Vision-Casting Multisite, Pros and Cons of Video vs Live Teaching, and 5 Key Factors for Success
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Jim Tomberlin and I recently announced that our two ministries—MultiSite Solutions and The Unstuck Group—are coming together this year.
Jim was one of the pioneers of the multisite movement in the 1990s and has been helping churches effectively transition from being one church to being one church in multiple locations ever since.
We’re excited about strategically coming together to offer the best guidance to multisite leaders we can. Both of our companies have been serving more and more multisite churches in recent years, and things haven’t been slowing down.
This episode is Part 2 of an informal conversation between me and Jim, talking advice for vision-casting multisite, choosing your model, and the five keys to success that Jim has named over his many years helping churches launch thriving campuses.
Jim also shared some compelling statistics:
Surveys are showing about a 90% success rate with multisite campuses. That is, five years later, they’re still up and running. Additionally, 57% of all multisite churches are planning to launch another campus in the next 12 months. Jim says among the churches that have already launched, he’s still seeing a high confidence in the model.
In Part 2 of this conversation, we discussed:
- Why buying 100 acres and building the biggest building you can doesn’t work anymore
- The aversion to a “franchise” model and what you need to do if you’re feeling it
- How large your core team needs to be to launch a healthy campus
- How far away from the sending campus future campuses can be to keep your core team from drifting back to the original location
- The two critical factors to evaluate in potential campus pastors (if these two attributes are missing, it will likely sabotage the whole endeavor)
- Teaching models: What % of churches choose video, live teaching or a combination, how large they are, and what the data should really tell you (Hint: just because they are doing it, doesn’t mean it is working)
Surveys are showing about a 90% success rate with multisite campuses. That is, five years later, they’re still up and running. And, 57% of all multisite churches are planning to launch another campus in the next 12 months. via @multisiteguy Click To Tweet
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Sean: 00:02 Well, welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an Unstuck Church. I’m your host, Sean Bublitz and today on the podcast, Tony sits down with Jim Tomberlin for part two of their conversation about best practices for multisite churches. If you’re currently leading a multisite church or if you think there’s a chance you might be at some point in the future, I think you’ll find this conversation incredibly helpful. If you missed part one, go back and listen to Episode 83 of the podcast. As you listen today don’t miss using the show notes and downloading our Leader Guide. You can find those at theunstuckgroup.com/episode 88 or you could just take the shortcut and subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox each week. You’ll get links to all the resources we mentioned the Leader Conversation Guide for you and your team and bonus resources all conveniently delivered to your inbox. You can sign up by going to the unstuck group.com/podcast and now here’s this week’s conversation with Tony and Jim Tomberlin.
Tony: 00:59 Jim, what advice do you have for senior pastors who are beginning to cast vision for a multisite strategy for their church?
Jim: 01:08 It’s a great question, Tony. The biggest challenge in the multisite being fully maximized in a church is that the leadership have not really, not thinking with a multisite world view or paradigm shift. The paradigm shift, that’s the biggest challenge of navigating that paradigm shift from monosite thinking to multisite thinking. I often tell churches that the older church is, and the bigger it is, the more difficult it is for them to make that paradigm shift. Typically up until, you know, the megachurch movement started in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and with those pastors who have that mega church mindset, it’s all about a big building buy a hundred acres of land and build as big as you can, those days are over because it’s not sustainable. But the church pastors who really can move beyond being facility-centric, it’s not about a building, buildings don’t reach people, people reach people. But it’s really about moving from being facility-centric to community-centric. That you began to see your church through the eyes of the community instead of seeing the community through the eyes of your stained glass facility. And so that shift is the most important shift that a pastor, a senior pastor needs to make that it’s all about the community and it’s not about the building.
Tony: 02:30 Jim, give me your take on this because there are different approaches to multisite and a lot of them have worked well, but where are you seeing the most success when it comes to this key question. In the model, does it need to be the same at all the locations?
Jim: 02:45 Well, to maximize the model, absolutely. It needs to be the same. I like to say that the difference between church-planting and multisiting or denomination that’s starting churches versus a church that’s multisiting, is that when you mulitisite you’re reproducing, I’m reproducing my church in other locations around my community. If I’m church-planting, I’m reproducing my kind of church. That’s the difference.
Tony: 03:12 So, what about church leaders? I think there’s some aversion to having a franchise model when they’re talking about their multisite strategy. Do they just need to get over that?
Jim: 03:22 Essentially yes. If they really want to maximize the model. There’s nothing wrong with having a network of churches, like-minded churches that have a common philosophy, beliefs, philosophy, I’ve seen some even with the shared resources that every campus is doing, you know, it’s pretty semi-autonomous, you can do that for three or so campuses. But if you keep trying to do that and try to have some kind of central resourcing and central relational connection, it starts to unravel after you get beyond three or four. I don’t see many going beyond that, but if you want to maximize the model, the more you can replicate your ministry best practices. What I call the signature ministries, or the core ministries, that’s why you do multisite. It is a similar to the model that you see like in Starbucks or Chick-Fil-A.
