Is Your Church Ready for Multisite?: An Aspen Podcast Featuring Jim Tomberlin Blog Feature
Marian V. Liautaud

By: Marian V. Liautaud on August 16, 2017

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Is Your Church Ready for Multisite?: An Aspen Podcast Featuring Jim Tomberlin

Culture | Leadership | Multisite | church facilities | church planting | Ministry

You've thought about going multisite. You've even talked about what that could mean for your church. But how do you know if you're ready to make the move?

After all, multisites seem risky—church planting too. You've seen other churches in your community try them and fail. If only you knew what mistakes they may have made, and how you can avoid them.

Fondly referred to on this podcast as the "godfather of multisite," Jim Tomberlin is the founder of MultiSite Solutions and a recognized leader in the multisite movement. In Episode 2 of the Alignment Conference podcast, Jim offers three questions you can begin asking now to know if you're in a good position to move toward multisite, along with several lessons learned from churches who made some mistakes along the way to launching their next church.

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Read the Full Transcript Below:

Evan McBroom: Welcome to the Aspen Group Alignment Conference podcast where we're talking about launching your next church, whether you're looking at multisite or planting, a merger, or otherwise, the conference is for church leaders who are thinking strategically about expansion.

I'm Evan McBroom, the founder of Fishhook, and we're excited to be one of the sponsor partners along with Aspen Group on this conference. It's super fun for me because I get to actually emcee this conference. It's on October 17 at Thrive Church in Westfield, Indiana, which is a suburb just north of Indianapolis. I'll go ahead and mention now you can learn more at Alignment Conference. You can register there as well.

I'm joined in the studio by Marian Liautaud, who is the director of marketing for Aspen Group. Marian, how are you?

Marian Liautaud: I'm good, Evan. How are you?

Evan McBroom: I'm really good. Yeah, good day so far.

Marian Liautaud: Oh, yeah. Fun to be here.

Evan McBroom: Are you as excited as I am to talk to our next guest?

Marian Liautaud: I am. I love our next guest.

Evan McBroom: No doubt. We're going to be talking with Jim Tomberlin, who is the founder of MultiSite Solutions. I said to Marian before the podcast, "You know, if James Brown is the godfather of soul, I'm pretty sure Jim Tomberlin is the godfather of multisite." Jim, how are you today, man?

Jim Tomberlin: Well, I'm doing great with that kind of introduction. That's the first time I've been called "the godfather," but I like it.

Evan McBroom: I mean it in every possible good way. If there's a bad way, my apologies. We're really excited to talk with you, Jim, and so excited that you're going to be part of the conference day. Marian, set the conference up for us a little bit. Share with us about . . . there's an intersection that's really important here, right?

Marian Liautaud: Yeah, Aspen hosts the Alignment Conference every year. We consider four pillars of alignment being looking at the intersection of culture, leadership, ministry, and facilities. Every year, we host this one day experience. Mainly geared for senior pastors and ministry leaders who are thinking strategically about how they're doing church, how they're reaching people and discipling people, and what place the actual physical building has in all of that.

This year, we're going to be focusing on launching your next church. We had invested in some great research in the past couple of years with Barna Group. Evan, Fishhook was a partner with us on that. This year, we've invited Jim Tomberlin back to the Alignment Conference to do a deeper dive into not only just the research, but also looking at his experience with multisites and helping churches do that well. We feel like there's no better voice in that space than Jim.

Evan McBroom: No doubt. Why don't you take it away with some of our conversation with Jim, if you would.

Marian Liautaud: Okay. Jim, you've often said that multisites were once a Band-Aid solution for megachurches that found themselves out of space. What are you seeing now with multisites?

Jim Tomberlin: Well, clearly, we have come a long way from the first round or the first wave of the multisite movement, which really now we're in the third decade of this movement. That's how it began. That's how it started with me and my church in Colorado Springs.

Clearly, it's gone way beyond just being a space solution. Matter of fact, today it's become the new normal for every healthy, growing church in America. Why? It's because churches have discovered that this is a tremendous, proven, tool to extend the reach and impact of a local church.

Marian Liautaud: We noticed in the Barna research that one thing that was an "Aha!" was that churches are being very strategic about using multisites, specifically to expand in a geographic area. That it's not just to solve a space problem at one church. Are you seeing churches being way more strategic about this?

Jim Tomberlin: Oh, absolutely. It's interesting. The whole idea about multiple services was a new idea in the 1980s. That really was the beginning of what's culminated now in multiple services, multiple venues, places to meet on your one location, multiple days, Saturday, Sunday.

Now any healthy growing church is going to do multiple services. It's a natural evolution to see now we can go to multiple locations. That's become a strategy for churches now.

