The Future of Multisite (Part 3)
Launching too quickly, or without the right systems and structures in place, can quickly get your multisite church multi-stuck.
In the first episode of our Future of Multisite series, Amy and I discussed many of the common questions, truths, and lies surrounding multisite. In Part 2, we walked through some of the core issues in popular multisite models that lead to dysfunction and disunity among campuses. In the final episode of our series, we’ll get specific with some of the best practices for selecting and launching your new campus.
KEY QUESTIONS & BEST PRACTICES FOR MULTISITE
How a church launches new campuses is critical to their long-term strategic success, but we know that many churches feel the pressure to launch before they’re ready. This week, Amy and I will dive deep into practical multisite wisdom, including:
- 12 key questions for launching a new campus
- Defining your ministry playbook and decision rights
- Best practices for selecting a campus location
- 4 tips for your multisite staff structure
To Multisite or Un-Multisite: Clarify a Path Forward
There are some predictable outcomes of every multisite strategy. Does your current strategy produce the results you hoped it would?
Access the video replay from our March 31 "To Multisite or Un-Multisite?" webinar event and leave with the tools you need to evaluate and fix your multisite strategy.
Leader Conversation Guide
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We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. How a church launches new campuses is a critical factor in strategic multisite success, but many churches feel the pressure of a specific timeline, and they end up making mistakes that lead them to being multi stuck. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy wrap up our three part series covering the truth, issues and models that impact the future of the multi-site church by sharing some of the best practices for launching new locations. Before today’s episode, though, if you’re brand new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast, and subscribe to get the show notes. When you do, each week you’re gonna get an email with resources to go along with that week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide, bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well, welcome back to The Unstuck Church Podcast. Of course, after what Tony shared in last week’s episode, there’s a good chance our viewer or listenership has dropped. All the youth pastors and campus pastors are probably not back today, Tony.
I’m assuming they all emailed you all their complaints though. Amy, is that true? Did you get a lot of email this week?
Lots of email. Yes, lots.
Well, you know, I do find this fascinating. I hope listeners recognize that we try to stay very tactical and provide practical next steps in each of these episodes, including the specific advice that we offered last week. However, we still periodically do get feedback from listeners that we aren’t being specific enough in our content. Though honestly, that feedback tends to come more often from people who complain about some nuance of my full ministry philosophy or theological perspective that I’m not able to completely articulate in a two sentence post on Twitter, but I digress. However, we do provide very specific recommendations like we did last week. And it’s amazing how many pastors and church leaders that I encounter, they think they’re the exception, or because something has worked for one church, even though that strategy has failed in hundreds of other churches, somehow because it worked in that one church that they’re gonna make it work at their church as well. And maybe one example of this, from time to time, we do hear churches think they can make multiple worship styles work because it worked for North Coast Church. But I can show you in the data we’ve collected from hundreds of churches through the years that the data clearly indicates that churches that offer multiple styles of worship are more likely to also experience a decline in attendance. So last week I did, Amy, I got pretty specific. I stated that it’s a bad idea, for example, for churches to have different pastors teaching different messages at their various multi-site locations on a regular basis. And I shared that because we’ve worked with, and you confirmed this last week, thanks for doing this. We’ve worked with over 100 multi-site churches through the years. And that strategy has, in almost every instance, led to division in the church, with many of those ministries experiencing church splits because of this strategy. So has it led to division in every church? No. In fact, I can give you one example of a church that has made having live teaching in multiple locations work. Community Christian Church in Chicago comes to mind, but again, the track record for most churches using that strategy is just not good. And still, even after I shared that last week, I know there are several pastors and multi-site leaders out there that heard that episode and they’re thinking, but we’re different. Even though Tony said he’s seen it create division in all those other churches, we can make it work. I mean, basically I think what they’re saying is we’re exceptional. Those other pastors must not have known what’s they were doing when they tried this, but we’re exceptional. Well, I pray it works for you because I want every church to be winning as we partner together on this mission to help people experience life transformation through a relationship with Jesus. But I’m not going to be surprised when you reach out to us in 18-24 months because you’re dealing with the issues of misalignment and division in your church, or you need help going through an un-multi-siting process. And when that happens, I promise you, I will not say I told you so, but I will be thinking it loudly in my mind.
Yes, you will. Yes, you will. All right. Well now I’m fairly confident we’ve run off the rest of the campus pastors that were, you know, stragglers with us. But let’s jump into today’s topic. So today I’d like to focus on some best practices for launching new multi-site locations, and let’s start with a more conventional approach. And then I’d actually like to talk a little bit about mergers at the end, but Tony, what are some of the key question churches need to consider before they launch a new multi-site location?
