I have spent the last 14 years of my ministry life either in a supporting role or as the one being supported at a multisite church. When we launched our first offsite campus at Seacoast, I was on the worship arts staff supporting those new campuses with worship leaders, musicians and tech help. I was the on the other side of the equation when as a campus pastor, I launched a site 200 miles away in Greenville, SC. The roles reversed again when I took on a supporting role at Cross Point as the central support Pastor Of Ministries.
The one thing I have learned through these experiences is that misunderstanding is a prevailing theme on both sides. The central support staff feel like the campuses are always wanting to go their own direction, and the campus staff feel like the central support people don’t understand the needs within their context. It is a constant tension to make sure both sides are participating in honest dialogue about their needs and issues. Most multisite churches have to spend a lot of sideways energy just getting everyone back to heading the same direction.
I want to tackle this issue from the campus’ side in this post. We’ll flip the script and take a look at the central support needs in the next one. Here are 5 things that campus leaders need from central services:
1. Open communication
Effective communication is one of the biggest issues with the multisite model. It is frustrating as a campus leader to have essential information dripped out slowly from central, or not handed down at all. An offsite venue can feel like the lonely island of misfit toys at times. We are not always in the room or hallways at the central offices to catch new initiatives on the formative side. Although it feels redundant, a central leader has to make sure everything is repeated to make everyone feel included. That quick heads-up text can go a long way toward making someone feel like a part of the bigger picture.
2. Constant encouragement
Whether it is intended or not, central leaders can feel like the vice principals of the church world. They show up on Sunday morning with the clipboard and red pen to find all of the things we are doing wrong. Tuesday all-staff meetings can start to feel like an inquisition for the campus staff. While there has to be quality control, central leaders have to overcome that fear by weighing down the other side with constant encouragement. Instead of going into a Sunday looking first for what the campus team is doing wrong, catch them doing what is good. Publicly point out the little things that are usually looked over by most people. “Support” starts with encouragement.
3. Constructive feedback
The best way for campus leaders to grow and get better is through constructive feedback from the central staff. But, if the only feedback we receive is what we are doing wrong without suggestions for improvement, it leads to frustration. The timing for the feedback is critical as well. Sunday morning while a campus pastor is in the middle of ministry is not the ideal moment to bring up major issues with the campus. Those can be saved for the weekly one-on-one. But don’t save them for the six month review. Nothing should be a surprise to a staff member during a performance review. Give the criticism early with multiple suggestions on how to improve.
4. Physical presence
The only way to have a complete picture of a campus’ needs is by being physically present at the campus. Highlights can be attained through emails and weekly meetings, but the full context is lost unless the central leader is there to experience it. This goes beyond just Sunday mornings, but also at major ministry events or meetings during the week. A central leader will win a ton of relationship equity if he sticks around after an event to help the campus staff put things back together. Physical presence shows complete buy-in from the central level.
5. Complete trust
Campus staff need to know the central leaders have their back. The multisite model gives new levels for frustrated church attenders to appeal too. They now can shoot an email to any number of people to express their complaints. Nothing will erode trust more than if a campus leader discovers that a central person is working around them to solve an issue. A central leader may have to occasionally step into something at the local level, but it should always be done alongside the staff member. Trust is built one cc’d email at a time.