The simple definition of a multi-site church is “one church in many locations.” In most cases this means one mission, same values, budget, staff, structure, etc.

When Dave Travis and Bill Easum wrote the book “Beyond The Box” and included a chapter titled “Beyond A Single Location” the concept of multi-site was just beginning to gain some traction (by multisite we mean one church in multiple locations with same staff, budget, and DNA). It was still debated by many whether it was a fad or tread. Thee were a few churches from which to extrapolate theory such as Community Christian Church in Naperville, North Pointe in Atlanta, First UMC Houston, North Coast in Vista, California, Evergreen Community church in the twin cities, but multi site was in its infancy.

When Bill Cornelius and I wrong Go Big: leading Your Church to Explosive Growth in 2006, people were still debating trend or fad. There were a few more churches to draw information from such as, Second Baptist Houston, Seacoast Church, and a few others, but still having multiple campuses was not on very many pastor’s minds. As churches began to expand into multiple campuses, trial and error became the only way to really learn how to do it. Often a church would start a second campus not out of strategy but because they were out of room and couldn’t expand anymore where they were.

Today, the debate is over. Only an idiot would debate the wisdom and strategy of having multiple campuses in order to expand the Kingdom. Now there is enough data to actually begin to give solid advice on multi-site. This chapter is by no means the final authority on how to do multiple campuses, but it is the best of Bil Cornelius’s experience and Bill Easum’s wisdom. Both of us have believed and taught for some time that multi campuses is the wave of the future and in a few short decades will be the norm in fast growing churches of all sizes. According to Life Way President, Ed Stetzer “in the United States alone, 5 million people worshipped at one of 8,000 multisite churches last weekend. That’s 9% of all Protestant churchgoers and 3% of all Protestant churches, respectively. If multisite churches were a Protestant denomination, they’d be the fourth largest.”[i]

In the beginning, most of the Multi-Site churches were trying to solve a problem. It was less a strategy than a way to continue their growth. Over time, these congregations realized the potential of Multi-Sites, and it developed into several forms of strategies.

For this reason we feel it is important to share what we are learning about this trend that will become the norm in a few years. Bil Cornelius has grown from a single site to @@@ campuses in @@@ cities and is in the process of developing another site in a major city to the North. The total number of weekly worshippers is approaching 9,000. His experience will prove invaluable. Bill Easum has consulted with dozens of multiple sites since his book with Dave Travis and will help round out the conversation.

The Untethered Church

We think of multi site church as “untethered church” since they are not tied to a sacred place. The untethered church meets in many locations but has the same core values, mission, administration, budget, treasury, and the same staff. As such, they are reminiscent of the church of the first century that met in homes throughout the city but was considered the same church. Instead of relying on a location, the untethered church relies on mission and penetration into many corners of the city.

The theme that runs through all of the examples we’ve seen is that property and space doesn’t have to dictate the scope, nature, or quality of ministry. They are only tools that, if limited, requires innovative strategies. A heart for mission and conversion drives the Multi-Site congregation.

Although Multi-Sites may not be right for everyone, we’re convinced their time has come. So many congregations are developing and exploring the Multi-Site option that it would not surprise us if, in twenty-five years, Multi-Site congregations were more the norm than the exception among thriving congregations. Multi-Sites address many of the issues facing growing congregations in the emerging world.

The key to understanding the Multi-Site movement is to remember that the mission of fulfilling the Great Commission is what drives these congregations rather than some philosophical understanding or strategy. It is not so much that these leaders set out to do Multi-Site ministry as it is being ready and open to the movement of God in one’s life. In other words, to be able to grow when God says go. Multi-Site should be seen as a vehicle to achieve a mission. They should never be the mission. If they quit working, you look for another way forward. The day may come when a better method of expanding the Kingdom is discovered, but until then we feel the multi site movement is far superior to any other method, including church plangting.

The primary reason Multi-Sites are so successful, even more successful than church planting, is because the additional sites draw on the successful DNA of a healthy church that is passionate about multiplying. Multi-Sites have the benefit of effective, proven staff, an established financial base, quality musicians and methods of discipleship from the beginning. It is best if Multi-Site leaders are home grown to pass on the DNA of the original church location. Multi-Site congregations build a “one church identity” through a variety of means, with the most common being sharing the same DNA, leadership structure, name, and teachers.

This method requires an intense commitment to a multiplication mindset. And the irony is the majority of the multi site churches we track have also planted other churches.  So we are not advocating an either/or; we are simply showing you how multi sites absolutely leaves the door open to every option.

Reasons To Do Multisite

We know multi site isn’t for everyone, but we feel it is too great a strategy for any healthy church to dismiss without some major reflection and here are our reasons.

