Today’s multisite church includes hybrid variations of the traditional one-church-in-multiple-locations model. Often, church planting is incorporated as part of a comprehensive growth strategy. These new approaches call for new skill sets and structures to support rapid growth and change.
Faith leaders who contemplate moving their church beyond a single campus face a variety of daunting questions: What kind of building or location will best serve the community we’d like to reach? How will resources be shared or distributed? Who should be on the launch team? Can the church maintain unity and stay on message across congregations? Which model makes the most sense for our context—and will it work?
At Aspen’s 2016 Alignment Conference, more than 200 senior pastors, executive pastors, business administrators, and ministry leaders gathered to explore answers to these hard questions about church expansion.
With five main stage presenters and 11 breakout sessions, attendees had an opportunity to think strategically about multisite and church planting so that real reproduction—and even multiplication—can occur.
What’s Love Got to Do with It?
Ed Bahler, CEO of Aspen Group, launched the day with a heart check for leaders. Referencing Tina Turner’s iconic song, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?,” Bahler shared the tension that many megachurch leaders have expressed as they’ve grappled with new methods and models for attracting more people to church.
“Bill Hybels always says, ‘Church is the hope of the world,’” said Bahler. “But when you got behind the curtain, you started to sense some of the pain leaders were feeling. It started to look like the ‘flavor of the month’—megasite, multisite, missional church, sticky church, simple church.”
Megachurches originally launched multisites when they found themselves out of room and unable to accommodate the number of attendees coming each Sunday.
“But what’s multisite?” Bahler asked. “Is it just a second-hand growth strategy? And who needs multisite when it causes so much pain?”
Bahler sensed something was missing. “Leaders needed help understanding the deeper issues behind growing the church,” he said.
This desire to help churches understand how to move from evangelism alone as the catalyst for reaching more people to discipleship—a strategy for developing devoted followers of Christ—was what led Aspen Group to focus the 2016 Alignment Conference on the topic of multisite and more, as well as commission Barna Group to do a study on multisite and church planting.
“The new Barna study, More Than Multisite, reveals a similar tension,” said Bahler. “It’s clear that the driver for doing multisite or planting can’t be a simple growth strategy. If it’s going to be healthy, if it’s going to be effective, it’s got to be driven by a deeper-rooted mission. At the core of it has to be building leaders and disciples for future generations. It has to go from simple growth to depth, purpose, and exponential impact.”
The Past, Present, and Future of Multisite
“Multisite churches were launched in the 1990s as a band-aid solution for megachurches that needed more space,” says Jim Tomberlin, founder of Multisite Solutions. Today though, multisite churches have evolved and now serve as an important vehicle of growth for churches of all sizes.
Tomberlin, along with Wade Burnett, senior partner at Multisite Solutions, co-presented on the history of the multisite movement and where it’s heading now and in the future.
“Multisite is now a tool in the church leader’s toolbox,” said Tomberlin. “It’s a valid, legitimate strategy. But today it’s time to think about how we’ll do multisite and go beyond to true multiplication. We’re not in the church building business. We’re in the disciple-making business. As Alan Hirsch says, “the multisite strategy was the first instinctual step toward multiplication. We need to learn how to unleash and unlock the reproductive potential in every church.”
Leadership Essentials in an Era of Church Reproduction
In order to move from multisite to multiplication, leaders will need to learn new skills to navigate change and manage complexity.
Jenni Catron, a leadership coach, author, and speaker, shared the essential skills and perspectives leaders will need to thrive in this new era of ministry. “Like John Maxwell says, ‘Everything rises and falls on leadership.’ If our leaders aren’t healthy, our churches won’t be healthy,” Catron said.
Catron followed up her main stage talk with two breakouts—“Multiplying Your Leadership Skills to Manage Exponential Growth” and “What We’re Learning About Church Reproduction,” a panel discussion with one senior pastor and two executive pastors of large, multisite churches.
Alignment attendees also had 9 other breakout sessions to choose from, including:
- “Creating a Pipeline of Leaders for Multisites and Church Plants” with Patrick O’Connell, director of NewThing Network
- “Trends in Church Growth and Multiplication” with Greg Ligon from Leadership Network, Jim Tomberlin, and Wade Burnett
- “Four Keys to Strategic Site Selection” with Joe LaPaglia, president of Aspen VIP
- “Branding & Communication Strategies for Multisites & Church Plants” with Leah Norton from Fishhook
- “Multisite Financial Models and How They Affect Giving” with Julie Bullock from Generis
- “Adapting Leadership and Strategies to Support Your Church’s Vision for Growth” with Amanda Lee, a former financial director of a large, multisite church in the Twin Cities
- “Creating a Strong Relationship between Senior Pastor and Campus Pastor” with Karen Miller, a leadership coach for church teams
- “Built to Grow” with Aspen Architect Derek DeGroot
- “Managing Communications Challenges for Multisites” with Shayla Kenworthy of Fishhook
More Than Multisite
The advent of multisite and church planting strategies in recent decades has introduced unprecedented opportunity for the church as a whole. The multi-ministry approach has become increasingly common—and it has created new challenges and complexities for leaders.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, revealed key findings from the new study, More Than Multisite, a new Barna report based on research commissioned by Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN) and sponsored by Aspen Group and Fishhook.
In his talk, Kinnaman unpacked the financial and facility impacts, branding and identity, and leadership challenges and opportunities for churches that are focused on expansion. He looked through the lens of culture to illuminate the opportunities churches have to help educate current and future generations about God’s Word and his ways.
By reaching deeper into local communities, leaders have a better chance to truly shepherd their flocks in an age where people are hungry for guides to help them how to live in a world that is increasingly hostile toward Christian beliefs.
Gaining Momentum with Multiplication
For the church to make a significant impact on the culture, we’ll need to move quickly and with great intention. Dave Ferguson, lead pastor at Community Christian Church and president of Exponential, closed out the Alignment Conference with a stirring challenge to move beyond multisite.
“What used to be success was growing something big. Now, success will be growing something that reproduces,” Ferguson said. “We need to reject “either/or” thinking and adopt “and” thinking. Be attractional and missional—‘Come and see, and now go and tell.’ We can be both growing and going, discipling and multiplying,” he said.
On whatever scale it occurs, healthy church expansion requires strategy—not merely for the growth of a congregation or the construction of a building, but ultimately for the spread of the Gospel.
In an era when churches are employing multisite and church planting methods to reach more people with the Gospel, it’s essential that leaders be equipped to manage the challenges and complexities of launching new congregations. Culture, leadership, ministry, facilities—churches that are in alignment in these four areas experience maximum ministry impact.
Wherever you are in your journey as a church, More Than Multisite and the Alignment Conference are tools to help equip you to launch and build dynamic, deeply rooted faith communities.