Yeah, our multi-site consulting process that we have used again for many, many years with those hundred churches, it helps leaders work through a number of key questions. But these specific topics rise to top of mind here, Amy. So let me just walk through these and feel free to chime in by the way, Amy. Because I know you’ve had a lot of work with churches that are launching new locations as well. But the first thing that comes top of mind is what’s the ministry model that we intend to replicate at every location? In other words, this really is about becoming one church in multiple locations. And for us to do that, we have to figure out what’s the model that we’re going to replicate. So what is our reach strategy that we’re gonna use at every location? What’s our discipleship strategy that we’re going to use at every location, and for some churches, weekend services fall more into their reach strategy. For some churches, weekend services fall more into their discipleship strategy, some both, but obviously how we do weekend services, that experience, that’s one of the critical components of our ministry model that we just have to make sure we’re replicating the same approach in every location. And my sense is, because I know you’re very passionate about weekend services and you’ve actually worked with number of multi-site churches with weekend services, you might have a thought here.
Yeah. I think maybe not where you thought I was gonna go, but especially for weekend services, what are we not going to replicate? I find that many churches kind of scrub their model when they launch their first location, because they don’t wanna cancel it at their current location. They don’t wanna cancel this venue. They don’t wanna cancel this choir, but when they replicate, they get much more laser focused on the church that they want to be when it comes to their weekend services.
That’s right. Another topic that’s top of mind is the teaching model: Which teaching model will we use? And here again, I’m not gonna spend a lot of time on this topic because we did last week, but churches have to decide as we move into multi-site, launch a new location, are we gonna be using primarily video teaching or live teachers? A third topic: who will have decision rights? And this revolves mostly around when decisions pop up, is this going to be a campus decision or is this going to be a central ministry decision? And so this is where we have learned we have to work through kind of all the core ministry areas of the church in advance of launching a new location to decide where are we gonna be more independent and where are we going to be more identical?
And nothing creates more conflict, honestly, Tony, when these things are not clear, when we haven’t made advance decisions about how we’re going to make decisions.
And then related to that then, we have to decide how will central ministry teams and operations support all the campuses? So once we decide these are going to be central decisions or strategies that are defined, and we’re not going to allow the campus teams to drive that part of our ministry direction, we have to clarify then what are the central ministry teams gonna look like? How will they engage ministry across all the locations? So, I think, Amy, when we start talking about launching, especially churches that have never done this before, start talking about launching a second location or their first multi-site location, I think they just think, well, this is gonna be easy. We know how to do Sunday services. So we’ll just open another location, you know, 15 miles down the road and just do what we’re doing on Sunday. But we don’t think of all the other ramifications of what it’s gonna it take to make sure we’re replicating our full ministry model at two different locations.
Yeah. Those first four questions around ministry model, teaching model, decision rights, central ministry teams, and operations, those are all critical questions around a church’s ministry model and really their multi-site model. And so foundational (right?) to prevent those schisms that happen as a church expands through multisite. We often say around here that cracks become gaps during multisite expansion. So it’s important to have answers to those questions before launching a new location. But I interrupted. Go on. Continue with the key questions that churches need to be considering before launching a new site.
Yeah. So, these now really have to do with the specific location and kind of the launch plan. Number five, a critical question we need to address is what locations should we be considering? And we’ve done this long enough to know there are some locations that work and some that really don’t, and it has more to do with the location than the facility that churches are choosing. And again, there’s a full kind of location assessment analysis that we work through with teams. And it’s just based on all the experiences we’ve had working with those hundred or more churches through the years.
I think we call them success factors for launch.
That’s right. That’s right. And there’s some science to this. And so this is why this is a critical question that we need to process together. Also what’s the optimal schedule for launching a new campus, and I’ll give this away. Again, I think senior pastors, in particular, they tend to be very…optimistic.
And because of that, I mean, they’re thinking, oh, this is weeks or maybe two or three months to launch a new location. And what we’ve learned is when a church is launching their very first multi-site location, usually it takes 18 to 24 months to get that new location off the ground. And once churches have done this, now routinely, and they’re launching their third, fourth, fifth location, that lead time can get a little bit shorter. But still 12 months is not uncommon for a church to launch a new third or fourth or fifth location. And to launch that successfully.
Yeah. Honestly, it always takes a little bit longer. I remember out in the blogosphere…Can we say that, blogosphere?