  • Now that multi-sites have transitioned being an escape valve for an over crowed church to a growth strategy there is only one valid reason to open a second campus – because it meets people’s needs and thus expands the Kingdom. For example, Church Unlimited (formerly Bay Area Fellowship) opened their first “2nd campus” because people were driving an hour to come to our church, and they needed a church like ours closer to where they lived. Almost all of our campuses were for this reason.
  • Some churches open a second site because they think it will cause growth. What we have learned is that a second site doesn’t cause a non-growing church to grow. Only presently growing churches see their campuses thrive. So, if the reason you want to add another campus is because you think it will grow your church, you may see an initial bump, but generally the same reasons your church isn’t growing in one campus will apply to two campuses too. If your church is meeting people’s needs, then your church will grow no matter how many campuses you do, as long as you learn how to do them effectively.
  • For some churches multi sites are a church planting strategy. They see multi sites as way to jump-start a plant that will eventually be separate units. Perimeter Church in Atlanta is an example. In the future, Multi-Site could be a primary church planting tool.
  • Multi sites are helpful in targeting a new age group (usually younger) or different psycho graphic groups. Mecklenburg Community Church is an example of this strategy.
  • Another method is using multi site to target a new geographical area with the same constituency the church has traditionally reached. Sometimes this is a newly developing suburban area and sometimes this is an in town neighborhood being populated by persons who have traditionally been reached by the church. Churches like Stillwater UMC in Dayton, OH, Jacksonville Chapel in Lincoln Park, NJ, Olathe Bible Church, Olathe KS,
  • Churches choose to start new campuses in friendlier confines because of opposition to building a new facility on the present campus due to space, area growth, governmental restrictions, and changing demographics. Sea Coast Church, Charleston, SC developed a new site because the city council vetoed their expansion plans.
  • Multi sites are a great way to establish a new form of worship. In many cases there is a longstanding, center-city church with a traditional style that starts a new site with a contemporary style of worship at a new site. The Garden in Indianapolis is a good example.
  • Multi sites allow a church to reach a new language or ethnicity different from the original congregation. Again, this is the same church, with the same leadership structure, but a new congregation on a new site that helps reach that language or ethnicity. Churches like Southside Community Church, Surrey, BC, Canada, and New Life Community Church in Chicago. They have eight campuses and 13 services, with some of the sites being Spanish language only.
  • Multi sites can be used to help a struggling church regain its footing and start growing. The healthy church is asked by their judicatory to take another church under their wing. In most cases, the healthy church takes a very strong leadership position over the hurting congregation. The healthy church provides the staff and program for the hurting congregation, and eventually absorbs the old church. Churches like Lord of Life Lutheran are an example.
  • A growing number of mainline churches are going Multiple-Site in order to get around the system. Usually this means the church retains the ability to choose the second site pastor rather than the system making the choice. They will remain anonymous.
  • One reason that cant be overstressed is that multiple-Site leaves all of the options open. In time the church can totally relocate. Many congregations in the 1960’s bought too little land and now have outgrown their property, or the neighborhood has changed so that the constituency no longer represents the area, or the facilities are so far out of date that it would cost more to repair and add on than to relocate, or the church needs to relocate, but the long-timers simply won’t budge. The opening of a second, larger site gives the church the option decades later to totally move to the new site. This way, everyone wins. Grace Brethren Church in Columbus, OH did two sites for more than two decades but has now totally moved to a newer site.
  • Multi-Sites have more open doors to new people than new congregations. Since the name of the church already has relationships within the community, some things are possible in a multi site that might not be for a new church. Example: some schools require that churches using them have to purchase land or have plans to purchase land within a certain time. Utility companies require credit ratings for new churches. These rules don’t apply to multi sites.
  • The laity is mobilized to a greater degree since going Multi-Site requires more leaders to be developed. It not only increases people’s vision, it also forms a pipeline for the development of new leaders.
  • Congregations are inspired to a greater vision which translates into more commitment to the original site and vision. The more locations the easier it is to see the ramifications of the Great Commission.
  • Churches with limited land and a Great Commission mindset often find Multi-Site the most economical way to be faithful and grow.
  • Often the number of dropouts from the original site who live near to the new site often re-engage with the church.
  • Multi sites bring together the best of the large and small church.

Pitfalls To Avoid

Never underestimate the complexity of going Multi-Site. Multi site ministry is like a couple having their first child – everything changes and becomes more complex. The second child does not cause as much change.

