4 Reasons Rural Churches Should Consider Going Multisite

Guest Post: Brett Bixby

There are lots of multisite churches in America today, and they are predominately located in cities. I think smaller, rural churches need to consider going multisite as well. Thom Rainer recently wrote, “Multisite used to be something only large churches tried. Now, smaller churches are getting in on the strategy.” Here are four reasons why adding an additional campus needs to be on your radar as an option for your growth needs.

  1. There is a need for the people in the next community over to be reached with the gospel. Whether we like it or not, our church will only reach people in a certain proximity. Sure, we can point to that family that is driving from 45 minutes away to attend our services, but they are usually the exception. They are usually not the ones who are inviting their neighbors to make the drive and check out our ministry. I believe people who are far from God will not drive over 15-20 minutes to attend a church with any regularity (most of our regulars won’t drive that far either). With this in mind, there is a need to take the ministry of the Gospel to the surrounding communities where our people are driving from in order to help them invite their neighbors, friends and co-workers to church. If the community is large enough to have its own elementary school, then it is large enough to handle an effective ministry in the town. The elementary school shows there are enough young families with children to warrant a ministry geared to reach them.
  2. Launching a second campus doesn’t have to be costly. There are ministries out there that are dropping $8 million on each campus they launch. This does not have to be the case. Being creative in a small community can enable a ministry to start a campus with very little money invested. There are usually buildings around that can be used, and the start-up costs are mostly in the renovations. We have launched sites in a True Value Hardware store, an American Legion building, and a church building that had been closed down. For under $100,000, a new location can be launched, and this would include the additional staff expenses for the first year. Almost immediately, new people in the area will be invited and reached to begin financially supporting the ministry.
  3. Launching a second campus is just like starting an additional service, except the service is held in a location 25-30 minutes down the road. When 80% of the chairs in your auditorium are taken, you are perceived as full to any new person who walks in your doors. As you watch your seats fill up, you will want to begin talking about your next move. One of those options is to start a second service. If you are from a small town like I am (1,400 people and a stoplight), you begin to realize people are driving over 15-20 minutes to get to church. Learning where your people are coming from will help you identify where you could potentially start a second campus. We had around fifty people who were driving from a town about 25 minutes away called Hallstead. Hallstead does not have a stoplight but does have 1,100 people and an elementary school. We sent those fifty people to start a Bridgewater site inside an American Legion building in their town. We said that we were just starting a fourth service, and it was meeting in a different location. They preach the same sermon, sing the same song set, and are named Bridgewater just like we are. We are one church meeting in many locations. We now have done this four times and have five sites with ten services on a Sunday morning. We are committed to reaching communities for Jesus by starting additional services this way all over our geographic area, and many of your ministries could do this as well.
  4. Starting a second campus will offer twice as many of your people an opportunity to use their gifts and abilities in serving ministries. I realize this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there will be many ministry roles that need to be filled once you start a campus in the next town. The flip side of this is that there will be many opportunities for people who are currently standing on the sidelines of ministry to get involved! We have found that if people have a role or responsibility on Sunday, there is a greater chance they will attend regularly. We do not struggle with a surplus of people who desire to serve. I don’t know any ministry that has this problem. But, we have found that when ministry opportunities are available and when we ask people to step up and take on a larger responsibility, they will. When we ask some who are helpers in children’s ministry to become teachers or classroom leaders, we see them stepping up and taking on the responsibility. We ask each person in a ministry at Bridgewater, whether paid or unpaid, to be working to find their replacement even before they need one. This allows us to have someone available to serve when we launch another campus.

There are many reasons why I believe smaller, rural churches need to consider going multisite. It has been a growth engine at Bridgewater and has allowed us to see God reach far past our community and into several additional communities around us.

Brett Bixby is the Executive Pastor at Bridgewater Church. They have 5 campuses spread across Northeastern PA and the Southern Tier of NY. He has been a pastor for 20 years and has been at Bridgewater for the last 8 years. He is married to Nicole, and they have 5 children.

