Managing Multisite Tensions – Episode 100 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

Ep. 100

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How to Reduce Central vs. Campus Frustration in a Multisite Matrix

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Both Amy Anderson and I spent many years on staff teams at multisite churches. We had a front row seat to the real tensions that exist between central and campus leaders on a multisite team. (Amy had the closer view of the two of us… she was a central leader while her husband was a campus pastor.)

We were working on our new Multisite Unstuck Course and this topic of managing the tension was one multisite leaders kept affirming is a big felt need.

And I say “managing the tension” because in reality, the tensions that exist when you’re leading in a multisite church matrix will most likely always exist. Central teams and campus teams have unique perspectives. But we have learned there are some strategies to reduce that tension and maintain a healthy, effective relationship.

So, in this episode, Amy and I discussed:

  • Questions we hear from multisite staff members that indicate there’s tension between central and campus teams
  • Why tension in the multisite matrix will never completely go away and the 3 areas every multisite church must clarify to manage and reduce it
  • How to clarify reporting relationships when your team members have more than one boss, or are wearing dual, triple or even quadruple hats (in multisite, it happens)
  • Why it’s important to identify campus vs. central calls in every level of your ministry
  • How to clarify authority and influence throughout the organization
When churches aren’t crystal clear on their multisite model, tensions naturally arise. #unstuckchurch [episode 100] Click to Tweet Every person on your multisite staff should know the answer to 2 questions: Who above me has authority?(org chart solid line) Who who has influence? (org chart dotted line) #unstuckchurch [episode 100] Click To Tweet

I should also note: This is our 100th episode of The Unstuck Church Podcast! Thanks so much for tuning in. I’m hearing more and more church leaders we serve at The Unstuck Group referencing specific episodes and conversations from the podcast, and that’s why we do this. We want to give you real-time help getting unstuck, and we’re continually adding to our list of topics to tackle in upcoming episodes.

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Amy: 01:13 Well, Tony, you and I both spent many years on staff teams at multisite churches so we had a front row seat to the real tensions, right? That can exist in central and campus leaders and a multisite team.

Tony: 01:25 Yeah, we did, but if I remember right, you had an even closer view because in addition to being a central leader over the weekend experiences at your church, your husband Jason was and still is a campus pastor. How does that work for you, Amy?

Amy: 01:43 Well, let’s just say that some of our car rides home together from work were very quiet. The tension is real, and that’s what we’re going to talk through today as our team has been immersed in getting our new online course ready for multisite churches. This was a big topic that rose to the surface. So, specifically, Tony, how can multisite churches reduce these tensions that exist?

Tony: 02:08 Amy, I think the keyword here, it really is reduced. Multisite teams will always have tensions between their central and campus perspectives. You can’t run away from that. It’s always going to be there. But there are some ways to reduce that tension and to stay in a healthy relationship.

Amy: 02:27 Let’s actually start by talking about some of the things that church leaders – senior pastors, their senior leadership team – that they might hear from their team that would indicate that there’s some tension.

Tony: 02:39 That’s good. So one example is there’s a lack of clarity around this key question: Who do I really report to? Who do I really, who’s my boss? Tension gets created when team members aren’t sure if they should be taking their cues from a central leader or their campus leader. So let me give you an example. Sometimes when there are really strong leaders in central roles, and I have a feeling you and I are speaking from firsthand experience with this, campus leaders have strong relationships with those central leaders, which is that’s a good thing. The campus pastor can feel like he or she is just there. Like who am I really leading? And this, in turn, creates confusion with the staff. Do I have to take my cues from my pastor, my campus pastor or from that central leader, the person with whom I have this great strong, healthy relationship?

