MULTISITE CHURCHES: It Works for Us

By Dan Scates

The great leap of faith for any multisite church is the decision to try DVD or video preaching. It feels like you are taking the church skydiving with blinders on.

Live preaching has long been a central part of our worship experience, so it is not surprising DVD preaching would bring forth gut reactions and unspoken assumptions. Will people merely watch rather than engage? Isn’t the preacher essential to the health and growth of the congregation? What about the potential for technical difficulties? DVD preaching challenges our presuppositions about excellent worship and church life. Who wants to toy with that?

On launch day of LifeBridge Christian Church’s first multisite campus I called Rick Rusaw, minister. The first words out of my mouth were, “The DVD preaching really worked!” Eventually I reported attendance numbers, the great positive atmosphere, and the shining volunteers. But our greatest concern had been the reaction of people to the DVD preaching. “People laughed, listened, smiled, and nodded,” I said.

It is difficult to impact people who are not paying attention whether it is live preaching or DVD preaching. At least we knew we were on first base.

Culturally Relevant

Multisite churches have many options for delivering the sermon. They range from live preaching to live simulcast; from team preaching at each site to video preaching on one site; from DVD preaching the same week to video delayed the next week.

Although choosing DVD preaching felt like a big risk for us, we knew we had an outstanding communicator who has been in front of the camera with Worship Network, and we have some experience with video production among our staff and volunteers. If we did not have these things in place, we may not have tried DVD preaching. We also knew of others successfully using this culturally relevant medium.

At LifeBridge, we record the Saturday night message and play it the next day at our sites. We have had to work through some bugs, but we’ve managed to produce a DVD message every week. Sometimes it’s been our backup DVD, however. If your church is considering a multisite approach, your key leaders need to show patience and accept imperfection, or you will not survive.

Does the multisite approach really work? Our first campus at Legacy Elementary School is a year old and we launched our second campus on September 24, 2006, at Pioneer Ridge Elementary School. Both schools are new and have gymnasiums.

Our first site is celebrating with 13 small groups, 222 in worship average, 22 baptisms, 110 participating volunteers, and several externally focused community projects. Our second site is in a smaller community of 5,000 homes and has an average of 171 in worship. They recently celebrated their first baptisms and have eight new members. They have had several community service projects, and have been called an “asset to our school and community” by the school leadership.

In both sites we have been able to build a real sense of community among those attending the site, outreach to new people (60 percent of attendees had never attended LifeBridge), and provide access for people at all our sites to experience large events, camps, and retreats for all ages. These values ring true to our mission of leading people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Bigger Factors

Along the way, we have discovered other issues that now outrank DVD preaching on our list of concerns. The first is the campus minister and his role. The second is the growing pressure on the current staff, budget, and organizational structures.

People at the site attach themselves to the campus minister. He is not the preaching minister, but he is viewed as the leader, motivator, and pastor by those attending the site. It is imperative he embodies the mission and values of LifeBridge, and is a team player under the senior leadership at LifeBridge.

We prefer moving insiders into this position. Our first campus minister was initially hired several years ago to lead our small-group ministry. Our second campus minister left the high-tech industry to become campus minister and has been serving at LifeBridge most of his adult life. Since preaching is not in the campus minister’s job description, the internal route has been more productive than external hiring. We believe it will be more effective.

The campus minister is held accountable for the health and growth of the site. His basic purpose is to “own” the campus ministry—monitoring and responding to the quality and effectiveness of all ministries at the site. Since the ministry is driven by volunteer teams, the campus minister’s ability as a team builder is paramount. He needs excellent relational skills and a pastor’s heart. He needs the leadership capacity to build community and motivate people toward outreach. His preaching and administration are secondary in our current multisite model.

The multisite approach increases pressure on the staff, budget, and organizational structures. Stretching the thin string of resources calls for trust in God’s provision and wisdom.

We have found the ongoing costs are manageable, but the up-front capital costs are difficult. Renting a facility, creating a multimedia environment, providing excellent children’s ministry, and hauling or storing expensive equipment requires a large infusion of cash within a two-month period. Creating the ability to do this on a routine basis calls for creative minds and flexible staff.

More Responsibilities

Speaking of staff, without their willingness to put the kingdom above their personal or departmental ministry we could not move forward. Our staff has embraced additional responsibility with little complaint and real heart. God has blessed our church with great leadership.

As a multisite church, the focus for staff is empowering and supporting volunteer teams. In each new site, this focus must be razor sharp. The first crucial job of each programming staff person (children, youth, worship, tech, facility, small groups, outreach, and community transformation) is to find a volunteer leader who will help build a team to provide effective ministry at the site. After the launch, each staff person will supply resources to that volunteer leader and team while the campus minister provides encouragement, visional direction, and motivation. A staff person cannot be at three sites at once, but he can have effective ministry at each site through team development.

Our staff has had to coordinate efforts in ways we had not previously experienced. The multisite team is made up of one senior leadership person, the campus ministers, and all the programming staff. We meet weekly to plan our next launch, adjust to the needs of each site, and celebrate what God is doing. We have had to bring precise clarity to our definitions of LifeBridge mission and values. What should we transfer to a site? What should we offer as access opportunities back at the original campus? Only strong coordination of effort makes multisite possible.

Apostolic Faith

Becoming a multisite church is not for the faint of heart. Each new campus requires the leadership team to make a new decision of faith. There are many challenges with every launch that raise the risk factor. Some of these challenges include: the extra load on staff, the stretch of finances, a host of questions to address, issues of loyalty, extending and imparting our mission and values, levels of excellence, and inadequate facilities.

However, the driving force required to become a multisite church goes beyond having all our ducks in a row. It must be an apostolic faith that holds the mission of sharing the good news of God’s love in Christ as worthy of our lives.

We have a long way to go and continue to learn by the grace of God. Yet we believe churches and leaders will expand his kingdom when they are willing to take risks, like DVD preaching. May God’s grace be on his church.


 

 

Dan Scates is associate minister at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado.

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