Interview with Marty Taylor of Northland

For us here at Church on the Move, one of the HUGE benefits of the Seeds site has been getting to connect with people serving in their local churches all over the country. Just hearing how God is at work in other places really inspires and motivates us to keep on keeping on.

When we launched Seeds, one of the first people to sign up was Marty Taylor, one of the creative geniuses at Northland in Orlando. We hit it off right away and I’m now honored to call him a friend as well as a fellow presenter at Seeds Conference. Marty and the team at Northland are doing some of the best and most creative work I’ve seen in the church and If you’re not familiar with Northland you can check out their website here and if you’d like to follow Marty on Twitter (which I highly recommend) you can do that here.

Anyway, without further ado here’s a recent interview I did with Marty.

So, let’s just jump right in! Your official title at Northland is “Executive Director over Media Design.” What exactly does that mean?
The easy answer is, I lead the teams in charge of everything that is visible. Anything to do with video, print, web, user-level technology, branding, public relations, etc. If it’s visible, we typically have our hands in it.

I am a regular part of the creative process for worship services and I am part of the Executive Leadership Team for the church.

The unusual thing about my job from a typical media director at a church is that I do not lead the audio teams. The sonic audio experience is so closely connected to the music that the audio teams are part of the worship department.

The official name of your church is Northland, A Church Distributed. What does it mean to be “A Church Distributed?”
About 12 years ago, Northland’s name was changed from Northland Community Church to Northland, A Church Distributed simply meaning that church is not about gathering in a single building or a single community. The Distributed Church is all about people “being the church,” everywhere, every day. That, as the church, we gather to worship God and then respond to Him by distributing ourselves to serve others where they are so that God may be glorified.

It also means that, in recognition of how God distributes different gifts among different people (1 Corinthians 12:11), we connect with individuals and organizations outside our four walls for long-term support and effectiveness—without losing sight of our unique distinctions, we partner with others for the sake of others and the Kingdom.

Changing our name to something so unique has caused many people to ask what we are all about and opened doors for hundreds of local and global partnerships. The vision for being a church distributed drives everything we do from satellite venues to church online and beyond.

What’s your approach to planning a service at Northland?
Our approach is that everything we are and everything we are created to be begins in worship. When we look at who God is and what He has done, we can’t help but respond in worship to Him. So our planning process begins with looking at the message that Dr. Hunter is going to preach and extracting from that an attribute of God that becomes the focus of our worship for that weekend. The attribute may be God’s grace or His holiness or that He is the Creator.

Everything from beginning to end in our worship service is planned around that attribute of God. All the extensive amounts of production and technology that we use are there to help create an environment for worship centered around that attribute. We believe we are following God’s example from Genesis, when He created a beautiful environment in which for us to worship Him.

I’m a big proponent of churches merging their worship, production, and media teams because it really serves to unify the different groups of people who work on our weekend services. You guys don’t do that and yet you’re still really successful, how do you make that work?
Actually, I think you would be surprised how much we actually do the very thing you’re talking about. We do have the Media Design team separate from Worship as part of our corporate structure, but we are constantly working in tandem together. Our delineations only exist because of the sheer size of the teams and needing to delegate leadership based upon strengths. But the value of unified effort is a vital part of our DNA.

In fact, our worship planning meetings are attended not only by the worship and media staff, but we have people from all areas of the church (Local and Global Service, Equipping, Congregational Services, etc) there to bring their voice to the big picture planning as well.

I LOVE the way you guys incorporate scripture into your worship at Northland. Can you talk a bit about the concept and execution behind that?
We strive to blend the modern movement and style of worship with the foundations of the ancient church, so we incorporate a lot of scripture and creed into our modern worship service. The ancient and the future are part of our liturgy.

For many, the scripture and ancient creeds that we integrate are a means of connecting the dots between the song that they are singing and the truth of the Word. I think is also helps the worship service not just be an emotional experience (which I love) but also a deeply intellectual experience as well.

You guys are doing some pretty unique stuff with streaming your services, can you talk about that?
Northland has been a multi-site church for many years (our first site distributed site began in 2001). The unique thing about our other sites is that they are a fully real-time connection for the entire service. Everyone, at all locations, is participating in a unified worship service. We have local musicians and singers at each site. The music from our original location in Longwood is sub-mixed into to various parts (drums, guitars, keys, etc.) and mixed live at each site with the local musicians. We also change the origination point of the sermon from time to time to come from one of our other locations, not just our main campus.

