What’s Working in Large Churches Now (Part 3)
In our current series, we’re unpacking key learnings from conversations with four large, growing churches – Christ Fellowship in Miami, Transformation Church near Charlotte, Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix, and North Point Community Church in Atlanta:
- They are intentional about widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus.
- They are encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning.
- They are leveraging multisite strategy as a reaction to growth that enables more growth.
- They are focused on shaping a strong team culture that leads to a healthy culture in their church.
As noted in theme #3, all four of the churches we’ve featured in this series are currently (or considering) multisite:
- Christ Fellowship has 5 locations in Miami and 6 locations in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Columbia.
- Sun Valley has 6 locations in the greater Phoenix area and one prison campus.
- North Point has 8 locations in the Atlanta area and partner churches around the world.
- Transformation Church is currently considering expanding via multisite.
LEVERAGING A MULTISITE MINISTRY STRATEGY
Our research has found that churches engaging a multisite strategy tend to be healthier in many key areas than other churches, and it’s clear that more large churches are using the strategy to increase health and growth—2/3 of churches surveyed with 1000+ in attendance are multisite already, and 1/3 of large churches are planning to open a new location in 2023.
On this week’s podcast, Amy and I are continuing this series focused on what’s working in larger churches with a conversation on how these churches are successfully implementing their multisite strategy. We’ll discuss:
- Multisite insights from Transformation Church
- Multisite best practices from Sun Valley Community Church
- Multisite best practices from North Point Community Church
- Why multisite is a reaction to growth, not a growth strategy
Webinar: What's Working in Large Churches NOW
Tony Morgan and Amy Anderson recently sat down with senior leaders Chris Hodges (Church of the Highlands), Omar Giritli (Christ Fellowship Church in Miami), and Miles McPherson (Rock Church) to discuss what’s actually working in their large churches now to reach new people and engage people in the life of the church a few years post-pandemic...
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. The research says that churches engaging a multi-site strategy tend to be healthier in many key areas than other churches. And more larger churches are using the strategy to increase health and growth. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue a series focused on what’s working in larger churches with a conversation on how several churches are successfully implementing their multi-site 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 the Leader Conversation Guide, bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. That’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Before this week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.
Before we jump into today’s conversation, let me tell you about my friends at PlainJoe Studios. The PlainJoe team is an experienced design group who loves making practical solutions available for churches like yours. From website development to logos and brand identity, communication, strategy, signage, and more, it’s their goal to help you build your church’s story. To learn more about working with PlainJoe’s team of down-to-earth specialists, artists, architects, strategists, and problem solvers, visit plainjoestudios.com/getunstuck.
Well, Tony, we launched a new podcast series a couple of weeks ago that’s focused on how churches are winning on this side of the pandemic. And, Tony, we’re gonna focus on how large churches are leveraging multi-site today. But can you catch up listeners, bring ’em up to speed before we move forward?
Yeah. So this series, it’s really, again, we’re focusing on what’s working in large churches. And related to that, I invited some friends who lead in some very large churches to share what they’re learning in this particular season. And the four churches that I connected with included Christ Fellowship in Miami, Transformation Church near Charlotte, Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix, and also connected with my friends at North Point Community Church here in Atlanta. And all of these churches have several thousand in attendance every weekend, and probably there are probably tens of thousands of people that are connected and actively engaged in these churches. But, as we’ve talked about, my hope is, and if you’ve been listening into this series, even the principles that we’re talking about that are working in these large churches, I think a lot of these principles still apply to churches of every different size. And related to that, the four key themes that came out from these conversations with these leaders at these large churches, were these. Number one, we are intentional about widening the front door and inviting people to follow Jesus. Secondly, what’s working for us is we’re encouraging people to engage next steps and connect with other people beyond Sunday morning. Today’s topic, the third theme was we’re leveraging multi-site strategy as a reaction to growth that enables more growth. And then next week, we’re gonna come back and talk about the fourth theme that I heard in those conversations. Again, it’s all around what’s working in larger churches. And the fourth and final theme that we’re gonna talk about next week is these churches said we’re focused on shaping a strong culture on our team and that leads to a healthy culture in our church.
Hmm. Well, as I mentioned earlier, we’re gonna focus on that third theme related to multi-site strategy today. And, Tony, based on what I’m seeing in the churches, the ones that I’m personally serving, it doesn’t look like multi-site is slowing down. Right?
It certainly doesn’t. In fact, our most recent research for our Quarterly Unstuck Church Report, you know, we collect a lot of different data for that report, but one of the questions we always ask about is related to the churches that are using multi-site strategy to reach their community, to help people take their next steps towards Jesus. And it actually was astonishing to me of the churches that are a thousand or more in attendance—two-thirds of those churches are now multi-site.
