To be truly effective, churches must zero in on distribution.
By Jim Tomberlin
It took seven years for Sam Walton to open a second store in rural Arkansas. Walmart went to on to become the largest business in the world, with more than 10,000 stores in 27 countries.
Tom Shultz took 13 years to add five Starbucks stores. Today, there are more than 23,000 stores in 64 countries.
Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph started Netflix in 1997. Today, it’s a billion-dollar company with 50 million subscribers in more than 40 countries.
In all three examples, distribution is the secret to their success. These innovative business leaders figured out how to make their great products and services available to more people in cost-effective ways. They created delivery systems to bring their products and services to the people.
What’s the work of the Church? Missional communities of Jesus taking good news and good works to the people.
What’s the secret to successful multisiting? Distribution — taking your church to the people. Successful multisite churches have figured out to reproduce and “deliver” their ministry best practices consistently, and in a unified way, across multiple locations.
Organizational strategy is a must
Most of the 8,000-plus multisite churches in the United States are stuck at one or two additional campuses because they don’t know how (or aren’t willing) to make the organizational changes necessary to fully deliver their church to multiple locations. The majority of multisite churches are still functioning like a mono-site church with campuses instead of a church of campuses. Very few multisite churches get beyond three geographical campuses; but, those that do typically go beyond three locations because they figure out how to reproduce their ministry best practices and restructure organizationally.
We crossed that bridge at Willow Creek Church when we launched our third multisite campus and the home team cried out, “We can’t keep doing our job here and support all those campuses out there!” That was our game-changer. It became the rallying call to figure out systems and processes to deliver our ministry best practices across multiple campuses in a cost-effective, sustainable way. Today, Willow Creek has six campuses around Chicago and several more on the horizon.
Effective delivery revolves around three “gears” in a successful multisite church — guidance from a central leadership team, support from a central support team, and implementation by site staff teams.
Most multisite churches go to a matrix-style organizational strategy that involves solid-line (authority) and dotted-line (influence) reporting structure between the campuses. Usually, campus pastors directly report (solid line) to the central leadership team. Eventually — if not immediately — the local site staff will directly report to the campus pastor (solid line) and be coached by the ministry specialist “champion” at the sending campus (dotted line).
The challenge of multisiting is managing the tension between these three gears and balancing consistency with local contextualization. Every multisite church has to determine the right balance between these gears. They live in the tension of providing oversight and accountability while, at the same time, empowering site leaders to implement and contextualize. This tension isn’t a bad thing; it’s healthy when managed properly. But, mismanage these tensions and they become a problem. The goal is to manage these tensions and preempt problems. Churches who do this well go beyond just adding a couple of campuses; they begin a birthing a movement of reproducing congregations.
Here are some of the characteristics I’ve observed of churches that are delivering their church well across multiple campuses:
- Four or more geographical campuses
- A multisite director on the senior leadership team
- At least 50 percent of total church attendance beyond the original campus
- Designated central staff that supports all the campuses
- A designated campus pastor at the original campus who’s not the senior pastor
- Multisite campuses launching campuses
- Empowered local campus pastors who are unquestionably committed to the mission, vision, values and strategy of the sending church.
Our business is far more important than selling coffee, movies or home products —we’re in the life-transformation business, and our product is the Good News of Jesus. Our services are the ministry best practices we have developed to help people know and follow Jesus. Multisiting is all about figuring out how to deliver your church to the people.
Go forth and multiply!
Jim Tomberlin is founder and senior strategist of MultiSite Solutions, a company dedicated to assisting churches in extending their impact through multiple locations. Over three decades of diverse ministry, Tomberlin has pastored a church in Germany, grown a megachurch in Colorado, and pioneered the multisite strategy for Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. multisitesolutions.com