Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Multi-Site Churches - Stop Signs

Part 3 of the multi-site church blog tour.

Question: You go to great lengths to say that multi-site is becoming the new normal and that it’s not limited to just a few churches. When is it NOT advisable for a church to go multi-site?

Response: As can be the case many times when a ministry strategy is finding success in multiple arenas, some churches will jump on the band wagon "just because." Our experience indicates that churches need to answer the following three questions in the affirmative before they consider adopting a multi-site strategy:

1. Is your church healthy? Is it growing? Are members excited about bringing their family and friends? If you're unhealthy, why export your disease?

2. Is there a driving impetus behind your desire to go multi-site? All the leaders we have interfaced with over the last 7 years chose to open additional sites because they saw no better options for fulfilling God's purpose and direction for their church.

3. Are key leaders behind the decision? Going multi-site is not easy and therefore it is vital for key leaders to be unified and excited about moving forward with an additional campus(es). Employing multi-site as an "end-around strategy" is doomed for failure.

Multi-Site Churches - Crossing Cultural Bridges

Here's part two of the multi-site church blog tour Q&A.

Question: Can a multi-site church effectively cross cultural bridges, particularly if it’s using the video model? You have given some examples of international campuses, but it seems that most of the campuses of a particular church are replicating DNA and teaching, which will work best when it’s being imported into a similar context. A couple of the examples in the book touch on this challenge. While the Bible is the same for everyone, the applications may be quite different for white collar vs. blue collar, suburb vs. inner city, urban vs. rural.

Response: We agree that the culture needs to match for it to work well. But even in many international situations the culture does indeed match.

I (Warren) recently heard about a church in Paraguay planting a daughter church in Pittsburgh, PA. Sound odd? It turns out that the wives of the two pastors are sisters. Also the Pittsburgh couple had found a bunch of immigrants from Paraguay, and so they loved being part of a church that had connections and customs from the "old country."

Likewise with international multi-sites, there's usually a familiarity or relational connection between the two groups. In a Spanish-language church in Florida named King Jesus, services are broadcast by television across Central and South America, including places where folks have relatives who attend the Florida church. It's predictable that in those places, video campuses work well, led by the equivalent of a campus pastor but watching Pastor Maldonado as teaching pastor via video.

Because of these factors most churches begin their multi-site journey with a centrally-controlled structure and gradually morph to a more campus based model. Both models, however, require extraordinary attention to effective communication. The biggest challenge for all multi-site structures is keeping everyone on the same page, regardless of who is in charge.

Multi-Site Churches - The "Big Personality" Factor

In last week's post, I reviewed Multi-Site Church Road Trip. Today, we're part of a"blog tour" with authors Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird. Continue reading this (and the next two posts) for three questions I had about multi-site churches and the authors' responses.

Question: I continue to wonder how much of the multi-site phenomenon is personality-driven. You all have made it clear that some multi-site churches do not use video preaching. Healing Place Church (Baton Rouge) is a good example of a church with a very strong DNA that transcends the weekly teaching. But it seems that for the majority, and certainly the high profile multi-site churches, the senior pastor’s leadership is a huge part of their success. This raises two questions for me: Will the multi-site movement continue to be driven by highly gifted communicators with big visions? If so, this has major implications for the many churches and pastors that fall short of this description. Second, you said that multi-site will help smooth out the typically rough transition of long-time pastors facing retirement. I would think that this is only true if they have clearly and carefully developed a successor, and I wonder how often this is the case. It’s possible for someone to be a very good back-up teaching pastor (or part of the team) and a capable lieutenant, but not be ready to step up into the first chair.

Response: I (Geoff) echo your concerns about the personality driven church, but I would expand it to the church in general. I think that many successful (and unsuccessful) churches around the world revolve around the personality of the lead pastor. Apparently this was a problem in the New Testament church as well, as Paul addressed people lining up behind their favorite communicator rather than simply following Christ. Let me take your questions one at a time.

First, will the multi-site movement continue to be driven by highly gifted communicators with big visions? I think the answer would be a qualified yes. I think every movement is led by gifted communicators with a big vision. From the Apostle Paul onward, big leaders have always been effective in communicating huge visions. The reality is that those of us who are less gifted will always be impacted by those who are more gifted. The advantage of multi-site is that we can work together as partners rather than in some kind of competition. Many campus pastors are not highly gifted communicators, but are amazing leaders who are able to have a bigger impact because of their connection with leaders who have unique communication and visionary gifts.

