Multi-Site, with all of it’s many incarnations, has become another topic that is moving up the church leadership discussion list. Multi-Site is a term that cannot be easily defined, seeing as it can be done in many ways, each with varying degrees of effectiveness. That’s why we asked some churches how they are doing it. To tie in with the Connecting Believers theme of this issue, we also asked about how Multi-Site corresponds with social networking web platforms like Facebook.
TFWM: What is the biggest challenge with doing the multi-site church model?
Dan Stark: A live, bi-directional multi-site model can present challenges; specifically, getting an earnest IT network ‘pipe’ that will handle the application if the solution is IT based. Traditional network providers don’t fully understand the needs of video multi-site solutions, and the Quality of Service (QOS) that is required for them. Speed, size, QOS and service levels should be spelled out thoroughly and contractually with network providers.
Bobby Gruenewald: One of the challenges most multi-site church models face is content distribution. There are several options, expenses, and pros and cons… How do we get our content from Point A to Point B to Point C?
Anthony Coppedge: Providing the same quality of experience through technology that happens automatically in a live environment. For multi-site to be truly effective, the video venue must feel as genuine as the live venue. This means that the technical quality, coordination and control must not distract from the service. In order to achieve this seamless experience, it’s imperative that the video venue incorporate leadership from the platform throughout the service up until the video message so that the video venue audience is fully engaged while the technical aspects are seamlessly integrated into the live aspects of the service.
Dennis Choy: I think one of the biggest challenges is developing enough Production Teams to make the venues happen each weekend. As technology gets better and more sophisticated you need more qualified volunteer and staff to operate the systems. As churches realize what technology can do for them – they want to be able to do more with it. Training, hiring or finding qualified volunteers to make this happen is a never ending struggle to have “enough”.
Jill Gille: For us it’s about matching or not matching equipment. Each of our campuses are completely different from each other; stage size, seating layout, own/rent/share the space, budgets… none of these are the same at any two campuses. Our main campus in South Barrington is by far the most different and the facility is in it’s own league. This complicates the process and end product for us as we cannot completely duplicate much of anything. The scenic design, some programming elements, screen sizes, projector models, lighting, audio monitor systems, etc. Many times we could have five different requests about one playback element or video edit. We don’t have this solved by any means but sure do talk about it. We did get Pro Tools at all the campuses so we could share files. Prior to that we were stuck, as each campus did not have the capability to playback multiple tracks and mix it for their specific rooms and musicians.
TFWM: Technology is making it easier and easier to stay connected immediately with another person, how will that hurt or help the church today?
Stark: We think it helps people to be more relationally connected. God’s church is a living, breathing, organism that extends beyond the walls of a church facility. If a technology aids in fostering connectivity among people, we see that as helping the church.
Gruenewald: The only way I could see it hurting a church is on an expectation level. It can lead to people becoming increasingly impatient with relationships. Technology could significantly help the church – we have the ability from evangelism, discipleship, leadership, and teaching, and we have the opportunity to connect with the world’s population more than ever before. If the church can embrace and leverage that, we’ll be positioned to take advantage of one of the greatest opportunities presented to humankind.
Coppedge: Technology in and of itself will not hurt or help the church. How the church leverages any given technology and if they choose to embrace or reject the applications is what will impact the perception of the church from outsiders. For example, social networking is here to stay. If the church embraces MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, SMS or MMS messaging then they will be able to leverage the technology to go beyond the limitations of making a visitor or member go to the church website to get information or call the church to learn about a ministry or event. By making much of the social networking tools ‘push’ technology, people can choose to subscribe or sign up to receive information that is specifically targeted to their interests in and potentially allow the church to see greater involvement and participation.
Choy: I think it can obviously help if understood correctly. If your not emailing, texting or blogging then you’re cutting off a huge segment of the nation and who you could reach for Christ. You need to understand that these communities are limited in their physical fellowshipping and corporate worship aspects but are real communities to reach.
Gille: It starts with individuals. While it’s amazing to have the tools to stay connected to one another, it poses a different time management challenge: personal boundaries. My house is wired “to the church” and I carry a phone that allows me to work for hours almost anywhere in the world. So when I’m off-campus, I have a decision to make every minute… am I going to look at that email that just arrived (beep)? Am I still “on the clock”? If I have to leave the office early because one of my kids is sick, then yes, I find time to respond to something urgent as long as my child is taken care of first. I can be mom and still be Executive Production Manager and feel ok about it. If it’s my full day off and my phone rings with a work number, the temptation has arrived. I have to remind myself that I do not want my husband and kids to know me as always on my phone or laptop. I want them to know me as an engaged wife and mom; that I am “present” in their lives and they are not shared with technology/gadgets. How does that pertain to the church?
