The concept of one church meeting in multiple locations is not new. It began in Acts 2 with the church of Jerusalem meeting in many locations.
The one church-multiple locations concept has seen many expressions throughout church history as church leaders adapted to changing cultural realities and leveraged technological advances. Twenty years ago, there were only 200 multisite churches across the country. But by 2019, that number grew to more than 5,000 multisite churches.
While there are many ways churches do multisite, only a handful of models are effective and create long-term health. Regardless of your unique context and strategy, there are six common questions every church considering multisite must address:
- Purpose: Why are we doing this?
- Provision: What will it cost?
- Pastor: Who will lead this?
- Programming: What will we replicate?
- Place: Where will we meet?
- People: Who will launch the campus?
In this guide, we will help you get clarity around these key questions and walk through the necessary steps and best practices related to launching an effective multisite campus.
Step 1: Clarify Your Purpose.
You replicate who you are. That’s why it’s important to first clarify whether or not your church is healthy enough to move forward with multisite. If so, the next step is to define your why.
For multisite to work, everyone has to be on the same page about why the church is engaging this strategy—from day one. Differing team members will likely have different purposes and expectations for the expansion initially, so getting on the same page early in this process sets the entire team up to be aligned and unified.
The right reasons for going multisite might include reaching more people, increasing outreach, maximizing resources, and increasing volunteer engagement. The wrong reasons would be because “everyone else is doing it” or because you think it will help reverse the plateau or decline of your church. (Spoiler alert: It won’t. In fact, if done for the wrong reasons, multisite can wreck your church.)
- Going Multisite? Avoid these 18 common mistakes.
- Podcast: The Truth About Multisite
- Podcast: Multisite Best Practices Q&A with Jim Tomberlin Part 1 & Part 2
- Podcast: The Future of Multisite Strategy
Step Two: Determine Your Model.
Once your team has committed to your “why,” the next step is to determine your model.
When determining your model, it’s important to keep in mind the goal of multisite: to be one church in multiple locations, not multiple churches in multiple locations.
- Podcast: Finding Alignment Around Your Multisite Strategy
- Predictable Outcomes: Multisite Models and How They Really Turn Out
- Interview: Centralized vs. De-Centralized Multisite Models
We often liken this to a chain restaurant. Despite differing owners and employees, a customer should be able to walk into each unique location with similar expectations and receive a similar experience. The same is true of a multisite campus (and if this idea makes you uncomfortable, you may want to consider church planting rather than going multisite).
Creating replicable ministry strategies—particularly with weekend services and spiritual formation strategies—provides significant advantages for multisite churches:
- Replicable teaching leads to similar campuses.
- Replicable ministry strategies require fewer resources.
- Replicable ministry strategies give people clear expectations.
- Replicable spiritual formation strategies provide a clear definition of discipleship.
One of the most common questions we get when discussing multisite campus models is around live teaching vs. video teaching. There are pros and cons to each approach, especially in the areas of financial investment, sustainability, scalability, and leadership development. Determining which strategy is best for your individual church will require your team to think through a variety of these factors.
- Interview: Video vs. Live Teaching in Multisite with Tammy Melchien
- Podcast: Develop More Great Teachers (for Multisite)
- Live-Teaching in Multisite: How Community Christian Makes It Work
At The Unstuck Group, we typically recommend starting with a video teaching model in order to provide a consistent teaching experience and maintain unity across locations, though we have seen churches experience success with live teaching or a combination of both.
Step Three: Choose Your Leadership.
Choosing the right campus pastor is arguably the most critical factor for multisite success. Poor leadership or lack of alignment from the person this role can doom your campus before it even launches.
There are several factors of success to keep in mind when hiring a campus pastor: vision and mission alignment, communication skills (video and live), relational skills, the ability to lead through others, a bent towards execution, a passion for the community, and the ability to lead as a “second chair” leader. Although there is room for variation in the campus pastor role, these factors are key. And you’re unsure of the exact role of the campus pastor, my team has developed a sample job description.
- Podcast: The Biggest Challenge of Multisite Expansion
- Podcast: 5 Common Mistakes When Hiring Campus Pastors
- How to Tell a Campus Pastor from a Church Planter
- Webinar: The Campus Pastor Role: What Makes It Work
Just as there needs to be clarity on the role and responsibilities of the campus pastor, healthy multisite churches also need clarity around the relationship between central and campus roles. How churches structure their teams is a big contributor to their stuckness, especially when combined with the already-complex structure of a multisite church.
- Podcast: Top 5 Mistakes Multisite Churches Make in Staffing & Structure (And How to Avoid Them)
- Multisite Staffing: 3 Ways to Get Unstuck
- Podcast: Managing Multisite Tensions (Central vs. Campus)
There are three areas that require clarity when designing your structure:
- Authority vs. Influence: We recommend that authority flow through the campus pastors and influence flow through the central services leaders.
- Growth Engine Leadership: Whatever your growth engines are as a church, we know that unless you place a leader over each, the ministry will not be healthy.
- Central Services Team: It’s important to clarify who has central responsibilities early on in multisite strategy to avoid confusion in the future. (Here’s how to build an effective central services team.)
