When MultiSite Works against the Mission

Mecklenburg Community Church is closing all of its satellite campuses and ending the multi-site approach to growth we have embraced for nearly a decade. The sites are not being spun off into independent churches, but simply being consolidated back into our original campus through the planned expansion of weekend services and future building efforts.

The multi-site model is not complicated to understand. The goal, at least for us, was never to simply make it more convenient for current Meckers to attend. The goal was to break down geographic barriers that might inhibit extending an invitation to an unchurched person. And I am sure that the multi-site approach can and still does work for many churches.

But we’re now going to chart a different course.

It is not because our sites were failing; they weren’t. Most were growing.

It is not because the church as a whole is in decline. In fact, Meck continues to grow robustly and is now in one of its most accelerated seasons of numerical growth. We recently experienced the largest-attended slate of Christmas services in our history, the largest Easter weekend attendance in our history, and saw more than 400 people baptized in the last year.

So why are we ending our multi-site approach?

It is because we practice what we preach when it comes to strategic church leadership. Namely, that methods must be ruthlessly evaluated in light of missional effectiveness. This not only means asking if they are still “working,” but how well they are working. And perhaps most importantly, how their degree of effectiveness compares to the potential effectiveness of other possible investments. If a method is found wanting, or there is a better method to pursue, then no matter what that method is, no matter what the outside optics might be, no matter how much time and money and effort has been invested to that point, there can be no sacred cows.

We have decided that it is time for the multi-site approach, for us, to end and to have those resources and efforts be more strategically invested. And in so doing, we honor the hard work and prayers of those who helped launch our sites and worked tirelessly to serve their effort—those people are heroes. What they have done over the last several years mattered and was, to our thinking, the most strategic investment we (they) could have made. Marriages have been restored, families strengthened and eternities altered.

But it’s time to move to a different approach.

Here’s why:

It’s Dated
This will sound odd to many, as all things “multi-site” seems to be one of the newer approaches to church growth. But it’s not, at least in the fast-paced nature of our modern world. The multi-site approach came on to the scene in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The earliest books outlining the approach were written in 2005 and released in 2006 (e.g., The Multi-Site Revolution by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird). A two-decade-old approach is not exactly cutting edge.

But more to the point is that the entire multi-site way of thinking predated the greatest shift our culture may have ever experienced to date—namely, the internet in our pocket. Lest we forget, the first iPhone wasn’t released until 2007. That very same year Facebook left the campus and entered the wider world, Twitter was spun off, Google bought YouTube and launched Android, Amazon released the Kindle, and the internet crossed one billion users worldwide—the tipping point to it becoming the fabric of our world. No wonder New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once wrote, “What the h*** happened in 2007?” And all of this after – after, mind you – the multi-site approach was conceived and began to spread.

Which brings us to the next point.

It’s a Physical Approach in a Digital World
We must engage the reality of our new digital world and the promise it holds, not to mention the changes it is creating in regard to pursuing the mission. I have been blogging about this extensively in recent months, such as “A True Megashift: From the Physical to the Digital” and “The Phygital Church.”

The multi-site approach is a physical approach in a digital world. Even worse, a physical response to a digital demand. Yet as my friend Carey Nieuwhof has written, “the internet is the venue in which the entire community you are trying to reach lives.”

We are finding that when someone is invited by a friend, instead of attending a physical campus, people first visit our website or some other online venture, and then – as a secondary step – attend one of our internet campus services. Our attenders even intuitively recommend that process. In fact, our internet campus is now our fastest-growing and second-largest collective venue.

Many years ago, I wrote the book Opening the Front Door, making the case for the weekend service being the front door to exploration. That is no longer true. The “front door” of the church is not even a physical place. The role of the multi-site approach was to remove geographical barriers; today, those are not the barriers that need to be removed. The unchurched do not begin with geography—they begin online.

Which bring us to the third consideration.

The 20-Minute Rule Is Obsolete
Because of the new digital realities of our world, once someone is exposed to a church online – and, hopefully, intrigued – traveling beyond the “20-minute barrier” becomes largely irrelevant.

If you’re unfamiliar with the “20-minute” mantra, many strategists maintain that people will not travel more than 15-20 minutes from their home to attend a church.

That may have once been true, but no longer.

Ironically, the multi-site approach itself, in light of a digital age, proves its obsolescence. The multi-site approach is based on a church having a regional appeal that allows it to establish a campus outpost outside of that mythical 20-minute window due to existing attenders in that 20-minute-plus area.

Translation: They already have people commuting from 20-plus minutes away.

Further translation: People most certainly will travel in the 20-plus-minute range for a church they are both attracted to and have come to experience and value.

In a pre-digital world, it was only the initial invitation that was thwarted by the 20-minute rule, because the only invitation to explore involved a physical attendance. But in a digital age, you’re not asking people to explore things physically. They can, and even desire, to do it all from the comfort of their home. Once they are intrigued by a church through all things online, they think little of driving to experience what they saw online, even if it takes longer than 20 minutes.

It’s Often a Situational Need
The next reason for our decision is one that, granted, is not a factor for many churches. But the dynamic behind it may be relevant to enough churches to warrant its inclusion in this list.

