September 10, 2019 Tony Morgan

Predictable Outcomes: Multisite Models and How They Really Turn Out

If your multisite strategy is just copying what other successful churches have done, that’s a surefire way to watch your campus fail. 

I want to address something before we dig in—

Multisite is a lot more expensive and more complicated than you probably expect it to be. And strangely enough, there is even some data that shows that churches launching their 4th or 5th campus experience those complications the most—after they’ve launched the first 3. 

I don’t mention this to scare you, but to note that multisite is complex. Seeing churches thrive is a passion of mine  (hence The Unstuck Group :-)) and that includes addressing the hard things, too.  If your multisite strategy is just copying what other successful churches have done, that’s a surefire way to watch your campus fail.  Click To Tweet

I’m a fan of multiplication strategy. When done well, it reaches more people for Jesus—that’s ultimately our win. 

But, I’ve seen that’s often where people stop. They think, “What’s our next step in ministry? We could test out adding another campus and see how it goes.” 

And even worse—”People are not coming as much anymore. Let’s build a new campus so people will have more opportunity to come.

Let me clarify again—I am a fan of multisite. But your “why” needs to be CLEARLY defined. It should be your primary motivation for taking steps forward in this strategy. 

I recently spoke with Geoff Surratt (you need to listen to our conversation) about the tendency to follow what large, successful churches do, and we’ve seen that particularly in multisite. We copy their models because it worked for them, but to be frank, that is a surefire way to watch your campus fail.  I am a fan of multisite. But your “why” needs to be CLEARLY defined. It should be your primary motivation for taking steps forward in this strategy.  Click To Tweet

Your ministry is unique because of where you’re located, the culture of your church and the people that inhabit it, and it’s important to make decisions in ministry based on those factors. 

If you’re considering an expansion strategy, let me walk you through a few different models that could be a good fit for your church.  Your ministry is unique because of where you’re located, the culture of your church and the people that inhabit it, and it’s important to make decisions in ministry based on those factors.  Click To Tweet

Decide on Your Model

There are three basic models that you can choose between for your multisite strategy:

Identical Expression

The church creates identical campuses across all locations. Ministry programming is identical, and calendars are aligned. The vast majority of ministry plans and curriculum content are created by a central team or sending campus. 

Campus leaders implement plans, focusing as much time as possible on caring for people and developing leaders.

Local Expression

In a local expression approach, broad-sweeping ministry plans and curriculum are provided, but campus leaders have space to further develop or adjust those plans to meet their local context.

A central team or sending campus still provides some resources, but they are not as detailed or rigid.

Church Planting

A church-planting approach gives near autonomy to campuses. They are united by a global name and mission but the vast majority of ministry plans are created by campuses to uniquely serve their communities. 

Churches leaning toward this approach should heavily consider truly planting independent churches rather than trying to hold diverse campuses together as a multisite church.

Identical or Independent?

It’s important to determine in advance how identical or independent your new locations will be.  Without clarity, campuses will begin to drift. It’s important to determine in advance how identical or independent your new locations will be.  Without clarity, campuses will begin to drift. Click To Tweet

The more identical you are, the more you are one church with multiple locations. The more independent you are, the more you’re releasing campuses to execute their own ministry.

I’ve seen both work effectively, but I will note that churches that lean towards an independent model tend to un-multisite later on. 

Now you might be thinking, “It’s still a kingdom win, even if two locations become independent campuses.” 

Yes, it’s still a kingdom win IF those campuses are able to sustain themselves. However, if you remove the central support and funding the campus locations have come to depend on, most campuses are not strong enough financially to survive. 

While both can work, identical models seem to create less complexity. 

How you staff, structure and operate as a team will necessarily be very different depending on which approach  you take to your multisite model. What I’ve top-lined here is just the beginning. 

Need some help digging deeper? Check out our Multisite Unstuck Course

This online course helps you define your multisite ministry strategy by starting with the “why” and walking you through some crucial decisions that need to be made for your campus to operate efficiently and effectively. 

It positions you to facilitate the process, leading your team to clarify your multisite model, decision rights, campus launch strategy, branding and communications, and more.

Take the Course

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.