Tony: 03:43 And so, it really is just clarity of who is my boss. A second question that needs to be clarified is who made that decision? And Amy, you’ve been around situations where the campus team feels like they’re almost surprised about a decision that the central leaders made and the reverse is true. When central leaders feel surprised about something that the campus team decided to do. By the way, in either case, whatever the decision was, it’s often a good one. It’s just more about the communication and not giving a heads up to the other team. Another question that needs to be clarified is why didn’t they ask me about that? I didn’t have a chance to give input and this tension surfaces when central acts and makes decisions without campus input. At the end of the day, if you think about it, campuses execute. They put central strategies into emotion and they have a critical perspective or opinion on how things are working and the potential of new strategies and how those new strategies could work. But when central doesn’t engage those campus voices, that’s when tensions begin to rise.

Amy: 05:00 Man, that was such a common one at our church early in the multisite journey. You mentioned that my husband is a campus pastor and this became more clear after I wasn’t a central leader anymore and was just his wife, but I remember his frustration when central would bake a strategy in a good one, meaning well, but then they lack the right process to involve the campuses to get their input. It was kind of like it was wrapped and given to the campus. And again, this was early in our journey. One example was they had come up with a new way to run the group’s strategy. Like how to connect people on the weekend into new groups and my husband’s team actually had a strategy that they were working to the current one, it was working really well, they had kind of put their own stamp on it. And so when the shift came, it was kind of frustrating because they hadn’t been able to give any input into what the new way was going to be.

Tony: 05:52 That’s right. And commonly that’s a bigger challenge for churches when they have their original location at a much different scale, a site in the smaller locations and the central teams that commonly are more closely connected to the original sending and larger location are not getting that input from the campus teams. So that’s a challenge. The fourth question that needs to be clarified, it’s really, this is really more from the campus perspective, but it’s this question, why can’t we do that? It can be very frustrating when you’ve got a strong campus team that has great ideas, but they feel like they’re constantly being told no by the central teams. And this tension probably surfaces in multisite churches that have a high value on identical experiences. In other words, in a highly identical model, campuses really don’t have the freedom to create strategies that only their campus will execute. Did you see this, Amy, in your experience?

Amy: 07:02 Yes. I was over the weekend, so this was probably one of our number one tensions when it came to creativity on the weekend. So with our different campuses, we had different facilities that had different abilities, but we were highly identical. So like one of our campuses seats about 2100 people, it’s got all the bells and whistles in the auditorium. But another one of our campuses sat about 550 people and it was a renovated traditional church space. And so, on one hand, the big location could pull off certain types of experiences, but the small one could also pull off great experiences, but they were very different and they both couldn’t do that if that makes sense. So it always felt like we had to compromise every creative idea and campuses would get frustrated, like, “We have the ability to do this. Why can’t we do it?”

Tony: 07:51 That’s right. Again, Amy, all these tensions, they’re never going to fade away. They’re not going to be completely resolvable, but as Andy Stanley has said, “They are tensions to be managed.” I would add if they’re not managed well, they’re going to create unhealthy relationships and frustrations between the central and the campus teams.

Amy: 08:15 Right. And Tony, as we talked through these examples and the questions that were being asked, there seems to be a root issue around clarity or lack of clarity that’s feeding these tensions.

Tony: 08:26 Yes. You heard me say that word several times as I was going through those questions. That’s exactly right. We say it all the time: Clarity is the key to leading a successful multisite church. And I think there are three areas every church has to bring clarity to in order to reduce tensions in the multisite matrix. So, the first area where we need clarity is around the church’s multisite model itself. When churches aren’t crystal clear on their model, tensions will certainly rise. And what I mean by that is many churches don’t define in detail where they want the ministry and their ministry approaches to be identical and at the same location where they will allow some independence at every location. When that’s not defined, leaders do what leaders do – they lead; they fill that vacuum. And when leadership isn’t pulling in the same direction, well certainly, that’s when tension is going to exist.

Amy: 09:30 So say more about that. I think as we talk about multisite model’s we talk about, are they on the scale of identical or are they more leaning towards a model that’s independent? Can you give some examples of what you mean by that?