When we began our approach, our lone campus was on an 80-acre tract of land that was purchased in light of the pending completion of an outerbelt around the city of Charlotte that would have a destination exit about a mile from that campus. We knew that with 80 acres, the “shoe” would never tell the “foot” how big it could get.

Yet the completion of that outerbelt took years longer to complete than anyone forecasted, with the final leg – the one that would serve our campus – not completed until just a few years ago in 2015. It has only been within the last several months that the secondary road infrastructure serving that exit to our campus has been completed.

This forced us into a multi-site approach to serve the regional nature of our church community as major areas of Charlotte were a 45-minute or more drive away. Even suburbs considered in our immediate area involved lengthy drives. But now that the outerbelt has been completed and secondary roads have filled in, there are few places in Charlotte that are more than a 25-minute drive to our original campus. My oldest daughter and her husband recently bought a house that five years ago would have taken at least 25 minutes to drive to our original church campus.

It now takes her less than 10.

We Asked
In the final stages of our evaluation of the multi-site approach, and it has been heavily under our microscope for months, we surveyed nearly a thousand of our attenders and found several confirming realities: 1) they were bypassing inviting friends to our newer sites, and instead were inviting them to the original campus (no matter where they lived); 2) if they weren’t inviting them to attend the founding campus, they were intentionally inviting them to online experiences such as our internet campus, or to listen to a weekend message on our app; 3) no matter where they lived in Charlotte, they didn’t feel sites near them were needed for reaching their unchurched friends; and 4) they were most comfortable inviting them to non-video venue events and services (Like most multi-site churches, our sites were “live” in regard to worship, but used video for the message.).

In essence, we were putting a tool in their hands they didn’t ask for, didn’t feel was needed and, as a result, didn’t use. At least for the mission. They may have attended one of the sites out of convenience or a sense of duty, but they didn’t use it for their unchurched friends.

Oh, the Places We Can Go
There are other reasons churches might consider following our course, not the least of which are those outlined in a recent article you can read HERE on the challenges the multi-site approach presents for leadership, pastoral oversight, moral train wrecks and more.

But for us, it was a missional decision many months in the making, and made from a position of health. As I said at the beginning, the biggest reason for ending the multi-site approach is what we could do in its place with those resources and energies. Meaning, the clear sense that there is a better investment. It’s a digital world, and we dream of expanding our digital footprint, making our website so much more than it now is (particularly making it work seamlessly with mobile technology), using social media to reach out in unprecedented ways, staffing our internet campus as if it were a physical campus, exploring the cutting-edge of physical engagement through “pop-up” events, and so much more.

So might we one day return to some form of a multi-site approach if our cultural context shifts again? Of course. And we wouldn’t be awkward or embarrassed about it. I would return to door-to-door visitation, Sunday School, revivals and a bus ministry if I felt they were most effective. Methods change; only the message, vision and values remain sacrosanct.

But for now?

We are officially no longer “one church in multiple locations.” Instead, we will be trying to be one church in a digital world. Which hopefully means one church steadfastly intent on staying on the front lines of reaching our unchurched, far-from-God community that we so dearly care about.

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Key Learnings from a Massively Multisite Church

In the early 2000s, I started on my multisite journey. In those days, we were just trying to solve a space problem at our growing church. We had some innovative volunteers at our church who asked if they could take the video that we were using to run an “overflow” and host a small group, 45 minutes away from where we were meeting. It was an incredibly simple idea that flourished to the point where I’ve seen thousands of people connected to the churches I’ve served at through this approach to “doing church”.

Since then, I’ve had the honor of being at the forefront of fourteen campus launches. We’ve seen around 1,500 volunteers join our mission and actively work to see those campuses launched. Today, over 9,000 people attend the campuses that sprung from our efforts. It has been a privilege to have a front row seat to this amazing approach to reaching new people with the message of Jesus. Seeing a revolution from the inside gives one a perspective that is second to no other!

As incredible as it’s been to see this movement from the inside, there are some lessons I wished I had known before we started this journey. These facts have been birthed over years of launching different sites and I wanted to share them with you here. These tips will help to save you time, effort and energy as you launch new locations! Lean in on these lessons and you are bound to find a few shortcuts to reaching more people in your community.

I’m still as much of a “fan” of the multisite church approach today as I was all those years ago when I was setting out to launch with so much hope in the first campus. I really do think that every growing church should consider this approach to multiplication. It’s been breathtaking to see this movement in a few churches grow to the point where one in six churchgoers in North America now attend a multisite church! Wowsers! I would have never predicted that back when we started sharing our video with that small group 45 minutes away!

The size and health of your launch core is the critical success factor.

Having watched so many different dynamics associated with these launches up close, I am convinced that the campuses that launch strong have a large and healthy group of volunteers kicking it off. In fact, when I talk with churches who have struggling campuses the problems can often be linked back to a lack of passionate people on the launch team. Moreover, it indicates that the volunteers weren’t trained enough before the campus started.

Yes, you can launch too quickly.

