4 Steps for Clarifying Your Multisite Strategy
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The number of churches going multisite continues to grow even on this side of the pandemic—in fact, the data from our recent Unstuck Church Report showed that nearly 60% of the churches that average 1,000 or more people in attendance are now multisite.
Whether you’re preparing to expand through multisite or you’re an existing multisite church, this new podcast series will walk you through the process to help you prepare now for future multisite expansion—whether that’s launching your first or your fifth campus.
DETERMING MULTISITE READINESS
So, how does a church know when it’s ready to go multisite?
In this episode, Amy and I are discussing the key indicators that you are ready to expand through multisite—and one key indicator that you aren’t. Listen in as we walk through:
- 10 key multisite readiness checkpoints
- Why multisite is NOT a growth strategy
- The components of an effective reach strategy
Multisite Better: Proven Strategies for Better Results
Join us for a free webinar on March 30.
Identical or autonomous campuses? Video or live teaching? Campus or centralized teams? There are many ways churches do multisite, but only a handful of strategies that are effective in creating long-term health.
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In our recent research, The Unstuck Group has learned that the number of churches going multisite continues to grow even on this side of the pandemic. But how does a church know that it’s ready to go multisite? On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy start a brand new series focused on helping churches develop their multisite strategy. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, we want to invite you to head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide, bonus resources and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that is theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, let’s get to this week’s conversation with Tony and Amy.
Sometimes as leaders, we think there’s no way someone could do the job as well as we can. It can be easy to feel like we must have our hands in everything for our organization to succeed. But, as we all know, that couldn’t be further from the truth. No one accomplishes anything great alone. Great leaders delegate, and if you’re listening to this podcast, I know you want to be a great leader. If you feel like you’re overwhelmed trying to do it all, that’s where our friends at BELAY can help. BELAY, a modern church staffing organization with fractional U.S.-based accounting and virtual assistant services, has helped busy church leaders do just that for more than a decade. To help you figure out where to start, BELAY is offering an exclusive leadership toolkit free to our listeners today. With this toolkit, you’ll learn the necessary steps every leader needs to accomplish more and juggle less. Just text UNSTUCK—that’s U-N-S-T-U-C-K—to 55123 to get back to growing your church with BELAY.
Today, we’re kicking off a new series that’s all related to helping church leaders prepare to expand through multisite. But let me quickly add, if you’re leading a church that’s already multisite, don’t stop listening because this series is for you, too. And that’s because when we launched our multisite planning process, I don’t know, eight or nine years ago, Tony?
I think so.
We designed it for that large single-location church that was feeling led to expand through multiple locations. And the team of us that designed the process I think we had over a hundred years of combined experience in multisite, and we wanted to leverage all of our learnings so that future churches wouldn’t have to learn the mistakes of multisiting that had already been learned. So, Tony, if you remember, you know, our surprise when churches started hiring the Unstuck to engage the multisite process, it was surprising that our primary customer was not a large monosite church. It was churches that were already multisite and were stuck. And typically, it was around that three-campus mark.
Yeah, I do remember that, Amy. And it confirmed the need to have a process that was built on the learnings of the past 20 years. I mean, back in the 90s and early 2000s, everyone was kind of guessing on how to expand through multisite. But, Amy, you and I were both part of leading churches that were on that multisite journey then. And of course, we, we made some mistakes because there wasn’t a lot of history yet on what made this multisite effective. Lots of churches were launching a second location, which they made work, but when locations three and four came along there, there wasn’t a roadmap. But back when our team put this process together by 2015, there were some very clear success factors and very clear, predictable outcomes when it came to leading a multisite church. So here’s the great news. Since we launched our multisite strategy and structure process back in 2015, we’ve helped more than a hundred different multisite churches. And through that experience, we’ve learned a few things that work and a few things that don’t work when it comes to multisite strategy and structure.
So whether you’re preparing to expand through multisite, which by the way, Tony, based on The Unstuck Church Report a few weeks ago where we learned that nearly 60% of the churches that average a thousand or more in attendance, you know, are now multisite, I’m sure there’s lots of folks out there who are thinking this.