Tony: 09:42 Yes. So, playing off of a couple of topics we talked about in a recent episode related to multisite strategy, one area is teaching. Churches that are more identical are probably using team-based video teaching more oftentimes than not. Churches that are more independent, it’s probably individuals teaching live at each location. In fact, they may even be teaching varied messages. If they’re in the middle, they may be on the same serious topic, but using different teachers. So those are some examples of the decisions that need to be made. Just around teaching when it comes to are we going to be identical or are we going to be independent. When it comes to music: More identical churches are using the same songs at every campus in the service. The churches that are more independent, not only are they doing different songs, it may be completely different styles of music.

Tony: 10:45 The churches in the middle, it could be that they’re saying we’re going to use the same catalog of songs, but from that catalog, you at each campus can choose what songs you’re going to use in any given service. So again, churches need to define upfront are we going to be identical, are we going to be independent, or somewhere in between. These are easy to understand, but when you get into areas like events, communications, local outreach, discipleship strategy, the question is, in every location who gets to decide this? Is this going to be driven by central and more identical or does the campus have the freedom to make the decision? Is there going to be more independent?

Amy: 11:33 And the key again is clarity, right? I mean, when that’s undefined, leaders are just going to do what leaders do, as you said, they’re going to start creating things and that’s why it’s so important that all the team members have an understanding of the vision for the multisite model, right?

Tony: 11:48 That’s absolutely right.

Amy: 11:51 All right, so what’s the secondary where we need to bring some clarity?

Tony: 11:54 Yeah. The second area, and by the way, this is a big one. It’s about the structure and nothing creates more tension than when people aren’t clear on who they report to. In other words, you need to know who has authority in your structure and who has influence. Authority, visually, that’s usually represented by the solid line on the organizational chart. Influence is usually represented by the dotted line and just making sure, are we clear who’s the boss – who ultimately gets to make the call, who gets to make the decision and then who has influence and input in that decision? Amy?

Amy: 12:35 One other thing I would say on structure, just cause I live that a lot. One of the tensions I see is they give everybody dual roles, triple roles, quadruple roles, meaning we don’t have enough people to totally launched the way we want to open this new site, so everyone’s got little pieces of things and as they expand, they never untangle that. Do you see that too?

Tony: 12:56 Yeah, that’s, that’s very true. And the challenge is smaller multisite churches, and here I’m talking even in the thousands when I say smaller multisite churches, in many cases they’re still going to have dual roles. What we mean by dual roles is that an individual has a central responsibility and a campus responsibility. And when, especially when churches are just getting into multisite, that’s going to be a common situation. And in those early days, you have to be crystal clear on when do I have my central hat on and when do I have my campus hat on? And when I have both hats on, who’s the boss who actually gets to make the call here? But as you suggested, our hope is churches, even multisite churches are going to experience growth, not only growth in attendance but growth in the number of locations. And as that growth happens, you have to revisit your structure to make sure that that structure is clarified and that everybody knows not only their role but who they’re responsible for in that structure.

Amy: 14:08 And I would add one more thing. We need to know who you’re responsible for, but you also need to know what you’re responsible for. Just an example, I heard a great joke at a church this last week. They said, what’s the best way to starve a dog? They said, give 10 people the responsibility to feed it. It took me a minute, but I was like, that’s brilliant. I mean, for instance, like your group strategy, if someone at every campus has responsibility for groups, but nobody knows who owns the strategy for groups, you’re really not going to have a consistent way.

Tony: 14:44 The common area where we see 10 people trying to feed the dog is a volunteer strategy. And every ministry in every location does volunteer engagement different. They’re not following a consistent strategy and then they wonder why we don’t have enough volunteers for all the ministries at our church. So that’s great.

Amy: 15:04 All right, so clarity on structure. What’s the third area churches need to bring clarity?

