Multisite and Merger Strategies (Part 3)
What common mistakes do multisite churches make in their staffing and structure? We’re diving into part 3 of our series on multisite and merger strategies. (If you missed it, you can listen to part one here and part two here.) We’ve heard great feedback on the series so far, and I think today’s conversation around how to staff and structure a multisite church will be equally as helpful.
Now that the church has embraced multi-site for over 20 years, there are predictable outcomes that we see related to how churches design and structure their multisite churches. Some of those outcomes are good and they help the church grow and expand in healthy ways. And some of those outcomes lead to what we have started to refer to as a church being “multi stuck”. And we want to help you avoid that.
In fact, when we launched our multi-site process a few years ago, we thought we were going to be engaging with churches that were large, single location churches at the time, who were considering multisite expansion for the very first time, but about 80% of the churches that have gone through our multisite process are already multisite. They’re “multi stuck”. And so they reached out to figure out how do we get unstuck? And how they were structuring their teams was a big contributor to their stuckness.
So that’s going to be the focus of our conversation today. Amy Anderson did the math and has served right about 115 churches with their staffing and structure. So, because she is the expert on our team, I’d like to reverse roles in this week’s episode and ask Amy for her perspective on staffing and structure for a multisite church.
- The top 5 mistakes multisite churches make in staffing and structure
- Key roles to clarify on your team as a multisite church
- Decision rights and your multisite model
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Links & Resources from the Episode
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- How to Build an Effective Central Services Team in a Multisite Church Model
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Welcome to the Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Getting your staff team right in a single-site church can be challenging, but staffing for a multisite church brings its own set of issues. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy talk through some specific shifts that multisite churches need to make when it comes to their staffing structure. To get the most out of your podcast experience today, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s content, including our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive, and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well, Tony, the last few podcasts in our series on multisite and mergers have had a lot of activity. A lot of people have been listening and even emailing us to tell us how timely the topic is to them right now. So I know it confirmed to me that this is a relevant topic in the church world right now.
Yeah, that’s right. I think today’s conversation around staffing and structuring a multisite church will be equally as helpful. You know, we say this all the time, but now that the church has embraced multisite for over 20 years, as a way to expand ministry, there are predictable outcomes that we see related to how churches design and structure their multisite churches. So some of those outcomes are good and they help the church grow and expand in healthy ways. And some of those outcomes, Amy, they lead to what we have started to refer to as a church being multi stuck. And we want to help you avoid that. In fact, we launched our multi-site process, I think it was four or five years ago, Amy. And we thought we were going to be engaging with churches that were large, single location churches at the time, but were considering multisite expansion for the very first time. That hasn’t been the case. I’m guessing about 80% of the churches that have gone through our multi-site process are already multi-site. And because of that, they’re already multi stuck. And so they reached out to figure out how do we get unstuck in our multi-site model? Do you agree, Amy? Is that your sense as well?
Oh, I do. And how they were structuring your teams honestly was a big contributor to their stuckness.
Yeah. So that’s going to be the focus of our conversation today. And Amy found out she actually did the math. How many churches have you helped with staffing and structure, Amy?
Well, I think it’s around 115. Right in there.
Oh my goodness.
Yeah. So having served all of those churches around staffing and I, again, I like to, because you’re the expert really on our team related to staffing and structure, I kind of like to reverse roles in these conversations. And so I’m going to be asking a lot of the questions today, Amy, but let’s begin here. What are the common mistakes you see when structuring and staffing a multi-site church?
Yeah. There’s some obvious themes that I’ve seen over the years in working with stuck multi-sites. The first one, you know, early on in the multisite movement, one common mistake was not identifying a campus pastor to lead the new campus. That was even my experience working at Eagle Brook. It took us a year or two or three to actually assign a campus pastor to our first location. And we never got momentum until we had that leader in place. And I don’t see that one very often today. The mistake I see now is hiring a campus pastor to launch this new site that really wants to be a lead pastor instead of that second chair leader. I see when a lot of the multi-site churches that I worked with that feel stuck, this is almost always in the mix somewhere. And what happens is when they’re wired to be a lead pastor, number one, they want to preach. And as we’ve talked about for a long time, when someone is teaching a different teacher at a multi-site location, we often see that becoming an independent church because the church follows that lead personality, that lead teacher that’s on the platform every weekend. So they want to preach. And then they often want to, because they’re wired to create things, right? They want to create their own strategies to reach and disciple people. So that campus pastor who’s wired that way is often coming up with lots of new ideas of what they want to do at their campus because of the uniqueness of their campus. You see that, Tony?
