April 3, 2024

9 Principles for Going Multisite Through a Merger – Episode 342 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

9 principles for going multisite through a merger

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Multisite Madness? (Part 4)

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If you are a large, healthy, monosite church, chances are you’ve been approached with the opportunity to merge with another congregation. 

However, if given the choice between starting multisite by launching your own location or by going through a merger process, we recommend that you kick off your multisite strategy by launching a brand new campus first.

After all, closed campuses were 40% more likely to have launched as a result of a merger with another church


Mergers bring additional complexity to the multisite process. That’s why it’s important to know what health looks like for one of your locations before you step into merger conversations.

This week, to wrap up our series on “Multisite Madness?,” Amy and I will unpack the nine predictable outcomes of multisite through the lens of going multisite by a merger. 

  • Why we recommend multisite before merger
  • The principles of a merger “launch”
  • Decision rights and role clarity for mergers

Going Multisite: How to Launch Your First Campus & Avoid Common Pitfalls

It’s true that going multisite too fast, too soon, or with the wrong strategy can easily get you multi-stuck. At this free webinar, Tony Morgan and Amy Anderson will help you get clarity on the how, when, and who of going multisite for the first time.

Mergers bring additional complexity to the multisite process. That’s why it’s important to know what health looks like for one of your locations before you step into merger conversations. [episode 342] #unstuckchurch Share on X You need a clear multisite strategy before you can make good decisions about merger opportunities. [episode 342] #unstuckchurch Share on X The day after the merger is approved, it has to be clear to everyone—staff, lay leaders, church members, and attendees— who’s in charge here and where do I fit on the church organizational chart?  [episode 342] #unstuckchurch Share on X Especially in a merger setting, establishing the lead pastor as the primary voice and vision-caster of the church is essential—and the weekly Sunday message is the most obvious way to do so. [episode 342] #unstuckchurch Share on X
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The Multisite Launch Process

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. If you are a large, healthy monosite church, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to merge with another congregation. But going multisite for the first time through a merger presents some unique challenges that many churches don’t plan for. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy finish up our series on multisite strategy with a conversation on what churches should know about going multisite through a merger. Before we go there, though, if you’re brand new to the podcast, head to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get our episode show notes. When you do, you’ll get resources to support each week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide and some bonus resources you can’t find anywhere else. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before we get into this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.

Tony (01:00):

This episode is brought to you by Planning Center, an all-in-one software to help you organize your ministries and care for your church. With an easy-to-use platform of products, you can bring people together with event signups, room and resource reservations, automatic volunteer scheduling and much more. Start using Planning Center for free now at planningcenter.com.

Amy (01:27):

Well, welcome to today’s podcast to our listeners, and good to see you, Tony. You know, we’ve been in our current series walking through the nine predictable outcomes of multisite as a way to help large, single-site churches who might be considering going multisite for the very first time. And today, as we wrap up our series, we’re gonna talk about a more unique and unconventional way that some churches go multisite, and that’s by a merger of adoption.

Tony (01:53):

Yeah. And let me just start in this conversation, Amy, just talking about if, if given the choice of starting multisite by launching your own location or by going through a merger process, every single time, I would recommend that you start a multisite strategy by launching a brand-new campus first and making sure that you get, you kind of get your legs under you on what a multisite location needs to look like for it to be an additional campus of your church. Because there’s gonna be so much additional complexity when you start to go through a merger process and you wanna make sure that you know what health looks like for one of your locations before you step into merger conversations. And in fact, our research found that mergers create more challenges, and anybody that’s been through a merger before is just shouting, “Amen,” right now. I’m positive. And here’s some specific data to support why mergers can be challenging. Closed campuses were 40% more likely to have launched as a result of a merger with another church.

Amy (03:08):


Tony (03:09):

So, a couple things. First, many churches do use mergers to go multisite, but again, don’t do this with your first location if at all possible. And then, secondly, just, just merging isn’t going to get you a healthy location. And that’s why we believe you need a clear multisite strategy before you can make good decisions about merger opportunities. Just because a church contacts you and they’re offering their building to be a location for your church doesn’t necessarily mean that location and that building are right for your multisite strategy. So, for today’s conversation, we’re going to walk back through the nine predictable outcomes we’ve been discussing, and this time we’re gonna look at them through the lens of going multisite through a merger. And then, we will also briefly discuss some common merger landmines.

