place at worst, you know, it just it can get so much harder than that. And this situation that we’re in So as of recording this, you know, it’s May 2020. And our entire world has been disrupted. And then you know, her entire job is to create an experience that is engaging and connects people to Jesus and kinda like she said in the interview, there are so many of you listening that don’t have someone who is just like, dedicated to creating that experience. And you know, it is even harder for you and so like we empathize with you, I mean, we, this is something that we are all figuring out together. And I think it’s it’s actually kind of a beautiful thing that this this might be opening up a lot of conversations with churches who might not be talking to each other. You know, but just trying to figure out what are you what are you doing Church down the street church around the corner like how are you guys doing this? Why are you doing this? When are you opening? And you know, I feel like a lot of churches just want to be on the same page. And so if that’s you, if you are having to control or create or direct or plan, some sort of experience that some level of your leadership is talking about reopening up, don’t hesitate to talk to other churches around you. Or maybe you know, get in contact with us. Maybe leave us a comment. Leave us a message on Instagram or Facebook. You know, we would love to have that conversation with you as well.

Justin Price
I think that’s a great point, Mike, that she’s between a rock and a hard place. I think for me, walking away from that conversation with her admitting that I’m struggling with the experience I’m getting from my church right now. Is not critical at my church. Like I think that I mean, I think every church leader right now just deserves a huge you know, standing ovation. For what they have accomplished the fact that, you know, online churches at 90, high, mid 90s percentage wise, you know, just goes to say like man congregations are trying so hard staffs are trying really hard. Everybody’s, you know, kind of in it. But But feeling the burn, you know, Mike I knew we were just talking about how just and they’re kind of tired of being in emergency mode. You know, you can do that for a month, you can do that maybe for two, we’re getting into this like stretch of like, this doesn’t feel good anymore. And now we got to figure out a new, a new normal and, you know, I just besides the empathy I feel for what she’s doing and and the encouragement, inspiration I feel from her, you know, energy to keep going. I just, you know, I want to challenge I hope, I hope that everybody feels challenged to continue to think through the user experience of what it’s like to be a part of their church right now.

Mike Mage
Well, once again, thank you so much for listening to this healthy church growth podcast. We are so grateful that you have joined us. We’re about this was our 13th podcasts. And we would love to keep continue on with this. But we can’t do this without you. So make sure to share to subscribe to rate to you know, follow us on our Instagram or Facebook account and engage with us there. We’re trying to get on there more to have conversations with you and find out how things are going with you as well. So, thanks again for listening to healthy church growth podcasts where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life.