I knew that multi-site strategy was being embraced by larger churches, but I would’ve never guessed that two-thirds of those larger churches now are using multi-site. And what we also know is that one-third of large churches are planning to open a new location in 2023.
And so, if you’re wondering, “Why is it that The Unstuck Group tends to put a lot of focus in their content around multi-site strategy?” One of the reasons why is many of the churches that we’re serving, either through our content or through the Unstuck Church’s Multi-site Consulting Process, one-third of those large churches are planning to open a new location in the next 12 months. So, again, just to give you a sneak peek at some of the churches that I reached out to on this and other topics that we’re hitting this series. First of all, let me tell you a little bit about Christ Fellowship Miami, as far as their multi-site strategies concerned. Currently, they have five locations in Miami, in and around Miami, and then they have six additional locations in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Colombia. So, the unique part of their multi-site strategy is they’re not only serving churches here in the U.S. and reaching people here in the U.S., but they’re connecting with communities and cultures in the Caribbean and Latin America.
So, it’s, it’s a fun story to look at how they’re engaging their multi-site strategy. Sun Valley, another example, they’re in six locations in and around Phoenix, and on top of that, they also have a prison campus, which is a unique approach to their multi-site strategy. And then North Point, here in Atlanta, they have eight locations throughout the city. And of course, they also have some partner churches around the world. So, what we know is multi-site, as you mentioned, Amy, it seems to be continuing to grow as far as the number of larger churches that are engaging this strategy. In fact, every large church that I’ve engaged with in recent months, and this includes churches in D.C., Montreal, San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Nashville, San Francisco, Southern California, Chicago, all of those larger churches are either moving into multi-site, they’re planning to launch their first additional location, or they’ve been using a multi-site strategy for many years. So, hopefully, today’s content is gonna be helpful, not only for those churches that are considering multi-site, but for those of you that are currently in a multi-site strategy. You know, Amy.
It’s not rare for us to hear, “We’re doing multi-site, but we kind of feel multi-stuck right now.” So, hopefully, this conversation will benefit you.
Well, it’s bright and early here in Minnesota, and I just got back last night from a great church I was working with that has three locations, and they are a bit stuck. And so it was just an honor to serve that church—excited about their plans. Hey, Tony, I did notice the only church that you didn’t mention in that list was Transformation Church, the one that’s near Charlotte. They currently are just one location, but I think that’s about to change, correct?
Yeah, that’s right. So, Derwin and Vicki Gray were actually a part of a recent gathering that I hosted here in Atlanta for pastors of larger churches. And it was, it was just phenomenal to hear about what God’s doing in Transformation Church right now. I mean, it’s a growing ministry. I mentioned they’re close to Charlotte, but their current location is actually in Indian Land, South Carolina, so across the state border. And I mean, they have this great challenge of even through Covid reaching more and more people. And because of that, you know, facing the question, should we build a bigger building in our current location to accommodate more people or should we consider multi-site? And we’re encouraging them to pursue multi-site. And one of the reasons why is as they’re looking at people that are connected to their ministry, there are 8,000 people who are connected to Transformation Church, who are about a 45-minute drive . . .
…north of their current location. And so it, I mean, when you have that many people connected to the church, but having to drive that far to stay engaged at the church, I mean, they’re just prime for launching a new multi-site church. And what Derwin expressed to me is they, they really view multi-site as a missional mandate right now. It’s a missional mandate to reach more people for Jesus in the Charlotte region. And so Derwin and Vicki recognize that this isn’t just about reaching people; it’s also about engaging more people in the life of the church. They recognize that getting locations closer to where people live makes it a lot easier for people to invite their friends and their neighbors. And it allows people to engage ministry in the communities where they live, work, and play. And I experienced this firsthand in a very similar situation when I was a part of a great church in South Bend, Indiana. We, my family, we actually lived across the state border into Michigan. It was about 25-minute drive from the church. Now, our family was in love with the church that we were a part of. I mean, it was just, it was so transformative not only to my spiritual journey, my wife’s spiritual journey, but our kids were plugged into the ministry there. And so we were completely bought in and realized this, this connection to this church is giving us an opportunity for us to take steps spiritually and for us also then to be engaged in the ministry. And we didn’t mind driving to another state 25 minutes away to do that, but Amy, it was impossible every time we invited somebody to come with us to go to church, it’s just like, “What, you want me to drive to Indiana to go to church? You want me to drive 25 minutes away? There are churches right in our community; why would you want me to do that?” And so it, it really is, I mean, for people that are well connected to your current church. They’re invested. They’re bought in. This may not make as much sense to them, unless they’re also thinking about their neighbors, their coworkers, their friends and family that live in their community. And if part of our mission is to reach those folks and help connect them to faith and to church, then my goodness, multi-sites is a great way to accomplish that.
Yeah. And what you’re really talking about is, you know, one of the key components of our multi-site consulting process is you have to go where your people are. Because if . . .