As you choose your leadership and develop your structure, it’s important to also bring clarity around decision rights. Even before a church goes multisite, a lack of clarity around who makes what decisions frustrates leaders, slows progress in critical areas, and builds an undercurrent of strain amongst teammates.
Different types of decisions warrant different types of decision rights. By thinking through what level of buy-in is needed and how much time you have to make a decision, you make room for the right level of decision-making. And when decision rights are clear in advance of a discussion, everyone knows their role.
- How to Do Strategic Planning in a Multisite Church
- Podcast: The Best Practices of Multisite
- Interview: Multisite Leadership: Key Tools to Be a Great Leader
Step Four: Prepare Your Campus.
A successful campus launch is dependent on building a strong ministry team, primarily through volunteers. Here are the three steps to building and equipping a healthy campus launch team:
- Evaluate current staff and volunteer capacity and health. Make sure you have leaders with the right character, chemistry, competence and capacity to fulfill the roles you need.
- Prepare for a launch of 2x the size of your core team. For a healthy launch, we recommend a core team of 100, at a minimum, who live in the area where you want to put a campus.
- Be strategic with staff roles (and then empower a lot of volunteers). We recommend 1 FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) for every 150 projected attendees at the campus. That means you’ll need many volunteer leaders to fill other critical ministry roles
As your campus launch team comes together, be sure to set clear expectations and goals, establish clear structure and processes, invest in training and resources, and show appreciation early and often.
- Book: Simply Strategic Volunteers by Tony Morgan and Tim Stevens
Another key to a successful campus launch is selecting the right facility in the right location. There are six things to consider when selecting a location and facility:
- Driving distance. A drive time of 15-30 minutes is generally the sweet spot between campuses. Keep in mind the many mental or emotional barriers that may be in play, such as mountains, lakes, rivers, highways, railroad tracks, etc.
- Go where you already are. Understand where your people are coming from and go there. Map where your attendees live and identify pockets of greater density as potential areas to plant new campuses.
- Design standards. When choosing a facility, make sure it is similar to your original campus or can be renovated to have a similar feel. Physical space tells people how to feel and how to behave.
- Location, location, location. Is the location you’re considering for your next campus a popular area? Is there a lot of drive-by-traffic? Is the community growing?
- Differentiation. This is your chance to find a niche. Is your approach to ministry and style significantly different from what other churches in the area are doing?
- Venue. Does the venue meet your basic needs and facility standards? Does it have enough seating capacity? Enough children’s ministry space? Enough parking?
- Podcast: Mistakes to Avoid When Launching a New Campus
- “How to Find the Best Location” by Entrepreneur Magazine
- Launching Campuses Faster, Cheaper and More Effectively
- Interview: Rural Multisite: Challenges & Advantages With Prairie Lakes Church
Step Five: Communicate Effectively.
Communication is an often-overlooked component to an effective multisite strategy. But if we are committed to being one church in multiple locations, it’s important that our communication and branding is consistent.
There are five foundational steps for effective branding and communication in the multisite context:
- Identify every existing communication touchpoint at your sending campus.
A brand touchpoint is any interaction or communication made between a brand and its customers. Think of any interaction that helps a person feel welcomed to your church, connect to ministry, find a group, check-in a child to a kids environment, become a member, attend an event and so on.
- Ensure every existing touchpoint is as user-friendly as possible.
- Clarify what needs to be customized and what should be aligned at the new campus.
- Plan to shift to championing “one church.”
- Start thinking in terms of replication.
Consistent branding and messaging across your locations will help avoid confusion and reinforce your identity as one unified church.
Internal and team communications are an equally important part of an effective multisite church. Unity and alignment are challenges for every church team, but in the multisite context, timing becomes even more important, project management becomes more difficult, and clarity becomes vital to make any steps forward.
Here are the best practices we recommend for improving internal communications:
- Clarify roles and responsibilities. Oftentimes what is identified as a “communications problem” is actually an issue of organizational clarity.
- Have the right meetings with the right people. More meetings is not the answer. The key is having the rightmeetings. More meetings will not improve internal communication—how you communicate out of those core meetings will.
- Establish project management solutions. You will be surprised at how complaints about poor communications will fade away if you implement an online solution to track projects and tasks. Find a solution that allows the right information to be communicated to the right people at the right time.
Bonus Resources for a Failed Campus or Multistuck Church:
- Does Multisite Feel More Like MultiStuck? These 5 Steps Will Help.
- Podcast: Should You Un-Multisite?
- Podcast: Is Multisite on the Downslope?
- Trying Again After a Failed Campus Launch
- This Church Experienced a Failed Campus Launch and Wants to Share How You Can Learn from It.
Without clear strategies for ministry, expansion, and execution, multisite can get churches multistuck. We see it all the time.
Our team has a combined 100+ years of experience leading in churches with successful multisite strategies. And our Multisite Unstuck Process is specifically designed to help you assess multisite readiness, build (or re-design) your model and strategies, and align your staff and structure to the strategy. If you’re ready to take your next step, start a conversation today.