First I want to be a witness to others around me, and to see that I’m striving towards daily balance. I feel ministry is extremely important, but my ministry is nothing if I am not healthy, happy, content and spiritually growing… and my family needs to feel the same. Second, for me to be a “filled-up” employee: efficient, effective and doing my job to its fullest.
TFWM: What is the long term outlook on multiple campus and/or multiple venue churches?
Stark: From an engineering perspective, technology opens many options for churches with multiple locations. One of the basic questions to decide is the model for communication – i.e. playback, live uni-directional or live bi-directional and to what level? Unless technology can meet or exceed your goals and needs, it may become the unintended focus (if poorly conducted) rather than the intended communication link. Overall, we think the long-term outlook for multi-site churches is good. Through multiple venues, churches are able to create unique subcultures that are authentic to the places where people live and work. This gives a person options for where, when and how they will attend a church service. People in the twenty-first century like options!
Gruenewald: I truly believe the long term outlook is positive. I think what you’ll see is more and more churches working together because in the past, churches were very territorial because everything was geographically driven. But because churches are extending out in technology, it is allowing the Church to more easily work together.
Coppedge: In terms of both financial economics and local connection, the multi-site model will continue to gain ground. It’s less expensive to build a 1,000 seat venue in seven locations than it is to build a single 7,000 seat venue with the associated parking, childcare space, kids space and resources to support such a large campus. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that when a church looks closely at the demographics of their attendees and determines which zip codes and areas their members live in, they can see a far greater involvement of people who can now drive less than 15 minutes to a local campus and be involved Monday through Friday even with family activities and rush hour traffic.
Choy: I think Multiple campuses or venues are here for the long run. We obviously see that it works and real churches are being formed all over the country. I think what has not fully developed is reaching certain generational mindsets. Basically offering different styles of worship experiences at the same location with the same teaching. This allows attendees to choose what worship experience or ambience is most comfortable for them to experience God.
Gille: Not sure I should put this in print but we are looking at adding more campuses for sure! And it seems to me that many churches have gone the multiple campus/venue route. It makes complete sense when time is so precious to people and driving takes so much of it (time) away from us. Life is stressful enough so if the “church” can assist people in growing spiritually by way of offering a venue closer to their homes, then the “church” should investigate this solution.
TFWM: How will blogging, Facebook and other online communities change the way church is done?
Stark: We believe that blogging in particular has a unique opportunity to enhance a church culture. A pastor/leader can now (rather easily) have regular contact with members of the congregation; this creates a deeper sense of knowing the pastor and his/her life, journey and challenges. It’s available to those who desire that type of interaction, without forcing everyone to engage in it. Facebook gives congregation members the opportunity to efficiently connect with a given group of “friends”. We think this can enhance a person’s sense of day-to-day connectedness to others without having to physically gather with someone else. We think the impact on the church will be a shift in emphasis from spoken modes of communication to written/electronic forms of communication.
Gruenewald: I think social networking can help the church transcend time and location if the church chooses to embrace it.
Coppedge: The online and social networking tools have already changed the way church is done; it’s just that churches not using them are missing out on outreach and community connections. The upside of blogging is that it brings a very real, personal and insightful peek into the heart and mind of the church leadership. The downside of blogging or MySpace or Facebook is that once you type it in and submit it, what you wrote is always there. You can delete a post, but you can never delete the trail of the post. Google and Yahoo are powerful, indeed! From a holistic standpoint, these tools are simply answers to the human need for interaction and communication. They’ll be improved upon and newer, faster technologies will emerge. If the church of today recognizes them as the means of reaching out to those around us instead of the latest fad or passing tech craze, then we can be more effective in speaking to and with a culture that embraces the language of instant communications.
Choy: I think it’s going to add another arm to the church. Nowadays most churches have to have a full-time webmaster or I.T. person just for the basics of email, network and internet. Since the additions of so many new ways to build a community of people have developed electronically, this new way of communicating will need attention and care – it will be difficult for a church to ignore it.
Gille: I hope these online communities do good things for the church but I fear they hurt more than help. There’s some pretty nasty discussions out there about churches and so many times I read false information or twisted information…it saddens me. But like most “inventions,” we could use them for good and bad so we’ll see both when it comes to online communities.