Liberty church houses over 2,000 weekly attendees in their multi-site church, located in Shrewsbury and Worcester, Massachusetts. The Worcester campus is a 45,000+ square feet, turn of the century architectural wonder. Once hailed as the “Cathedral of Worcester”, this scaled down replica of Paris’ Notre Dame sat abandoned for 25+ years, but now is a thriving city worship center and the home of The New England Dream Center (NEDC); a faith-based nonprofit ministering to the neglected, abused, and displaced. The Shrewsbury Campus recently finished a new 1,200 seat auditorium with a facility now reaching 40,000+ square feet on a 13 acre campus.
Recently Worship Facilities had the good fortune of sitting down with George Cladis, CEO of NEDC and executive pastor for Liberty Church, who shared valuable insights into the ministries he oversees.
Worship Facilities: Could you provide an overview of your primary responsibilities?
George Cladis: I am executive pastor of Liberty Church (with two locations: Worcester, MA campus and Shrewsbury, MA campus) where I act as lead manager and overseer of all the operations, which would include pastoral staff and facility oversight. We do not have a lead pastor at this time so I'm part of the preaching team and preach once a month. In addition, I am the chief executive officer for the New England Dream Center (NEDC) which is located in the city of Worcester, MA. There I have responsibility for staff, ministry, administration and logistics. In either role, I am responsible to the board of directors or board president, as appropriate.
WF: Can you describe the NEDC?
“The New England Dream Center is a public charity. Its mission is to love people to life and beyond.”
GC: The New England Dream Center is a public charity. Its mission is to love people to life and beyond. It employs social workers to accomplish its mission. NEDC is a practical application of the gospel of Jesus Christ in an urban center. Social work and social outreach are our primary tools for a practical expression of Mathew 25. We operate various programs: including foster care, elder care and workforce training. We receive both state revenue and the support of Liberty Church as well as private donors.
WF: How does Liberty Church go about working with the state of Massachusetts on these services?
GC: In 2005, the Dream Center hired a company called, Nonprofit Capital Management. This organization is knowledgeable regarding the needs within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the city of Worcester in particular. They informed us on the best services to set up to meet the needs of the community and the state. In addition, they helped with the paperwork necessary to gain state support and assisted greatly in establishing the programs, hiring staff and other aspects
WF: Is that a unique approach?
GC: I think it is, but I think it really was a good and efficient approach. Often churches will look around and rightly see a need and want to fill it and then move forward to seek grants and other support. We've learned that it's a complicated process and often a frustrating experience. I think it's easier to hire the right people who know the process really well. I'm an advocate for a third party if you're trying to have an impact in a big way, particularly if that requires hiring credentialed staff, legal compliance and other needs. In our case, it was helpful to have experts along with us at the start.
WF: What's next for the Dream Center?
GC: The next project is an expansion of our workforce training program. For Liberty that incorporates, Liberty Dream Property Incorporated (a for-profit commercial development entity with the Dream Center and Liberty Church as partners), that will build commercial and mixed-use space. We employ the people to run those operations. We'll train hospitality and service people and so on, through these projects, providing skills training and opportunities. We are already doing this, but this program would be on a much larger scale than the efforts we have now.
WF: How is the church structured between the urban and suburban locations?
GC: Ultimately, we'll have a lead pastor who will oversee both locations. Our operations are shared across both sites including: accounting, finance, legal and business operations. Our staff meetings are held jointly, which was not done previously, but it has been very helpful to us. In each location the cultures are quite different, but both share a common mission and DNA. Where we split out are mainly on worship teams, campus pastor and children's ministry.
WF: How do you balance open access and a safe environment?
GC: We use a combination of technology, trained staff and security in our two locations. In our kids' areas, our kids' life pastor is really focused on safety. In this (suburban) environment we use a combination of technology, locks and trained staff to ensure that our kids are safe and secure. In the city location, we have security on the premises and we monitor all services carefully and approach any individuals who are acting suspiciously. We spend more on security than we have in the past, but it's essential.
WF: How do you see the role of the executive pastor evolving?
GC: I see the executive pastor role still really varied from church to church. Many churches select executive pastors without pastoral or theological training which works well. Others may choose to take a different tact. In the case of Liberty, they selected a business and pastoral background candidate, which does not seem to be the norm. In my view, churches need to be involved with their communities. They need to approach this in a mission way that involves local businesses and business principles. Churches have not always been receptive or open to thinking and interacting with businesses. In the past, pastors often wanted nothing to do with them. I see conditions changing and I believe business is now viewed as a way to reduce poverty and to provide people with a livelihood.