I’m not a church consultant, I’m not a growth expert and I’m not yet 30. But I’ve now been on staff at two multi-site churches. One of them collapsed and one of them is thriving. One of them was really unhealthy and one of them is the healthiest church that I’m aware of. Through my own experiences and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had over the last 5 years with others at multi-site churches, I’ve come up with a lot of opinions on what makes one succeed or not. I won’t post all of those opinions here today because it would be more a book than a blog post. But here are a few for your consideration:
A Plurality of Elders
Multi-site churches are more like miniature denominations than churches. The senior pastor of a multi-site church is a leader of a movement. There’s a lot of power in that role. And there’s no man on the planet who can rightly handle it all by himself.
At the top needs to be a group of men all with equal power, meeting the qualification for elders. They need to have a unanimous vote to make decisions. They need to make their group subject to another church’s elders (even if they’re non-denominational) in case of a fierce disagreement. Simply put, one man is not meant to carry this load. There needs to be a team in power, or people will be getting hurt.
A Generous preaching pastor
Since a multi-site church typically means a huge crowd both in the seats and online, many multi-site teaching pastors are scared to share the pulpit with other staff. In fact, instead of having other staff in the pulpit they bring in outside pastors from other multi-site churches. This leaves the guy who is actually shepherding and caring for these people without a voice, simply because he’s not world class. Not trying to be harsh but…this comes from an idolatry of the church’s reputation.
The preaching pastor needs to let other staff preach and often. Each campus is technically a church body in and of itself, and it’s weird when an entire church only ever hears from guys they can’t meet because they're on a screen. (I literally heard one multi-site preacher say he had never even been inside all of his campuses. Food for thought).
An open channel between campus and central staff
Things get tricky as more campuses are added to a church. Central staff ends up having to create programming for people from very different parts of town.
What’s the problem? Just think about your city. Do the churches on the eastside of town and westside of town have the same flavor? Probably not. In Greenville, they don’t even use the same BBQ sauce. So eventually a campus pastor will speak up and say “That won’t work for our people” but since every other location is doing it, the campus pastor is stuck pushing something he doesn’t believe in.
This happened to me when a central student ministry leader planned a camp. I was on staff with student ministry at the campus level. No kids from my campus were able to go because they were from low-income families, many of which weren’t even Christian. So I proposed that we do our own thing and I was told to try to convince our kids to get on board with central’s vision. One problem. They had never met anyone from central, didn’t care that other campuses were going and so most of them did nothing that summer at all.
There needs to be an open channel between the people on the ground and the people in the air. Campus and central have to make a pact to do what’s best for the people. And that means they need to dialogue and listen to each other. Not just put a chain of command in place and pump out programming.
Honesty about the campus pastor role
It’s a managerial job more than a spiritual one.
Campus pastors do get to teach, but it’s typically in a classroom type setting. Campus pastors get to help a lot of people. But most of your time goes to managing the staff that’s doing the counseling. You do get to do some outreach, but you’re also managing the operations of events that central plans.
At the end of the day you’re mainly hosting the service and managing the operations of the church. Most guys who take this role want to preach, counsel and do outreach. The disconnect becomes obvious about a year in. The turnover from this keeps each campus as more of a church show than a church family.
Holding on to campuses with loose hands
Multi-site churches struggle with getting used to success and mistakenly look at any failure as something to hide. I remember one year, we had a campus close. However, every other campus grew. The preaching pastor got up for a year-end report and mentioned how every campus is growing but didn’t address the elephant in the room - that two or three hundred people sitting there had just transferred back from a fallen site. This fear of failure will drive staff mad and will eventually expose you as a spinner of the truth. Just hold onto campuses with loose hands.
If you feel like planting a campus tell people you think it’s a good idea. Don’t bring God into this thing saying, “God told us to plant a campus here.” Time will tell if it’s God. Simply plant the campus and if it fails, bring those people back to the campus they planted out of. And tell the entire rest of the church that you attempted something and failed. This will give you trust with your people. This will also be a lot healthier for the people who are actually part of the campus that doesn’t work out.
Thousands of more ideas can be shared on the subject of multi-site churches. I know I have more to add. But these came to mind first.
Photo Credit: J. Albert Bowden II http://bit.ly/1P07VWh