Good Principles & Common Pitfalls of a Multisite Strategy
Since multisite first emerged, there’s no shortage of opinions shared…
But I’ve seen far less written about the actual outcomes of different multisite models and strategies.
Based on experience working in and with many different multisite churches, Amy and I together have more than 20 years of experience serving in multisite leadership personally, in addition to working with scores of multisite churches through our work at The Unstuck Group.
In this episode, we discuss indicators a church is NOT ready to go multisite, principles that set a healthy foundation for expansion, and key systems differences between single-site and multisite churches.
Whether you’re leading a multisite church or just considering it someday, this episode is packed with practical application to make you more effective and help you avoid costly missteps. Whether you're leading a multisite church or just considering it someday, this episode unpacks practical applications to make you more effective and help you avoid costly missteps. Click To Tweet
In this conversation, we discussed:
- Why multisite isn’t a solution to help you turn around your declining church
- The common, but backwards, way of thinking that can sabotage campus launches
- What volunteer engagement and leadership development needs to look like before you go multisite
- Key differences in how you’ll operate after you go multisite that you need to foresee so you can plan accordingly
- The dangers of launching too small, and key indicators you ARE ready to add a campus
Join the Conversation
We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in. Some things we are hoping to discuss:
- What’s a multisite mistake you’ve seen (or made), and where did it leave the church?
- Which systems do you find are the hardest to transition from single-site to multisite?
We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too. What's a multisite mistake you've seen (or made), and where did it leave the church? Click To Tweet
Links & Resources from the Episode
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Sean: 00:09 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast. My name is Sean Bubltiz, and this week we’re revisiting one of our most downloaded conversations on multisite churches. In this episode, Tony and Amy share some important principles as well as some potential pitfalls for a church in multiple locations. If your church is currently multisite or even if you think maybe someday this conversation is for you. Here are Tony and Amy.
Amy: 00:34 Well, 15 years ago, Tony, multisite was kind of an emerging strategy for churches. I remember our church was on the cusp of it way back when, but today it’s a proven strategy that a lot of churches are looking to. And as you mentioned, you know, there’s a lot of different ways to do multisite. Churches take many different approaches to multisite. But, as our team kind of gathered around it, there’s definitely some themes in what works and what’s proven. So the biggest question I find that we get asked is how do we know when we’re ready to go? Multisite churches are looking to do that. They want to do it right. But I want to start with the reverse question. What are some key indicators, Tony, that you see that show that churches are not ready yet to go?
Tony: 01:18 Yeah, so Amy, we have to remember kind of the bottom line to that question is you replicate who you are and so if your church is healthy and growing, then you launch another campus. It’s going to extend that health and growth that you’re experiencing, but if your church is not healthy, it’s not growing. It’s plateaued or declining. Multisite is not the solution to help you turn that around. In fact, what we’ve seen is multisite exasperates, whatever the issues are that are causing the church not to be healthy, and here are some obvious indicators that the church is not ready. For example, you really haven’t clarified who you are and you don’t know what your DNA is. In other words, you don’t know why you exist. You don’t know where you’re going in the future. And maybe more importantly you don’t. You haven’t defined how you’re going to get there.
Tony: 02:18 You haven’t clarified what your ministry strategy your ministry model’s going to look like. And if you don’t have that clarity in your existing location, obviously you’re just compounding the challenge. If you multiply in additional locations. Here’s another great example, and these go kind of go hand in hand. If you don’t have appropriate staff leadership capacity or you don’t have strong volunteers, then you’re not going to be ready because, for one thing, you’re not going to have the money to hire more staff to replicate in multiple locations. And if you don’t have enough volunteers in your current location to be able to provide ministry in a healthy way, then you’re going to be struggling to find volunteers for a new location. In fact, it’s not uncommon when we start working with churches that have not launched this their first multisite campus, yet they kind of go into it backwards in their thinking in that they think we’re going to send our b and c people, either staff leaders or volunteers to go launch this campus.
Tony: 03:37 And somehow they think sending b and c people are going to provide success launching that second location. Obviously you know, Amy, the reverse needs to be true. You need to be sending A players. A staff leaders, A volunteers… But churches don’t think about the fact that if they go to launch this new location, they’re not going to be there to serve in your original location. And so it speaks to these two challenges that we see that kind of indicate a church is not ready. They don’t have adequate staff leadership to support an additional location. And in many cases, they haven’t thought about volunteer strength to support additional locations as well.
Amy: 04:21 Yeah. Tony, I know that we run in the Vital Signs, what a healthy church has for volunteer engagement. And I wonder how many churches are aware of what percentage of their body is involved in volunteering. And it’s a good check probably, but what’s our, what’s our average or our standard that we would say a minimum you want to be at before you consider multisite?