There’s a lot of you planning to expand, or whether you’re an existing multisite church, this series will help you identify what you need to do now to be ready for that future expansion.
And in fact, specifically, we’re going to walk you through the process we developed to help you prepare now for future multisite expansion, whether that’s launching your first campus or your fifth campus, because we’re going to talk about indicators that you’re ready to expand. That’s where we’re gonna hit the conversation today, Amy, is about those indicators.
Secondly, things to consider related to designing your multisite model. In the third week, we’ll talk about some best practices for determining your location and launch strategy. And then in the fourth episode of this series, we’re gonna talk about staffing and structure approaches for multisite. So this should be a fun series of conversations in the next several weeks.
Right? So let’s dive into that first topic. Today, I wanna talk about indicators that you’re ready for multisite expansion. And, Tony, it seems like the best place to start is to introduce our multisite readiness checkpoints. Would you mind just sharing an overview of that exercise?
Yeah. So we use this exercise in our multisite process for churches that are considering launching their first campus. We also use this exercise for churches that are considering a merger. And then through that merger, making that church a campus and so becoming a multisite church through the merger process. And then we also use this for churches that are already multisite but they’re trying to discover why their multisite strategy may not be working. And so, this tool is, it’s helping to confirm whether or not the church is ready to move forward with a multisite expansion. So let me just run through these 10 readiness checkpoints. By the way, when we do this, we go through a process to kind of explain, “This is the checkpoint,” and then, we encourage the team at the church to identify, “Is this checkpoint green for us right now?” In other words, this area is healthy and would indicate a readiness for multisite expansion. Is it yellow? In other words, we’re doing some things well around this checkpoint, but there’s still more work to be done. And, or is this red? In other words, either what we’re doing is not working and so this isn’t healthy, or this is an area that we’re not addressing right now and it needs some attention. And I’m gonna go through these quickly. So, make sure you check out the show notes. And if you’re not subscribed to the show notes, you can do that at theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. And, Amy, feel free to chime in on any of these as I’m going through.
Some of them more obvious than others. Beginning with checkpoint number one is around clarity of DNA. So who are we as a church? Why, why do we exist? Why do we do things the way we do them? The second is organizational buy-in for moving forward with a multisite strategy. So it’s not buy-in to who the church is; it’s a buy-in and commitment to actually leveraging the multisite strategy to carry out the mission of the church. The third checkpoint is around current growth. In fact, you’ve heard us talk about this even in recent podcast conversations. What we see is for multisite to work, it has to happen out of current health in the church and current growth in the church. In other words, multisite strategy is not a growth strategy. Rather, it’s a reaction to growth that’s happening in the church, and then it can produce more growth for the church. The fourth indicator is around staff leadership capacity. And then number five is around staff health. So, Amy, maybe you could distinguish those two because they’re both about staff, but there’s actually a difference between the two. Could you explain that?
Sure. When I think about staff health, I think about pace. I think about the relational strength of the team. Is there high trust? Is there healthy conflict? In other words, do we, you know, think of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team. When we talk about those indicators of having high trust, healthy conflict, interpersonal accountability, are we a healthy team? Staff leadership capacity, on the other hand, is really, do we have leaders who are replicating other leaders on our team? Because if we do, then we probably have capacity, right?
But when we have a lot of doers on our team, people who are just doing the ministry, I don’t know. Most churches, they’re full to capacity, and they don’t have capacity to expand that to another, another location.
Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And that actually leads to checkpoint number six, which is around volunteer strength. And so without that replication of leadership that’s happening with the staff so building leadership capacity, then oftentimes we don’t see the volunteer strength, as well. And so both of these are indicators that, well, we may be ready or may not be ready to expand using our multisite approach. Number seven checkpoint is around the ministry model. And so, maybe the clearest way for me to explain this, and it goes back to the overall health of the church, your model for ministry has to be healthy, and it has to be clear. Now, when we talk about ministry model, what are we talking about? Well, it’s things like your reach strategy. Is your reach strategy, the strategy you are using to engage people that are currently outside the church and outside the faith, is that strategy clear? Do you know? Do you know how you’re going to reach more people going forward? It also includes your spiritual formation strategy. So once people connect to the church, do you have a clear discipleship strategy? Do you have clear next steps in place to encourage people to take their next steps toward Christ? And then we even break that down further into the ministry model around weekend services, around group strategy, around serving strategies, around our evangelism or relational evangelism strategy. So we break that down even further to make sure we have clarity on our ministry model that can then be replicated at every location of the church. Number eight checkpoint is around. . .Oh yeah, go ahead, Amy.