Speaker 3: 15:09 Yeah. The third area relates to decision rights. When people aren’t clear, who gets to make what decisions, there’s going to be tension. And in the multisite Matrix, when I say decision rights, I’m really talking about clarity around what decisions do central leaders make and what decisions do campus leaders make. So let me give you some examples of questions. I’m not going to answer them for you because these are going to be different for every church. Don’t you wish I would just answer all your questions? So wouldn’t that be phenomenal? So here are some questions that you need to decide up front. Is this a central decision or a campus decision to make? Who decides if a campus can do something fun and different around Father’s Day weekend? And as a father, I want you to do something fun and different by the way, right? Who decides when a campus can add a staff member? When a staff member is added, who gets to make that final hiring decision? The central, the central children’s leader or the campus children’s leader who gets to hire that children’s person? Can one campus bring in an artist for a while on the weekend? Do they have that flexibility and freedom? By the way, what artists would you bring in, Amy?

Amy: 16:26 Oh, goodness. I don’t know. Who would you bring in?

Tony: 16:29 Bruno Mars. I don’t know if he leads to worship or not, but it would be fun. It would be awhile. Here’s another question: Can a campus start a Sunday night service or do they have to stick with the rigid schedule of all the other locations? Again, there’s not a right or wrong answer to these questions with maybe the exception of bringing in Bruno Mars, but the only wrong thing is not defining how the decisions get made and that’s what decision rights are all about. It’s not getting to the answer first. It’s getting to how are we going to decide what the answer is first?

Amy: 17:10 That’s right. You know, I’m working with one church now. We spent all fall working through their structure piece. They were one that had a couple of campuses and they hadn’t quite landed on how are we going to be structured now that we’re three going to four locations. And of course through that, as we addressed their structure, we had to lean into their model as well. But now they’re in the place where they’re actually going ministry by ministry and talking about the kind of in the weeds who gets to make this decision. So, for example, you know, if you were to look at the weekend when we talked about that earlier, they’re going in and determining who gets to decide what’s in the catalog – is it campus decision? Who gets input? And anyways, it’s going to take them a little bit and it’s a living document. I mean they’re going to be revisiting it as they go through it, but that’s really going to release their leaders to lead and reduce their tensions even further.

Tony: 18:02 Let me give you another specific example. Early on, one of the churches I was apart of, multisite strategy, the tension was around how to deliver the teaching in the children’s ministry environments and at one location, the expectation is we have people live, live people teaching, doing skits and all of the other aspects of delivering the experience on Sunday morning and the different children’s environments. At another location it was, we don’t have enough people yet. We’re a brand new campus. We just want to make sure that kids get checked in and handed back to the right parents at this point. We don’t have the right people to do that, so we’re going to use video for aspects of the children’s experience on Sunday mornings. That was tension because no one determined who gets to make this decision and who has the right and how is the decision going to be made.

Amy: 19:03 Right, right. All right. Well, what are some next steps for listeners that may be related to one or more of the tensions that we’ve talked about?

Tony: 19:10 Yes. So, Amy, the great thing here is we’ve worked with a number of multisite churches through the years and found some common areas where tensions exist. And even in today’s conversation, we couldn’t unpack all of those areas, but we do go into many of these topics and a lot more in the new Multisite Unstuck Course that we have developed. The course, if you’ve not launched into a multisite strategy, I think it’s going to be very helpful for you, but our primary purpose for creating the course was for those churches that are already multisite. They are already dealing with these tensions of central teams and campus teams. So, we’ve created 11 modules to help multisite churches increase their impact and reach more people in more places. And just again, some examples of the topics that we cover. We do, we hit decision rights, we hit choosing locations, building volunteer strength at the different campuses. We talk about reducing the tension when it comes to central and campus leaders. We offer process to right size your staff and volunteer teams based on the sizes of your different campuses. And then we also provide tools to evaluate your campus pastor role and to make sure you get a good fit for the leader that’s going to be in that position. So you can learn more about the Multisite Unstuck Course and test drive a sample module for free by visiting the and clicking the link to “online courses”

Sean: 20:51 Thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, help us get the content out by subscribing, giving us a review and telling your friends. At the Unstuck Group, we’re working every day with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences, to focus them on vision, strategy, and action. If that’s a need in your church, we should talk. You can start a conversation by visiting us at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Have a great week.

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