What Everybody Ought to Know About Multi-Site Children's Ministry (Pt.1)

A multi-site church is a church that meets in more than one location.  Multi-site churches have been around a lot longer than you may realize.  In the 1800’s, Methodist circuit riding Pastors led multiple satellite churches.  Sites were set up as soon and as cheaply as possible.  When the circuit rider wasn't at the satellite church during the week, a class leader or other member would keep things running until the circuit riding Pastor could stop through again.

Fast forward to the 1980’s.  A small handful of Pastors began establishing multi-site churches. Obviously they weren’t riding horses.  Instead they were using modern tools to expand their church’s reach into their community and beyond.

By 1990, there were 10 multi-site churches.  In 1998, that number had expanded to about 100.  In late 2005, there were more than 1,500 multi-site churches in the United States.  In mid-2008, there were an estimated 2,000 multi-site churches.  Today every major city and large community in America has a multi-site church.

I have served at three multi-site churches.  The multi-site journey began for me over 11 years ago.  The Pastor called me in and shared with me his vision to establish another location about 15 miles north of our original campus.  He shared how it would enable us to reach more people and impact our region for Christ.  I was excited, but of course, the big question for me was, “What does this mean for the children’s ministry?”  I had my hands full leading the children’s ministry at one site.  How was I going to lead the children’s ministry at two sites?

Long story short, God provided a great part-time leader that helped me lead the second location.  I would lead the volunteer team and children’s services at the original site, jump in my car, and drive very quickly (okay I admit it – I sped a lot) to the other site just in time to lead the volunteers and services there.

Since that time, I have led the children’s ministry at two other multi-site churches.  I currently serve at a church that has five sites with many more coming in the next few years.  Through the years, I’ve learned some things about leading a multi-site children’s ministry.  Most of my “learning” has come through making mistakes, discovering what works and doesn’t work, and just plain old hands-on experience.

Many of you reading this article are also serving in a multi-site church.  In most cases, this means you have a children’s ministry at each site.  Some of you reading this article have recently been told by your leadership that your church is going multi-site and you’re preparing to enter that realm.

I call the first one “The Disneyworld Model.”  One perk of living in Florida is being close to Disneyworld.  I normally buy season passes.  There are four different parks under the “umbrella” of Disneyworld Resorts.  There is the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Each of these parks offers a different experience.  Each park has its own unique theme, rides, and shows.

The multi-site church that uses the Disneyworld model provides a different and unique experience at each site.  There is normally very little collaboration between sites as each site works independently to provide a unique experience for children.  From branding to curriculum to events to strategy, each campus does it’s own thing.  This is the model that we followed at the first multi-site church I served at. We purposely wanted to provide a different, more contemporary model of children’s ministry at the second site.

The second model is the “Licensee Model.”  In this model, the sites are very similar but each site has contextual freedom.  A few years ago, I was in Hong Kong.  I was looking for fast food and there they were…the golden arches….McDonalds.  As I looked at the menu, I saw the familiar Quarter Pounder, Big Mac, fries and other items you would see at a McDonald’s in America.  But I also noticed that they had rice and other items specific to that culture on the menu.  It was a McDonalds, but the menu had been tweaked and adjusted to meet the needs of that culture.

The children’s ministry in this model of multi-site may have the similar branding, strategies, curriculum, policy and procedures, and events, but each campus has the freedom to tweak and adjust to reach the community they are in.  In this model, some of the ministry philosophies may not transfer to each site and each site may have a slightly different emphasis.  An example would be one site using the traditional Sunday school classroom model and the other using a small group model.  They might use the same curriculum but with differing formats.

The third model is the “Franchisee Model.”  Last fall I decided it was time for me to go on a diet.  The plan I followed was to only consume a certain amount of calories every day.  I tracked my calorie intake every day.  Subway was one of the places I frequented during this time.  I went to lots of different Subways.  Every time I went in one, whether it was at home or in another state, I knew exactly what was going to be on the menu.  The menu is the same at every Subway in the country.

The Franchisee model strives for alignment across the sites.  The church wants families to be able to walk into any of their sites and have the same experience.  Everything is cloned from branding to curriculum to events to strategies to policy and procedures. 

So how do you decide which model to use?
Join me tomorrow for Part 2 of this post.  I will be sharing how to make this decision and share other key tips about multi-site Children's Ministry.