The multisite church movement has been around for some time now. Along the way to adding more sites, many churches have realized something: adding sites doesn’t necessarily mean growth. New locations are being added, but overall attendance and engagement isn’t increasing – at least anywhere near to what was hoped for.
Churches in this situation are almost always experiencing challenges to scaling their ministry across multiple locations. This is primarily a result of one thing: their model wasn’t built to scale.
Maybe it’s a program-centric approach to ministry, or systems for recruiting volunteers. Maybe it’s worship music style, or the way the church manages systems like finance, facilities, or communications. But what they’re finding is that the complexity that developed at the first site doesn’t work across the second, third, or fourth.
If your church finds itself in this position, it’s time to simplify. But how?
Here are a few ideas to get started on the path towards simplification:
IDEA #1: CENTRALIZE SUPPORT… ALL SUPPORT.
Think of two kinds of churches, at opposite ends of a continuum:
Church A has what I call the “legacy of the pastor-secretary” model. Each pastor or ministry department leader has an administrative support resource, dedicated to their ministry or possibly shared with one or two other pastors. The pastor comes up with the vision and strategy, and the administrative person helps with planning and execution. Functions like finance, facilities, tech, and communications are centralized, and the pastor-admin teams work with these centralized departments to do ministry.
Church B has what I call the “internal agency” model. In this model, pastors utilize centralized teams for all of their ministry needs: a marcomm department to create marketing and promotional materials (print, video, digital, etc.), an event planning department to help execute on events and initiatives (at least 80% of our ministries are, technically speaking, events), and facilities, finance, tech, or volunteer recruitment departments. Pastors rely on volunteers more heavily for lower-level administrative functions: room setup and cleanup, for example.
Church A has more redundancy of function across their administrative generalists; those generalists all design communication materials, all do room reservations/setup, all design and printing of materials, etc., and handle any other functions necessary for pulling off the ministry activity. It’s less efficient, and quality suffers.
Church B has less redundancy, because it has people who take on more of those functions: event planning, marcomm, etc.
The central agency model lets the agency act as a constraint on the volume of ministry activity that the pastors can generate, reducing the overall volume of activity. The central agency has the ability to say “no new thing in the pipeline” when they are full of things to execute on.
IDEA #2: REDUCE YOUR NUMBER OF LEADERS.
I know this sounds counterintuitive (all churches need more leaders, right?) but bear with me. In modern, growing organizations, leaders generate activity. Gone are the days of organizations filled with managers of managers who manage. And in churches, this is especially true. Leaders are developed or hired for the express purpose of generating ministry activity. But that increase in leader-driven activity can overwhelm the staff who are given the role of helping implement that activity.
There are three ways to get this under control:
- Hire more leaders to manage and control the amount of new stuff the existing leaders are generating;
- Hire more support staff who are able to help implement and execute ministry activity;
- Reduce the number of leaders generating ministry activity.
The first option helps manage activity better, but at great cost. Not many growing churches have layers of management in ministry, do they? (Maybe I’m wrong in thinking they don’t, but I think they don’t.)
The second option is also expensive. But if you had a lot more support staff, you probably wouldn’t be so concerned with streamlining your ministry model, since you wouldn’t be hurting so much.
The third option is the most direct path towards simplifying your ministry model.
IDEA #3: TIGHTEN YOUR ALIGNMENT.
I say this all the time: a strategy always starts with who. Who are we striving to best reach and serve in our ministry? Are we targeting families with young kids? People with felt needs? Upscale professionals looking for a high-quality church experience? People who’ve never been to church? This needs to be defined by your organization’s senior leadership.
Next, ask every ministry to define their who, and the specific objectives that reach and serve that audience. Then you can see how well they align with the defined strategy. The ministries that are most-aligned with reaching the audience that the leadership team defined are put in the “keystone ministries” bucket and get full support. Leverage them for growth, and hold them accountable for it.
Ministries that aren’t aligned with the defined objectives are let go. We can’t keep them going, so we sunset them over the next year. This includes events, even long-standing recurring ones. These aren’t helping us grow, so they have to go.
Some ministries won’t be aligned with these strategic objectives, but the negative impact on the church culture of getting rid of them could set you back more than it helps. These ministries should be put into the “maintenance mode” bucket. Don’t highlight them in your communications, don’t put them in the main menu on the website, and don’t feature them on social media. But they can continue to operate as they currently do.
In a way, these are all variations on the same theme, just different means to the same end. And they aren’t mutually exclusive; you can apply one or all of them.
But no matter which strategy you choose, remember this: begin and end with prayer. Your strategy doesn’t matter if God isn’t behind it.