You’re showing your age a little bit Amy, but go ahead.
But this was like early 2000’s. There was some people saying that, you know, multiplying was like how rabbits multiply. That’s the multi-site model. And I have always been like of the elephant gestation period. Meaning we wanna have a bigger baby, and it’s gonna take a little a bit longer, but going too fast. Again, those cracks emerge.
It’s probably no surprise again, key question is who should we be hiring to be the campus pastor? And again, I’m not gonna spend a lot of time here because we talked about this to some extent in our last episode. And then another question. Question number eight. There are a lot of questions here, right? What’s the structure of the remaining staff and volunteer team that we need to build? So in other words, it’s not just a campus pastor that we need to hire. We need to figure out, again, some of this depends on the size of the location we’re launching, who else needs to be on that staff team? And then usually more importantly, who else needs to be on the volunteer team? Who’s gonna be leading in a volunteer capacity and all those volunteer teams that need to be built again, not just for Sunday morning, but for ministry, that’s gonna support that full ministry model that we talked about a moment ago?
Yeah. That’s such a key question because successful multisite launches, you know this, includes a large core of people from the church that are gonna do more than just support the idea of multisite and even give to the idea of multisite. They have to have a large core of owners who are also signing up to serve. I mean, trust me, staffing alone can’t carry the load. And in my seat, I often see that multi-site locations are overstaffed. And that’s one of those cracks in multi-site models that eventually creates this financial gap in churches when they, you know, they’re not working, their financial model plans are not working because we’re reliant too much on staff.
That’s right. Yeah. And that’s usually, honestly, Amy, when we get called in is the team is just recognizing our investment in staffing and the financial burden that that’s creating, we’re not getting the return from that, that we originally thought we would. And so, you know, there are ways at actually to in advance kind of right size the. multi-site model, and then the structure to support that so that you can make sure going into the launch of a new location that it’s actually financially sustainable as well.
So let me continue. We thought multi-site was so easy, didn’t we, Amy? Here’s question number nine that we have to address is what will success look like for this new campus? I mean, what’s really the win, and it’s not just how many people will show up on a Sunday morning, though that’s important. And it’s not just, is this gonna be financially sustainable? Though that also is important. I mean, we worked through probably a dozen or more metrics to help churches identify what does success look like on the front end so that we are planning more intentionally for the launch, but also then once we get through that grand opening service that we’re moving forward with our ministry strategy in a healthy way to get the results that we were expecting. Question number 10, what do we need to include in our launch plan to make sure the right people are doing the right things to launch at the targeted time that we want to get started with this campus? And, it’s funny, Amy, I mentioned this to you yesterday. I was just going through our multi-site toolkit. And I can’t remember if it was you or Ryan, but you created this wonderful flow chart and I know you’re good at flow charts, so I’m suspecting it was you, that kind of maps out over a full year leading to the launch of a location, everything that needs to be done. And we combine that flow chart with a very detailed launch plan for the churches that we work with that help them understand, okay, this many months out, this is what we need to be focusing on so that we hit the target date we have in mind for opening up our new location, but there’s some work behind making sure you have the right launch plan so that the right people are doing the right things to make sure we open on time. Question number 11 is what should we be thinking about for future locations? And so many times when churches reach out to us about multi-site strategy, it’s not that they just have two locations in mind, so their original and their first multi-site location, usually they’re reaching out to us because they have this vision, this dream, to have locations throughout their region, throughout their county, as an example, or multiple counties in their state. And so it’s actually helpful to be thinking about not just the next location, but future locations, because that helps us develop a scalable model as well. So that’s a critical question. And then question number 12, I wanted to have a nice round dozen here, Amy, is how does multisite impact our overall staffing structure going forward? And that’s a big question. I know that’s where you get involved many times. And by the way, this list of questions I’ve run through them pretty quickly here, and several of the best practices that we’ve identified for multisite churches, all of these questions are available on our website at theunstuckgroup.com/multisite.
Well, speaking of best practices, we could probably do a full episode, honestly, on each of the questions you just mentioned, but let’s cherry pick a few and focus on a few of the questions today, and maybe you could just highlight some of the key learnings we’ve identified through the years on these topics. So let’s begin with a question, I think about decision rights, Tony. What are some of the best practices you see with multi-site churches that get this right?