. . . you don’t go where your people are, it’s not gonna be a missional church, so to say. Hey, as you hear Transformation Church talking about why they’re considering multi-site, you shared some of that, you know, what else stands out to you in their story?
What stands out to me, Amy? It’s actually pointing to a couple of multi-site best practices that we help churches with when they’re engaging our multi-site process through The Unstuck Group. The first one is we encourage churches to engage multi-site as a response to health and growth rather than an attempt to turn around a declining church. And that’s Transformation Church’s story. So, if your current, another way to say this is if your current strategy isn’t working, trying to launch a new location with a new strategy is, I would liken that to a married couple. Their marriage is falling apart, and so they decide, “Let’s have a baby.” Having, having a baby is not gonna heal your marriage. What, what, churches need to do if they’re interested in multi-site is they need to find a strategy, a ministry strategy that’s going to work for their church. And then once that’s working, then they can look to replicate it. So that’s the first kind of best practice that stood out to me. And then secondly, and you just referred to this a moment ago, there’s, there’s just gonna be less engagement from people if they’re living more than 20 minutes from where you’re from, where the church is meeting. So, for Transformation Church, if they have quite a few people that are a 45-minute drive away, again, it’s a prime opportunity for them to get a location closer to those people so that not only can they be there for Sunday morning and invite friends and family, but more importantly, it will allow all those people to throughout the week be engaged in community groups . . .
. . . in their community, serving in their community, and so on. So just getting locations closer to where people already live is going to help the church remain healthy, but it’s also going to help those people take their next steps towards Christ.
And Tony, you mentioned Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix, and they, they’ve been using a multi-site strategy for several years, but it seemed like they doubled down on that strategy during the pandemic. Can you share part of their story?
Yeah, it’s amazing. But Sun Valley made significant investments in two of their six locations during the pandemic. And you know that, what that says, of course, is Sun Valley recognized the value of their multi-site strategy to accomplishing their mission. And even though they were, I mean, they were facing the same constraints, the same challenges during the pandemic, but they believed so much in multi-site strategy, they continued to invest in it during Covid. And so one of their locations is in South Gilbert and that location opened in 2021. And here’s what’s fantastic. In the last year, in the last 12 months, weekly attendance was up more than 20 percent at that location.
That, that new, I mean, it’s a new location, and there are already over 850 people attending every week. And this is the best part of this story. Salvations and baptisms are up more than 50 percent in the last year.
So, a lot of life change happening through that location. One of their other locations is in East Mesa, and they actually acquired part of that campus through a merger, but, in two year, and that happened two years before the pandemic. But during Covid, they almost tripled the size of their facility, and at that location, attendance is up close to 50 percent at that location in the last 12 months. They now have close to a thousand people attending every week. And again, when it comes to people saying yes to following Jesus, that has increased nearly 75 percent in the last 12 months. So it’s not, they’re just not pulling people from other churches. These are new people.
New to the faith. And it’s just fun seeing how by, you know, continuing to leverage a strategy like this, they’re continuing to see growth as a church, but more importantly, they’re, continuing to see people say yes to Jesus. And I’m convinced that one of the reasons that Sun Valley is winning is because they don’t just respond to opportunities for multi-site. They are actually engaging multi-site with an intentional strategy. So let me, let me unwrap this a little bit—what I mean by responding to opportunities. Most churches, when they jump into multi-site, are responding to a couple of opportunities that might be in front of them. One example might be another church that wants to merge. And so because of that the church says, “Well, let’s try multi-site strategy.” Another example, a few people are attending the church, but they live far away. And so, you know, the church might say, “Well, we, we have a few people there; there’s an opportunity. Let’s try to pursue that with a multi-site strategy.” Or there might just be kind of a vision for reaching a new community, but no one in the church lives in that community or works in that community. But, in all these scenarios, the natural response is, “Well, if there’s an opportunity, God must want us to start a new location in that community.”
And my sense to that is “Well, that might be the case, but that’s not always the case.”
Tony, I remember a few, a few years ago you said, “Maybe you should date those opportunities; not marry them right out of the gate.” Right?
That’s right. That’s right.
Because here’s what we see in healthy multi-site churches. Healthy multi-site churches, the churches experience health and growth. They have previously strategically identified a location where people, and probably hundreds of people, are already connected to their church. They have strong leadership development. They have a strong leadership culture that’s creating many new leaders in the ministry.
They already have an intentional strategy for launching a healthy church, not just a Sunday morning service. And there’s a difference between launching a healthy church and having Sunday morning services. And so you look at all these differences that really define healthy multi-site churches, and what you see under all of that as an intentional strategy. So they’re engaging multi-site on that foundation of an intentional strategy to accomplish their mission rather than just responding to opportunities to launch a new campus.
Yeah. We do talk about Sun Valley a lot because of the way that they are expanding and growing. So anything else jump out to you as you see how Sun Valley is engaging their multi-site strategy?