Tony: 04:41 Yeah. Amy, it’s, I think the last time I looked at our assessment report, we were seeing on average churches have about 45 percent of their adults and students serving someplace in the ministry and so, you know, I was just with a church recently and they were looking and t single location now, but hoping to go multisite in the future and right now their volunteer strength is below 30 percent and we had a big red light on their assessment for them because, you know, I really believe this church in the future is going to be highly successful with multisite, but we just acknowledged we have to push the pause button right now because their volunteer strategy is not at the place that it can support multiple locations.
Amy: 05:34 Good point. So let me flip it around back to the original question. What are some key indicators that a church is ready for multisite?
Tony: 05:42 Okay. Again, so again, just to reemphasize for a church to be ready for multisite, the church has to be healthy and it has to be growing and you’re going to replicate that health and that growth. And so some of the things that we look for then to make sure that churches actually ready to go is number one, current growth is happening. Secondly, they’ve clarified their ministry model. They know who they are, they know how they’re going to help people take their next steps toward Christ. There’s a clear discipleship path or growth track or whatever, however you wanna label it, but they, they know if someone connects with their church, they know how they’re going to encourage those folks to take their next steps toward Christ. And then therefore they have something that they can replicate. They can copy in new locations and other areas and Amy, you know, this better than anyone, is just having a weekend experience that can be replicated in multiple locations. And Amy, I know this is your background, and so you’ve served in multisite and specifically over the weekend experience for many years. And so let me ask you from your experience, what do you look for to make sure a church is ready to take that weekend experience and translate it into multiple different locations?
Amy: 07:10 Sure, you know, I think our goal at our church in our multisite model was that if you went to the original location and we planted a campus in another town, that you’d have the utmost confidence of saying you should go check out our church that’s opening in your community and for you to have that, you’ve got to have a great understanding. If I can use a marketing term of what your brand experience is, what does it need to, because you’re going to be in a different building with different people leading that experience. So what are those other things that make it, your church is brand. And so that has to be able to be defined. You have to have agreement with the leaders on, you know, these are some of the core things that will keep us moving in the right direction. Here’s what you know, our churches, worship leader, this is their general feel and vibe and in how we lead and these are the kinds of songs that we do.
Amy: 07:59 And here’s the excellence bar that we strive for. You know, whatever that language is in your church is really important to get agreement on, so it needs to be definable and then you also from a creative standpoint, need to have a great planning process because when you’re one site, you’re pretty agile. You can make changes, you know, days before the service. You can make changes hours before the service, you’re all one team and one place, you know, tackling it together. But as you go into multisite, you need some time built into your systems now and sometimes that’s a hard adjustment for the senior leader who has been prepping messages one certain way or a creative arts department that create stories a certain way, but when you’re multisite and you want to tell a faith story, you probably have to do it on video now because you can’t. We don’t have that technology yet to actually bring people into two spots at once. So you have to put it on video. If you want to have a good, you need time for that person to write down their story. You need good time to fill in that story. You need good time to edit that story, so time becomes a big factor as well as defining your brand when it comes to replicating your weekend.
Tony: 09:08 Yeah, and you mentioned in that response, one key word that I want to highlight. You mentioned the word systems and you were talking about systems related to the weekend experience, but that’s one of the key differences between a single location church in a multisite church. Multisite church has to lean on systems. You know when you’re in a single location and an issue pops up, you just get the people in the room that need to speak into whatever the issue is. They gathered around a table. They process that whatever that issue is through conversation, they make a decision and they move forward. Well in multisite, that’s not possible because you can’t get everybody in the room and the issues look different in different locations and there’s a different nuance to how you have to approve our approach, different situations, and the only thing that’s going to allow for an organization including a ministry to remain healthy and multiple different locations. If there’s a solid foundation of healthy systems in place to support that.
Amy: 10:11 Absolutely. Well, let’s switch gears here. It’s funny, you know, Tony, when we launched our multisite offering at The Unstuck Group, we thought we’d be talking to a lot of churches who were thinking about going multisite and how do we need to get ready. But a lot of the churches that contacted us, we call them multi stuck. They were multisite, but they were stuck. Now their model was not working the way that they thought it would work. And I guess that makes sense because we’re the unstuck group. But my first question to you, we see a lot of data out there about multisite churches. There’s a lot of blogs, there’s a lot of books, there’s a lot of, you know, kind of thought life out in the web on multisite and we see a lot of data, right? We see x percent are doing it this way, x percent are doing it that way, but that’s not telling the whole story, right?
Tony: 11:03 Yeah. What we’re learning in working with all these churches now that have been in multisite is that there’s a lot of research writing data about how people are doing multisite, but what we’re not saying is a lot of writing research data about the results of those different strategies. So let me give you one example that we’re running into. There, there are, in fact, I think it’s about last time I saw about a 50 50 split on churches that are using primarily video to deliver teaching on the weekends to their multiple locations and churches that have a person a live at their different locations each week. And through our experience, Amy, you know, this to be the case, many of the churches that we’re running into that originally chose to use live teachers in different individuals in different locations are struggling right now in their multisite strategy.