Yeah. I mean, and you mentioned this earlier. It’s usually the issues around decision rights that generate the most tension within every multi-site church. And I think one of the reasons why is multi-site, whether we want it or not, it requires a matrix structure. In fact, we were working with a church in recent months and one of the reasons why they came to us is they were getting frustrated about their matrix structure and wanting to figure out how to avoid that. So how do we avoid making sure that every person on our team, they only have one boss rather than two bosses? And my response to the pastor was, well, the only way I know to avoid a matrix structure is to go back to being a single location church, right? And since they had five or six locations, I don’t think they were interested. He wasn’t interested in making that shift. So if you commit to multi-site, you need to know going into it, that you are also committing to a matrix structure. Now, there are bad matrix structures and there are healthy matrix structures. And I think one of the keys to a healthy matrix structure is making sure that everyone understands who has authority and who has influence. And so when we engage with a church that is going multisite, or they’ve been multisite for years, that’s one of the key things that we’re helping them figure out is who has authority and who has influence. And Amy, I know you know, this gets really complicated, especially in the smaller multisite churches that we work with. And the challenge is because of how many people on the team are really in dual roles. Some of them are in a campus ministry role, and they also have central ministry responsibilities. In other words, what that means is in some instances they have authority. And in other instances, they have influence, it’s strong influence, but they don’t get to make the call. I mean, do you see that?
Absolutely. And another aspect to this is that sometimes it switches depending on the day of the week. You know, I’ll give you an example. During the week, a centralized worship team takes direction from the weekend services director, but when they go out to the campus on the weekend and lead worship, guess who’s in charge? The campus pastor.
The campus pastor at that location.
That’s right. And so that’s why we have to have clarity around. So everybody understands when they have authority and when they just have influence. Yeah.
And that’s so tough. I have found it’s actually tougher for the central ministry leaders because, you know, most days of the week, they’re actually more directive. They’re actually defining strategy and making sure strategy gets executed. But on Sunday morning, they have to really learn how to again, lead through influence and lead through that campus pastor.
That was the hardest part for me when I was over the weekend, and I would go into one of our campuses. And by the way, I learned the hard way in some of this, I stumbled every once in a while, but to discipline myself as a central leader, to come alongside the campus pastor and pour into them, so that they could lead their teams towards what we’ve defined as success.
Yeah. And so critical to this whole thing is just making sure, as much as possible, that we define ahead of time: What’s a campus call? What’s a central call? And what we do when we work with churches is we encourage them to create, we call it a ministry playbook that really, again, takes every core ministry of the church and tries to define in advance for all the central teams to know, and all the campus teams to know when do I get to make the call? When do I that get to make the decisions? And so, you know, if you are a multi-site church currently, and you’re feeling this tension, I would encourage you to go back to that ministry playbook, or create one if you don’t, or let us come help you with that, because this is what’s gonna help bring more unity, more alignment and make sure your multi-site strategy is healthy and thriving and helping you accomplish the mission God has for your church.
Yeah. Clarity in those areas is a game changer for a multi-site church. That clarity just fuels health of the organization. All right. What are some best practices, Tony, around selecting a location?
Yeah. I’m gonna run through these pretty quickly, but again, there really is some science around this that we’ve learned through the years, and our full process helps churches assess the optimal multisite locations. But some of the basics we’ve learned there is something about that window of a 20 to 30 minute drive time. So, you know, too close and it’s just too easy for people to drive back to the original sending location. Too far and you usually don’t have that core of people that you need to help you launch a new location with success. And what we’ve learned is you do need a core of people from your church, they’re already connected to your church, but they live, work and play in the community where you’re wanting to go. And what we’ve seen is ideally when you’re launching a new location, if you can send out ideally again, 10% of your current congregation to help you launch that new location, many times the end result of that then is you will see a doubling, as far as attendance is concerned, once you launch that location. So let me just give a practical example. If you send out a hundred people from your church to launch a new location, and they live, work and play in the community that you’re going to, very likely, then you’ll eventually, once you launch that location, see 200 people in attendance, and Amy, what we’ve learned is that’s kind of the bare minimum.
That is the minimum. Yeah.
And otherwise, if you launch smaller than that, it really becomes difficult to financially sustain that location. And all that’s involved with staffing, with location expenses, with providing the support that’s needed too from your central locations to make that a viable campus. Go ahead, Amy.
If I could just say one word to the larger churches. If you’re a large church you need to launch large. And what I mean by that is if you’ve got a thousand, 2000, 3000 or more people gathered at at one location right now, and you’re about to go multisite, one of the huge missteps is launching a smaller church comparatively to who you are, because people want that experience. And if you’re a large church and you open a 200 person venue, many people are gonna go, this doesn’t feel like my church. So we’re using that 10% of the congregation, a hundred minimum, but you have to contextualize this to the size of your church. You are replicating what you already do and your new site needs to reflect that.
