Multisite Models: Which is Best?

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Being a leader in a large multisite church, I’m frequently asked by church leaders what the best multisite model is for their church to adopt. While there are all kinds of ways churches are approaching multisite these days, there are some approaches that are producing greater results than others. My unfiltered response would be this, and I reserve the right to be wrong…

“If it’s not on a screen, it’s not a multisite.”

It may be multi-congregational or even a family of churches, but it’s not a multisite church. People may disagree. But, I feel that it all comes down to one simple idea: teaching.

People often say that an organization takes on the characteristics and personality of their leader. This is ultimately what shapes the culture of a church. Nothing else within your church has the power to build the uniqueness of a church in so much as teaching does. This is where the personality of the leader is on display the greatest. When you have different people preaching at different locations, no matter how similar they are, how good of friends or how hard they work to teach with similar styles, it is going to result in a different culture. You are going to get a different church.

The congregation looks to the primary communicator of the location as the leader. Therefore, if you have different teachers at each location, each congregation is looking to the guidance of who they perceive to be the leader, further creating cultural separation between the campuses.

Here is an overview of common models along the multisite spectrum (from identical to independent), and some basic methods practiced within each.

Multi-Site

Big Idea: “One Church. Multiple Locations.”

Preaching: Preaching is delivered via video. No matter if it’s one primary communicator or a teaching team approach, whoever is preaching is preaching the same message at every location via video.

Governance: There is one board of elders that provides oversight to every location of the church. The board is not put in place for the representation of the campuses (it’s not congress).

Ministry Practices: These churches have a tendency to be more identical in their ministry practices and staffing structures (based on scale). Ministry practices are typically overseen by a central ministry team that coaches and influences each campus towards best practices and objectives

Multi-Congregational

Big Idea: “One Church. Multiple Congregations.”

Preaching: Preaching is delivered live at each location. Often times the main communicators at each campus collaborate to ensure they are generally covering the same content.

Governance: There is still some kind of directional team making high-level decisions that have an effect on each congregation, but each congregation has their own board of elders making local decisions.

Ministry Practices: These churches will often share branding and some communication (print & visual media) resources and a centralized Business Department may support all congregations. However, each congregation has much more freedom and independence as to what ministries they build and start.

Family of Churches

Big Idea: “Multiple Churches. One Cause.”

Preaching: Preaching is live at each location and each church may even have it’s own teaching team. They may share their best teaching series with each other, and speak at each other’s churches from time to time, but that’s about it.

Governance: Early on, these churches often will have a board of outside pastors from their family of churches govern the new church until it is mature enough to have it’s own board. Similarly, another stronger church in the family of churches may manage the business function of the newer church until it has the capacity to do so on its own.

Ministry Practices: Families of churches typically organize around a theological ideal or a common cause, such as church planting. While these churches certainly learn from one another and even pick up best practices from one another, they are autonomous in their approach.

There are, of course, various approaches that churches are taking that are somewhere in between one of these three models. While I wouldn’t say that one of these models is more successful than another, they are designed to produce different results. Each model has its own unique attributes, benefits and challenges. However, each approach requires a unique leadership style. Before your church goes multisite, it’s important to know what model best fits the leadership style, culture and context of your church. The Unstuck Group can help you take your next steps in your multisite journey.

Are you wondering if your church is ready for multisite? Join us for our Fall 2017 Multisite Leadership Coaching Network. We will discuss the best practices of launching a campus, common pitfalls and which model is the best approach for your church.


UPDATE: Registrations for our Fall 2017 Coaching Networks are now closed. Please subscribe to our Coaching Network Interest list to be the first to know about our upcoming Spring 2018 Coaching Networks.


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About Author

Paul is a Ministry Consultant with The Unstuck Group. Paul has more than 20 years experience serving in the local church, the last 15 of which have been on the Sr. Leadership Teams of some of the nation’s leading mega-churches. Currently, Paul is serving as the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church, a large multi-site church located in the Phoenix area.

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