  • Staff burnout is the number one pitfall to avoid. Eastern Star in Indianapolis had three locations and decided to cut them lose to be separate churches due to staff burnout. On the other hand Community Christian feels as if the Big Idea has helped save a lot of burn out since the same theme, graphics, and content are used in every location. We’ve found that the following reduce burn out: regular coaching of the campus team, lay empowerment at the new campus, and staff who are addicted to new things.
  • Not enough support for the campus pastor.       By support we mean three things: financial backing in the beginning, regular involvement with the staff and lead pastor; availability to all of the original campuses resources.
  • Avoid using the term “main campus.” Doing so implies everything else is second-class.
  • Trying to save a declining church. Your church must be healthy before starting.
  • Thinking of the new site as an extra location rather than one church in many locations.
  • Not spending the time, energy, and money in the video. Do not forget that it is the total message that is most important.

Funding The New Campus

First, you should realize what it will cost you more if you don’t find more room. If you’re church isn’t expanding, it will begin to decline. Losing momentum is never a good thing.

Here are some rules of thumb for funding:

  • Most new sites cost between $50,000 and 150,000. Start-up costs vary greatly. $100,000 is a good figure to begin with and go upward. Bay Area however began its second site with $20,000 and reached 400 people the first Sunday.
  • Most of the churches expect the new site to become self-supporting within one to two years maximum. Church Unlimited in Corpus Christi, began a new site 75 miles away in another city and will begin breaking even in four months.
  • Churches should expect to spend between 2 and 10 percent of their budget on a new site.
  • Most (76%) of the churches take the money from the church budget without taking a special offering. Most keep the income streams centralized into one budget.

Staffing The New Site

Al though this varies a good target to shoot for a campus pastor, some one to oversee the adult small groups, worship and children’s ministry. They should be in place working the area before going public. Often, these folks come from within the existing staff of the primary location, insuring good DNA.

In the beginning the only full time person is the campus pastor. You should bring paid or unpaid staff on board with the view in mind of moving them to full time as soon as possible

The Leadership Issue

The more sites you have the more leadership opportunities you will have. Don’t be afraid to do things that require more leaders. Don’t avoid doing things that will require more leaders and celebrate that your need of leaders is growing. As you grow more leaders you grow the sites. New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii actually is celebrates the fact that the sit up and tear down approach to ministry actually causes the church to have more jobs for people to do. More jobs means more people in hands on ministry. The core staff must be more like athletic directors. They aren’t just coaches or great athletes. They know how to oversee coaches who run teams.

The best campus pastor is someone with a heart for developing leaders and who strives on mentoring apprentices. This person has to have a heart for multiplication?

The most successful staff usually comes from within the congregation. Many are second career people. According to Dave Ferguson, “All our campus pastors are people who came from within our church. And the majority of our campus pastors are people who worked in the marketplace with no seminary training.”80% of multi-site churches develop leaders from within their small group system. If you don’t have that in place before starting you will have major leadership issues.

One of the keys to success is to constantly reinforce the DNA through regular contact with the campus pastor so that all of the campuses are aligned with the vision.

How To Know If Another Campus Will Be Effective

One of the biggest truths to emerge from the multisite experience is that there are ways to gauge your future site’s success before it opens. Take Northpoint as an example. Northpoint opened a campus that ran 2,000 plus people about 10 years ago. At the time, Northpoint was averaging around 20,000 in attendance. This second campus gave them a 10% increase in their total church population. When Bil Cornelius opened their first multi-site campus, it had 250 people in attendance. At the time they were averaging 2500 in attendance. Both churches had a 10% growth with the opening of the second campus.

if you are thinking about opening a second campus you should be happy with a 10% return on your total church population attending your first multi-site campus. If not, you are not ready to do a second campus yet. For example, if your church averages around 800 people now you can realistically expect an additional 80 people if you opened a second site. You would have to decided if it’s worth it to you to rent a facility, hire extra staff, buy a second sound system and endure the headaches of multiple locations for 80 people? The only way it would is if you felt the site had a great potential to substantially grow. You might be better off maximizing your present location by add extra Sunday morning services.

Appearance Makes A Big Difference

When you are ready to go multi-site, remember this axiom from Pastor Craig Groeschel: “Your space determines your outcome.” If you cannot afford to do the additional campuses right, don’t do them at all. Bay Area made the mistake of starting campuses on the cheap until they learned that the more temporary their building was the more temporary type people were reached. Most multisite campuses need to reach stable families who will show up regularly. This gives you a base to reach out the less stable families. All we are saying is that in order to effectively reach more permanent like families the facilities need to be good.

If you have already started sites that lack quality, before you open any more, we highly recommend that you double-down financially and invest more resources in the sites you have to make them nice and strong before opening anything else. This way your form a secure base for more effective campuses.

Let us suggest several ways to immediately improve your campus strength.