The best volunteers are not early adopters but are, counter-intuitively, the “late majority” folks because they are most likely to stick with the campus long term. The problem with that is that most church leaders are more “innovative” than the people they need to make that campus work. Innovators love the pressure of getting the campus out of the door but the vast majority of volunteers prefer to take time and need to be “wooed” into the process. Once you win these folks over, they will stick and stay for the long haul. Too many churches rush the launch process and miss the opportunity to build long-term leadership teams.

Campus Pastors are hard to find … but are most likely found within.

I wish I could get back all the hours I wasted worrying about where we were going to recruit campus pastors from. There is a clear evidence that campus pastors are being found within the church that is launching the campuses. In fact, 87% of campus pastors are found internally. [ref] This means you should get busy considering that fact that your next campus pastor is most likely already attending your church. Instead of looking far afield for them, invest your energy in identifying them and bringing them up.

It’s not about video-driven campuses.

Too many times people assume that all multisite churches are just pumping video from one campus to others. However, what we’re seeing is the majority of multisite churches are doing some combination of both local live and centralized video teaching. [ref] It’s healthy and good for local campuses to get a chance to teach on a regular basis in “video-driven” multisite churches. (Of course, “regular” is up for discussion and debate.) In churches that do some form of “team teaching” where the campus pastors do most of the communication, it’s valuable to have occasional video messages to keep the church rowing together. The fact is, the bigger the church and the more campuses you have the more video you are going to use among your locations. [ref]

Student ministry is hard in multisite.

At its core, the idea of multisite church is about delivering a smaller and “closer to home” experience. For adults, if there are 150 or 1,500 people in the room, the experience is a close approximation. For most kids, the small group leader is the key to delivering the best experience possible. For students, critical mass matters. If there are 20 people at an event or 100 people at the event, it’s not 5 times better but more like 50 times cooler! This is challenging in multisite because it tends to subdivide your church into small communities. Lots of churches struggle providing student ministry in this approach.

It’s way more financially efficient.

Multiple times over the years I’ve been in the situation where we are building a large box to house one of our campuses; at the same time as working on new “portable” locations. When you do a side by side financial comparisons of “cost per seat” to launch a new “big box” versus launching new campuses, the new portable locations are in an entirely different language on the cost structure. Many churches are driven to launch new campuses rather than build a bigger “box” because the cost structures are just so compelling. In fact, when talking with organizations that build a lot of churches they just aren’t seeing people building the “big box” churches anymore as a direct impact of the multisite movement.

Think Regional not National.

There are a few churches that have used this model to launch campuses across the country. These should be seen as an exception, not a guideline for you to follow. Those churches usually have a uniquely gifted communicator with a national platform that can speak to that audience. Most multisite churches should be thinking about how they can use this strategy to saturate the region they are from. As a rule of thumb, that region usually extends to where people cheer for the same sports teams. First, figure out how to reach people in that region before jumping to national aspirations. (By the way, why do so many multisite churches in the north have campuses in Florida?)

Nail it before you scale it.

You’ll get more of whatever you multiply through going multisite. If you have problems with parts of what you do, those parts will just grow. If there are aspects of your ministry that are full of pain in the process, you’ll just have more pain. Before you head out to launch make sure there is a modicum of health.

Teaching is the biggest “non-issue” long term.

There is a lot of conversation and discussion up front about how to deliver teaching at most multisite churches. Teaching pastors do a lot soul-searching around them being the “face on the screen” all over town. Campus pastors jockey for more stage time and want to get in the saddle and teach. However, long-term this becomes the smallest issue in launching, sustaining, and growing a multisite campus. All of the “people” issues are much more pressing realities in making this approach work. Developing teams, connecting people to the community, raising financial resources and attracting new guests are far more pressing issues for campuses than how you’re going to deliver teaching.

Don’t launch a campus but launch a system for launching campuses.

At last survey, 85% of multisite churches are stuck with less than two campuses. [ref] This is a shame for kingdom impact. These churches have started down the road of multiplication but stalled out. Imagine the impact this movement would have if we could move all of those churches to launch a few more sites! My conviction is that the reason that most churches are stuck at that point is because they just launched a campus or two but didn’t build a system for regularly launching new locations. They need a multisite church launch flywheel to help them in this endeavor!

Small towns are the horizon for multisite.

This movement started in relatively densely populated suburban areas but I’m seeing a new movement among churches reaching small towns and rural contexts. These communities are often places where no viable gospel oriented church exists and so these new multisite churches are leading the way to inject the message of Jesus back into these locations. I look forward to learning from these trailblazing churches in the coming years!

There is no better way to drive engagement at your church than launching new locations.

Campus expansion is a robust way to engage new volunteers at your church. Typically, we’ve seen that 2/3rds of the volunteers in new campuses haven’t served in the church before. I’m convinced that there is no better recruiting tool than to launch new locations. In fact, I haven’t seen anything in all these years that comes close to driving up volunteer engagement at a church than launching new locations. If you are wanting to see more people engaged in what your church does, get busy launching new campuses!

Fall is the best time to launch new campuses.

Generally, there are three windows that we see new campuses publically launch, sometime in the fall, early in the New Year and at Easter. The best time to launch is in the fall because you get a few “growth periods” before that next summer season comes along. The first summer can be a tough time in the life of a new campus as attendance and momentum naturally wane a little bit. When you launch in the fall, you are maximizing your ability to see momentum built before that happens.