Amy (04:05):

Yeah. Tony, as you were setting that up, I, it brought me back to a multisite series we did on the podcast several years ago now. But you, you align this with dating, and you said, “As people, we don’t marry everybody we date.” And for some reason in this merger world, it feels like when the phone rings, it must be from God. And we, we’re probably supposed to do the merger. And I, like you said, there’s probably many listeners on the other side going, “Amen, we did that. Shouldn’t have.”

Tony (04:32):


Amy (04:32):

We, we married someone we should have dated.

Tony (04:35):


Amy (04:35):

So, hopefully, this, today’s conversation will, will help with that. So, the first predictable outcome of multisite that we talked through before is that you replicate what you are. Can you explain, Tony, how this first concept applies in a merger setting?

Tony (04:49):

Yeah. And Amy, I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but that’s okay. This is important stuff. You must have health and momentum before going multisite. And so, the best reason to start a new campus is because you have to. In other words, multisite is a response to health and growth; it’s not a solution for creating health and growth. And this is no different when it comes to mergers. If your church is not currently growing and considering this need for space on your own, the opportunity to take on a merger is not a good step. It would, again, just taking your analogy that you referenced a bit further. It would be like one person who’s not healthy thinking that getting married with somebody else who’s not healthy commonly is somehow gonna create a healthy marriage. And that doesn’t work.

Amy (05:41):


Tony (05:41):

It doesn’t work in, in churches either. So, in every merger, there’s a leading church and adjoining church. And this is the key for this to work: the leading church has to be leading from strength. They have to have health. And in most instances, the joining church is not going to be healthy. And so, one of the church, the lead church has to take the lead. They have to kind of bring that location along and almost go back to square one of what does healthy church look like at a new location because there’s a reason why that church has reached out to you for a potential merger. They’re looking for help, and because they’ve reached out to your church, the assumption is they sense that you are in a healthy place as a ministry. And because of that, you will have to take the lead in actually making sure that when the merger concludes, both, both locations are healthy locations. And this means that the following church must be willing to align themselves with the church’s mission, vision, strategy and culture so that you can truly become one church in multiple locations.

Amy (06:54):

And as you say that, Tony, sometimes, I feel like we call this the wrong thing when we call it mergers because it’s really an acquisition. Maybe that word’s just too aggressive. But I think this is especially important in the, the church environment we’re seeing today. You know, when our latest Unstuck Church Report came out, you shared, you know, these are 350 churches that are connected to The Unstuck Group. They’re connected to our content. So, our data doesn’t always represent the 300,000 churches that are out there. And when I look at the other audience, those other churches not connected to us, there’s a lot of merger talk going on. Wanting to, especially in some of the denominational areas, they want these three churches in this community to merge or these two churches. And again, two unhealthy churches merging is unlikely to create a healthy church as a result. But, honestly, even one very unhealthy church merging with a healthy one could bring unhealth to the new church.

Tony (07:53):

That’s right.

Amy (07:53):

If the merger isn’t done with that true acquisition, I think sometimes they call ’em adoption mindsets of taking on that mission, that vision of the healthy leading church.

Tony (08:03):

So, that leads us then to the second predictable outcome. And that’s that you need to launch where you’re already reaching people. The leading church, in this case when we’re talking about mergers, needs to be willing to send a core team to the following church, the new campus, to help establish culture, values and methods of leading of the leading church. But those people that you’re sending, they need to be living, working, playing in the community that that you’re going to and that you’re merge, and the church that you’re merging with.

Amy (08:39):

