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Managing the Tension between Culture and Control in a Multisite Church

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One of the greatest challenges of leading a Multisite Church is maintaining alignment across campuses. Regardless of how proven your ministry model may be, many campus leaders still desire space to make it their own. While this drive can be evidence of their leadership capacity, it can also create tension and disunity on your team. How can you keep a diverse group of leaders in different communities focused on the same mission and ministry wins?

When you break it down, there are only two core approaches to multisite alignment. You can either lead through culture or you can lead through control. Which approach is best for your multisite team? Understanding their five differences can help you decide:

1. Approach to Decision-Making

Culture: Campus leaders are developed to make decisions
Control: Centralized decisions are leveraged across campuses

In a multisite church that is led through culture, campus leaders understand how to make decisions. Values are clear and shared at every location. Each leader knows what should be considered important when they are at a decision point.

In a control-driven approach to alignment, everyone understands how decisions get made. Campus leaders regularly take issues and ideas to centralized leaders for approval.

2. Focus of Central Leaders

Culture: Driving the right questions
Control: Providing the right answers

In a culture-driven church, central leaders focus on communicating values and asking the right questions. They spend their time developing the organization’s mindset for ministry. For example, at NewPointe, I worked hard to focus campuses on one driving question: “What is the absolute best thing for the unchurched family in our community?” I knew if that was always in the minds of our leaders, we could trust them to move forward and make great decisions.

Control-driven central leaders focus more on policies and standards. They spend their time developing the right plans to get the results they desire across locations. They lead with answers more often than questions.

3. Leadership Empowerment

Culture: Empower growing leaders
Control: Equip new leaders

Culture-driven churches empower growing leaders to develop. As long as they operate within the mission, values, and strategies of the church, campuses have the opportunity to develop and implement plans. This gives them greater ownership and experiences for growth.

Control-driven churches equip new leaders with clear plans. They can more quickly involve younger ministry leaders, knowing they’ll be set up with proven approaches in every area.

4. Operational Pace

Culture: Requires slower pace
Control: Allows faster pace

Culture-driven churches require a slower pace. Because each leader has more flexibility, it takes them more time to develop and implement plans. Additionally, organization-wide decisions require greater input from campuses, leading to more conversations and meetings.

Control-driven organizations can move at a faster pace. With every campus utilizing the same plans, leaders do not spend time reinventing them. Campuses can also be launched at a faster rate because the approach is not being adjusted for each new location.

5. Rate of Innovation

Culture: Creativity at campuses
Control: Innovation at the top

Culture-driven organizations encourage creativity at the campus level. This widens the number of people trying new approaches and gives entrepreneurial leaders faster ground-level feedback. With that, innovation may take place at a faster rate.

In a control-driven church, innovation primarily takes place at the top. Central leaders develop new approaches for all campuses. This can decrease the number of new ideas and increase the amount of time it takes to get ground-level feedback. However, it also reduces the amount of staff required at each campus.

While each approach to alignment has advantages, it is critical to lean toward the one that supports your vision as well as the wisdom of the moment your church is in. If you’re trying to launch new campuses at a fast rate, control will often be required. If you’re more focused on developing your current locations, leading through culture will likely be a better fit. In either case, be clear with your campus and central leaders about how you are staying aligned. Otherwise, they will always be on different pages.


This is a guest post by Ryan Stigile. Ryan is the Director of Strategic Resources for The Unstuck Group. Previously, as Director of Expansion at NewPointe Community Church (NE Ohio), Ryan led the launch and development of new multisite campuses. With Mount Paran Church (Atlanta, GA), he guided the leadership team through a strategic change initiative to simplify and align its ministries. Ryan has a Master of Business Administration from Kennesaw State University and degrees in business administration and discipleship ministry from Lee University.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc


Posted in Leadership, Staffing

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