A “Good Steward” Award recipient in the area of multi-site staff management, Latham, NY’s Grace Fellowship Church has launched three multi-site campuses in the past five years. This process has involved two capital campaigns, vision-casting, site identification, site development and leadership training.
Here, Pastor of Business Administration Bill Minchin talks about these developments.
To launch three multi-site campuses in five years seems like an exceptionally rigorous undertaking — is it?
Minchin: That depends on who you ask. We studied and visited aggressively multi-site churches that are much more ambitious than we were / are. We feel like it’s a manageable endeavor, though.
We launched our Half-Moon campus in December 2008. We bought the building. Three years later, in fall 2011, we decided to “press on with this model.” We had three years of viable data and experience to draw upon. We decided to launch two more locations — at Saratoga and Greenbush — and we called the campaign “2 in 2” — two campuses in two years. We’re renovating both.
Really, launching two was the aggressive part. But, we feel good about it.
What prompted the church to expand so aggressively in a relatively short period of time?
Minchin: Data. The easiest data to track is attendance and giving. Over three years, both were consistently growing. In fact, we saw double-digit attendance growth at our Half Moon campus.
Plus, there were the stories of the lives that campus had changed to go on.
So, while it was a big financial commitment, God seems to be honoring this effort.
For pastors called to embark on rapid expansion efforts in their own churches, can you offer advice in the following areas (based on your own experience)?
Minchin: Clarification: The church has only done one capital campaign related to its multi-site expansion efforts. A one-year campaign was conducted for the first campus, Half Moon. The church isn’t doing campaigns for the other two; instead, it was decided to cast the vision for the campuses and give people the opportunity to give to either — and even to allocate which campus funds support. Customized offering envelopes to this end are available at the home church. “It’s kind of a low-key approach, but we’ve raised more than $400,000 this way.”
Minchin: You can’t repeat the vision too often. Never assume your people know the vision. Regular, repetitive communication is the best option. Unless they’re involved in the day-to-days, your people aren’t going to know where the multi-site campuses are, your timeline, etc. So, it’s important to share photos, stories and, of course, the vision — and do it regularly. The average congregant isn’t living with that information, so it’s easy for them to forget.
Minchin: There are two key considerations: the community itself — identifying an area where your church has a strong presence of existing and potential members who might start going there. The site must be within reasonable distance of the home church or other multi-site locations. For example, all three of our multi-sites locations are within 20 minutes of each other and / or the home church.
Second, it’s a good idea to conduct a congregational survey to find out if existing members would be likely to attend at a new location.
And, in terms of the physical facility, it’s critical to be flexible and open-minded. For our first multi-site location, we originally planned to lease a building but ended up buying a SAAB dealership instead. It’s way beyond our expectations – 16,000 square feet and beautifully appointed. With our two new multi-site locations, we couldn’t make that level of financial investment, so we originally decided on a Sunday-only rental arrangement, with office space for mid-week gatherings. Instead, we ended up leasing an office building, which we’re converting, as well as a former fitness facility. Although the office buildings’ low ceilings pose a bit of a challenge when it comes to audio and broadcasting, the fitness facility was designed with large restrooms and plenty of office space.
The key is really to be open-minded and flexible.Leadership development
Minchin: Looking back, one thing that helped a lot was to bring the lead pastor onboard a full 13 months in advance of the multi-site location’s launch. That meant he could work closely with me to develop the campus and be totally immersed in our church culture. He did everything down to the purchasing of office equipment. We also decided to bring on his paid staff three months before the facility’s launch under the same premise. It was a significant financial investment, but it has proven to be worth it.
We’ve taken the same approach with our two new multi-site locations. In these cases, we promoted internal staff to be lead pastors, but they have a full year of focusing on just that role even before the facility opens its doors.
In all three cases, too, we made sure the lead pastors of the multi-site locations had face time at the home church to cast the vision.
What’s the next step for the church in terms of expansion and/or the establishment of multi-site locations?
Minchin: We’ve actually made an intentional decision not to cast a five- or 10-year vision with regard to multi-sites, aside from saying that we’re committed to multi-site expansion and will continue to be.
For now, we’ll support all three locations diligently. We’ll know when it’s the right time to launch another location.
— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh