In recent times, some multisite churches have found themselves struggling with the negative outcomes of the model they’ve chosen and wondering: should we continue forward or un-multisite? More public multisite collapses also have church leaders questioning the viability of the model as a whole.
After decades spent in ministry, I’ve come to believe that when multisite is done correctly, it can be an effective strategy for carrying out the mission of the Church.
However, not all multisite models and methods are created equally. That’s why, before you consider multisite for your church, there are five common multisite misconceptions that are worth addressing:
Lie #1: Multisite is in decline and churches are learning that the model itself is broken.
In 2006, Leadership Network identified 1,500 multisite churches in their database. By 2018, that number had grown to over 5,000. In our most recent research survey, one of every five churches identified as multisite. And the EFCA reported that 70% of megachurches today are multisite. The data is clear: Multisite is trending upward, not downward. But does that mean it’s a healthy ministry model?
Multisite comes with a lot of challenges. But when multisite ministry is done right, it produces significant Kingdom results. In fact, a survey from Leadership Network and Portable Church found that multisite churches are actually growing faster and reporting more faith conversions than new church plants.
If we’re on a mission to help more people say “yes” to Jesus and take their next steps toward Christ, multisite is a proven ministry strategy that has proven results.
Lie #2: There are many ways to do multisite—and every strategy produces the same results.
We’ve seen a variety of multisite strategies used throughout the years. While no two multisite churches are exactly the same, common multisite models do have predictable outcomes: Some models create more complexity by releasing too much autonomy to individual campuses. Some models lead to over-staffing. Some models foster division, rather than unity, among campuses. And some models simply aren’t financially sustainable.
For example, at The Unstuck Group, we believe that you increase the odds of success with your multisite model if you use video delivery of messages as much as possible. This is true for many reasons:
- Every campus needs to hear from the senior pastor as the primary teacher.
- Every location hearing the same message every week helps maintain unity of mission, vision, and doctrine.
- It streamlines the efforts of your creative arts team to support the teaching series at every location.
- You can still build a teaching team—and you can also guarantee that every location is hearing from the most gifted Bible teacher on any given Sunday.
- It’s the best stewardship of financial resources in the long run.
- Most importantly: You avoid splitting your church.
On the flip side, there are some predictable outcomes to having campus pastors as the primary teachers at their locations. When the CP teaches every weekend, they become the primary voice that the congregation hears. Over time, this allows the CP to shape the vision and direction of the campus, which leads to more independence and the desire for more autonomy. Soon, the tension between the campus and the sending location grows… especially when it comes to staffing and managing finances. Before you know it, the campus desires to become an independent church—or the senior pastor decides to un-multisite.
This is just one example of how the model you choose can make or break your multisite success.
Multisite Better: Proven Strategies for Better Results
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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.
Lie #3: Churches in decline should use multisite to combat the decline and experience growth again.
Think of multisite like a marriage:
- In a healthy marriage, having a child adds stress to the marriage dynamic, but makes the marriage stronger in the end.
- In an unhealthy marriage, adding a child to the already-strained dynamic creates more stress and can ultimately lead to its demise.
It’s true that multisite helps healthy churches grow faster. But on the flip side, multisite helps unhealthy churches decline faster with every location added. When multisite is working well, it’s because churches are not using it as a strategy to create growth, but as a reaction to existing growth.
Multisite works best when healthy, growing churches expand into new locations to reach more people and have a greater Kingdom impact. After all, you can only replicate what you already are.
Lie #4: The same strategies that lead to a healthy church plant can also be used to launch a healthy multisite campus.
Church planting and multisite are both models for multiplication—and there are some similarities in the strategies you might use to launch a new church or a new campus. But there are also many key differences:
- Multisite = One church in multiple geographic locations.
- Church Planting = Multiple churches in multiple geographic locations.
- Multisite = What do the people who we are trying to reach have in common?
- Church Planting = What’s distinctive about the people who we are trying to reach?
- Multisite = One mission, one vision, one ministry strategy.
- Church Planting = Same mission, but often with different visions and strategies to reach people in different communities.
- Multisite = Launch campuses in locations where people are already connected to our church.
- Church Planting = Launch churches in locations where people are not connected to a church.
- Multisite = How can we simplify systems and focus our effort to leverage economies of scale across multiple locations?
- Church Planting = How can we customize systems and expand our efforts to reach more people in one location?
- Multisite = The campus pastor should be a strong team builder, galvanizer, and missionary.
- Church Planting = The church planter should be a strong preacher, visionary, and evangelist.
Lie #5: Any strong leader can be a campus pastor.
You need strong leadership in all areas of ministry… but you especially need the right, strong leader to be the campus pastor. However, just as there are certain gifts, personalities, and experiences that prepare people for specific roles and leadership within the Body of Christ, the same is true for the campus pastor role. In other words, you increase the potential for success with your multisite model if you hire the right strong leader to be your campus pastor. For example:
- The campus pastor should be more vision-carrier than vision-creator.
- The campus pastor should be more builder than entrepreneur.
- The campus pastor should be more galvanizer than inventor.
- The campus pastor should be more empowering than controlling.
- The campus pastor should be more missionary than preacher.
That’s right—you can be a successful campus pastor leading a healthy, thriving campus and never teach a message on Sunday morning. (In fact, if you feel like you need to preach in order to lead, that’s a clear indication that you shouldn’t be a campus pastor.)
Without a clear assessment of where you are today and a clear strategy in four key multisite areas, going multisite can get your church multi-stuck.
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