Jim: 04:16 You know, you could go to any of these stores and you know, we’re going to get the same product, the same service, the same. And that’s why we go because we like what we get there. But if you were to go to a Chick-Fil-A and the chicken is done different, I’m going to do it a little different at my Chick-Fil-A, then you begin to work against the strength of the product and the service that you’re bringing. And so, yes, I’m an advocate that you want to work towards a consistency across all campuses. Every campus has its unique context that maybe there’s something that we do unique there, but we are delivering the church that we have has been demonstrated to be effective in that region.
Tony: 04:58 Jim, you know, one of the biggest questions that multisite churches wrestle with when they’re thinking about multisite strategy is the delivery of the message itself. Is it going to be through video teaching or are we going to have different live teachers at all the different locations? Can you kind of talk us through the pros and cons of both?
Jim: 05:18 Well, that’s one of the core signature ministries that you have to decide right up front if you’re going to go to the multisite path, which will it be? Now in our surveys, the latest survey is telling us now about 50% of multisite churches nationwide do not use video teaching at all. About 25% are strictly or primarily video teaching and another 25% or some combination. And so it’s all over the map now. But we have seen that the bigger churches and the more campuses they have, the more they are inclined to do video teaching. We also know that the more complicated it is when you have a live teaching at all locations to keep the relational glue strong and you have to really work doubly hard at that. What I like to recommend to the churches. To me, the ideal model is every church I’d be building a teaching team and make all campuses video capable and then they can decide do we want to lead out with video and supplement, complement occasionally with unplugging or do we primarily do live video?
Jim: 06:24 I mean live teaching, in-person teaching, and then compliment with some video. But I like to say to churches, the average size of a church that goes multisite today in our latest surveys is around a thousand in attendance. If you have a church of a thousand plus people, you probably have a very capable communicator. And so, this is really less about that person, you know some people accuse the multisite model as being a celebrity driven model or whatever. It’s really, it’s not about that person. It’s about the gift that God has put in that teaching Pastor or Senior Pastor’s gift mix. And so how do we best leverage that, that teaching gift. And so again, if we want to have consistency across our campuses, the best way to guarantee that consistency in the teaching piece is with video teaching.
Tony: 07:15 Jim, what are the characteristics that we should be looking for in a campus pastor?
Jim: 07:20 Tony, the campus pastor decision is what everyone who’s in this movement would say is the most important decision you’ll make in going multisite. It’s less about buildings, money, technology, those are all important components, but you can have the ideal in all that. But if you have the wrong kind of leader there, you set it up to fail. Very few churches have the perfect scenario and all the circumstances and components, but if they have the right leader they will lead through those challenges. But in our surveys two characteristics primarily surface to what was most important to a campus pastor, first of all they were a high capacity leader that people could, would follow and that who could turn followers into volunteers and volunteers and into volunteer leaders, but they attract followers and they have a proven track record of being a leader.
Jim: 08:12 The second characteristic is that they have the DNA of the church. And that is that at Willow Creek we used to say we have to have campus pastors that when you cut them, they bleed Willow. And so those are the two primary most important characteristics. Yeah, it’s helpful if they can, if they have the ability to be on stage to cast vision, have pastoral moments, it helps if they like people. It does help. At the end of the day, it’s really the two most important characteristics is that leadership capacity and the DNA of the church. When those two come together, then that is what you’re looking for in a campus pastor
Tony: 08:54 Jim, what are some of the key factors that churches need to be considering when it comes to selecting a location for a new campus?
Jim: 09:01 You know we ask that question in our surveys. Where did you launch your campus? Multisite churches. 45% launched within 15 minutes of the sending location, 15 minute driving time, 44% launch within 15 to 30 minutes. So almost 90% of all multisite campuses are within 30 minutes. The sweet spot is around that 20 to 30 minutes. And we hear about some of these, some of the well known churches that have campuses all across the country, they represent 2% of all the multisite churches in America. The multisite model is really a 30 minute, you know, geographical strategy from the sending campus. And what happens if it gets too close? Well, if it’s too close then why go there? You know, we have the original campus here or the sending campus. And so it’s hard, you’re tapping into the same people, we know that the majority of church attenders live within within 15 minutes of the church.
Jim: 10:04 And also those are the majority of those who serve and volunteer. But the people who live, who drive between 15 and 30 minutes, they’re more spectators than they are participators, not because of a lack of commitment necessarily, but because of where they live. And it’s just very hard to be involved when you live more than 15 minutes. But when you can bring your church 15 minutes, 20 minutes closer to those living in the 15 to 30 minutes zone. Now many of those who wanted to be involved but couldn’t because of geography, now they can be involved. So to do less than 15 minutes you’re already, you’re tapping the same people to do what you’re already doing in, in one location.
Tony: 10:40 So, several years ago I was working with a church and they looked at that 20 to 30 minute drive time around the church. And what they decided was, because we’re already reaching a number of people in this 30, 20 to 30 minute drive time, we’re going to go to the opposite end of the city where we’re currently not reaching anybody in that 20 to 30 minute drive time. It didn’t work. Does that surprise you? No. You know, when I say that, that’s what we call church planting. Okay. All right. Well you’re going where you don’t have a base.