Just one thought on that, Tony. I think actually the larger the churches before they go multisite, the more this ministry model comes into play because over time, as a large monosite, churches have been able to add lots of programs, lots of events, lots of classes. And so honestly, some of the largest churches don’t have the clarity of a ministry model, and they actually figure it out as they think about launching. Cuz then they go, “Well, what is it we wanna replicate?” Right?
And what are we not going to replicate as we go into a second site?
Yep, that’s right. The eighth checkpoint is defined systems, systems and strategies, but here, we’re really looking at the system side of things to make sure we have good systems in place to support the ministry strategy, the middle ministry model that we’re engaging. Number nine is all about financial strength. Is the church financially healthy, healthy enough to be able to really invest in the vision expansion through multisite? And knowing that it’s gonna, there’s gonna be some upfront investment that’s required related to probably acquiring a new location, staffing for that new location before any giving comes in from that location. And then frankly, many times what we see is even after a new multisite location opens up, the sending location, if you will, has to provide some kind of financial sustainability for that location in the initial years. And so we just need to make sure the church is financially healthy before they take the step. And then number 10, and the funny thing is it’s our number 10; I think for many churches considering multisite, it’s their number one. They’re just thinking about, “Can we replicate our weekend services in another location?”
And yes, that’s still important, but all of these other readiness checkpoints we have learned are far more important than the question of whether or not we have a replicable weekend service. But that still is a critical factor in determining readiness for multisite expansion. Now, what’s not on this list? Ironically, it’s probably the questions that we most often hear from churches that are considering multisite. Like, “Do we have a campus pastor? Do we have a location and a building? Are we going to use video teaching or live teaching in each location that we’re going into?” You know, all of those factors really are secondary to these questions that more, they more revolve around the overall health of the church, and we just need to make sure in all 10 of those areas that the church is healthy and ready to multiply in new locations. But, Amy, related to these multisite readiness checkpoints, I think you recently looked back at all the churches we’ve served the last couple years. As you did that, what did you learn from looking back at those conversations that we’ve had with all those multisite churches?
Yeah, I went back, and I did some analysis just looking at how every church scored in the readiness portion of their engagement with us on those checkpoints kind of from least ready to most ready for multisite expansion. And the least ready, I don’t know if this will surprise you, but the, the checkpoint that scored the lowest overall was that staff leadership capacity. That came in at the lowest. And of course, I mentioned this just a few minutes ago, but you know, we have to have leaders on our team if we’re gonna go multisite, who are replicating leaders, multiplying leaders, equipping leaders. And most churches, as they self-evaluate, it said that that’s our lowest area. The second, close cousin to it, is volunteer strength.
That came in just a, a smidge better on that. And of course, volunteer strength: you need volunteers for your existing location, and you need to build a team that you’re sending out from that location to the new church. So, critical, they were honest, that was a low one. And then current growth, Tony, was the third. Most ready was replica weekend services, like you said, and the financial side of things, which really confirms for me, Tony, it’s not finances that get in the way of churches going multisite; it’s the other factors that you were referencing.
Well, Amy, we’re actually gonna talk about staff leadership capacity, volunteer strength and several of these other checkpoints later in the series. But, today, I’d like to talk about the fact that current growth was third on the list of the least-ready rankings, if you will, when we ask churches about their readiness for multisite expansion. And honestly, Amy, the fact that current growth, or maybe it’s more accurately a lack of growth, was ranked number three on that list. I mean, that was just alarming to me.
Why, why was that alarming to you?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, we just know the know that multisite—it’s, it’s not a growth strategy. It’s a strategy to multiply healthy ministry. Or here’s another way to think about it. Whatever trends you are currently experiencing as a ministry, those trends will be accelerating with multisite expansion. And, and so if you are a healthy ministry, if your church is healthy and you expand through multisite, you are going to reach more people faster and you’re gonna help more people meet and follow Jesus. But, on the other hand, if your church is plateaued, if it’s unhealthy, if there’s some dysfunction in the team, especially well unhealthy churches that expand through multisite, I don’t know how to say this. They, they tend to get stuck faster. And we’ve talked about this analogy before, but in many ways, this is not unlike a couple, a married couple that’s facing dysfunction in their, their marriage. Their marriage is unhealthy. You would not coach that unhealthy couple, unhealthy marriage to go have a kid. Having a kid is not going to make that marriage healthy. And likewise, thinking that you can launch a new multisite location when your church is not currently healthy, or maybe even more specifically when your ministry strategy is not working, that is not going to lead your church towards health down the road. So, I would encourage you: really go back. Pay attention to those 10 readiness checkpoints whether you’re currently a single location church that’s considering launching your very first multisite campus or if you’re currently multisite and wondering is a timing right for us to launch a new location. In either situation, just make sure that you have green all the way down in those readiness checkpoints and that you really are in a healthy place and prepared to multiply.
It sounds kind of basic, Tony. But so, why do you think pastors even consider multisite when they aren’t currently experiencing growth?
Yeah, Amy, that’s a good question. And really, this is just speculation, but I do think this is how many pastors get into multisite, unfortunately. So, they look at their current situation. They’re, they’re sensing, because leaders see things before normal people see things, so they sense, they sense stuckness in their church many times before other people in their church are experiencing that. So they know their church is stuck. They’re, they know that their current ministry model is broken in some way, and they’re thinking maybe it’s the strategy, including primarily the Sunday service, maybe that’s not working. And so what they start to think about is, “I can’t change what we’re doing here at this location. Let’s start a new location with a new strategy and hope that somehow we can become healthier as a church in by adding this new location.” Sometimes, I think the challenge is around lay leadership, and it’s just the congregation is unwilling to change or the pastors just decided, “I don’t wanna fight that battle.” And so the pastor starts to think in both of these cases, “Let’s just start a new campus and try a different ministry model to reach new people.” And, Amy, I’ve just, I’ve seen this play out several times.
And, of course, whenever we see kind of negative situations in ministries, we don’t name names. And so I hesitate to do that again now, but I’m just reflecting back in recent years at a, a church that I worked with. The church, it was a good-size church, but they had been plateaued for a number of years. In fact, they were starting to see some decline. And so they thought the solution was let’s launch a new location. But with that new location, they tried to do a different type of weekend service. They tried small group strategy rather than their current Sunday school model. They tried to approach more of a streamlined ministry approach as far as streamlined programs, but what they ended up doing was they, they launched a second type of church. And as you know, what happens in that situation is it just creates all kinds of conflict, contention within the staff team, within the congregation, within lay leadership. And so, trying to launch something new to fix something that’s not working, it just doesn’t work. But, on the other hand, when the church is healthy, when the church is growing, multisite for them is a way to just accelerate that health and growth that they’re experiencing. And I can assure you of this, after helping more than a hundred multisite churches through the years, those churches are healthy and growing as multisite churches because they are healthy and growing churches, but not because they’re multisite. So, it’s a healthy church that’s replicating, that’s multiplying, and they’re seeing that multiplication happen through their multisite strategy.
As you’re talking, I’m thinking about the old conversation of it’s harder to turn a church than it is to start a church. That’s right. And I find some large, large monosites that want to go multisite, all of a sudden, they have crystal clarity when they think about launching a new location of all the things that they would change to be an effective church. But, unfortunately, you have to look in the mirror on that and really leverage that first site and make those changes before you go multisite.
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Well, Tony, if multisite isn’t a growth strategy, what should a church work on now to prepare for multisite expansion in the future?
Yeah, so I do think churches need to have a growth strategy. We call that a reach strategy. But many churches I find have a clear defined discipleship strategy for people who are already connected to their ministry. But very few churches have a clear defined reach strategy to reach people who are not connected to the ministry. And just think about it as a strategy for reaching new people. Now, here’s what I’ve learned through the years. New people don’t just magically show up to church on Sunday morning anymore. That was a thing, by the way, back. . .
