Talking Multisite with Jim Tomberlin

I had a chance to catch up with my friend, Jim Tomberlin, recently to ask him a few questions. Jim is a leading voice on multi-site churches. He began his multi-site church journey in the mid-1990s when he was the senior pastor of Woodman Valley Chapel. In 2000, he went on to pioneer the multi-site model at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Since 2005 he has been consulting and coaching churches in developing and implementing multi-campus strategies.

I posed a few questions and here is what Jim had to say.

A lot has changed in a short period of time. I can remember, not too long ago, when multi-site was a new concept. Now, it seems everyone is talking multi-site. What is a common misconception about multi-site?

When people hear multisite, they tend to think megachurch and video sermons. Yes, some multisite churches are also megachurches. However, the reality is that megachurches (weekend attendance of 2,000+) comprise only a third of all multisite churches nationwide and only half of all multisite churches utilize video to deliver their teaching content.

Is it easier for a new church to start out as a multi-site church or an established church to become multi-site?

In the long run, it is definitely easier to start out as a church with a multisite mindset than to transition a church from a mono-site mindset to a multi-site paradigm. The older and larger a church is going multisite, the more difficult it is to move to a multisite paradigm.

What are the challenges of each?

Older and larger churches will tend to be more “mothership-centric” and view multisite campuses as “satellites” that revolve around the hub campus. They function as a church with multisite campuses. Younger and newer churches that start with a multisite mindset tend be more “community-centric” and see themselves as a church of multisite campuses. Both can and do work, but ultimately a church of multisite campuses will have less inter-campus relationship and management challenges. Starbucks and Target stores have a central headquarters, but you don’t get the sense that their local stores are satellites of headquarters.

If I asked you to name the top 2-3 critical success factors for making multi-site work effectively, what would they be?

The three most critical factors of a successful multisite strategy are a compelling reason/vision for multisiting, a high capacity campus pastor leader who bleeds the DNA of the church, and delivering the overall campus experience as good or better than the sending campus. If any of these three are lacking, the multisite strategy will be an uphill climb.

Okay, so what’s the other side — the most common mistakes churches make in trying to become multi-site.

Not having a compelling vision for multisiting, leading out with a follower rather than a leader, launching too close or too far, under-delivering the campus experience, not embracing the paradigm shift from a mono-site to a multi-site paradigm.

I see you have a new ebook. What’s in it and how can I get it?
My free eBook “125 Tips for MultiSite Churches and Those Who Want To Be” is the distillation of my 15 years as a multisite pioneer and church consultant. My multisite journey began for me as a senior pastor of a megachurch in Colorado, got me invited to pioneer the model at Willow Creek Church in Chicago, and propelled me into full-time multisite consulting nationally and internationally. I have been tweeting a daily multisite tip for several years and have compiled these tips into an eBook in an easily accessible topical manner. The eBook also includes helpful articles I have written over the years and features a snapshot profile of ten successful multisite churches. You can read and download it here:

Great insights, Jim! Thanks for taking the time.

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