You know, Tony, this was in my experience, so the church that I did ministry at for over 12 years is Eagle Brook Church here up in the Twin Cities. And when we went to, we had already gone multisite. So, our church had launched in the true multisite fashion our second location. And then, we were approached by a church in the Twin Cities about becoming a third campus of Eagle Brook. And we spent months, months of meetings during this exploration, or maybe we call it the negotiation stage, with their leadership. And after months of those meetings, we ended up saying, we have three options going forward. First, we can put a towel over our arm and help serve you to get back to a healthy place as a church. Second, we can walk away as friends, or third, you can become an Eagle Brook campus. And, and what that meant, and it goes back into them adopting into our culture, our values and methods. And then, we spent months, more months in what we call the consolidation phase. And that’s where we, you know, we, we shared our mission, vision, values. We educated the existing attenders of that church. We envision them to our, to our mission, our vision, our values. And then, so they were, they were down to maybe 80 people at this point. We spent time with those 80s, and then, we heavily seeded the incoming staff and the lay leadership team from our sending campus that lived in this new location area-—so that big core. So, and, and that’s what led to the success. I mean, we had an amazing third campus launch, but it was very intentional to bring that core team from our sending location and, again, heavily seeding the staff in that team in the new, new area. So, launching where you already are in merger-related expansion is both for having a large core team to lead ministry and a large core team to transfer DNA. You have to be intentional about how you transfer DNA. It will not just happen.

Tony (10:43):

And that really does just kind of build into the third predictable outcome, which is planning to launch at twice the size of your core team. And so with mergers, commonly what that means is because it’s usually a smaller church that’s reaching out to the lead church in the case of a merger, oftentimes, what that means is it’s just what you just described. The lead church has to be able to seed a core of their staff leadership, their volunteer leadership, in order to get that new location that’s being formed through a merger to the size of core team that will allow for that location to launch at twice its size. So, it’s just a good, a good reminder that just because a church comes to you and there are some people at that location, they want to be a part of your church, it, it is gonna be more of an acquisition because you’re going to have to send a lot of people to that new location in order to create the, the, the capacity of the team to be able to, to provide ministry the way your church provides ministry. That leads us to the fourth principle, and the predictable outcome here is location is more important than the facility. So, when deciding whether or not to adopt a church through a merger and to, and for that merged location to become a multisite campus, the same considerations for location apply. That, that merged church location should be between 15 to 30 minutes from the sending campus. And an ideal campus location, we’ve talked about this previously, it’s a drive, it’s in a drive-to area where people drive to for work, for shopping, for entertainment. Avoid drive-from locations, which are predominantly in residential locations. And, Amy, this is one of the reasons why the church reaching out to you that wants to merge may not be the church that you want to merge with. And the reason why is oftentimes we see, especially mainline churches that are in decline, oftentimes, those are tucked into residential neighborhoods. And so, just because that church again reaches out to you, doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the right location for your church to launch because, again, location is more important than the facility.

Amy (13:22):

And typically, if we see churches in neighborhoods, that actually might be a contributing factor to the unhealth of the church. Tony, you and I served a, a great church here in Minnesota that was multisite, and they hired us to revisit their multisite model ’cause they were in decline for several years. And through that process, as they got clarity on their multisite model, see, if you remember this, they actually closed one location that they had obtained through a merger years earlier because it was buried in a neighborhood. It had always struggled to grow. It had become very insider focused, and it really didn’t fit well with their new multisite model. So, back to a facility that might be contributing to the unhealth of the church, this is where this is when a decision needs to be made about that merger. There are some mergers where you aren’t, aren’t actually going to be using that building, right? You might actually, through the discussions, decide to sell that property, but the church is still willing to give you assets to launch a healthier location somewhere else. But you have to decide will that property work or will facilities need to be kept or sold and a new location found. And so, that brings us to our next principle, Tony. I’ll hand it over to you.

Tony (14:34):

And so that brings us to the fifth predictable outcome. And it’s that leadership is more important than location. So, there are a lot of considerations when it comes to staffing and leadership in a merger setting. The first question that has to be addressed if there are two lead pastors involved is the status of the lead pastor of the joining church post-merger. Will that pastor be redeployed in another staff position within the church? Or will that person be given a severance package? What’s that going to look like post-merger? Secondly, you need to be considering what will the existing boards and committees, how will they be in, integrated, recalibrated or eliminated. Will the board members stay the same? Will all, some or none remain on the, on the church board going forward after the merger? You also need to take a look at job descriptions, pay levels, contracts, benefits—all of that. There may be a lot of disparity between the two different churches. And just making sure that you bring the joining church to the place where the lead church is in all of those areas. What staff will remain in their current position? Who will be redeployed to another area in the church? Who may need to be downsized or released?

