If it’s Not on a Screen it’s Not Multisite

Being a part of leading a large multisite church, I’m frequently asked by church leaders about my thoughts on various multisite models and how we do it at the church I’m a part of. In this post I’m going to answer that question (to an extent) for everyone reading this article and here’s a little warning, I’m going to say it in a bit of a straight forward matter of fact manner. Here’s the way I look at it, and I reserve the right to be wrong…

“If it’s not on a screen, it’s not a multisite.”

It may be multi-congregational or even a family of churches, but it’s not a multisite church. The simple reason why is teaching. Nothing else in your church has the power the build the unique culture of your church in so much as teaching does. This is why people say the organization always takes on the characteristics and personality (culture) of the leader. When you have different people preaching at different locations, no matter how similar they are, no matter how good of friends they are, no matter how hard they work to be on the same page with the presentation, you’re going to get a different culture. You’re going to get a different church. And like it or not, people who attend churches look to the primary communicator of that location as the leader. Here’s a really quick overview (obviously there are slight variations).


Big Idea: “One Church Multiple Locations”
Preaching: Preaching is delivered via video. No matter if it’s one primary communicator or a teaching team approach, whoever is preaching is preaching the same message at every location via video.
Governance: There is one Board of Elders that provides oversight to the entire church; all campuses no matter the location. The Board is not put in place for the representation of the campuses (it’s not congress).
Ministry Practices: These churches have a tendency to be more identical in their ministry practices and staffing structures (based on scale). Ministry practices are typically overseen by a Central Ministry Team that coaches and influences each campus towards best practices and objectives


Big Idea: “One Church Multiple Congregations”
Preaching: Preaching is delivered live at each location. Often times the main communicators on each campus collaborate to ensure that they are generally covering the same content.
Governance: There is still some kind of directional team making high-level decisions that have some affect on each congregation, but each congregation has their own Board of Elders making local decisions.
Ministry Practices: Often these churches will share branding and some communication (print & visual media) resources and a centralized Business Department may support all congregations. However each congregation has much more freedom and independence as to what ministries they build and start.

Family of Churches

Big Idea: “Multiple Churches with One Cause”
Preaching: Preaching is live at each location, each church may even have it’s own teaching team. They may share their best teaching series with each other, and speak at each other’s churches from time to time, but that’s about it.
Governance: Early on often these churches will have a Board of outside Pastors from the Family of Churches govern the new church until it is mature enough to have it’s own Board. Similarly often another stronger church in the Family of Churches may manage the business function of the newer church until it has the capacity to do so on their own.
Ministry Practices: Families of churches typically organize around a theological ideal or a common cause such as church planting. While these churches certainly learn from one another and even pick up best practices from one another they are autonomous in their approach.

Posted in Leadership

12 Responses to “If it’s Not on a Screen it’s Not Multisite”

  1. Greg Ligon June 27, 2016 at 8:08 am #

    Interesting perspective but teaching, though central, is not the only thing that defines culture. And therefore can’t be the defining factor in if a church is multisite.

    • Paul Alexander June 27, 2016 at 8:49 am #

      Greg, you’re absolutely right that teaching isn’t the only thing that builds culture. But I do think it provides the greatest opportunity to build culture in a local church setting. Just trying to throw an idea out there in the multisite conversation that I’ve been becoming more and more convinced of over the years.

      • Greg Ligon June 27, 2016 at 8:54 am #

        Totally agree … and not trying to shoot your idea down … just providing another perspective. Love your thinking and what you guys are doing at Sun Valley!

        • Paul Alexander June 27, 2016 at 10:59 am #

          Thanks Greg! Keep up the great work!

  2. Geoff Surratt June 27, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    While I understand your point I’m not sure I can make the leap with you. I’ve seen churches with video teaching and wildly different campuses, and I’ve seen churches with in-person teaching and a great deal of uniformity. I think teaching is AN element of unity, but not THE element of unity. Life.Church’s Network Churches are an example of video teaching being a common factor, but the churches are still autonomous. New Life Chicago’s 26 locations each have their own teachers, but they are very much one church. The biggest difference in your first two models isn’t video teaching, its governance. When you have multiple elder boards you have multiple churches, regardless your teaching model.

    • Paul Alexander June 27, 2016 at 10:59 am #

      Geoff, you’re right on! The biggest difference is governance in those models…Hope you’re well!

  3. Warren Bird June 27, 2016 at 1:42 pm #


    As the nation’s leading researcher of multisite churches for the last 10 years, I have to say that a huge number of church leaders would disagree with your title and its implications, “IF IT’S NOT ON A SCREEN IT’S NOT MULTISITE.”

    Please see our free download report, “Leadership Network / Generis Multisite Church Scorecard” at leadnet.org (use search for “scorecard”) for the stats on how many churches consider themselves multisite AND do in-person teaching at most or all campuses.

    That said, I too love what you’re doing at your church!

    • Paul Alexander June 27, 2016 at 4:31 pm #

      Warren, grateful for the work you guys are doing on multisite! We’ve learned a ton from you! I know not everyone would agree with these thoughts, and I understand that there are all kinds of models & “flavors” of multisite out there. Just getting some thoughts out there & challenging a few things I’ve seen lately. Keep up the great work!

  4. Tony Morgan July 1, 2016 at 9:50 am #

    At the risk of alienating my Leadership Network friends, I agree with Paul. I’m glad he’s taking a provocative position on this topic. I do think it might open an opportunity for us to do more research to determine whether or not the numbers confirm what I’m seeing on the ground with multisite churches. Here are some trends I’m noticing with the churches I serve:

    > Multisite churches that do not use video teaching are more likely to end up as separate churches in the long run. It’s tough to maintain unity of vision and consistency of culture with multiple voices. It’s possible to stay unified, but much more challenging.

    > Multisite churches that do not use video teaching are less likely to scale beyond two or three locations. It gets difficult to build that deep bench of good teachers to sustain that model. A church without video and 5 campuses will need 7 pastors teaching 40 weekends a year. That’s a huge investment.

    > Multisite churches that do not use video teaching create leadership gaps at the “remote” campuses because the campus pastors naturally end up focusing more on message preparation than building and leading teams. Only the largest churches have the resources to staff campuses for strong teaching and leading.

    Those are some patterns I’m seeing play out on the ground, but, unfortunately, I don’t have the data to back up the anecdotal findings. We all probably need to do a better job understanding why multisite fails.

    I think we just need to be cautious about how we’re coaching churches on how they develop their multisite model. Using live, in-person teaching may be a practice that many multisite churches are using (and it’s easier and cheaper to do at launch), but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also producing long-term health for the church.

    This is a needed conversation.

    • Greg Ligon July 1, 2016 at 10:29 am #

      No offense taken! In fact, we value the conversation associated with the varying perspectives. That’s why our experiences never lift up any single model. That’s a recipe for failure. What works at church X may or may not work at church Y and even if it might, it will reach it’s maximum effectiveness only if the leadership does the hard work of contextualizing. Our experiences help you get from “what is” to “what might be” to “what will be.” Check it out at leadnet.org/multisite, leadnet.org/jumpstart, hub.leadnet.org and leadnet.org/leadergroups.


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