DALLAS Change can always be challenging, particularly when shifting to a new job.
For 11 years, David Leuschner served as the Senior Director of Technology and Technical Arts at Gateway Church, a nondenominational house of worship with six locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
To Leuschner, each church he’s worked with has been successful, particularly in how "they are reaching the lost, and creating their atmosphere of worship."
Over the last few months, Leuschner has found a new calling, starting the nonprofit, Digital Great Commission Ministries.
After more than a decade at Gateway, what was the impetus behind making the transition?
"What I realized over the years is that a lot of churches treat technology as the enemy," he said.
That was certainly not the case at Gateway, he emphasized, beginning with his being able to "build a great team at Gateway," to go with the church understanding technology's value in ministry. One such example Leuschner recalled was how the church's founding senior pastor, Robert Morris, once pointed to a camera and said, "This is a missionary," in explaining how technology serves a key role in spreading the word of God.
Taking a page from his pastor, Leuschner wants to share that mindset with other churches across the country.
"I am looking to have churches understand attitude and heart, and that technology should not be something that you should be afraid of," he said. "And that technology is something that can help them in the world."
As executive director of the newly formed nonprofit, among the most notable differences from his time at Gateway is that "I have the freedom to go to churches, to understand their mission."
In regularly meeting directly with various church staffs, he works by providing them with a series of resources. In his new role, he said, "It has helped me hone some of my resources, getting in their hands tools that to my surprise churches were unaware of," allowing those churches to avert "the mistakes that have been done before."
Looking back on his time at Gateway, he noted, "we focused less on technology, and more on the training and development." As much attention is often paid to the gear, he said, "It's not the drum kit, the piano, a sound console, a camera. We are here to set an atmosphere of worship, with tech gear being the same as musical instruments in that either will put them closer to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In addition, he added, “I realized it early in the 11 years what made Gateway great, was how we focused on our people and not on the gear and the tech."
With the outreach begun by Digital Great Commission Ministries, Leuschner sees value in the personalized help offered to church staffs, particularly for those who are seeking much needed assistance.
"I am only a couple months into this, helping churches, and talking through problems is what I have been most effective with," said Leuschner. "The resources that I have posted to the website and the YouTube videos, that's what people are being drawn to, in achieving the mission to bringing the gospel around the world."
Having worked predominantly on aspects of live production while at Gateway, much of what he's focused on thus far with the nonprofit is also in that realm, largely "with audio, video, lighting and staging," along with some website and app work.
By meeting with various churches, he said, "What's really cool is seeing how other churches think. Every church has its own DNA."
That "DNA" has been in full display in instances when different churches are using the same gear, but "like human beings, we are all unique and have our own likes and dislikes." By delving into what makes each of these churches tick, Leuschner's approach recognizes how these churches are much smaller than Gateway (more than 39,400 active members as of last year). Having these smaller churches stand out is made possible by accounting for "the scale and where they are going, and what they're doing with less budget and resources." Often, the situation is such where "they put the burden on one person, and we show them to lead up, to teach their bosses, so that it is not all on (one person's) shoulders."
To Leuschner, each church he’s worked with has been successful, particularly in how "they are reaching the lost, and creating their atmosphere of worship." With these churches, he noted, "the questions they ask are really unique, and it has made me a different person to see the DNA, and how they create the atmosphere with the same tools."
Having served as a leader of tech teams for years at Gateway, he acknowledged that "being a technician, and being around technicians, they are typically introverts. They aren't the one that wants to start a conversation."
From there, it's typically perceived that these technicians "don't think (they've) ever led anybody to Christ."
But that mindset would be wrong.
Even for the young volunteer working on streaming gear, Leuschner emphasized that "16-year-old, who captured their pastor to 50 to 60 countries by streaming, they don't realize that the technology has spread the Word. It allows for people who are not going to jump on a plane and be a missionary, to engage people in the body of Christ."
Having recruited such individuals in the past, Leuschner said, "I see a bunch of people who feel like they probably are not reaching people for Christ, but while explaining to them that they might be an introvert or a behind-the-scenes person when focused in the right way they can bring people closer to Christ."
Before the nonprofit became reality this year, the path toward its creation began to take form about two to three years ago. "That was when I coined the phrase "the Digital Great Commission, for reaching the lost around the world," he said. Also playing a role, while talking with one of the tech volunteers at Gateway, he added, "A kid, around 14 years old, was running camera for us. He was happy to be part of something bigger than himself. He wasn't old enough to be a greeter, but was able to engage in something that could lead to a career and lead people to Christ." In talking with the teen, he said, "it brought me back to when I was 11 years old (when Leuschner first began working on the tech side of things for a church) and it brought me to the idea of the commission."
What spurred Leuschner to have his idea grow into a full-time commitment, was the statement heard repeatedly from his pastor, "What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?' It came to the Holy Spirit saying it was time."
Turning his focus to the nonprofit was a significant jump in of itself, adding with it the prospect of potentially leaving Gateway in a tough position. But he noted, "I set up a team at Gateway with good leaders, who could take the ball down the court. It can't be all on you. You have to figure that you have volunteers, and that you identify talent-based staff members, who can be influencers on your team (who can step in, upon your departure)."
Pair with that, by going from a church which had approximately 700 tech volunteers, to go with nearly 100 part- and full-time staff, to an organization comprised of himself and a couple of volunteers, that might seem too jarring a shift for some.
To Leuschner, though, "It's refreshing to go back to the roots, to see a church build from scratch. There's no disappointment to me in not having a massive team." With the nonprofit, he's come to appreciate that "it's nice to be nimble, lean and mean, while not having a lot of expenses and overhead."
And despite the size of Gateway's staff, he explained, "I didn't manage all of them, as I managed five to seven people, and they broke down what they were managing. It wasn't a major culture shift, it really wasn't."
With the work he has done with church staff since the start of the nonprofit, he has come to greatly appreciate the staff members' reactions, over how they see that the nonprofit is there "to help (that church), and not just there to get money out of (the church) that is really fulfilling."
That reaction, he noted, could be tied to his feeling that "I feel the Lord has given me a unique ability to communicate tech speak to a senior pastor, as well as to a lot of tech team members."
With what he's accomplished thus far with the nonprofit, much of it has been "to help other churches, to give them the ability lead on their own, to where they are able to build their own team."
In the coming year,he initially envisions "keeping (the nonprofit) fairly small, to make it reachable for churches." Even without an aggressive growth plan for 2018, though, he added, "I can see a day as we grow this thing, where we need to be at three or four different churches," so growth is definitely envisioned in the horizon.