Again, the size and health of your launch core is the critical success factor.

I can’t overstate how important this factor is. Your launch process needs to be built around the single factor of building a large and healthy volunteer team. Everything else is secondary to that decision. In fact, I would suggest that every decision during the launch process needs to be made in light of this one overall driving factor. Build a big and healthy team and your campus will thrive for years to come. If your team is small and weak the campus is almost certainly destined to limp for a long time.

Read more from Rich.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

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7 Reasons to Incubate Your Next Campus Launch

In elementary school, one of my daughter’s classrooms held an egg incubator. Over the course of a few weeks, the children learned about eggs and were able to watch their hatchlings emerge. This transparent case, with heat lamp and straw matting, become critical to the life of those little chickens, protecting them from rough handling and carefully controlling environmental conditions until the birds could begin to fend for themselves.

The multisite church movement no longer exists as a revolutionary approach to church multiplication. Campus launching is now standard practice for reaching new geographic areas and extending the gospel impact of congregations large and small. Despite the commonality of this model, it remains helpful to remember that new campuses could also benefit from the protection of an incubator early on. Holding at least two weeks of worship services on-campus at the sending church, alongside existing worship services, can be critical to the development of volunteers, leaders and staff. Carefully controlling environmental conditions in a secondary venue of worship brings benefits to both the team being sent, and those doing the sending.

Here are seven reasons to hold at least two incubator services before launching your next multisite church campus:

To Build Campus Identity by bringing the early adopters all together in worship and establishing the core team’s identity as pioneers months prior to launch.

To Sample Message Delivery by forcing communicators to think through their content and the context of their sermons. If preaching live to each campus, early incubator services help campus pastors practice applying local context in each campus or environment. For video communication, an incubator service serves as a lower-risk way to alleviate the fears of screen-driven sermon delivery.

To Bring Everyone Together by leveraging existing childcare and gathering space, usually a choir room or fellowship hall, at the sending campus. An incubator service may be the only time everyone on the launch team will worship as one body. Once launch happens, ministry volunteering and multiple services dissipate core team connectivity each week.

To See Who’s (Really) In by allowing leaders to get a feel of who is on the team and recruit or steer direction as a result. Seeing everyone in one room, without the immediacy of launch looming, brings cohesion to every one-on-one conversation. Savvy campus leaders will use an incubator to make those elusive personal connections that they have been missing.

To Share Launch Ownership by reminding the entire church body that they are being sent as one to this new frontier, represented by this group of launch pioneers. Minimizing the “them” and “that new church” language must begin as soon as possible. Incubator services reinforce a one church multiple locations mindset before launch even happens.

To Test Parallel Systems by replicating worship service processes in a controlled environment. Developing multiple teams for concurrent worship, delivering technology in a portable setting can be daunting. And while preview services on-site are helpful at debugging systems, incubator services at the sending campus can help everyone know what questions to ask in the first place.

To Train New Volunteers by creating excitement across the congregation. Seasons of launch are a natural time to bring new volunteers to the team at both the sending and multisite campus. Incubator services are effective in providing opportunities to shadow existing volunteers and learn the systems in a known environment.

WHETHER 2018 IS THE YEAR YOU ARE GOING MULTISITE FOR THE FIRST TIME, OR SENDING YOUR SEVENTH CAMPUS, CONSIDER HOLDING ONE OR TWO INCUBATOR SERVICES BEFORE YOU LAUNCH.

AT AUXANO, WE CREATE BREAK-THROUGH CLARITY FOR MULTISITE CHURCH TEAMS THROUGH A UNIQUE PROCESS OF LAUNCH EXECUTION PLANNING THAT FULLY INTEGRATES YOUR UNIQUE IDENTITY WHILE STRENGTHENING A WHOLE-CHURCH VISION. WE KNOW THAT MOST CHURCHES NEED MORE THAN ANOTHER GENERIC STRATEGIC PLAN OR NOTEBOOK OF MULTISITE BEST PRACTICES, AND HAVE HAD THE HONOR TO WORK WITH MULTISITE CHURCHES FROM 200 TO 20,000 DURING SEASONS OF LAUNCH AND GROWTH.

> Read more from Bryan.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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What Does “One Church, Multiple Locations” Really Mean? Multisite Church: How Shared DNA is Part of the Identity

One Church, Multiple Locations… what does that really mean?

msspectrum

The practice of MultiSite within today’s church culture is growing and many churches are quickly realizing that actually being a MultiSite church goes beyond just launching another campus. MultiSite campuses are a combination of a shared Church DNA and localized Contextual Personality. The MultiSite spectrum illustrates the varying combinations of both. The degree to which the shared DNA (purple) and localized personality (red/blue) are emphasized becomes the basis of the church’s MultiSite model.

