A 7 Minute Read - By Chris Bright - posted on December 3, 2020

7 costly mistakes most failing multisite churches make

With the end of COVID now slightly more in-sight, more churches will be thinking about how to move forward as a church. Multisite was a fast-growing option for many churches in the U.K. pre-COVID, and with churches starting to re-gather again, I think that this is going to become a very attractive opportunity for Kingdom impact.

The problem is that multisite isn’t easy. In fact, more churches get multisite wrong than they do right. By getting multisite wrong you can cause serious damage to your church, and in some cases can even lead to the failure of the whole church.

Where I live in Gloucester, I seen countless examples of businesses starting well and then going bust as they scale up. You can’t go into multisite unprepared. Here are 7 common mistakes that are made when churches go multisite.

1. Planting from ill-health

As a church, you reproduce after yourself. If your church is healthy, your new campus will be healthy. That also means that if you’re not healthy, it’s almost guaranteed that your new campus won’t be healthy.

To be a healthy church you need to have a healthy Senior Leader and a healthy leadership team, after that you need the core things in place: your mission, values, discipleship strategy, leadership development strategy, growth strategy, financial strategy, governance, staffing, vision and action plans.

2. Planting without a Multisite Strategy

Added to this as a multisite church, you need to have thoroughly thought through your multisite strategy, including How centralised you want to be, roles and responsibilities and the legal set up for new plants. The following mistakes, when corrected, also become a part of your multisite strategy.

3. Planting too small

If you feel called to be a multisite church, the temptation is to plant a campus as soon as possible, even if that means planting with only a few people. But that’s a bad strategy. When you plant too small you drastically reduce down the success rate. This is because when a church is small, it needs to put all of its resources into making church happen, growth even at 10-15% growth is minimal, and you’re only ever a family leaving away from crisis. In business terms this is called the “early struggle” where it’s a fight for survival. By waiting and planting with more people, you can skip that step and plant at the point of already being established. This makes reaching more people much more possible.

The other part of planting too small is to do with the sending church. If you plant when the sending church is too small, you run the risk of causing damage to it. Every sending church will feel a dip as they lose a proportion of their congregation to a new plant, and the smaller you are the more acutely that effect is felt. At worst, planting too small can feel more like a church split than a church plant.

4. Planting in the wrong location

In the U.K., our general understanding of how you plant a multisite campus is all based around location. You look at the next neighbourhood or town and say, “We’ll plant there!” However, that may not be the best location. That’s because planting isn’t about geography, it’s more about people.

Multisite strategy is taking what is already working and allowing it to grow. So if no-one is attending your church from the next town along, that’s not a good place to plant. Plant where its already working.

Another bid mistake when it comes to location is planting too close. There’s a “habitable zone” of 20-30 minute drive time for a new campus. That’s because too close and the gravity of the planting church will always be too much for the new campus. Keep the distances right between your campuses and look for pockets of people travelling from 20-30 minute drive time away.

5. Planting with the wrong leader

We often think that the Assistant Pastor is the right person to take on a new campus. However, that’s not always the case. When you plant a new campus, there is a sense of pioneering about the operation. It normally needs a good 2 year settling in period where it puts down roots and establishes itself fully.

To do this you need to have the right kind of leader. Of the 5-fold ministry giftings (Apostle, Prophet, Pastor, Evangelist, Teacher) it’s often a more Apostolic figure who heads up the entire church, with the other four giftings taking lead in the campuses. New Campuses need people who are willing to pioneer. These are usually your Evangelists and Prophets. Pastors and Teachers are vital, but they often shine in more established congregations.

6. Planting without a review point

It can be very easy to plant a new location and then let it go. However, even if your plant at a larger size and with the right leader, it doesn’t mean that your campuses is fully established. However, if you just let it go you’ll often find that the campus will drift. Sometimes that can even mean a lack of growth. Whenever you plant a new location, there must be a clear review point where the campus is judged against targets for growth. That might sounds ruthless, but the aim of multisite is to reach more people, if it doesn’t do that, it’s not being an effective tool for the gospel. Set a review point and don’t be afraid to close it if it isn’t performing.

7. Not financing the plant effectively

Getting the finances right on a church plant is vital. If you underfund a new campus, you’re not giving it the best chance of success. Things to factor in that will help the success of a location are relocation costs for staff members, hire of a venue, set up costs and marketing costs. Set a proposed budget for how much a new plant should cost and only plant once you have the money saved to do so.

We’d love to help you work out your multisite strategy. As we said in point 1, a healthy church will produce a healthy campus. If you’d like to know how we can help, email us on hello@thinking.church .