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Going Multisite? Avoid These 16 Common Mistakes

May 16, 2017

By: Jim Tomberlin
Copyright © 2016 by Outreach Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The multisite strategy has become a proven model for church reproduction for more than 8,000 churches across North America—and it’s not slowing down.

Though 9 out of 10 multisite campuses are self-sustaining and 57 percent of all multisite churches are planning to launch another campus in the next 12 months, many multisite campuses struggle, and a small number do fail. Why do people return to the sending campus after launching a multisite campus? What hinders sent people from becoming staying people at a church they helped birth in their own community?

What is the key to retaining the launch team and sustaining a growing multisite campus?

Launching strong requires a compelling vision, financial commitment to the startup costs, launching with the key ministries, staffing adequately, enlisting a significant core of volunteers and providing ongoing central support post-launch.

Even with all of those steps, launching strong is actually the easier part (not easy, but easier). The harder part in multisiting is maintaining an ongoing commitment to a sustainable multisite model that reproduces your church across multiple locations. A failure in any of these core areas is often responsible for anemic campuses or campus closures.

Our team has been involved with hundreds of multisite campus launches. Here are some of the mistakes we’ve observed in multisite campuses that struggle.

1. Inadequately explaining and envisioning the “why” of multisite.
It’s not about being an extended overflow room or a vehicle to become a bigger church. It’s not about the size of the church—it’s about the size of the harvest. Multisite done well is about obeying the Great Commission to make disciples who make disciples who start churches that start churches.

2. Underestimating or underfunding the startup cost of a new campus.
Approaching the campus launch with an attitude of “how little” can we spend instead of “how much” does it take to reproduce our church strong from day one.

3. Underdelivering the church experience.
The burden of a multisite campus is that it needs to start day one as good or better as the sending campus. We would not expect less from a new Starbucks store, so why should we expect less when it comes to God’s business?

4. Just asking people to show up instead of signing-up to serve.
Ask the launch volunteers for commitment to serve in one of the key ministry areas of a local congregation.

5. Asking for a temporary commitment of less than a year.
If people will commit to serve for a year, they’ll usually stay beyond a year. They become an inseparable band of brothers and sisters having served in the trenches of launching a church together.

6. Launching with too few.
Enlist enough people to adequately deliver the key ministries in a sustainable way.

7. Launching without a full-time campus pastor.
The campus pastor is the most strategic role at a multisite campus because everything rises or falls on leadership.

8. Launching with a pastor-shepherd rather than a pastor-leader.
Pastor-shepherds don’t grow congregations, they maintain them. Pastor-leaders attract followers, mobilize volunteers and grow congregations.

9. Launching with a campus pastor who does not possess the DNA of the sending church.
Multisiting is all about church reproduction. Most campus pastors are internal hires with a year or more experience at the sending church, with its DNA flowing through their veins.

10. Launching in the wrong facility.
Facilities need to be in the area where there is already a strong contingent of people attending the sending church, big enough, financially sustainable, easily visible and accessible.

11. Understaffing the multisite campus without a campus pastor, worship leader and children’s director.
Whether paid or volunteer staff, these key ministry areas need high-capacity leaders who ensure high-quality ministry delivery consistent with the sending church.

12. Inadequately equipping and training the launch team prelaunch.
Successful multisite churches take the time to train, equip and empower the launch team prior to launching.

13. Launching the campus as a “satellite” of the “main” campus.
The best multisite campuses function like a fully-functioning local church with the same quality programming as the sending church.

14. Undersupporting the campus post-launch.
The key to the ongoing success of a multisite campus is a dedicated and deployed central team committed to its success.

15. A faulty assumption that “if we launch it, they will come.”
After the launch of a new multisite congregation, the key to retainability, sustainability and growth is doing the basics of discipleship and outreach in the community with the good news and good works of the gospel.

16. Failure to get and/or follow the advice of the consultant.
The benefit of engaging a good consultant is to avoid paying the “dumb tax.” This will save you more time and money in the long run than charting an unknown path without an experienced guide.

Most of us have seen a televised launch of a space shuttle rocket from Cape Canaveral. An incredible amount of fuel is burned in a matter of minutes in order to lift the rocket off the launching pad into the earth’s atmosphere and propel it into outer space. When launched strong, the rocket picks up enough momentum and speed to overcome the gravitational pull of earth and arrive at its ultimate destination to achieve its mission.

We’ve also seen earlier rocket launches that failed on the launching pad because they failed to launch strong. All the effort, expense and energy was wasted due to a failure to launch strong.

Launching strong isn’t the only component in a successful multisite campus, but everything else hinges on its success.

Jim Tomberlin (@MultisiteGuy) is the founder and CEO of MultiSite Solutions and the author of several books, including Better Together: Making Churches Mergers Work (with Warren Bird) and 125 Tips for Multisite Churches.

As seasoned practitioners and pioneers in the multisite movement, MultiSite Solutions provides the highest level of consulting and coaching expertise to help churches develop and implement customized multisite, merger and multiplication strategies. We are grateful for our strategic partnership with Outreach Magazine.

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