From an onsite-venue to a mission-focused plant, here are 4 principles of the MultiSite Spectrum:

  1. Fluidity. Churches are not confined to one model and, as vision demands, move within the spectrum.
  2. Duplicity. One church may exhibit multiple models of MultiSite across different campuses.
  3. Identity. Core to the spectrum is the overlap or Church DNA. Without this shared vision articulation, as its radical minimum standard, the church moves across the MultiSite baseline into Church Planting.
  4. Reality. There is no “best practice” of MultiSite ministry, only what God has uniquely called each church to accomplish across venues, campuses and seasons of ministry.

So where will your next campus fall on the MultiSite spectrum? Knowing where and why will unleash campus effectiveness, establish communication boundaries, and maximize community impact.

Read more from Bryan here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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Clarity Process

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8 Habits of a Highly Effective Campus Pastor

I’ve had the privilege of seeing a lot of multisite campuses over the last 10+ years of leading in multisite churches. During that time I’ve had the opportunity to see dozens of Campus Pastors up close as they lead their locations.

Over the last few months we’ve been launching our most recent Campus at Liquid Church and I’ve had a front row seat to see Mike Leahy lead as a Campus Pastor. I think Campus Pastors from any multisite church should learn their craft from Mike.

This is the fourth campus that Mike has lead and it shows … the guy is a real professional! Here are a few habits I’ve seen him repeat time and time again that I think drive his effectiveness.

  • Replication Focused // Mike is incredibly focused on raising up the next round of leaders to take over the ministry. Not only is he modeling that with his own associate campus pastor but he pushes to see training happening in every area of the campus. Effective long term multisite churches unlock the ability to replicate leaders and Mike pushes our campuses to always be raising up the next level of leaders.
  • Sweat the Small Stuff // There are thousands of details that make the launch of a new campus great and Mike does an amazing job of digging into the details and making them work for our guests. From the layout of our main auditorium to the flow of parking to how our team fill out name tags … each of those details is sorted through and then documented so it can be replicated at this new location.
  • Pocket Briefcase // If you followed Mike for any time on Sunday you’d notice that he’s constantly pulling out a small note pad and making notes about every interaction he has with people. Each note represents a follow up item for someone from our church … prayer items to loop back on, important milestones coming up, connections to be make. He uses a notepad rather than his phone because he doesn’t want to give the impression that he’s goofing around on his smart phone. This small tactic gives Mike the ability to turn every Sunday into a follow up treasure trove for the rest of the week.
  • “Pollinating” the Audience // At the front end of our service you’ll notice Mike meeting and greeting people through out the audience during the musical worship part of the service. He’s attempting to make as many personal connections as possible with people … during the service! I love the site of our band cranking on stage and Mike is focusing on individuals in the room. This sort of personal care to connect draws people into our community.
  • Embedding the Vision // Mike is constantly looking for ways to reinforce the vision of our church. Although he’s not the “main communicator” he doesn’t miss an opportunity to explain the “why” to our team. Listen in on a voicemail he sent out to our campus team on launch Sunday recently. It’s classic Mike … “pastoring” our people at where they are at on a “big day” like that while helping them understand the vision one more time!
  • Central vs. Campuses // Mike understands that the central support team’s role is to generate content and lead the development of the church while the campus teams’ responsibility is to deliver the content and craft community connecting experiences. He consistently comes back to that fact with his teams and articulates the “division of labor” and works to ensure the lines don’t get fuzzy in this approach to doing church.
  • Ombudsman // A part of the role of a campus pastor is keeping an eye on a wide variety of areas and ensuring that they are functioning at a healthy level. Mike does this in an elegant manner and is always working to draw in other members of our team to improve the ministry of his campus. He resists the urge to solve the issues directly while focusing on leveraging the skills of other members on our team to help make his campus great!
  • Connection Triage Machine! // Above all else Mike is amazing at constantly helping our people get connected to the community of our church. He is always moving people onto their “next steps” … helping them find a place on a team or in a small group. Every conversation with people in his campus points towards how can we see this person get closer to being fully connected to our church.

Mike is a gift to our church … he’s a big part of what God is using at Liquid to see people get connected to Jesus! I’m thankful for his leadership and friendship!

Read more from Rich here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

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Josh — 05/02/17 4:34 am

Great list of focuses and skills

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Trends in Church Buildings – Why Bigger is Becoming Smaller

The megachurch has been a topic of interest for years. There are more every year and their growth rate is increasing. In other words, it’s not just that there are more, their rate of increase is growing.

Yet, when most people think of megachurches they not only think of mega-numbers, but also mega-facilities.

I thought it worth a moment to consider megachurch BUILDINGS—and what trends in such buildings might mean. Interestingly, some mega churches have begun to think differently about their facilities. These trends are not only fascinating, but I also find them encouraging several ways.

The last church I pastored had a 3,000 seat sanctuary. That’s a big room. But, what is interesting is that the church would not build that building if they could do it again—and that’s a theme I consistently hear.

What are the Trends in Big Church Buildings?

One of the trends I have observed in a qualitative way is that fewer churches are building large spaces specifically meant to accommodate thousands of people. In 2009 I posted a blogpost expressing our findings as we searched for gathering spaces of 5,000 seats or more. It would seem that being a megachurch does not necessarily imply having mega-facilities even if they maintain mega-numbers.

