Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. A lot of guests that we talk to are dealing with the issue of multisite; how to expand, how to move on from that and today, we have the person to talk to in this industry for multisite. We have Jim Tomberlin on the show. How are you today, Jim?
Great Neil, great to be with you.
I’m so excited to have you. You are kind of the gold standard when it comes to multisite, knowing how to do this. I’m sure most people are familiar with your name, but why don’t you give people a bit of background about your career path and how you got to be where you are now?
I would just say that specifically to this topic of multisite church, my journey with multisite began when I became a senior pastor of a little church in Colorado Springs, Woodmen Valley Chapel, back in 1991. I experienced all the joys and challenges of leading a growing church. We had multiple staff, multiple services, multiple days, Saturday-Sunday services, and multiple building campaigns to build out the 20 acres of land that we were sitting on. After all that multitasking, several years later, several thousand people later, we found ourselves in the same place where we started out, out of room and out of space, multiple services but now there’s no more room to grow in that location. In the mid-90s, we began thinking about alternative solutions; how do we solve our growth challenges being out of room and out of space? That’s where my journey began. I began to think about one church in two locations, using the new technology that was emerging, the video technology that was coming on the scene. Eventually, that led to me being invited to leave Colorado Springs and come to Willow Creek church in Chicago to develop and pioneer the multisite model there, in the year 2000. I was at Willow Creek for 5 years and I launched and oversaw the launch of 4 multisite additional campuses. Today, they have 8 locations.
After 5 years at Willow Creek, and believe it I did enough damage there in establishing the multisite DNA, I was getting more and more calls from churches around the country. “Could you come talk to us about how you do this?” So 2005, I left Willow Creek to serve the church at large in this whole multisite concept, and it hasn’t slowed down since then.
Yeah. It seems so much that this … I don’t even know if you can call it a trend at this point. It seems like the way churches grow is the multisite model. What are you experiencing from a 30,000 foot view when you’re looking at churches in North America? Is this the de-facto way that churches are going to grow past that place where they don’t have much room and one piece of real estate anymore? Why are so many churches turning to this model?
The reason why so many churches are turning to this is because it’s effective. It’s a proven model now. I would say this is just like in the 1970s-80s, the whole idea of going from one service to two services on a weekend, on a Sunday morning, that was a radical idea in the 70s-80s and that’s when I started as a pastor. That really was the beginning really in a lot of ways of what eventually became the multisite movement, where we started with multiple services and then multiple days of service, Saturday-Sunday, then multiple rooms or venues on one location where you have … what’s started out to be overflow rooms now. They became alternative venues on one location, so it was an inevitable next step to go to multiple locations. Today, every healthy growing church in America has at least two services. That did not exist before 1980 for the most part, practically speaking, and today, that’s become normal. Who wouldn’t do that today at a growing church? The multisite model is becoming more and more seen that way as well by healthy growing church leaders. I just came back from two weeks in Germany and Great Britain where I’ve been working on and off for the last 10 years with churches that are beginning now to grow to become large enough, 1,000 plus people, into multisite in Europe, which 10 years ago could not be done. It’s being done now. It’s sort of all the same pathway of adding services, and then eventually multiple locations.
Yeah, it’s amazing how that overflow room … all of a sudden we realized we could have this overflow room anywhere really, and to be able to spread that out into multiple locations. It’s really a unique thing that’s come about. Jim, most of our audience are executive pastors, church administrator type things. I feel like they would have been probably the people who are most resistant maybe in the early days of multisiting. There’s no way to handle this, how are we going to be able to do multisites, multi-HR, multi-finance, multi-everything that comes about? What are some of the challenges you feel that XPs specifically face when going to this multisite model?
I would say that the easier part of multisiting is birthing new congregations. Multisite is all about reproducing my church in multiple locations, so that’s the easier part – not that it’s easy but that’s the easier part is giving birth to new congregations, reproducing yourself across additional locations. The more difficult part of multisiting is managing those into campus relationships and the restructuring that you have to do to support a growing multisite strategy. This is where the really good hard work of an executive pastor comes into play. This is one of the reasons that of the vast majority of the 8,000 multisite churches out there, very few get beyond 3 locations, because of their inability to change or make the organizational changes necessary to support a growing multisite strategy. But that’s where all the tension is, is how do you manage multiple locations, that whole relationship between the central campus and the multisite campuses; the tension between reproducing my church consistently across multiple locations, but also acknowledging the context of each location. Those are the challenges of multisiting.