I do. And honestly, this, and this is an overstatement. It’s an exaggeration. I will own that, but this is why youth pastors make horrible campus pastors. Because youth pastors are accustomed to doing primarily all of the teaching. They get to leverage every bit of their creativity to do new things within the context of student ministry. And they love it because, I mean, there’s some accountability there, but, I mean, it’s as if they’re leading their own church, typically in the churches that we work with, and then you take that wiring and put them at a campus, and it’s like you’re cutting off their wings. It’s like they can’t do what God designed them to do. Now again, we have found youth pastors that have made great campus pastors. But it’s a little unusual again because of the specific characteristics that you just mentioned.
Yeah. And, you know, playing our hand super early, we tend to think about a multi-site church, one church, multiple locations, where teaching is fairly identical at all locations. All right. So they often want to use their unique strategies to reach because they think their campus is fairly unique when they’re wired that way as a lead pastor. And then you just alluded to it. My last thought was just, they are frustrated. They get frustrated being a campus pastor because they aren’t using their gifts. So I think that’s one of the most common mistakes. A second one, probably equally as common, is there’s overstaffing in the multi-site model, specifically at the campuses. And I’ll just try to do some simple math here, Tony, but you know, if you’re a church of a thousand and say, you’ve got 10 full-time people on your team, then you are staffing one full-time person for every hundred people that come to your campus. And then you go and you’re going to launch this new campus. And there’s 200 people that are attending that. Well, you naturally think, well, then we should have two full-time people because we hire a full-time person for every hundred people that attend our church. But we know the math in reality, they should only be staffing it like one and a quarter because there are central costs now that have to be covered, the lead pastor, central support, like ops and facilities and communications. So we have to remember we don’t staff at the same level at campuses that we do at the sending site.
Yeah. And, gosh, this is great content, Amy. You came up with some great ideas for us based on some churches that you’ve worked with because I’ve seen these same stories. I mean, churches, you launch a new campus and you think, well, we need somebody to be the campus pastor. We need someone to lead worship. We need someone to oversee kids’ ministry. A lot of times we need someone over student ministry.
Don’t forget production.
Yeah, we need someone actually to lead worship, someone that’s going to, you know, provide administrative support because none of those people know how to check email and submit pay requests and things like that. And you start adding up all those positions at a campus of a couple of hundred people sometimes. It’s just not financially sustainable. And so too many times we have found the church has just, the campus model, it’s overstaffed and not financially sustainable.
Yeah. I’ve actually been working with my home church on this, and we just ran all the numbers. And it was really eye-opening just because we actually have some proven methodology at The Unstuck Group to kind of determine where staffing numbers should be at. The third most common mistake I see, and it relates to overstaffing, but it’s putting a campus pastor in at the sending location too early in the multi-site process. Very common mistake. In fact, I was on a call with a church yesterday, and they were talking about multi-site in that someone had coached them as soon as you launch a campus, hire a campus pastor for your sending location. And I literally blurted out, “No,” and then I’m like, I know this is a facilitated process, but I just have to step in there. Don’t do that. It’s really not needed yet. You don’t need a campus pastor at your sending location this early in the process. The sending campus and central are kind of one in the same at the beginning of the multi-site process. It’s really not until your third or fourth campus launch that you’re ready for a campus pastor at that sending location. In fact, when you hire it too soon, it is so confusing for everyone on staff. And we talk about, you know, when you do multi-site, you enter the matrix, and this just adds like a whole other element to the confusion about who has decision rights and you know, who owns what and who’s accountable for what? And then lastly, maybe the thing that comes to mind on common mistakes is that you’re not really staffing the new campus. You know, that’s how they think about it. We’re going to have this whole big team and we’re all gonna work together. And then when it’s the weekend, we’re going to go divide and conquer and go out to the locations. And that’s a mistake, too, because if you’ve hired a campus pastor, and you’ve said, you know, grow this church, reach this community, make disciples, and then you don’t give him or her a team. Instead, you just get all these people who huddle during the week and then come out to his or her campus on the weekend. It creates a very lonely campus pastor with no team to help grow the church. And so those are the top four that come to mind. Tony, did I miss any common mistakes that you see?
So first of all, when you said that, you’re absolutely right. The thought occurred to me. You’re not staffing a new campus. What you’re really doing is staffing a new church, cause it’s a new model, a new approach to ministry, and you have to look at that more holistically. The other thought that occurred to me, Amy is staffing and the teaching model are linked. There’s just no way to deny that. And many churches go in to multi-site with the assumption that they want there to be different live teachers at every location. And again, I could go into all the reasons why I think you need to be considering a teaching team delivering video messages. We talked a little bit about that in a previous episode, but the challenge is if you have live teachers in every location, you have to actually pay people to teach in every location. And it’s not just the primary teacher, it’s the people that you want on the teaching team at every location as well. And those teachers begin to multiply, and it’s just not financially sustainable for most churches. You may be able to get away with that in two locations. If you’re trying to scale to three or four and certainly beyond, it’s just not a scalable model. All right, Amy. So I mentioned earlier, there are some predictable outcomes when it comes to how a church designs their multi-site model. Are there some predictable outcomes when it comes to staffing a multi-site church?