Yeah. So let me share some thoughts that both Paul and Chad, Paul’s executive pastor Chad’s the senior pastor at the church, let me just share some of my interactions with those two guys as it relates to Sun Valley’s strategy. First of all, they both, they talk often about, and this is how they say it, a consistent faithfulness to their strategy to reach the vision God has given them. So that consistent faithfulness is what I hear often. In other words, they’re sticking with their strategy, and they do that because that ministry strategy is working.
Both of the locations that I mentioned earlier were right on the heels of Covid. So they were both smaller and grew a bit slower than what Sun Valley has experienced with pre-Covid launches. But as I mentioned earlier, when you just look at the life change that’s happening, there’s still great momentum that’s happening through those two locations. And then the last thing that stands out to me as I’ve talked with them in recent months about their multi-site strategy is they are always moving forward with plans for future locations and additional expansions of current locations. In fact, they continue to invest in the strategy. Because again, the strategy is helping the church fulfill its mission. And here’s I think the, the great thing on the other side of that, with that intentionality, with that focus, with that ongoing kind of vision for continuing to expand into future locations, when they, when they have that as part of their future direction, it causes them to make decisions today in a different way.
They make different decisions about how they handle their finances. They make different decisions about how they’re engaging their discipleship strategy, their reach strategy. They make different decisions today based on how they’re developing and empowering leaders. Because they know in all of those aspects of their ministry, they need to be preparing today for reaching into new locations in the future.
Hmm. All right. Well, finally, let’s talk about what’s happening at North Point Community Church. They’ve probably been committed to a multi-site strategy longer than any of these other churches that we’ve talked about today, but they’re also continuing to open new locations, I believe.
Yeah, you’re right, Amy. In fact, when I asked North Point leaders about their multi-site strategy, this is what I heard first, and this is in their language, they said, “For us, multi-site has not been a growth strategy in and of itself, but rather a reaction to growth that enables more growth.” And again, that is, it’s a common theme we see in churches. They’re not just chasing opportunities, as I referenced a moment ago related to Sun Valley, and they’re not trying to use multi-site to create growth. Instead, multi-site is a reaction to growth.
And so, North Point, they’ve started new campuses because existing campuses are full. If you look back at their multi-site history, that’s what’s prompting them to go to new locations. And a large number of North Point people because they were moving to other parts of the city, I mean, Atlanta is a growing metropolitan area, as North Point people were moving to other parts of the city, it was kind of creating a core, growing core of people in other communities. And with that, then people started to live and work more than 20 minutes from their existing locations. And with that, then what they’ve seen is their most successful locations have been the ones that are maybe 15 to 20 minutes from any of their existing and full campuses. So, you know, most recently they’re newer locations in Gwinnett County and in Woodstock, these are examples of churches that were kind of in that 15- to 20-minute distance from campuses that were already full.
Well, and it sounds like their newest location East Cobb is another great example of that.
Yeah, you’re right. Amy, Cobb County, especially East Cobb, that’s a growing area of Atlanta. And lots of people who previously attended and may still attend one of the North Point locations are moving to that area of our city. In fact, there were so many people living in East Cobb who previously attended another North Point location that those people kind of just got together on their own and created their own local church. And then after they did that, they reached out to the team at North Point, and kind of said, “You know, we’re all already meeting. We’ve already kind of formed a church; can we become a campus of North Point?” And because that core was so strong, North Point is simply responding to a desire to have a local church now in that community.
And I love that because not only will that new location make it easier for people to attend and engage ministry closer to where they live, but it’ll also be easier for the people in that location to invite their friends and neighbors to join them. And again, the strategy is working, though, because they’re not using multi-site to create growth; it’s a reaction to growth.
Hmm. So good. All right. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah, so this series, it’s all about what’s working in large churches. And today, we talked a little bit about multi-site. But as I mentioned earlier, this is a common theme in the churches that are reaching out to us for help. And periodically, we do, we like to focus some of our content, including content on this podcast around multi-site strategy, to help churches that are taking that step, or as I mentioned, to help churches that are multi-stuck. And as a result of that, in March, our next podcast series will be focused on what you can do now to prepare for expansion through multi-site. And I’m gonna be looking forward to those conversations with Amy about that topic. So, the other thing is, though, if you haven’t registered yet, I encourage you to sign up and join us for an upcoming webinar on what is working in large churches now. And I will be sitting down with Chris Hodges from Church of the Highlands, Omar Giritli from Christ Fellowship Church in Miami, and Miles McPherson from Rock Church for a candid conversation around where they’re finding momentum, what challenges they’re facing, and more. And you can register for free to join us at the link in your show notes.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you’d like to be a part of the upcoming webinar, you can get the link to register in the show notes. And if you don’t yet have the show notes, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.