While the number of megachurches has increased, my (unscientific) observation is that sanctuaries have not grown at the same pace. At the time I wrote that post (2009) the average main sanctuary seating capacity in the typical American megachurch was 1,400 at most. This is large, but nowhere near 5,000. It seems that gathering spaces of growing mega-churches continue to get smaller. There seems to have been a substantial shift from the days of several thousand-seat sanctuaries to smaller venues. There are certainly exceptions, but I’m sensing a trend—and I’ll do more formal research on that later.

From Mega-Facilities to Multiplying Facilities

The decline of large church buildings points to a shift in ministry methodology. Many of the largest churches have begun to favor multisite expansion or church planting partnerships. While the large, larger, and largest churches continue to grow ever larger, they do not require larger spaces in the process—just more spaces (which tend to still be large!).

Simply put, implementing the multisite model compresses down the magnitude of the cavernous sanctuary. And, I do wonder if such buildings might be combined with a better multiplication strategy for a greater community impact.

At least in the American context today, the gigachurch, consisting of 10,000 or more members or attendees, often grows by adding sites and services rather than square footage to their buildings. New Spring Church in South Carolina provides a prime example. Pastored by Perry Noble, New Spring runs about 23,000 people on a given Sunday. However, their campuses do not seat 10,000 or even 5,000. Instead, there are multiple services and multiple technological means to distribute the message to other campuses.

Similar models like Saddleback implement video technology on many different sites, which allows those models to have 20,000 or more people attending their church on a weekly basis. Ultimately, the growth has shifted drastically away from continual building expansion to continual site expansion. As Rick Warren explained to me recently, their growth happens like a tree—not at the trunk, but at the branches. My guess is we will hear more thinking like that in years to come—smaller (but still very big) buildings, with more locations that are also smaller.

This trend is not only true of gigachurches, but seems to the trajectory of megachurches also. One example is Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. Calvary is an older established church that has little room to expand at their central campus. Under the leadership of their former pastor Al Gilbert, Calvary voted to open a second campus in an area of town where over 30% of their existing members already lived. The attendance at Calvary’s new campus has more than doubled over the last 3 years, many of the new members having no prior connection to Calvary. That would have been unheard of a few decades ago.

The Benefits of Multisite Mega-Ministry

Part of the point is not really “new” news: more and more giga and megachurches are multiplying their ministry through multi-campus ministry. Perhaps you remember Warren Bird’s recent research that concluded;

  • Multisite churches reach more people than single site churches.
  • Multisite tends to spread healthy churches to more diverse communities.
  • Multisite churches have more volunteers in service as a percentage than single site.
  • Multisite churches baptize more people than single site.
  • Multisite churches tend to activate more people into ministry than single site.

However, my additional point is that multisite may very well lead to smaller (and, I hope) recyclable buildings that does not lead to a proliferation of large, empty church caverns when neighborhoods change.

Also, part of the megachurch debate centered on whether or not the model could sustain itself in years to come. Since then, megachurches have shifted their philosophy from building bigger and bigger to spreading further and further through multisite ministry. I imagine that will improve sustainability as well.

Will the Megachurch Movement Endure?

It is quite possible that the evangelical landscape will include more megachurches than ever in the future. Why? Well, churches grow. Then they grow more…and then they grow some more.

While the evangelical landscape will include more mega-churches than ever, I would contend that the vast majority of those megachurches will be multisite churches. Whether you like the megachurch or not, the trends point to the fact that the megachurch phenomenon is not over, but it actually increasing in its growth.

Furthermore, I think it is now beginning to get its second wind through the multisite expansion model. When it comes to the megachurch the model of bigger church buildings is declining, but new campuses are springing to life all over the landscape.

There are lots of implications here—some good and some bad. But, it appears that bigger churches are having smaller buildings—and more locations.

I’m not sure I know all the implications of this yet—and I’d like to hear your input in the comments, but a new reality is emerging and—with all such shifts—it promises both challenges and opportunities.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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How Motivation and Implementation Strategies Define the Multisite Church: 3 Concerns

McChurch. Franchised Jesus. Theological clones. Incubator congregations. Ecclesiological buffets. From the devil.

If there is a classification of church that gets put down more than megachurches, it would have to be multisite churches. Is the critique fair? Sometimes. But not always.

As we found with megachurches recently, there is plenty of good that comes with the stereotypical bad. In the megachurch research we saw that they don’t really draw away members from other local churches as much as people think they do, they are healthier financially, and they are growing at a faster pace than smaller churches.

But what about multisite churches? Let me say that I know some really bad ones… they fit all the stereotypes. But, I know some good ones, too. I’ve preached at several that were on mission, raising up leaders, and doing great ministry.

Warren Bird and Leadership Network– the same group that did much of the megachurch research discussed here on the blog– released some research on multisite churches last fall. And wouldn’t you know that it showed several positives regarding multisite churches.

From the research:

– Multisite churches reach more people than single site churches.
– Multisite tends to spread healthy churches to more diverse communities.
– Multisite churches have more volunteers in service as a percentage than single site.
– Multisite churches baptize more people than single site.
– Multisite churches tend to activate more people into ministry than single site.