Yeah, there are. Let me just, maybe in three different areas. First the roles, and by the way, this might seem really obvious, but I just, I think it’s important for us to play it forward. When are one location, you have basically singular role responsibilities. You know, I am the group’s pastor. I am the worship pastor. I am the discipleship pastor, et cetera. When you go to two to three sites, this is where in the staffing model, dual roles are often introduced. So there are some people who have campus responsibility and some central responsibility. Now in these dual roles, it’s still really critical to understand where the solid line is and where the dotted line is. But for example, a campus pastor at a new location, it wouldn’t be unusual for the campus pastor to be the campus pastor at that new location, accountable for the results, all of that, but also maybe the central groups strategist, the person who’s championing here’s how we do groups at all of our locations. Or you might have a kids pastor at one location, and so they’re the kids pastor at that campus, but then also maybe a central kids large group strategist, like that’s the person we’re asking to develop our strategy around it. And in that two to three sites, it’s usually just because, you know, we’re hoping these campuses grow. We haven’t been able to staff quite at the levels we want yet. And so this duality helps us expand. And it’s it’s a challenging time. You know, the two to three to four move can be a stretching time, but once you get to four or more sites, you are typically back to a more singularly focused role, either in a campus role or in a central role.
So yeah, Amy, this is spot on. I just, I want to caution churches. You know this is coming. You know there are going to be dual roles. You have to clarify this for everybody. I’m surprised at how many churches, they’re starting to cast vision for multi-site, they’re moving forward with launching a second location. Their staff team is fully on board. They agree with this, but they never have the one-on-one conversations with the ministry leaders to tell them, hey, now what this means is you’re going to be responsible for your ministry here, but we need you also then to have oversight of what’s happening at both of our locations. And you just have to clarify that upfront so that everybody knows what their new role looks like. All right, I cut you off. As I have been doing throughout this episode. What’s the other predictable outcome?
So there’s some predictable times when you add staff. All right, so when you are at that two to three sites in your multi-site expansion, it’s really the key role additions, our campus pastors and their teams. Okay. The people who are going to be executing ministry. And I always often say, you know, you’re looking for people who are people magnets, they are multiplier equippers. The campus teams are not strategists per se. They probably have some strategy in them, but you are not looking to them to create the strategy for how you do your ministry. And then at the, like I said, when you launch your fourth location, third or fourth, depending on the size of your launches, this is where you introduce that campus pastor for the sending location and a multi-site director to lead all of the campus pastors. Those are predictable role additions. And by the way, when you hire that multi-site director and the campus pastor for the sending location, this is when central really becomes central, and the sending location becomes part of a campus team. Does that make sense? So when we sent out our fourth location, we had a campus pastor at the sending location, and that leader and all of those staff now report up through the multi-site director, and central really has become central. Another thought about predictable outcomes, and maybe because we see the overstaffing and the stuckness, but I notice that when you’re in the two to three site part of your expansion, this is often when churches begin adding part-time roles. They add a lot of people part-time to do work because we’re feeling stretched thin, we’re feeling a little overwhelmed. However, what happens when we do this is by the time we get to that fourth location, you know these churches recognize, man we need leaders. We need equipping leaders. We have so many staff, but they’re doing specific things and there are so many part-time people. So I would just say, if you’re in that two to three location size, you need to be thinking about adding leaders, not part-time doers as much as you can, or if you’re hiring part-time, people with potential for leadership growth that can step into leadership when the time is necessary. And then honestly, after four locations, really what you’re adding is leaders, especially at the campus level, because again, you want the people at the campus to be executing ministry, engaging volunteers, high-level volunteers in their ministry. So that’s the journey. We go, single role, dual role, single role. We add campus pastors and their team and eventually the multi-site director and the campus pastor for the sending location. And that we want to hire leaders who build and engage volunteers instead of filling holes with part-time team members.
Amy, it’s as if you’ve done this with more than a hundred different churches. Yeah. So, okay. With that coaching in mind, now let me ask you this. What are the biggest decisions churches need to make that affect a church’s multi-site structure?