Tony: 12:20 And it’s not that the teaching is bad or poor or anything like that. I think the key challenge that they’re running into is over time a different teacher draws a different crowd. And over time it actually leads to a different church because there isn’t a consistency of vision coming from the senior leader. There isn’t a consistency of values that are being communicated. There isn’t a unification of leadership through the teaching, which is the primary way that we connect with our congregation because that doesn’t exist with multiple different voices. Churches are splitting basically. And I know we’ve seen examples of several examples in the last year where churches, one location we worked with had four different campuses for different pastors teaching. Ultimately they were teaching four different messages, not even on the same topics anymore. And they became four different congregations now.
Tony: 13:26 They hadn’t decided to become four different congregations yet. And they were dealing with the chaos and the challenge of working through that process. But you and I knew they had become four different churches. And that’s, that’s an example of, you know, there’s again, a lot of research, a lot of writing out there, you know, you can do it either way, you can, you can use video teaching or you can use live teachers. And Amy, that’s not to say there aren’t, there are some churches out there that are using live teachers and multiple locations and it’s working for them, but I can tell you they’re working hard at it and from our experience, what we’re saying is I’m probably in most cases when churches take that approach, they run into challenge, not immediately but on down the road.
Amy: 14:13 Yeah. And the other challenge maybe you can speak to is just, I think when we’ve worked with a few churches that they’ve had live teachers and all the things that you just talked about, but they were expecting the efficiencies and the financial support of a more identical church. Can you just speak to that for a minute?
Tony: 14:33 Yeah. So, I think churches go into multisite thinking this was an opportunity to send out some leaders and they’re going to still be a part of our church, but we’re going to give them a little bit more autonomy to kind of do things the way they need to do things because of their, and their wiring and their uniqueness. And then I think we all also overestimate the amount of autonomy that we think we need to give another campus because it’s located in a different community and for some reason the sense of just because it’s 30 minutes down the road, we have to do different music, we have to teach in a different way. We have to approach our ministry strategy differently, we have to create different spaces. And if when churches approach multisite in that way, more autonomy actually requires more resources and it becomes more expensive.
Tony: 15:29 It takes more time, it takes more leadership. And I just, if I tell churches, if there’s a sense that you have to do things differently in a different location, you should not use a multisite strategy. You should plant a new church. Now, let me jump on because I think this multisite misstep, Amy, is a key issue. Let me hit a couple things real quick… Some other issues. Launching too small: when churches try to launch multisite too small and we use as a barometer or a thousand people in attendance or more… The reason why is it’s you’re gonna for multisite to work, you’re probably going to send half to send out about 100 people at a minimum to launch a campus of 200, which is I think kind of the smallest viable number of people that you can have to launch a new campus with strength. There are churches in different parts of the country that can launch smaller campuses and make those work longterm. But again, we’re trying to give you the best potential for success moving forward and we’re seeing that that’s kind of the, what would the term be minimal viable size of the campus in order for it to work. So we’re seeing churches that are trying to launch when they’re too small and it’s leading the challenges both with people resources and financial resources.
Amy: 16:57 But I’ll go back to that brand experience. If you’re a church that’s over a thousand people, you have a certain feel to what it’s like to go to your church. There’s a crowd, there’s momentum, there’s energy. So if you launch too small, you lose a little bit of that personality. I know that regularly in our coaching networks, we really challenge people to launch with a core team of 200 people with the hope that they can double that size in the first year. That brings momentum and health with the church.
Tony: 17:26 Yeah. And then a final mistake that I’m seeing way too many times. And I want to start to get the word out: don’t do this. It’s churches that tried to launch a multisite campus in a location where they don’t have people currently connected to their church. They don’t have people coming from there. Whatever that area is that they want to go to and they don’t have people engaged in their mission from whatever the area is that they’re going to. And so the approach that they’re trying to take is to send a group of people out, kind of like missionaries into this new community and launching another location and it’s just not working. Again, if you feel like you need to do that, then you should not be using a multisite strategy to launch in that new location. You should be trying to establish a new church plant in that location. And there are some similarities between a multisite approach and a church planting approach. But there are some very different, big differences as well, primarily around the leader that you’re sending out. And that’s why it’s critical I think that the churches know going into this, where are we going? Who are we taking with us? Do we have enough resources to do this efficiently? That way we can begin to identify, do we use a multisite approach or church planting approach?
Sean: 18:52 Well, thanks Tony and Amy and thanks to our listeners for joining us today. If this conversation on multisite helped you, would you consider leaving us a review on iTunes? That’ll help more leaders find this content. And as always, if you’d like to learn more about how the unstuck group helps churches get unstuck, you can visit us at theunstuckgroup.com.