5 Leadership Lessons for Multisite Churches
by Nathan Artt, on February 2020
As the megachurch model’s popularity wanes, a new model is emerging. There are now more than 5,000 multisite churches in North America. Multisite churches can function in a variety of ways. In essence, they are a multi-campus expression of a single church. This means that a core group of leaders oversee sprawling clusters of weekly gatherings. These gatherings can be distributed widely, but typically remain within a designated region (such as a city or suburb). As more of these churches pop up nationwide, there are some logistical and financial considerations everyone moving into this model should understand.
Multisite Church Models
Church planting is not for the faint of heart. Multisite churches basically church plant over and over again, with each new site requiring a launch and then sustaining work. This can be a significant drain on the resources and people in a church. However, it can also be exciting and an ongoing source of new ministry opportunities.
Recently, I spoke with a very large church with an established plan to plant campuses around their metropolitan area. In fact, they set a goal of starting ten campuses by 2020. I absolutely fell in love with the vision and their determination to see that vision come to fruition.
However, the level of excitement in the pastor’s tone changed completely when I asked, “How are the two campuses you have doing financially? Any unexpected challenges?” He nodded his head and explained that the two existing campuses have already become enormous cash burdens.
Multisite Churches: When Sites Drain Resources
This church—like many—infused more money into their first two campuses than they anticipated. After five years, the campuses still had not become financially independent. This means that they are still primarily financed by the main campus. Not only is this a financial challenge to the core location, it also limits the church’s ability to continue to reproduce at projected rates. This is avoidable. There are concepts you need to understand and safeguards to put into place that help a multisite church thrive.
Here are the most vital steps you need to take to directly improve each campus’ ability to sustain itself.
1. Don’t Buy Anything.
It is understandable that teams who are setting an elementary school cafeteria up each week will beg for a building. However, buildings are short-term solutions with long-term consequences. There has to be a balance between current needs and long-term vision. Even an expensive building right now might not fit your population in a few years. You wouldn’t recover that investment. If the main campus has to float a building purchase, the individual campus should not buy it. They’re just not ready.
2. Use Buildings With Resources.
Schools are a popular choice for new campuses because they come with equipment, like a stage, seating or lights. This is cost-saving and gives you access to community connections. This can give that campus an opportunity to build relationships. Capitalize on this ready-made relationship by investing back in the community: improve the building, raise funds for needy kids, invest in lunch sponsorships. The campus will reach its growth potential, at which point you can reasonably assess building needs. Until then, use cost-saving, community-minded initiatives to grow your ministry.
3. Use Other Churches or “Timeshare”.
Many churches are empty for the majority of the week, even on Sundays! Think about timesharing or renting an existing church. The benefit is that they will already have equipment and a setup that can be conducive to your service. Lease improvements/retrofits and purchasing are two very expensive options. Renting a space in another church can provide cost-savings and accelerate a campus’ journey to self-sufficiency.
4. Let Campus Pastors Decide.
Part of the effectiveness of a multisite model is that there is a degree of autonomy on campuses. As individual pastors or campus leaders lead their location, they should have a voice in financial decisions. This person will be the point for all fundraising and primarily responsible for cultivating generosity. They should be included in all of the financial planning and fully understand the cost structures. Set goals together and regularly follow up on your progress.
5. Grow in the Right Direction.
Campuses are still intimately connected to the church as a whole. This is why they are called “multisite.” They are not church plants—which are completely autonomous—or satellites. As you grow, grow in the right direction. This means that you should always keep in mind where your people are coming from. What direction do the majority of your people drive from each week? How far away do they live? Are they concentrated in a distinct area? This will help you make strategic growth decisions for new sites.
Multisite Churches That Thrive
A goal of each new campus you launch in a multisite model should be financial stability. It will take time to get there. Not everything you encounter, however, should be a surprise or represent a crisis. Steady, scalable growth should be relatively predictable based on the planning and investment you have made. Sustaining the ministry you start is a valuable part of your stewardship. New launches can be made with the right excitement when you have an expectation of success.