For the churches that are considering the multisite strategy, there are a number of key factors that will determine the success or failure. One of the most important factors, though, has to the with complexity. You can’t replicate complexity.
The problem, of course, is that many churches have learned that complexity is one of the reasons they are stuck. Therefore, they think multisite may be the solution. Rather than dealing with the complexity at their original location, they hope to open new locations that aren’t complex. Speaking from experience, this strategy does not work. When you have multiple locations with distinctly different ministry approaches–one that’s complex and one that’s not–you’ve just added another layer of complexity.
I’m beginning to think this article about complexity is getting complex, so let me try to help us get focused. These are some common areas where churches need to reign in the complexity if they’re considering multisite.
The challenge is that churches tend to add programs over time without eliminating any along the way. As new people join the church with new passion, new ministries are launched. As soon as people begin to find their identity with a particular program, it becomes difficult to end anything.
The key thought here is that you have to move from programs to a path. The focus needs to shift from plugging people into activities to engaging people on a discipleship journey. With one path versus multiple programs, everyone can pull in the same direction which will also help to eliminate the competition for people’s time, financial resources and communications.
As the church grows more people will want to take more steps. When the church is small, you don’t really have to think about processes. Everything happens through word-of-mouth. If someone wants to volunteer, you tell them to go see Mary. That works because everyone knows Mary. If someone wants to join a class, you send them to Bob. That works because everyone knows Bob. The problem is that as churches grow, everyone can’t know everyone. That’s when churches need to implement systems to facilitate next steps.
You’ll need systems for every key touch-point in your church. What happens when a guest shows up? You’ll need a system for that. What happens when a new family visits and they have kids with them? You’ll need a system for that. What happens when someone wants to serve or get in a home group? What happens when there’s an event that needs to be promoted? If the same thing happens on a recurring basis, you need to create a system to facilitate next steps.
When churches are small, everyone makes every decision. Consensus is required to get anything done. In smaller settings, the value that typically prevails is that everyone should have a voice in every decision. In situations like this, lay people make the decisions and staff people people do the ministry. As churches grow, it’s not uncommon for them to hold on to this decision-making philosophy for a long time. Only it gets harder and harder for everyone to make every decision, so churches shift from a democracy to a representative form of government. They create boards and committees to make decisions based for the groups of people that they represent. We’ve run into churches well into the hundreds in attendance that have so many committees in place that no one really knows how the simplest of decisions get processed.
For a church to continue to grow, particularly if it’s going to expand to multiple locations, the governance and structure for decision-making has to be simplified. The larger a church gets, the fewer people can be involved in decision-making. The structure also needs to reverse so that staff people make decisions and lay people do the ministry.
As you begin that journey, it’s going to involve change. The likelihood for success will increase if you lead strong through the change process. However, let me also suggest these thoughts:
Begin with why?
Why are you making the change? Why are you eliminating complexity? The answer to that question needs to be linked back to your mission (why your church exists) and your vision (where you are heading in the future). If you don’t have clarity around your mission and vision, don’t start tampering with your methods or strategy.
Once you agree on a path, let the ministries go first in reducing programming.
It’s a lot easier for ministry leaders to reduce programming within their ministry areas than it is for you to try to tackle programming from an all-church perspective. Part of the reason is that it comes down to relationships. The closer you are to someone, the more you’re going to trust them. Because of that, it’s a lot easier for a ministry leader to reduce programming when they can process the decisions directly with the people on their teams.
Start something new to end something old.
As you do that, you’ll be able to combine some programs and events and eliminate some others. As you start services, new locations, a new discipleship path, you’ll create opportunities to invite people to new roles. That creates all kinds of great opportunities to talk about ending programs to focus more time and energy on the things that will help more people take their next steps toward Christ.
Do you want to experience success with your multisite strategy? Then you will need to consider how to shift from complex to focused. Multisite magnifies who you are. If you are a healthy, growing church, multisite will help your church grow healthy faster. If you are an unhealthy, complex church that’s stuck, multisite will magnify those challenges faster.
You can’t replicate complexity. With that being the case, you will need to help your church find focus in order to multiply your impact. My team helps with that. Let us know if we can help you.
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