So many churches continue to make the decision to become multi-site and, if it’s done well, it’s an effective strategy on a number of levels. If it’s not, you’re probably signing up for a lot of headache.
Like many others, our first steps on the journey of becoming one church with multiple locations came because of opportunity, not necessarily because of strategy. We’ve experienced God’s faithfulness in more ways than I can count, but we’ve also paid a lot of “dumb tax.” Knowing what we know today, there’s one question I wish we would have asked (and answered) at the outset: are we going to establish a CENTRALIZED model or one that offers AUTONOMY to our campuses?
Every multisite church is different. Some allow freedom for their campuses to develop strategy and make most decisions at the campus level. Others pour resources into a central organization, choosing to create a model that provides efficiency and standardization. There is no right way or wrong way. But (if you can) it’s helpful and important to determine which approach you’re going to pursue before an additional campus ever gets launched.
Here are some reasons why I think it’s important to decide (over simplification disclaimer: someone smarter than me could probably write an entire book on this topic, so these points aren’t intended to be exhaustive):
- It will help you determine how to staff and build your teams.
This is one of the most significant things I’ve come to realize. If you intend to give your campuses a high degree of freedom, then you want to hire extremely creative and entrepreneurial people for your CAMPUS teams. If you’re going after a more centralized model, you want to find people for your campus teams who experience fulfillment in implementing something they (probably) weren’t directly responsible for creating.There’s a very real tension here and I believe it’s one of the most overlooked considerations in multi-site ministry. If your church is attempting to establish a centralized multi-site model and you recruit a staff of creatives at the campus level, you’re inviting friction. Those creatives, by nature, need to create and will be frustrated if they don’t have an outlet for it. This isn’t to say that creativity doesn’t happen at the campus level of a highly centralized multi-site church, it just looks different. It’s your responsibility to be intentional about making sure the people you hire/recruit are working/serving in their sweet spot.Conversely, if you’re expecting your campus teams to be autonomous and creative but you’ve installed a group of implementers, refiners, and/or managers, there will likely be plenty of dissatisfaction on your teams. Simply providing definition for which model you’ll use helps everyone in the organization determine what types of people need to be on which team.
- It creates clearer definition of roles and responsibilities, and reduces the potential for misunderstanding.
Everyone likes (and needs) to know what’s expected of them, how to define success, and whether or not they’re doing a good job. If you don’t know what your model is, you can’t define wins. And if you can’t define wins, your morale will suffer – not just on your staff teams, but for volunteers and campus attenders as well. When you know what you’re trying to establish, you can provide clarity for everyone and reduce the tension that comes from ambiguity.
- It sets you up for future success.
By coming to agreement on your approach to multi-site ministry, you get the unique opportunity to create both culture AND strategy. After it’s established, however, that opportunity begins to diminish. And we all know that your culture has the ability to eat your strategy for lunch. While it’s not impossible to change the model you choose (the church where I serve actually did it), it becomes harder and harder with every campus you add. So take a moment to figure out what sets you up for the most success in your church’s context.Generally speaking, I’ve discovered (through conversations with colleagues and my own research) that it’s “easier” to use the more-autonomous model with 2-3 campuses that are in closer geographic proximity. If the vision is to continue adding campuses and expanding exponentially, you may want to consider establishing the centralized model for its ability to help create efficiency, “brand” recognition/preservation, and consistency.
- It may help with the “gravitational pull” of your broadcast/original campus.
If your new campus is in close proximity to the original one, there’s a good chance you’ll have a gravitational pull problem. This could be reason to argue for OR against one model or the other. Only you can decide that. But you’ll need to consider whether or not it’s in the campus’ best interest to create an experience that is more similar or dissimilar to what’s happening at your “original” campus.
Side note: not all multi-site churches broadcast. Ours does. So, internally, we use the term “broadcast” campus because we don’t like the negative connotations that accompany words like “main,” etc. Language is important. And so is whether or not you “broadcast.” Whether there’s a live teaching pastor at each campus is probably an important part of your centralization vs autonomy question.
The same is true of your worship experience. Will your campuses have the freedom to plan their own worship sets? Or will planning for the service happen centrally so that every campus experiences the same thing each weekend? What parts of your creative expressions are collaborative? Which aren’t?
Figure out what implications the “gravitational pull” has for YOUR church’s context and then keep doing the hard work of figuring out what works best for your local community. Realistically, every multi-site church will have both centralized and autonomous pieces (and probably people in “dual hat” roles), but being intentional about them from the beginning has the potential to help your long term success.
In the end, you just need to figure out what makes you … you.
Dan Leverence is the Executive Director of The Arts & Guest Services at Parkview Christian Church where he oversees the Worship Ministry of a large, growing, multi-site church. As an organized artist, Dan understands and embraces the unique way that God wired him. He loves the opportunity to invest in other leaders and blogs at middlebrained.me. He and his wife, Angie, reside in suburban Chicago and have one son, Tate.