Leadership Spotlight: Chris Gunnare, Lutheran Church of Hope

Leadership Spotlight: Chris Gunnare, Lutheran Church of Hope

Lutheran Church of Hope COO oversees a three-campus expansion.

Lutheran Church of Hope is growing. Can you give us an overview of that growth?
Hope kicked off in 1991. By the end of the year, it was about 50 people. It basically doubled at a pace of every three to four years. Today, at West Des Moines alone, we're pushing 9,000 people each weekend. In addition to our three other campuses, that pushes attendance over 10,000.

Today you have four campuses? And three of them are expanding?
Yes. We have four campuses here at Lutheran Church of Hope: Hope West Des Moines, Hope Ankeny, Hope Des Moines, and Hope Johnston-Grimes. We have growth occurring across each.

One of the projects is particularly interestinga partnership with a local YMCA. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, that's the most unique. Vernon Delpesce, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, and I have been talking for years about what this might look like. We both felt we had buildings that were busy, yet with times when we were empty, making them available to partnerships. 

After several years of prayer and conversation, along with individuals from both of our boards working together, we put together a project. They're going to build a 60,000-square-foot site, in addition to a 13,000-square-foot dedicated space for the church. There will be two entrances: one will be Hope, one will be the YMCA.  Both entrances will lead to a shared common area enabling both organizations' members to use either entrance.
They have an opportunity to have a partner they know can help offset some of the costs of parking and shared space. We have a 24-hour service space and times during the week with exclusive access to shared space. So, it really became a win-win.

Is this the first church-YMCA partnership of its kind?
We talked to several churches throughout the country that had similar partnerships, but none had gone quite in this directionsome churches rented space, others bought land together, some even built separate facilities on the shared land. All are different for various reasons, but ours is unique. We are really excited to move forward. 

How did Lutheran Church of Hope manage to fund all of its projects?
We decided to do a giving campaign beginning Thanksgiving 2013 called "Building Hope Together." Each of three campuses had separate campaigns for three separate projects, and, as God would have it, all three of them were successful.

The total of the projects is roughly around $11 million, but all of our campuses have had separate funds from Day #1. General funds, building funds­every dollar given to a campaign stays within that campus. Each campus had approval from the congregation, which specified the maximum debt and maximum cost for each project. Each had a minimum goal they had to reach in raising pledges and commitments for three years. Each went and did that. Praise God!

And you yourself have quite a bit of experience. Didn't you come from a commercial position?

Yes. I come from hospitality, as COO and general manager of a string of hotels and restaurants, where I had the opportunity to build and remodel several properties.

How did you come to be COO of Lutheran Church of Hope?
I was on the church counsel. I was very involved in the building teams and capital campaigns as a volunteer on the church Board for about two years. I received a call from our Senior Pastor, who told me he had found the Executive Pastor our church needed. I said, "Praise God." Then, our Senior Pastor told me, "It's you." I laughed; he didn't. Over the next several months as we would talk, he kept telling me, "Keep praying on it."
I woke up one morning and told my wife, "Let's do it." I took a pretty significant pay cut, obviously. The fact is, I was giving up a good 60 percent of my pay, but it didn't matter. I have never looked backit has been an amazing ride.

In your nine years, you have seen a lot change here, haven't you?

Yes. There is always something changing. We're consistently looking at certain areas of the ministrythe way we do finances, the way we do administration, the way we do adult ministry, the way we do children's ministry. It's always ongoing.  Trying to find the best method to carry out our mission, to reach out to the world around us and share the everlasting love of Jesus Christ.

Is there any advice you would give other Executive Pastors out there?

You know, the one piece of advice I would give is "don't be afraid to make some phone calls." I would recommend finding a peer group, sitting down with them, and finding out what life experiences people have gone through. It's so important to find peers in ministry to bounce things off of to network and communicate with. The biggest thing to know is you're not alone.

Jim Wagner is Editor of Worship Facilities and Managing Director of WFX.

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