Evan McBroom: How would a pastor know, Jim, if it's really time if he or she is ready to plant or go multisite?

Jim Tomberlin: That's a great question. We get that asked all the time. When are you ready to do this? I kind of had like three questions for people to ask themselves. First of all, are we healthy enough? What I mean by "healthy enough," are we free of internal conflict that's tearing up the church? That's kind of obvious. Are we united around our mission and vision as a church and around the leadership of our church? Are we outward focused?

This is a healthy church strategy. This is not a turn-around strategy or a fix-it strategy. This is all about reproducing who and what you are. First of all, are we healthy? Are we outward focused? Are we united? Do we have a clarity of our mission and vision? Are we united around that? That's the healthy question.

The second question, are we big enough? The average size of a launch core team was about 75 people. I think that's a little small. I like to suggest maybe about 100 people to launch with at least. Ideally about 200. We know that from our surveys that the national average is around 1,000 when a church launches their first multisite campus.

Are they big enough to be able to survive the birth of another location—another congregation? I always like to say it's better to be strong in one location than weak in two. A 13-year-old can have a child, but it's not advisable. A 21-year-old is in a very healthy place and mature place to fully give birth and have a healthy viable birth, as well as be able to survive the birth. I think that's an issue. Are we big enough to survive birthing another congregation?

Then, are we developed enough or mature enough in the sense of our systems and infrastructure? Have we gotten beyond just the initial growth that comes when an exciting church takes off? And it's almost unintentional—it's flowing out of the gifts of the pastor and the team. When they begin to move beyond momentum growth to more of a systemic or systematic growth, where they begin to develop some infrastructure and systems and next steps and processes.

These are some of the things that lay the right kind of foundation for multisiting. I like to say it makes a church multisite ready.

Marian Liautaud: Good. Those are readiness factors. What are some of the most common mistakes you see churches making when they try to launch new congregations?

Jim Tomberlin: There's probably a dozen or so we could talk about. Some of the key ones are, first of all, it's very important to have a compelling reason to do this. Some reasons not to do this, it's not just because everybody else is doing it, because it's the new normal, it's the trend, et cetera. It's not about how we get bigger as a church. It's not even about the size of a church. It's more about the size of the harvest and do we become convinced that this becomes the best strategy or vehicle to fulfill the mission of our church.

I think first of all having a compelling vision, answering the why question, "why are we doing this?" Having it more than just solving a space problem or trying to become bigger. It's really, you become convinced it's our best strategy to reach more people—extend the impact of our church locally.

I think the most important decisions churches make going multisite, once they've decided to do it, is the site pastor—the campus pastor, we call it. Really at the end of the day it's not about all the different technologies or locations. Those are all important factors. The most important factor for success once you've decided to do this is to install the right kind or appoint the right kind of pastor there.

Here's the mistake a lot of churches have made. They often appoint pastor shepherds versus a pastor leader. We know that whether you're a church plant or a multisite campus it takes a leader to grow a congregation. A pastor leader. Shepherds by nature don't grow churches. They maintain them. Leaders grow them. Having that person who has that wiring as a leader is very important.

It's probably where we see the most frustration and disappointment when a good-hearted person, loyal, faithful, dependable but are they a leader or not? Leaders make things happen. They not only get things done, but they make things happen. They inspire people to follow them. They mobilize them into volunteers and volunteer leaders.

That's one of the big mistakes churches make. Not having the right kind of giftedness at the leadership level. Many times churches launch with too few or they launch too far from the sending campus. Those are some of the mistakes churches have made.

Marian Liautaud: That's really interesting. It sounds like the leadership component is one of the hugest aspects of launching. Wow.

Jim Tomberlin: In everything. Everything rises or falls on leadership as we know. I think in the early days there was a sense of—especially for those churches that use video teaching ... that's only about half of them, by the way, now of multisite churches—many times it was the idea, "Hey, we got a great leader, a great teacher on the screen, who is a great leader. What we need is a really good shepherd."

That was some of the early mistakes that we made in the early days of this movement. Churches still make that mistake. You want somebody who loves people and who can be a shepherd to them as well, or at least make sure the shepherding gets done. You really need a leader—a pastor leader.

Marian Liautaud: Jim, one of the things we found in the research is that there are so many variations for how churches are expanding. We saw lots of multisite churches, sort of in the traditional sense of multisite, lots of church planters, and then some of these hybrid variations of a mixture of types of methods for expanding. Can you help clarify at all or give us a little context for the difference between a church plant versus a multisite? How are they different?