Yeah. We often say form follows function here. And so we build staffing and structure models around the strategy of the church. So one of the biggest decisions the church needs to make first is what is our multi-site model? How identical are all of our locations going to be? Where is there any autonomy or independence in the model? And you have to think you can’t just have one global number, right? You have to think through every area and ask that question. How identical will teaching be? Is there any autonomy that? Worship, kids, students, outreach, discipleship path, finance? All of those kinds of things, and then you’ll understand overall how identical or autonomous you are. But I think it’s good to say here, Tony, what we have seen is that the more autonomy multi-site models, you know, allow in their model. The more we really should start thinking about a church plant because when we talk about these multi stuck churches, they are bleeding financially. They are bleeding relationally. There’s so much tension in the system, and it just would have been better to plant a church instead of trying to stay together and do everything differently. Another big decision that affects a church multi-site structure, you said it earlier, is the teaching approach because the teaching approach determines so much of how we staff from there, really closely aligned to the role of the campus pastor, because if the teaching approach is happening from a very identical perspective, then we hire campus pastors who are great multipliers, you know, who are great at casting vision to their congregation to follow Christ and become more like him. But if the campus pastor is a primary teacher at that location, you’re going to have to add more staff at the campus because they’re going to spend so much time on message prep and everything else.
Yeah. And let me just say this out loud too. I mean, there are some very gifted people that are great communicators and great team builders, but it’s really hard to find folks with two gifts strengths around both of those. It’s more likely that you’re going to find gifted teachers and then different people that are gifted leader, team builders, and for campuses to be successful, you need the the team builders. That’s the key. I think it’s wise, Amy, just to call that out and recognize if the campus pastor is going to teach, very likely that means we’re going to have to hire additional staffing to make up for the leadership team building requirement at those campus locations.
Absolutely. And one other thought, if you have a campus pastor who really loves being a campus pastor, but also has teaching gifts, I would just say, instead of having them teach at their location, have that campus pastor join the teaching team and have him or her teach every six to eight weeks or something like that. But when they’re teaching, they’re coming through the same way on video that they would if it was the lead teaching pastor. So, the last big question that I think has to be determined before we look at structure is just how are we going to determine decision rights? So again, multisite, you’ve entered the matrix, lots of dotted and solid lines. We have to bring clarity to who gets to make what decision. Does the campus get to make the decision? Does central make the decision? Do we have to come to a consensus? You know, Tony, remind me, how did you define dotted lines and solid lines?
Yeah, so the solid line, looking at the org chart, represents authority. The dotted line represents influence, and what we’ve seen, time and time again, is the authority has to flow through the campus pastor.
The solid line. Yep.
And then influence flows across all of the campuses from the central ministry leaders. And what we’ve seen is churches have tried to flip that where the authority flowed through the central leaders, and the campus pastors really only had influence among the folks that were on staff at their different locations. And it just never works. I liken it to what if, you know, Chick-fil-A used that model? We use Chick-fil-A examples around here a lot, Amy, because it’s like our hometown, restaurant. I mean, I have to keep marketing. They don’t pay me to market, but I have to keep encouraging people to eat more chicken. So it would be as if Chick-fil-A decided rather than the owner operators at each location having authority over their team, the chicken fryers at each location would report back to somebody at headquarters in Atlanta. And they would be, all the chicken fryers would answer to the central chicken fryer director. You see what I’m saying?
You know what, Tony, as you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous.
It is ridiculous. But we’ve seen multi-site churches try to take that approach. And it just, it doesn’t work.
No, you need to empower that campus pastor to have a team and to lead that team towards the goals. So you have to decide who has authority and who has influence in decision-making. Again, what does central decide? What do campuses decide? And then of course, Tony, this all links back to how identical or individual the multi-site model is. We have to be clear on what the constants are between every location and where campuses have freedom. Let me just give you a couple of examples. When a campus pastor, let’s say, when a campus hires a kids pastor, who hires them? The central kids leader or the campus pastor? Who gets the decision rights in that? Or if a campus wants to partner with a local community organization to do some local outreach, can they do that or does central have to have a voice into that? Those are just two examples, but the key with multi-site when it comes to staffing and structure is clarity. You have to make advanced decisions about how you will make decisions. And the right clarity will help both campus and central teams work in so much more harmony and unity when those things are clear. Well, Tony, I’ve done a lot of the talking today. Any final thoughts you have before we wrap up on today’s conversation?
I’m going to have to remember that trick because when I do a lot of talking, you still ask me to share my final thoughts. Yeah. Okay. So this does come to mind when we’re talking about staffing and structure and how that gets reflected in multi-site. There are number one, some predictable challenges, and secondly, some proven solutions to getting this part of your multi-site model unstuck, and so that you are a healthy multi-site church. You don’t have to make the same mistakes that other churches have already learned from. If you are a large church and you’re considering going multi-site or even adopting a campus through a merger, or if you’re a multi-site church that feels stuck in this area, we’d love to help. And our multi-site process will help you define your multi-site model and create a structure that will bring clarity to roles, decision rights, and be financially sustainable for your church. And you can find out more at theunstuckgroup.com/multisite.
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