Yep– facts are our friends. And, people who hate multi-site churches will probably not like these facts. (They did not like the megachurch facts either!) The fact is there are some good statistical indicators backing up the approach.

And the number of multisite churches is exploding. In fact, 62 of the 100 fastest growing churches in America are multisite. And there are now more than 5,000 multisite churches in North America:

megachurchesVSmultisite

But is this multisite explosion a good thing for churches in North America? Often yes…and sometimes no.

As I see it, the answer is rooted in the motivation and implementation of the strategy. If a church is using a multisite strategy as an alternative to spending $20 million on a centralized campus, most of us would agree that is a wise decision. If they are using it to spread only their “brand of church” or to provide the pastoral team with a “vacation campus” halfway across the country in a tropical destination, it’s probably not a wise decision.

But if a pastoral team is faithful to reaching the communities in which their campuses are located and to ministering to the campuses in an equitable fashion, I wish them all the success. Using a multisite strategy to engage a community through mission and to multiply disciples in the body is a win-win, and it’s happening all over the country.

Unfortunately, multisite churches still face their fair share of issues. The best ones overcome them, but many struggle with similar issues.

In a past article for Outreach Magazine, I discussed three concerns facing multisite churches that I see still apply today.

Pastoral Responsibility

Despite a church’s best intentions at new sites, sometimes certain pastoral duties get lost: scriptural assignments such as praying over the sick (James 5:14); watching over those placed in your care (1 Peter 5:1); discipline (1 Cor. 5); and breaking bread with the beloved (Acts 2:42). I know that those duties are supposed to be the job of the campus pastor, but we also know it sometimes does not happen. The focus is easily placed on the event more than the community. And sometimes that results in people come for the show without connecting to the community.

Christian Community

Connected to pastoral ministry is the community of faith itself. The church is not merely a gathering, but a united people who work together for the glory of God and the good of their neighbors. One of the weaknesses of event-driven multisite churches is that some tend encourage (unintentionally at times) a come-and-get mentality over a come-and-give ethos. Of course this is not only a problem for multisite churches, but the potential for the problem is significant. Don’t misunderstand me; I get that it can work, but it’s not easy. If you are going multisite, I hope it keeps you up at night, wrestling with ways to build community in a system that can easily discourage it.

Reproducing New Teachers

Perhaps my biggest concern with the multisite paradigm is that, without intentionality, it will limit reproduction. Let’s face it– it’s easier to create another extension site than it is to create another faithful pastor who is a great communicator. Our Great Commission strategy should include the reproduction of biblical communicators, not just big campuses.

Where Now?

So am I anti-multisite? Not at all.

I am not anti-multisite or anti-megachurch. I am thankful for both of them. However, I am anti-consumerism. Church is not about being the best purveyor of religious “goods and services.” And if a megachurch or a multisite thrives by appealing solely to the “come and see” mentality that is so prevalent, we will all regret it.

No matter the number of campuses your church has, reproduction is the goal–reproducing believers, ministries, groups and churches. That can be in a megachurch, multi-site church or, for that matter, in a house church.

So, if you are going multisite, make sure you stay focused on multiplying the mission of God– not just your brand of church or the reach of one person. Let’s make it more than projecting the image of a pastor on another screen.

The best churches know and do that– so learn from them.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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The Top 3 Approaches to a Multisite Church Website

The multisite revolution is underway as more churches nationwide are choosing to launch new campuses. According to Outreach Magazine, 75 of the 100 Largest Churches in America are multisite. There are myriad reasons to explain this transition, the biggest one being the cost efficiency to broaden the church’s reach. Regardless of why, the trend continues.

The idea of “one church, multiple locations” isn’t new to the local church. In fact, it’s as old as the New Testament itself. Perhaps that’s why multisite churches baptize more people, have more volunteers, and produce more diverse communities than single-site churches.

With all the positives, having multiple sites creates unique and specific challenges for churches seeking to organize content, provide value, and accomplish missional goals with their website.

At MonkDev we help thousands of churches use technology to further the gospel. Lately, more of our clients are coming from a multisite community. We partner with these churches to help build out a web strategy that appropriately translates their organization’s mission online. (If that interests you, click here to learn about our Web Strategy Services for Churches.)

We want to spend the next few weeks exploring multisite web presence trends. We’ll unpack one example each week. This week, I’ll provide a brief outline of the specific examples we’re seeing in multisite communities.

Here they are from least common to most:

Trend #1: Universal Website – Multicampus Information

The least common method is to have a universal website representing the entire church while listing information for different campuses in the navigation. This approach works well in a densely-populated area where events throughout the week are available to all and are less “campus” dependent.

The challenge here is usability. This approach requires users to determine what context the content or events apply to. If they aren’t familiar with your community, they may choose not to participate at all.

Trend #2: Standalone Campus Websites

This method works well when one church has multiple locations with separate preaching pastors and/or leadership teams. A church can convey that, while they are bound together in mission, each location has a unique identity. Locations have greater autonomy in developing their web presence.

The challenge presented with this approach is website management. Many church teams struggle with keeping content fresh on one site. Managing multiple websites can add significant content challenges. Be sure to keep cost in mind!

