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.