It used to be.
It, it was, yeah, probably maybe through the end of the 1990s, maybe into the early 2000s. But it’s not a thing anymore. Normal people just don’t get up on Sunday morning and think, “Hey, I’ve noticed that church down the street is advertising a service at 11 a.m. I think I’ll go.” People don’t do that anymore. Because of that, I would argue that every church needs both a reach strategy to reach new people and a discipleship strategy to disciple Jesus followers who are connected to the ministry. Now, Amy, the reality is they are one and the same. I mean, how we’ve talked about this recently. How can you have a reach strategy without disciples of Jesus? And how can disciples of Jesus call themselves followers of Christ if they’re not reaching their friends, their neighbors, their family members?
They are, they are the same. But what we see is many times churches are just focusing on discipling believers rather than looking at the both and, both reaching and spiritual formation.
Well, Tony, maybe you can explain how we help churches develop this reach strategy.
Yeah, so, again, this is a process. Any church that works with The Unstuck Group, we, we just wanna make sure they can define what their reach strategy looks like. So we do a lot of work with churches to customize a reach strategy for their context, for their community. However, the reach strategies that are working for many churches right now include these key components. First, there’s clarity about who they are trying to reach in their mission field. And so we do. We take a step back, kind of look at the mission field around the church. Who is it that’s living in the community? Who is it that they’re focused on reaching? And then the second piece is, is just as important; we help the church get clarity about how they are going to reach that mission field. And so the how commonly includes things like just redesigning their weekend services so that the person they’re trying to reach, so that that person is a consideration as they’re thinking about their teaching and their worship and just that welcoming environment that they’re creating. A second common attribute of reach strategies is there’s some focus on equipping the congregation to engage the gospel mission wherever people live, work and play. And so it’s, it’s a form of relational evangelism, but it’s just making sure that everybody is equipped and kind of sees themselves as a missionary in their community, in their family, in their workplace, but that’s a common component of a reach strategy, as well. A third common component is some form of a community engagement. It’s really kind of focused on just doing good in the community, serving the needs of people that live where the church is doing ministry. And it’s just a reminder to me that this, this is one of my favorite verses. It comes from Titus chapter three; it’s verse 14, “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others.” I love that.
Mm-hmm. That’s great.
That’s coming from the New Living Translation. But it’s just a reminder, part of our purpose as a church is to do good, do good in the communities, to serve the urgent needs of others. And then the fourth component, and this is especially for the larger churches that we’re working with, is to make sure that they have a solid digital strategy. And this goes well beyond streaming Sunday morning services. It’s really more about creating shareable content that addresses the life questions and priorities of the people that the church is trying to reach. Of course, Amy, overarching, all of this is a prayer strategy. And I, I don’t wanna overly spiritualize it, but we see it all the time in the churches that we’re engaging with. The churches that are committed to prayer seem to be the healthiest churches; they’re certainly the most aligned and united churches we get to work with. And when people come together in prayer about reaching others for Jesus, I, I think Jesus, we’re gonna get answers to that prayer all the time. So we need to be praying for this, as well. And again, we call this a reach strategy, but it’s really a strategy to grow the number of new people connecting to your church and then hopefully connecting to the faith. And if you’re considering multisite expansion in the future, you need to find a reach strategy that will help you experience growth before you consider launching your next location.
That’s really good. Tony, I think that’s probably it for today. Do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up this conversation?
Well, Amy, there may be some people listening to today’s conversation that wanna dive deeper into some of these key issues surrounding multisite. And so, our team is hosting a free webinar. It’s called Multisite Better: Learn Proven Strategies for Better Results. And we’re gonna do that on March 30th. You can learn more and register through the link in your show notes. And if you’re a church leader listening to this and you’re wondering how to develop a strategy to better reach your community, that’s actually one of the core parts of our full Unstuck process and our multisite Unstuck process. And you can learn more about both of those options by visiting theunstuckgroup.com.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Again, if you’re interested in joining us on the upcoming webinar Multisite Better, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to download the show notes. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.
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