Your second question is about succession planning. This is a huge question for all churches, but is certainly magnified for a multi-site church using video teaching. Many churches use a team teaching approach which greatly lessens the reliance on one primary voice. Preparing a second teacher or second in command for succession in a multi-site church is similar as for any church: not everyone is ready for the task. For churches who only utilize one primary speaker through video teaching I believe succession is a major issue.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Multi-Site Church Road Trip

I don’t remember when I first heard the term “multi-site church,” but I know when I first became a student of this growing movement. It was in 2004, when our church was considering adding a second campus. Long before their first multi-site book, the authors of Multi-Site Church Road Trip: Exploring the New Normal were a great resource for me. I benefitted from an afternoon Greg Ligon spent with our leadership team (and his overall guidance of this focus area for Leadership Network), from Geoff Surratt’s one-on-one counsel (and for being an interviewee for my “second chair” book), and from Warren Bird’s extensive research and white papers.

Several years ago, I had the impression that almost all multi-site churches followed a standard approach. A dynamic, highly effective pastor with a rapidly growing church exports its DNA and its teaching to a rented facility in a nearby geographic area using a cookie-cutter formula. Many have done this with great success, but what I appreciate about the multi-site road trip is the variety of successful models that the authors profile. For almost any preconceived idea that you might have about multi-site churches, this book will give you evidence to support AND refute your opinion. It’s also full of practical advice on a wide range of topics: the role of the campus pastor, use of technology, internet and international campuses, simultaneous launches, organization structure, mergers with existing churches, and more.

My only critique is that Geoff, Greg, and Warren seem to suggest that almost any church can go multi-site. While I agree that the idea is not limited to megachurches, the reality is that many churches are not healthy enough or clear enough about their DNA and vision to launch a new campus. (There are a couple of brief comments on this point, but perhaps not enough to keep someone from making an ill-advised leap.)

Of course, with something as dynamic as the multi-site movement, questions will continue to arise. That’s why we’ll be a stop on the multi-site church blog tour on December 15. I hope you’ll join us then to interact with the authors.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Day with Ruth Haley Barton

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. (See my August 08 blog for a review of her book.) She came to Texas to speak to a group of executive pastors for which I’m the facilitator.

We were challenged and blessed by Ruth’s time with us. She helped us look deep into our own souls to become more aware of the places where we had drawn away from God. I especially appreciated her observation that “when church leaders lose their souls, the church we lead may lose its soul too.” In my own journey and in the glimpses I have into the lives of many other church leaders, I see the pace of ministry and the pursuit of “success” taking a significant toll on leaders and churches. We may justify it as “just for a season” or “doing our best for the Lord,” but are we kidding ourselves? I’m pretty sure we’re not kidding God.

So what are we to do about this? This is an interesting time of the year for pastors. We give thanks for our blessings, gear up for all the extra activities of advent, try to catch our breaths with a few days off after Christmas, and then make bold plans for the new year. Perhaps the boldest thing we can do is say “no” to some activities so that we can say “yes” to the quietness in which God can begin to restore our souls.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Have We Lost More than a Symbol?

I recently read Dan Brown’s newest thriller, The Lost Symbol. I read it partly because I like a good page-turner, and partly because I wanted to see if Brown would continue the anti-Christian tone of The DaVinci Code.

So did he? It depends on your definition of anti-Christian. Where DaVinci struck at the core of orthodox Christian beliefs, Lost Symbol was more subtle but perhaps even more insidious. Brown weaves spiritual references throughout the dialogue of his main characters, but it’s a new age, universalism that is advocated. In doing so, they clearly communicate that any intelligent person will agree with this “enlightened” view.

So why is this even worthy of a blog? After all, we shouldn’t be surprised that Brown does this, and plenty of others in the spotlight have similar viewpoints. What struck me was Brown’s use (or misuse) of Scripture to try to undermine Christian teaching. Three times one of his characters quotes Luke 17:21, where Jesus says “the kingdom of God is within you.” Each time this reference is used to claim that the Bible actually teaches a new age philosophy that we are all gods or can all become gods.

Again, this may not be surprising coming from Brown. But I found myself wondering, “How many of the people in my church could refute this teaching? How many are shaky enough in their faith and knowledge of Scripture that they would say, ‘That’s an interesting interpretation’ rather than simply declaring it as wrong?” I don’t know the answer, but I’m almost afraid to ask. My hunch is that biblical literacy, not just in my congregation but throughout the Church in North America, is sadly lacking. For those of us in the Protestant tradition, perhaps it’s time to reclaim a core belief: “Sola Scriptura.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lessons from a 5K

I ran competitively for years … but that was years ago. In my prime, I won my share of 5K and 10K road races. I’ve continued to run as I’ve gotten older, but haven’t logged the miles to be in the top tier of my age group, much less to be at the very front.