Yeah. And so again, to put this in practical terms, if we’re working with a larger church, let’s say a church of 5,000, then we’re encouraging that church to be sending out 500 people and expecting a campus of a thousand people at launch.
And when you do that, you address this concern that Amy has that too often times we’ve seen large churches actually open up small church campuses, and it’s a total disconnect and it makes it difficult for that to be viable for the long term, because people that know your church are not going to go to something that is not who your church is. It’s not the Sunday experience. It’s not the children’s ministry. It’s not the model of ministry that you have demonstrated through the years. And so they’re not gonna continue going to a campus that doesn’t reflect who your church really is.
Well, let’s finish today talking about the best practices around structure. What comes to mind for you, Tony, on that topic?
Amy, the first thing that comes to my is that you should be answering this question instead of me because you’re more oftentimes working with multisite churches with their structure. But let me just start here. First of all, if you’re brand new to multisite, you’re just launching your very first campus. It’s not unusual for a church with only two locations to remain structured as if they’re still a single location church. In other words, that first campus, it’s almost treated like a core department within the overall structure.
Can I add one thing to that?
I think the one thing that you need to treat like it’s a new location is hiring that campus pastor. I’ve seen churches try to rotate different leaders in there, different ministry leaders to host the service. In fact, we did this too at my church when we first launched, and it was a disaster. It’s good in theory, but you have to name that campus pastor for your first launch.
Absolutely. And then of course, once you move to your third location, certain fourth, you need to start to clarify those central and campus ministry roles. And that’s where that matrix structure really becomes a part of how you continue to operate. And since we just talked about that a moment ago, I won’t dive deep there again. And usually we don’t recommend a church hire a campus pastor for the original location, the sending location, until that third or fourth campus is established. And one of the key reasons is we’ve found that when churches name a campus pastor for the original location too soon, it just, it creates a lot of confusion about the role of the senior pastor at that location. And so, if you’re asking the question, you know, when do we get that campus pastor hired? It’s probably on down the road. Amy, again, you talk about, I mean, you deal with multi-site structure most often times with the churches we’re serving. Anything else come to mind?
Yeah. First I would just double down on what you just said. You don’t need a campus pastor for your sending location until you launch your third or fourth site, and I would even lean more towards fourth. Yeah. But a couple things come to mind. While dual roles, as you mentioned, Tony, are common in the early stages of multi-site where you’ve got a central and a campus role, just churches, you need to be careful not to do that haphazardly. It’s important to minimize complexity as much as you can. So for example, a great dual role is being a campus pastor and maybe being the central groups leader on the discipleship team. After all, the campus pastor is the leader responsible for helping his or her congregation take next steps on that discipleship pathway. On the other hand, and this is a real example, being an executive pastor, a teaching pastor and a campus pastor, well, that’s a little too complex. All of those roles are critical, and one person can’t do that well. And what I find is when churches have leadership deficits, they end up making some leaders carry way too many roles, and it’s not good long term. It’s not even good short term. The second thing I’d respond to is that, especially in the early stages of multisite, as you’re staffing, you need to think leaders, not doers. A lot of churches fall into the trap in the early stages of multisite using their staff dollars to fill holes with part-time doers. And the greatest barrier to multi-site expansion is lack of leaders, not lack of resources. And so if we invest in all those part-time kind of doer roles, we’re gonna come up with a leadership deficit in the years to come. And lastly, just a reminder, we’ve covered this before, but the campus pastors, they really should be leader managers, not leader entrepreneurs, if that makes sense. And again, we don’t have to hash it, but that is a mistake. Sometimes we look around who can lead our new site, and we get tempted to choose this highly creative, innovative, go-getter, entrepreneurial leader. And I can just tell you long term, that is not the right fit for a multisite church campus pastor.
That’s so good, Amy. Thanks for that reminder.
Yeah. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Amy, we’ve covered a lot of ground in today’s episode, but if you’re ready to dive even deeper into going multisite or for some of you, honestly, it’s gonna be about un-multisiting and what that could look like for your church, it’s not too late to join us on March 31st. This is gonna be a free webinar, and it’s called “To Multi-site or Un-multi-site.” We wanna help you make that decision for your church, and you can register through the link in your show notes, and I’ll see you there next week.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. We would love to have you join us for our free webinar coming up on March 31st, “To Multisite or Un-multisite.” To learn more and register, just visit us at theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. 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. If there’s any way 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.