We have been also been doing live online streaming of all our services (currently 5 each weekend) for several years as well. We have expanded that to a fully interactive community site with a live online minister each service and last year added the first ever live worship environment in Facebook. For us, this was a natural extension of being a distributed church by taking worship to a place where people were already gathering for community.

Many of our online worshipers have begun to form small communities together in homes around the country. We began looking for ways to make their connection better and easier. Just a couple of months ago, we launched a live channel on Roku, a small set-top box designed for on-demand streaming of Netflix, Hulu, and other content. This channel allows our home churches an easy, inexpensive means to connect to a high quality feed of the worship service, as well as several on-demand options like classes and Bible studies for their community.

Since the Roku channel is available to anyone, many people have added the Northland channel to their Roku channel line-up. So far, over 2000 people have made that connection. Our hope is that many people will discover Christ through discovering this channel.

There is definitely a world of global possibility for connection and evangelism through streaming technology and we continue to pursue how we can maximize that potential. We also hope to freely share all these technologies with any church who wishes to use them.

Describe for me a creative meeting at Northland. How long is it? Who’s involved? Who comes up with all the good ideas?
We are in a unique position at Northland that our pastor plans his messages several weeks in advance. This allows us to have several opportunities to review the goals of the service and shape what we hope will be the best means to connect our congregation to the attribute of God that we are focusing on in that weekend.

We begin by meeting with Dr. Hunter to get a summary of the message content about 3 weeks in advance. We initially walk away from that first meeting with a title, the core scripture, and a 2-3 paragraph summary. We determine from that our attribute focus for the weekend and begin meeting as a planning team. This team meets at least a couple times a week and focuses on 2-4 weeks at a time, with greater detail as the weekend gets closer. We continue to meet with our Pastor each week to get additional detail on the message and application as he refines where he is going.

The core planning team is about 7 people from the worship and media teams, but the discussion expands to the full team as we get closer to the weekend itself. The lighting, video, and audio teams take the order of service and create a visual and audio design for the environment of that service.

It all comes together in a full rehearsal each Wednesday where we continue to refine the plan before our first service on Saturday. Even following that service, we debrief and make changes as needed for the rest of the weekend.

One of the things that surprised me, when we visited on the phone, was that your day off is Sunday of all days! How do you make that work?
My being off on Sundays is the greatest testament to the quality of our team that I can imagine! So much work is put into the services in advance that by the time we debrief the service on Saturday, my job as the leader of the visual team is done. The rest of the weekend is then in the very capable hands of our technicians and volunteers to execute and they do a great job. I feel blessed to be able to attend service on Sunday night with my family without any worry about what is happening in the control rooms.

Besides that, the success of failure of all our planning is ultimately up to the work of the Holy Spirit anyway, so I just try to get out of the way.

Who’s inspiring the team at Northland these days?
Creatively, we draw inspiration from all around us. The world is full of story, both in what you can hear from others, or simply in what you experience or see in God’s creation. When you seek to see who God is and what He has done in the world around you, you can more easily find ways to lead people into worship around the story of God.

I can also say that our team is inspired by seeing much more collaboration between churches for the sake of the Kingdom of God as a whole. We are so much more affective when we stop guarding our ideas and plans and freely share and learn from one another. That’s one of the things I love so much about what Church on the Move is doing with Seeds. By giving away and sharing what you have freely with others, you are creating Kingdom impact beyond a venue in Tulsa. That is truly inspiring.

Northland is a BIG church, what would you say to leaders in smaller churches?
Simply...don’t get hung up on what you don’t have. The story of God and what He has done is all the inspiration you need to lead someone into meaningful worship and connection with Him. Everything else is simply a tool to help create an environment to do it...just like air conditioning or a comfortable chair. The philosophy of worship at Northland is the same as it was years ago when we met in a 50-year old roller skating rink and didn’t have a single video projector or moving light. Content and story are now and will always be the most important tool you have. Without it, your loud music, lights, and video are just disco.

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Whitney George
Lead Pastor
Whitney George is the Executive Pastor at Church on the Move, where he oversees the operations and ministries of the church. Whitney is passionate about the local church and loves connecting with other church leaders. He and his wife, Heather, have five children and he loves Notre Dame football.