  • Hire a better leader to run the campus. This is by far the best way to turn a campus around quickly. As the leader goes, so goes the campus.
  • Get a better lead singer for the band or remove someone who is “awkward” on stage. Pastors, send your spouse or top executive (or volunteer) over to your second site with a critical eye. As one of my mentors, Ed Young says, “You don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect.”
  • Give your worship room a makeover. Remove the drum shield and replace your drums with electric if the room is too small for live drums. Have you ever been to a major concert with a plexiglass drum shield? Didn’t think so. Repaint the room, get nicer chairs, improve your lighting system, remove music stands from the stage, etc.
  • Remake your children’s spaces to be very clean, inviting, and safe, and over staff them with people that look great, have all passed a background check, and do not look like they are the opening band for Marylin Manson. Mom’s first impression needs to foster trust).
  • Make sure you have an attractive entrance with adequate parking. In most cases, if you can’t park them you can’t grow them.
  • Recruit greeters and parking attendants that are inviting and warm. Give your parking attendants maps to the property, umbrellas if it’s raining, and walki-talkis if your parking area is either large or divided.
  • Advertise after doing a massive remodel to the buildings, even if you are in a setup/breakdown situation.

When to Close a Campus

At the time of this writing, Church Unlimited has closed one campus, and considered closing multiple ones. If you have multiple campuses and have never considered closing one, it’s probably not a sign they are all good, but a sign that you are in denial. Here are a few critical reasons to close a campus.

  • The campus is losing money. We can’t over emphasize this one reason enough. Once a campus has had a year to eighteen months, they should be approaching a break-even point. If this is not happening, a change is needed or you may need to shut it down.
  • Your 1st site is too thin to stay strong because the the new campus site has sucked the life out of it by taking too many of your good people).
  • When you realize that the costs necessary to make the site great and you are not willing to pay that price. It’s only fair then, instead of stringing the people at that campus along, to instead shut it down.

When closing a campus, we recommend doing it with as little fan fair as possible and being honest with the people. When you have to close a campus, tell the truth and help the people either move to one of our other locations or transition to another local church.

If you think its too scary to close a campus, then you should never enter the multi-site space because as you add campuses, no matter how successful you are eventually the odds are you will have to close one . Bil C has a pastor friend who closed his second site and told his congregation the reason he was doing it was so the church could get healthy again. He told them he was going to pull back so that they could get strong and launch again, but this time do it better. Two years later, they did launch again, and how he has several more campuses, all stronger, all self-supported. Any pastor can start a second site. It takes a leader to shut one down when the timing is right.

A Campus Pastor With The Same DNA

The first and primary essential to a second location is to have a campus pastor that has the senior pastor’s church cultural DNA. If this is not in place a fewe months donw the line you will realze you habe to different churches . This is also why we recommend utilizing video, live streamed or pre-recorded, so that all campuses get the same message from the same messenger, reassuring the same DNA at all campuses. The campus pastor needs to love the Lord, love his pastor, and especially love people. Thus person should be great at building teams, and not care that they hardly ever speak longer than 3 minutes on stage.

Self-supporting Within Eighteen Months

Every campus should be working to pay their bills by the end of 12 to 18 months. If a campus is not paying their bills by this time you making one of the following errors: you are over-paying for a lease or mortgage; over paying staff salaries; or you aren’t drawing enough people. We have found that we need a campus to average over 250 to be self-supporting and/or have a building paid off (no mortgage or lease payment).

If you are renting space by the weekend or hour, meaning you are in a setup/tear down situation, be prepared to burn your people out quicker. Either you need to hire someone who specializes in this particular area, or you are going to need to move your church into something more permanent within a few years.

Are You Ready To Go Multi Site

The following are the questions Bill Easum asks when consulting with churches considering going multi site.

  • is my church growing each of the last five years by at least 5%?
  • Is my primary worship hour at least 80% full?
  • Is my church experiencing any kind of outside interference from the community?
  • Is my church well respected in the community?
  • Is the leadership comfortable with releasing present members to form the core of the new site.
  • Are we trying to reach more people, different people or impact a new area of town or the country?
  • Do my leaders understand and covet the ministry of multiplication.
  • Can we add this new location without financially damaging the original campus?
  • Do we have the money to fund the site for two years?
  • Do we have a capable person to send out to be the campus pastor?
  • Do we thoroughly understand and appreciate the demographics of the new area?
  • Are we organizationally competent enough to take on this complication ministry?

If you answered “Yes” to all of the above you are ready to go multi site.


The primary reason Multi-Sites are so successful, even more successful than church planting, is because the additional sites draw on the successful DNA of a healthy church that is passionate about multiplying. Multi-Sites have the benefit of effective, proven staff, an established financial base, quality musicians and methods of discipleship from the beginning. It is best if Multi-Site leaders are home grown to pass on the DNA of the original church location. Multi-Site congregations build a “one church identity” through a variety of means, with the most common being sharing the same DNA, leadership structure, name, and teachers.



[ii] From a conversation between Bill Easum and Dave Furgeson in 2004