All About Multisite: Financial Approaches, Structuring for the Future & Church Online
Welcome to our new podcast all about multisite! I’m chatting with a group of multisite ninjas and answering your questions about the ins and outs of launching new campuses. Our group is as follows:
Natalie Frisk is our family ministry expert. She is a key leader from The Meeting House. This church has 19 (!) locations and is doing all kinds of great stuff, including a killer kids’ & youth curriculum that they give away for free. Natalie’s a lot of fun and will have so many great insights around leading in a thriving multisite church.
Greg Curtis is our guest connections and assimilation expert. He leads at Eastside Christian Church, one of the fastest growing churches in the country, and literally, is the “go to” source for getting people to stick and stay in the church. (Eastside has assimilated something like 1,500 people in the last 18 months!) His coaching practice around assimilation is amazing.
Ben Stapley is our communications and service programming expert. Ben is one of the most helpful leaders I know. His day job is at Liquid Church in NJ, but he does so much to help other leaders with the “big show” part of church world.
And I, Rich, have been involved with 14 different campus launches over the years and enjoy helping churches that are thinking about multisite.
We are here to answer your questions about running a multisite church and are excited to be here today with our third episode.
Opening Question: What’s a book you’re reading these days that you’re digging?
- Natalie Frisk – Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. It is a few years old, but a fantastic read.
- Greg Curtis – Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church by Rich Birch. It’s a good book for people who want to develop their campuses for senior leadership all the way down. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile for a way of understanding and managing people. 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman is the most motivational way of managing time I’ve seen.
- Ben Stapley – Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller. It’s all about what is my StoryBrand and how has God wired me? How do we use that to find our church’s individual StoryBrand and not just cut and paste from another church?
- Rich – Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I have a number of female leaders in my life and I found that book great and really challenging.
Q1: How much “control” do you give to the campus vs. central location regarding budgets and spending plans? Do you give each campus their own budget and spending plan and ask them to do all the purchasing or do you give them a trimmed down budget and ask them to use that only contextually for the ministry at their campus with the majority of the budget done at the central campus? Or is there a third way?
The tension in this area can be hard to figure out and sort through. At The Meeting House they’ve worked on trial and error to reduce tensions and figure out what works best for them. There is a central campus budget that covers the basic things that are done for all of the sites such as teaching, training, music licensing, and so on. Then each campus has a budget for site-specific compassion initiatives, site-specific training and events, and location and youth pastors with their own budgets for their teams. There are always tensions when it comes to money, but you work toward finding that balance through trial and error.
The assimilation budget at Eastside is centralized then categorized by campus when possible, but managed and tracked centrally. For example, they manage each purchase as “this percentage is for this campus and this percentage is for this campus,” and then they will charge it, code it, track it, and manage it that way, but centrally. Any expenses that involve all campuses and can’t be categorized are managed centrally. This allows discounts with bulk purchases and inventory storerooms where each campus can retrieve the supplies they need.
At Liquid Church they practice having openness with staff to provide accuracy in the budgets and spending plans. That means showing the numbers between multisites and entrusting the staff between each location with the numbers. Most multisite churches start as a single site and then launch additional sites, rather than starting as multisite from the beginning. This structure means there is usually a disparity in congregation size and accompanying financial revenue. When this is the case, the founding or central site usually receives a higher degree of resources because it is playing a central role and also receives the most giving. As a result, it can be easy for the staff at the satellite locations to feel that the central site is receiving a disproportionately high amount of the resources. Openness about budgets provides accuracy and removes the potential for false assumptions. Being open with the budgets also provides accountability so that everyone knows which campuses are in the black and which are in the red.
Q2: What models are there for launching as multisite but then transitioning to an independent church within three to five years?
A model with the goal of an independent church is really a church planting vision using a multisite strategy for launching and needs to be declared from the start. Live teaching is vital to the site that will become independent so they don’t become attached to a teacher at the original location. Starting the church with the multisite model comes with the benefits of resources, guidance, and even brand recognition is a plus for a launch. You get to extend the reach of what God is doing in your central church through people who may not make the drive. The downside may be that if the new location knows independence is coming, there could be a gap between what they want to do and what you discern they can do that will create a greater desire for them to become independent. Identify the opportunities ahead of time for independence with new responsibilities. You can have ongoing collaboration for learning and yearly updates, and then transition into customization as you move toward independence. You don’t want the community to feel like a bait and switch has happened, so be up front with the plan from the beginning.
What is the long-term win for these locations? When you switch your visual leadership you only lose guests, you don’t gain them. Long term you will hopefully regain and grow your guests, but be ready for this short term loss and speed bump during the transition. Have both a launch strategy and a growth strategy. What will it take to launch a campus? How many core guests/volunteers do you need to send and start? But once you have that in place, what will it take to grow that campus? What does incremental growth look like? At what audience size do you increase staff and in what order do you add them? What does it take to birth, grow and then replicate a campus? If you don’t have a vision of what this growth looks like, you might never achieve it.
Q3: What role does online media play in your multisite church? Church online? On demand? How are you leveraging an online experience to serve the “offline” church?
Ben recommends that the three areas the church double down on in the next decade are multisite, social media and church online. This will only increase in importance because of technical advancements and the world becoming a more post-Christian society. It provides the benefit of a missional mindset by bringing the church to the people, not the people to church. It meets our culture where they are—not Netflix and chill, but church online and chill. Online media is a nice way to level the playing ground in a multisite environment. You can easily love on all your sites through online media. It builds community and unity, easing the tendency toward disconnection that grows as your church sites grow. Your website landing page can allow visitors to choose which campus they want to see. You can also archive your sermons on your website so that your regular members can hear one they missed or a prospective new visitor can listen to one before they come.
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