Trend #3: Universal Website – Campus Select Option

This approach is the most common of the three we’ve listed. The biggest benefit here is clearly identifying your site locations and asking you user to self-identify with one of them. Teams managing the website also benefit from keeping church branding uniform. Content is managed easier with this approach, as one person can push content to multiple sites.

Conversely, if you’re not working with a CMS (a content management system like Ekklesia360) with this strategy, you run the risk of duplicating content, pages, etc.

 

Conclusion on Multisite Web Presence Strategies

Churches who choose multisite have much to think about. According to our own research, 51% of members and visitors stated the church’s website was somewhat to very important in their decision to attend the church. That number, by the way, keeps increasing.

If you’re a member of a multisite community, or even considering it, this blog series will be important for you to follow in the weeks ahead.

To begin this series, go here.

Read more from Justin here.

 

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Justin Wise

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Multisite Church Website Approach 1: Keep It Under One Roof

Multisite church planting has gone mainstream. As goes the church, so goes the website. We’re going to go in-depth with the Universal Website with Multicampus Information approach.

As we stated in the introduction to this series, the advantage to this type of site is having all the information under one digital content roof. It works extremely well in densely-populated areas where events throughout the week are available to all and are less campus dependent.

In most cases, the reasons for going multisite revolve around cost efficiency to broaden reach. Why have people drive 30 minutes to a campus when they can drive five and bring more of their neighbors with them?

If, however, a church is in a densely populated area, and mass transit is readily available, the geographical area to work within is much smaller.

Mutlisite communities like this can “blend together” without the need for developing separate identities for each campus. A member might participate in the men’s ministry at one campus and worship at another. Why? The campus for men’s ministry is closer to their work and the worship community campus is closer to their house. Convenience plays a larger factor in church attendance than most would care to admit.

Here are a few examples to consider as you map out your multisite website. While these churches are located in larger population centers, this approach can also be adapted for smaller communities. (For instance, The Leadership Network released a survey that said the median size today for a multisite church is 1,300 attendees.)

Park Community Church – Chicago, IL

When you click the campus links at the top of the page, Park Community Church shows you a “snapshot” for each location.

Each site displays the latest message, a featured event, contact information, and physical address. Great for gauging which location is most relevant for the user.

 

Redeemer Presbyterian Church – New York City, NY

Redeemer Presbyterian gathers all of their campus information onto one main site. The upper left corner allows users to sift through content for each campus using tabs. The benefit of this approach having all church-related content under one “roof.” The URL is fantastic as well!

 

Woodlands Church – Woodlands, TX

Woodlands Church lists all of their campuses on one page, giving the addresses, phone numbers, and service times for each location.

Once you’ve located a campus that works, you can view the events for that location. Best feature? The ability to filter events by ministry areas. This approach keeps users in one location, cutting down on distraction and location confusion.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an easy to way to start with a multisite church website, this approach may be best for you. Leave the microsite and stand-alone site planning for later.

Read the Introduction to this series here; read Part 2 here.

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Justin Wise

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Multisite Church Website Approach 2: Standalone Sites

We continue our Multisite Church Website series this week by looking at “Standalone Sites.” This is when churches choose to create separate sites for each one of their campuses. (By contrast, you might want to revisit last week’s post on churches who keep all campuses under one digital “roof.”)

This method works well when one church has multiple locations with separate preaching pastors and/or leadership teams. A church can convey that, while they are bound together in mission, each location has a unique identity. Locations have greater autonomy in developing their web presence.

We are working with Harbor Presbyterian here in San Diego to implement this strategy. Harbor chose this method because while it’s one church community, each campus has its own preaching pastor and leadership team.

At Harbor, each campus serves as a local area church with shared central services. Additionally, each campus has its own visual brand, contextualizing each campus for the communities they seek to reach. The church has seven locations and is launching new ones each year, with some being as far as an hour apart.

Here’s what their main site looks like. Note the different locations:

 

 

The Chula Vista site:

 

It should be noted that this approach requires a healthy amount of resources. With separate sites, each online outpost must be managed individually. Content creation, design, and updates must be accounted for on each site.

Aside from Harbor, here are a few more examples of churches who use the “Standalone Site” approach for their multisite website strategy.

 

Multisite Church Website Example – Highland Park

While Highland doesn’t have a true standalone solution, I chose to include it because each campus site is designed differently. Visually, they’re telling the user these faith communities are different. Some of campuses have their own microsite while others exist as a page on the main site. The giveaway is the URL structure.

Here’s the main site:

 

Here’s the page for one of their more modern worship communities.

 

Multisite Church Website Example – Woodlands United Methodist

The Woodlands has a structure similar to Highland Park. The separate campus has it’s own website, URL, and theme. Visually speaking there are similarities between the main site and the Loft campus. They are distinct enough to communicate a difference.

The main site.

 

The Loft Campus site.

 

Conclusion

The Standalone Solution would work well for churches who have more of a distributed ministry model. Each campus would be responsible for updating its own content, sermons, events, and ministry info. The downside? It can take more internal resources to manage and execute effectively.

To read the previous posts in this series: Introduction; Part 1. To read Part 3, go here.
To read more from Justin, go here.
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Justin Wise

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