Wednesday, January 29, 2014

3 Growth Challenges to become a Multi-Site Church

Multi-site churches, that is one church meeting in multiple locations, are a growing trend across America. Ed Stetzer’s
research has identified over 5,000 multi-site churches in America. In our fellowship of Churches of Christ there are not many multisite churches. Oak Hills in San Antonio, The Hills in Fort Worth, The Branch and Highland Oaks in Dallas are examples of churches with heritage in Churches of Christ that have become multisite.

Over the past year Kairos has worked with a small number of larger churches in our fellowship whose leaders are exploring the option of becoming multisite. In 2013 we invited Geoff Surratt to conduct a multisite workshop and this year we are working with several churches in a multiplying church network where we can plan and pursue multiplying activities together.

This month some of these churches met together to envision what multiplying projects would look like and engage in some vision development. As we worked together 3 critical growth challenges emerged that churches in our fellowship of Churches of Christ will face when moving to a multisite expression:

Multisite Challenge #1: Family Identity
Our heritage works from a nuclear family identity, that is, we all expect to see everyone when we gather together for worship. If your church has ever tried to go to multiple services you’ve experienced the lament, “But we won’t ever see everybody.” It’s this expectation that in our family we all gather around the dinner table together that makes multiple services so difficult. It’s also the first critical challenge for multisite. We find it hard to envision “one church in multiple locations.”

To address this challenge we need to change our identity from nuclear family to extended family. An extended family still loves one another and cherishes those times when we can get together, but we don’t expect to see everyone at every meal. Pushing this analogy a bit further, we need to see ourselves as uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces rather than brothers and sisters. We understand the emotional challenge of this change when, as in the congregation in which I grew up, one of their identifying songs says, “You’ll notice we say brother and sister ‘round here.”

Multisite Challenge #2: Expanding Geography
Distance and number of sites has a multiplying impact, not an additive one. A surprising insight gained by early adopting multisite churches is they thought having one administrative system across multiple sites would give them an economy of scale. Paid staff could manage volunteers at multiple sites, multiplying both themselves and their impact. What they found was the distance and number of sites actually multiplied the complexity needed to manage and maintain the site ministries. Multisite churches are matrix organizations. It takes well-defined connections, communication patterns, and reporting to manage a multisite. Planning and decisions must be communicated up and down the reporting line. There is no central water cooler in a multisite church around which news, emotions, and relationships are naturally shared and developed. Intentionality becomes critical.

Multisite Challenge #3: Intentional Leader Development
How do you deliberately identify, train, and deploy leaders from within your church? Even with my association with many congregations across our country I could not come up with one good example of a church that had a systematic process to develop their leaders for the multiple leadership roles that exist in a church. Most churches tend to look for who has developed leadership skills in their vocations that are usable in the church context and hope that they can translate the use those skills well in the church setting. Successful multisite churches have well defined pathways for leader development for volunteers and paid staff.

Changing from a congregation with one worship service to one church with multiple congregations in multiple locations requires meeting these three challenges as major steps in their evolution as a church body. The process won’t be for every church. For those whom God has prepared and is calling for this journey their promises to be a lot of work with the potential for rich, kingdom rewards.

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