Jim Tomberlin: I'm not sure I can help clarify at all. There are some differences. At the end of the day, whether you're a church plant or a multisite campus it's the same outcome as far as the community is concerned. A new church in the community that didn't exist before.

I like to sometimes say that multisite is church planting on steroids. There are a lot of similarities. It's all about starting something new. It's getting a core—getting the right kind of leadership in place, finding facilities, and all that kind of stuff. In those ways, they're both similar.

There are some differences. It's the same outcome at the end of the day, but there are different pathways for them. I would say one of the biggest differences between a church plant and a multisite campus, as far as a church when they're thinking about this, I like to call it a 30-minute rule. The difference between this church plant and multisite campus, 30 minutes.

What I mean by that is we know that about 90 percent of all multisite campuses are launched within 30 minutes of the sending campus. The strength of multisiting is not going to the next town. You're already there with a strong presence of people who already know and love and attend your church around the 15- to 20-minute driving distance from the sending church.

That is what has made multisite such a successful model that you're building on the strength of people that already know and love your church and have your DNA. The challenge of church planting, and I work with both ... I'm a part of the church planting movements. Matter of fact, 50 percent of all multisite churches also plant churches. It's not an either/or for a growing number of multisite churches.

I like to say, when you're thinking multisite launch within 30 minutes of the sending campus. When you're thinking church plant think beyond 30 minutes. Beyond 30 minutes, a church doesn't have a presence beyond 30 minutes. It's more difficult, you have to find that base and all that. Multisite has a built-in base when you launch within 30 minutes and you're building off of that.

Evan McBroom: Jim, what do you say to the person that comes up to you in the midst of this and they're just so passionate for one way or the other? That they are just making the strong, strong case that one is right and one is wrong. What advice do you offer?

Jim Tomberlin: There was some of that in the early days of this movement, especially within the church planting community. Today I work, do a lot of teaching with church planters at Exponential Conference. Today what we're seeing the majority of church planters, that are planning to start a church, are planning their launch with a multisite model or strategy in their mind.

Evan McBroom: From the beginning?

Jim Tomberlin: I know because my workshops I ask that question. Now, 10 years ago there was a clear, "multisites is not church planting. It's a distraction from church planting. It's not for us." Today, there is a both/and thinking. There are different strategies, and we talk about that.

A multisite campus is centrally governed versus a church plant it's self-governing. A multisite campus pastor is more oriented as a leader to be a team player. A church planter's orientation as a leader is to be more of a team owner. A church planter is not going to be happy in a multisite campus pastor role and a campus pastor role. A multisite campus pastor may feel overwhelmed in a church planting role.

It's important for those individuals to figure out, "how's my wiring? What's my orientation," I should say, "as a leader?" There are pros and cons of both strategies. What I celebrate is that more and more churches are doing both.

Evan McBroom: That's awesome. Looking ahead at the conference day—October 17th—Jim what's your hope when you attend a conference as a speaker? What's your hope for the leaders who come?

Jim Tomberlin: Wow. My hope is that first of all they're going to be inspired to be able to rise above their own circumstances and see and hear God's voice. What is God leading us, speaking to us about? What our potential is in our community? To make disciples . . .

At the end of the day we're not in church work. We're in disciple-making work. Where disciples go and land, churches happen. How do we go beyond just surviving and sustaining, but to really succeeding and expanding God's kingdom in local communities? My hope is that church leaders get a vision—a picture—of what could be and some real help on how to move forward.

Evan McBroom: Marian, how about for you? As the conference organizer leader what's your hope for the people who come to this event?

Marian Liautaud: Yeah, we always look forward to providing a single day for pastors to get away and have some time and space to think really strategically about their church and where God is calling them—what He's calling them to do next—and then how will they execute on that?

The Alignment Conference is definitely a combination of inspiration and practical takeaways. We always want to leave pastors with some real actionable items that they can take with them. We're really excited to create that kind of event again.

Evan McBroom: Excellent. Marian, director of marketing for Aspen Group, thanks for being with us today. Jim, great to have you with us as well. Jim, where can people find you online? What's your web address?

Jim Tomberlin: . . . or

Evan McBroom: Awesome. People can learn more about the conference at the Again, that's on October 17 at Thrive Church in Westfield, Indiana. That's a suburb of Indianapolis. I would encourage you to go to the web address today and learn more and, by golly, you can register right there.

Marian Liautaud: Absolutely. Thanks, Evan.

Evan McBroom: Excellent. You bet. Jim, thanks a lot.

Jim Tomberlin: Great to be with you.

Evan McBroom: You bet. Thank you for joining us today on Aspen Group's Alignment Conference podcast.


2017 Alignment Conference


About Marian V. Liautaud

Marian is former Director of Marketing for Aspen Group.