Let’s get into that a little bit deeper, when it comes to addressing these challenges. I think a lot of XPs are sitting there, maybe they’re thinking about multisite or they’re at that 3-site level and trying to figure out how do we put another plate in the air to keep spinning this. What are some of the effective solutions you’ve found for those inter-campus relationships? I think every church is different and every team culture will be a little different, but what are some of the successful things you’ve seen in terms of how people can handle multiple campuses?
We always talk about, when I work with churches and we start to have this path, we begin to focus on what are the constants that have to … what are the items or the things that have to be constant across all campuses? What ministries, what values in ministries, programs, activities have to be consistently constant across all campuses? We talk about IPOs and what’s the sequence of rolling out ministries. What has to be there on day one? What’s the priority over the first year and what’s optional? The more clarity churches have about who they are as a church and how they do ministry, the easier this is. Those are a lot of the things that are clarified: who are we and how do we do church? A lot of churches have grown out of momentum growth. It’s sort of been unintentional. They’ve been growing out of their strengths through gifts, but to be very effective on this is when you move beyond just momentum growth to really a systematic growth, where you begin to identify and build infrastructure, next steps, processes that are easy to replicate. Again, it takes someone who’s typically an executive pastor with those kinds of skills to be able to create systems and to implement the vision and strategy of the church. That’s what’s required.
Jim, one of the themes on our podcast is technology. We like to talk about how churches are using it in their day to day operations, how they’re managing processes, things like that. What are some things that you’ve seen in terms of technology that helps multisites function very well?
Technology has been a big contributor to facilitating this whole multisite movement obviously. There’s two areas of technology; one is the whole video delivery technology resources and then there is the whole data management. Both are important. I would just say that even though this multisite movement began primarily as a video delivery sermon strategy, today only about half of all multisite churches deliver their sermons by video. The other half is via the in-person teaching team kind of concept … But that being said, when I started in this movement which is now in its third decade, you could not even video stream over the Internet. That became possible, and now you can video stream and deliver high quality sermons over the Internet. You need a good provider for that. The leading company that works with churches in overcoming the technical problems of delivery over the Internet is an organization, a company that I really like working with in Dallas called Living as One. To me, they’re the premier company now in helping churches deliver their messages over the Internet and have resolved a lot of the technical problems. They do it at a very cost-effective price.
Anyway, there’s that whole issue of video delivery technology but then every church today, every growing church – multisite or not, needs the technology that’s available to manage their data i.e. their whole membership records, giving records and all that. There’s a number of companies out there that are serving that need, but probably the leading one is Church Community Builder out of Colorado Springs. It was created 20 plus years ago. They began to utilize the internet, the cloud to manage data. That’s become essential now for churches; data management and the whole AVL (audiovisual) technology that’s required … Whether you do video [streams 12:14] or not, you’ve still got to have video screens and projection. The great news is the technology every year, you don’t have to have the bleeding edge as a local church which is the most expensive, but you can certainly have cutting edge technology. It’s always getting better and cheaper over time.
We talked about data management, we talked about audiovisual. What about internal office workings when it comes to handling things like finances, things like HR, things like leave request? What are the ways that multisite churches are able to overcome some of the geographical barriers that are present?
There are some of the resources out there like Dropbox and Evernote that I see a lot of churches actually use. I like the tool that your company or your sponsor KiSSFLOW has got. I’m beginning to dabble a little with that tool and I’m really impressed with that, in terms of being able to manage all the data and make it simpler for an executive pastor and his team. You might share a little bit more about how does that work.
That’s something that we talk about a lot, just in terms of automating a lot of these processes that are typically very difficult to handle. Either you’re doing it with a paper form, or we did one with leave requests and every staff member had a separate paper calendar for every month to try to figure out how many days of leave they had for the year. It was crazy to see the amount of manual work that was going into tracking those things, so that’s the kind of thing that I think especially in a multisite model is very difficult to do, to try to get everyone on the same page, following a similar process … that’s the challenge I think people face a lot.