Amy (15:53):

And, Tony, we found that on the day after the merger is approved, it has to be clear to everyone in the church. So, I mean, the staff, the lay leaders, the church members and attendees, they need to know who’s in charge here and where do I fit on the church organizational chart. I say that because confusion here can breed frustration and anger, and although navigating staffing changes are difficult, it’s important to remember that the leadership at this new location is one of the biggest indicators of its future success or failure. And when it comes to navigating people issues, providing clarity upfront is a kindness. What’s next, Tony?

Tony (16:34):

Yeah. The sixth predictable outcome is that video really works. And unlike a traditional new campus that has been intentionally designed to replicate the sending location, a new campus created through a merger, they’re going to need to reimagine their weekend services to replicate what’s already happening at the leading church.

Amy (16:53):

Yeah. And often, worship style is the primary basis on which people, holding air quotes, like or dislike a church. So, it’s important to consider, you know, how similar or different are the worship styles of the church from the other church. Are you contemporary, traditional or blended? Does our church have choirs or worship bands? Drums or organs? Pews or theater seats? Stained glass or video screens? If these two locations aren’t similar, is the merging campus willing to embrace a different worship style?

Tony (17:24):

And that of course then leads to the question of teaching. Who will bring the weekend messages to the congregation? Will the sermons be delivered in person or by video? And as we’ve discussed in our first episode, video teaching would be the approach we recommend, but that’s a consideration if you are going through the merger process.

Amy (17:45):

Tony, I would say it may be even stronger, when we talk about video teaching being what we would recommend, especially in a merger setting, you know, you need to establish the lead pastor as the primary voice and vision caster of the church. That’s essential. And that weekly Sunday message is the most obvious way to do that.

Tony (18:04):

So, moving on the, the seventh and eighth predictable outcomes are that central and campus clarity is key. When it comes to defining these roles, it’s always best to start with the eighth predictable outcome, which is start higher control and then loosen later if desired. Amy, you have a few thoughts related to these two.

Amy (18:25):

Yeah. Again, the same rules of multisite apply here. Once it’s determined who will remain on staff, a new structure will need to be created to establish the campus and the central roles. You’ll have to work through decision rights, et cetera, et cetera. Establishing authority through the central teams is especially key in a merger setting. You know, humanly, Tony, we tend to drift back to what we know. So, when we think about this merging church, they have a, they have a history, right? They’ve been, they’ve been an organization.

Tony (18:53):


Amy (18:53):

So, if we give too much leeway to that new campus, it’s gonna be an uphill battle to really establish the new voice, the new vision and the new culture of the sending church. Tony, what’s the final principle?

Tony (19:06):

Yeah, number nine. It’s all about making sure we have a financial plan before launch or, in this case, before we merge. So, going multisite through a merger, it does present a lot of unique challenges financially. Because of that, it’s vitally important to consider, you know, what are the tangible assets that the new church is bringing to the lead church in terms of property, facilities and equipment. And it’s not unusual for there to need to be some renovations to the church that’s merging with the lead church.

Amy (19:39):


Tony (19:39):

And so, considering those financial impli, implications is there debt that exists at the church that is being merged? That’s a consideration. How manageable is that debt? How will that be addressed? The bottom line here is finances may very well be the reason the merging church is in decline. So, developing a strong financial plan for sustaining the new location as a campus while maintaining the fin, financial health of the sending campus, that’s key.

Amy (20:11):

Well, hopefully, Tony, we’ve done a good job of convincing our listeners that going through, going multisite through a merger can be challenging. And we share all of these because we want you to be very thoughtful about any merger opportunities. But, Tony, is there anything, any final thoughts as we wrap up today’s conversation in our series on Multisite Madness?

Tony (20:31):

Well, first, if you’re listening to this episode on the day it releases, there’s still time to join us tomorrow for our webinar on Going Multisite: How to Launch Your First Campus and Avoid Common Pitfalls, where we’ll continue this conversation around best practices for monosite churches that are going multisite for the very first time. And you can register to join us through the link in your show notes. And if you’re ready to explore your next steps towards multisite or perhaps you’re already a multisite church that finds yourself maybe feeling multi-stuck, well, we’d love to walk alongside you in this journey. Our team has proven consulting processes for going multisite, getting unstuck, church mergers and more. So, for churches of all shapes and sizes, if you’re in the middle of a step like that, we’d love to come alongside you. And you can learn more and reach out to us at theunstuckgroup.com/start.

Sean (21:31):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. And if there’s a way that we can serve you and your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand-new episode. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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