This year during spring break, my family stayed at a getaway place that held a 5K run for their guests, so I decided to enter. Much to my surprise, I actually won. I had so much fun that I decided to enter a 5K in our community a couple weeks later. I knew this one would have many more participants and that I had no chance to win, but I figured I would be competitive in my age group. So on a beautiful spring morning, I lined up near the front of a mob of several hundred people, started strong, and … struggled at the end, just one of many middle-aged people trudging toward the finish line. My time was actually a few seconds faster than at spring break, but the results were quite different.

I think there’s a leadership lesson (or two) in this experience. It felt great to cross the finish line first in that spring break 5K. Many ministry leaders rarely, if ever, have that feeling of victory, of stopping after a season in which they ran hard and hearing others say “Way to go!” We need some of those moments. But the second lesson comes from the recognition that my first 5K race was not a real challenge. We need to spend most of our leadership energy in races that push us to grow to our full potential and that require us to rely on God. I’d rather give my best to a big challenge and fall a little short than cruise through life tackling easy goals.

That leads to the final lesson: don’t overestimate your own abilities, and don’t under-estimate God. I clearly had a false perception of my readiness to compete in a large race, and I’ve seen ministry leaders who likewise have gotten into trouble because of their inflated opinions of their capacity to lead. At the same time, if God is truly leading us, no race is too big and no mountain is too high. Ultimately, we’re responsible for preparing for the race (which means plenty of hard work beforehand), showing up to the starting line ready to go, and giving our best when the gun goes off. The rest is up to God.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Are You the "Bad Cop"?

Many executive pastors I know spend a significant amount of their time dealing with personnel “issues.” Sometimes we take these issues in stride and other times they’re more like a train wreck, either for us or for the staff member involved. Some execs have thick skin or are otherwise quite adept at this part of the job but others struggle. While the need for someone to be the “bad cop” is readily recognized, most would say that it’s not their favorite part of their job.

I think that’s why Jim Collins’ words in How the Mighty Fall struck such a chord with me. He says that the seeds of a collapse are often planted during a stage of rapid growth. It’s in this season that a company (or church) will:

… begin to fill key seats with the wrong people; to compensate for the wrong people’s inadequacies, you institute bureaucratic procedures; this, in turn, drives away the right people (because they chafe under the bureaucracy or cannot tolerate working with less competent people or both); this then invites more bureaucracy to compensate for having more of the wrong people, which then drives away more of the right people; and a culture of bureaucratic mediocrity gradually replaces a culture of disciplined excellence. When bureaucratic rules erode an ethic of freedom and responsibility within a framework of core values and demanding standards, you’ve become infected with the disease of mediocrity (emphasis added).

Maybe this struck me because my default is to add bureaucratic procedures hoping to police people into the right behavior. Maybe it struck me because having the right people and a culture of disciplined excellence is so powerful and attractive. Either way, it gives me a target to shoot for and a new language I can use to describe my ideal. I want to spend my time creating a “culture of disciplined excellence.” What about you?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Do the Mighty Always Fall?

I’m a big fan of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last. So when I received a copy of his newest book, How the Mighty Fall, I put my other reading aside and dug in.

Collins takes an interesting turn in his latest, research-based project. Rather than focusing on greatness, he examines why successful companies fall and how they might prevent or reverse a meltdown. He identifies five stages of decline that form a consistent pattern in these riches-to-rags stories. Interestingly, the first two stages (and even some of stage 3) occur when a company is still on the way up.

As with Collins’ other works, the lessons for churches are readily transferable. I’ve known far too many that are guilty of “grasping for salvation” (stage 4), thinking that all they need is the right leader or the latest fad program. And I wonder how many of today’s newsmakers might have entered stage 1, “hubris born of success.”

There’s one caveat to this recommendation. Even though How the Mighty Fall is based on the same type of in-depth analysis as Collins’ other books, this one is not as lengthy nor did I have as many “aha” moments. Collins explains in the preface that the project began as an article, but then “evolved into this small book.” The flip side is that it’s a quick read – only 123 pages plus appendices. My bottom line: it’s a worthwhile investment to learn (as the subtitle says) “why some companies never give in.”