Jim: 11:11 Yeah. And I love how Paul the Apostle said, you know, I don’t want to build on anyone’s foundation. I want to go where no one has gone before. That’s the heart of a church planter, right? I’m going to go to the farthest reaches of the empire and thank God for those church planters who have that kind of, you know, green baret mindset. We’re here today because somebody did that for us in the past, but a multisite church has the exact opposite. It’s not where do we need to be? The question is, where are we already at the edge of the fringe of our ministry, of our parish and build on that base.
Tony: 11:46 So talk to me about the different types of facilities. I mean, ideal, I’m assuming maybe not would be to get into a permanent facility initially as a new campus. But for those churches that can’t afford that or they want to be able to kind of test drive a certain location before they commit to it permanently. What types of portable facilities are you seeing multisite churches use?
Jim: 12:10 50% of all multisite campuses start at a school, about 3% of that in a theater. And so it’s the lowest risk, lowest cost way to get going. Schools, you need the portable church equipment and I’m big fans of the portable church team, a PCI, portable church as well. And they help churches to do that. The second stage, to get into a 24/7 location at an existing facility, not owning it, just renting it. The challenge is that’s a significantly larger cost to retrofit that building, typically for a church, but that’s my recommendation. That’s where a church needs to get out of the portable situation. I recommend, you know, within two to three years you’re in a permanent location, a rented facility is fine. Third stage is that you buy land and build a building, which is to me is the last option or not, not buy land, but just buy a building.
Jim: 13:16 That’s the third phase. And then lastly, and there are some places where there’s just nothing and you know, very few churches though multisite churches buy land and build a building, most of them are long-term rental. Sometimes they can inherit a building, but a third, or more than a third, as I mentioned before, 40%, more than 40% of all multisite campuses are coming as a result of a church merger. Multisiting through a merger it can be, is a fast track way to multisite through mergers when it’s right, but when it’s not right it’s a big diversion of time, money and energy. And this is why we wrote the book to help churches discern that and then give them a guideway, a pathway to have a good merger outcome. But these are the areas portable schools, theaters, existing facilities, either rent or purchase and mergers.
Tony: 14:06 Is it always better for a church to launch and in a permanent location if they can initially
Jim: 14:14 Not necessarily because it depends on how strong that church is and its mission, vision, its clarity and its success in being a local church already. It’s a big financial risk and we’re talking about millions of dollars to start with a permanent building facility. But that’s the cost, I mean in a school or theater you can launch for less than half a million dollars. In a building that you’re going to rent, it’s going to be, you know, 1 to $3 million.
Tony: 14:42 Jim, we’ve talked a lot about the success of multisite strategy and I’ve heard you quote some high numbers for how many multisite churches this is actually a successful strategy for them as like, is it 5 out of 10 have success? Seven out of 10, what do you seeing?
Jim: 15:02 Well all of our surveys are telling us that we’re seeing about a 90% success rate of multisite campuses. That is five years later, they’re still up and running, functioning, and in our last survey leadership network, or a couple of surveys back, it was 57% of all multisite churches are planning to launch another campus in the next 12 months, which says high competence in the model.
Tony: 15:27 So Jim, with 9 out of 10 churches finding success in multisite, what’s driving that? What are the key things that those churches are doing to have the successful multisite strategy?
Jim: 15:40 You know, Tony that is a great question and I like to talk to churches about the key factors for success of multisite. The very first one is why we’re doing this. It’s all about the mission and vision of your church. That needs to be the compelling reason we’re doing this, but that’s the why. The house though, we know that the most important decision a church will make in multisiting is the campus pastor decision because it’s everything rises or falls on leadership. Getting the right person in there with the leadership capacity who has the DNA of your church, is the most important component for success in multisite. The most difficult challenge to overcome in multisiting is finding a facility. And so, that’s what delays and slows down churches more than anything else for multisiting once they commit to do it. After you have a pastor to lead and a place to meet, the most important factor for success is launching strong, launching with a strong core of people, I recommend at least 200 people you should be launching with.
Jim: 16:40 We know that 80% of the churches in America never get past 200. If you could start day one with 200 plus people, then you’re already in the top 20% before, you know, the first day, plus you’re not just a church of 200, you’re a church of 200 with a stronger church in the community behind you resourcing you and helping you. And then the last factor for success is after you’ve launched and you’re off and running, it’s navigating that paradigm shift from model site to a multisite mindset. And that’s where churches get bogged down. That’s why the majority are not having gotten beyond three locations. And that’s why very few of those locations have actually given birth to other locations. To me that’s true multiplication, when the babies have babies, now we know we are multiplying our church.
Sean: 17:27 Well, thanks for joining us today for this conversation. You can learn more about how The Unstuck Group is helping multisite churches get unstuck and reach sustained health at theunstuckgroup.com/multisite. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please consider leaving us a review on your favorite podcasting platform, and if you have questions about this topic or any of our episodes, use the #unstuckchurch and post them on your favorite social media channel. If you’d like to learn more about The Unstuck Group, you can visit us at theunstuckgroup.com. Have a great week.