This is the exciting days we live in now. There’s so much innovation happening in the church, both in terms of strategy and in terms of tools. As we often say, the structure that allows us to get to one level of growth will often hold us back from going to the next level unless we’re willing to adapt and change it. Every living thing is designed literally to … its bone structure is designed to change, to adapt to its growth. That’s what healthy living organisms and healthy living churches do. The tools that we had 10 years ago or 5 years ago served us well then, but if they’re not getting better or improving, then we get stuck there. Every month, there’s a new tool or resource that is speaking to an issue that’s a real felt need.
Yeah. You said it’s a 3 decade old movement, going on a long time. Jim, looking back over your time in this, tell us one thing that’s been surprising that you offer as advice now in 2017 that you didn’t imagine you would be giving that kind of advice on a multisite level, back in the late 90s.
This started out as a Band-Aid solution for mega churches to solve the space or zoning issue. That’s how I started and how the first wave of this movement began. I think probably at that stage, most people felt this was more of a mega-church strategy. What’s been so cool to see is that it quickly grew beyond just a mega-church Band-Aid solution. It became a healthy church strategy; growth strategy for healthy churches of all sizes. A church needs to get strong enough where they can sustain birthing another campus, the same way that a teenager can give birth to a child but it’s not necessary advisable. That, I think is probably one of the big breakthroughs is that any church can do this. I think the other thing is that as I reflect back over the last 3 decades, the multisite idea of reproducing your church in another location was the first step towards unlocking the reproductive DNA that’s existed in every living church. All living things are designed to reproduce and to multiply. For multiple generations in the past, we weren’t doing that at local churches. Very few churches were starting new churches. The thing that’s been so cool is to see that this is the beginning of unlocking that reproductive DNA that’s in every church, and we’re seeing it. We see a lot of different expressions of this multisite model. We talked about 8,000 multisite churches across the country. Every one has a unique church [presence 17:25]. It’s not a one size fits all that everybody follows or formula that everybody follows. There are a lot of multiple expressions of this and that’s what’s so fun to see unfolding. I never saw that coming 30 years ago, how that’s transformed the church landscape across the country now and beyond. It’s not just in the US anymore.
Amazing. Jim, why don’t you close us out with a little bit of encouragement you would give to some executive pastors who are listening out there?
I would just say, behind every great church and every great pastor is a strong executive pastor. I’m grateful for the ones that I’ve worked with over the years. Everyone has been key to my success in terms of just leading churches; couldn’t have done it without them. They play such a key role of implementing and executing the pastor’s vision, the church’s vision. It’s a role that didn’t even exist 40 plus years ago, but now as churches began to grow, it became very apparent that senior pastors needed a right hand person to help them implement their vision. It’s become a very essential role now. As churches are growing beyond a couple thousand to 5,000-10,000, we’re seeing this happening now because of the multisite church movement. We’re no longer limited to the size of a building, even a big building. What’s evolved is more of a movement from an executive pastor to an executive team, and often that executive pastor becomes the senior executive pastor. Clearly, it takes an executive leadership kind of team led by usually a very strong, capable senior executive pastor to help implement and manage all of this growth, structure and implementation of a growing church. Couldn’t do without an executive pastor and an executive team.
I was in Germany a couple weeks ago as I mentioned, working with a church in Brenton, Germany, where one of the campuses is of an ICF church that I’m working with there. The pastor we had at dinner that night, he said “Have you ever heard of Philip Melanchthon?” I said “Yes.” He said, “This is his hometown. This is where he was born. Right around the corner from the hotel is a museum dedicated to his life.” Most people don’t know who Philip Melanchthon is, but they all know who Martin Luther is. Philip Melanchthon was the right hand to Martin Luther. Martin Luther was the great reformer but it was Melanchthon that really implemented, executed and did a lot of the really hard work of leading that Lutheran Movement under Martin Luther. Anyway, behind every great leader is a great number two guy. That’s the executive pastor.
Fantastic, that’s great. Jim, thanks a lot for being on the show and giving your insight here. Your website is multisitesolutions.com. If anyone wants to get in touch with you, you’ve got a lot of good free resources there on your blog and some other things, and of course connecting with you and your team. You’re always willing to help out. Thanks a lot for being on the show and for giving us your insights.
It was great to be with you. Thanks for the good work you’re doing and helping encourage executive pastors and strengthening local churches. Blessings to you.