8 Steps to Creating a Contagious Volunteer Culture

How many of you are fans of Apple, not the fruit, the company that makes the iPhone? I became a fan several years ago because of my senior pastor. He bragged and bragged about their products, until I finally broke down and got the iPhone, then an iPad, then an iMac, and eventually a Macbook. Over the years I’ve fallen in love with their products, but I have to admit something…there are other companies that make products as good, if not better, than Apple. I don’t keep buying Apple products because they’re necessarily the best. I keep buying because of the culture Apple has created.

Samuel Chand says, “Culture is the strongest force in any organization. The best way to understand culture is the statement: This is how we do things here.”

It goes without saying that culture is a big deal when you’re trying to sell something. In fact one of the new sayings the church has adopted from the business world is “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

So, if you’re having a hard time getting people to serve in the church, then you may want to take a long hard look at your culture.

If it’s not working for you, you may want to try these eight steps to create a contagious volunteer culture.

  1. Raise Awareness. Ephesians 4:12 says that Jesus gave pastors the job of equipping His followers to do ministry. That means ministry isn’t something only pastors do, ministry is something we all do. Each of us has a ministry. You need to make sure people are aware of this.
  2. Have a Compelling Vision. Your vision should not only excite you, it should excite others. When my pastor was talking about the latest Apple product, he did it with excitement, which peaked my interest. Not sure what your vision is? Check out this post to help discover it.
  3. Tap a Shoulder. Many pastors ask for volunteers from the stage and have limited success. Don’t stop asking from the stage, but teach your leaders to tap a shoulder. You are ten times more likely to gain a volunteer from a one on one conversation than you are from asking from the stage.
  4. Develop Leaders. Speaking of leaders, you need to take time to develop them. They need to own the vision and be able to communicate it clearly to potential volunteers. The best leaders are those who have influence and a positive attitude.
  5. Change the Language. Try to never say the word need. For example, never say we need more nursery workers. Instead of needs, you have opportunities. We have an amazing opportunity for you to love on some babies. Also, try to avoid saying, “I have to serve today.” Instead develop a culture of saying, “I get to serve today.” There’s a big difference.
  6. Create Job Descriptions. Many people hesitate to volunteer because they are uncertain of what’s required. Job descriptions eliminate this issue. If you don’t have time to develop your own, send me a message, and I’ll send you ours.
  7. Offer a Trial Period. Another reason people hesitate to serve is because they’re afraid they’ll be stuck doing something they don’t enjoy. You can get around this by offering trial periods. I would make the trial period no longer than 3 months. Anything longer than that starts to give people anxiety.
  8. Show You Care. One of the worst things you can do is recruit a new volunteer and never follow up with them. Don’t make this mistake. Make sure you develop a system to check on new volunteers periodically and show them you care.

What would you add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget about the Small Town Big Church Coaching Network launching this fall. You can find out all the details here.

Five Numbers to Watch this Fall

I’m a numbers guy. I’ve always loved them. Math was my best subject in school, and I graduated college with a Business Management degree so I could count more numbers. When I was asked to become the Executive Pastor at the church I serve, counting numbers was the easiest part of the transition. Unfortunately, a lot of pastors don’t share my same love for numbers, but regardless there are a few numbers you need to pay close attention to this fall.

Historically, September through November has always been a season of growth at the church I serve. Summer is over and temperatures start dropping, which means people are spending less time on vacation or at the lake and more time showing up to church. The kids have gone back to school, and parents have gotten back into their regular routine.

It’s not uncommon to see ten to fifteen percent more people showing up to church in the fall than in the summer. More people gives you the chance to build momentum and get more people connected to the mission and vision of your church.

This fall should be a win for your church…if you measure it.

If you don’t measure it, how will you ever know when you’re winning?

Here are the five numbers I’ll be measuring, and I think you should be measuring them as well.

  • Attendance. Every pastor should be measuring weekly attendance. How many people are showing up at your church for weekend services? Once you get this number you need to do something more with it than just put it on a board in the back of your church. You need a way of tracking it over a long period of time. Church Metrics is a free online platform that allows you to do that and a lot more. Once you start tracking these numbers you can go back and compare them in order to give you a better idea of the health of your church.
  • Giving. I’m guessing even if you don’t count the attendance, you probably still count the offering, right? Of course you do, you’d be crazy not to. This fall I’m looking for my weekly giving numbers to be ten to fifteen percent higher than during the summer. How do I check that? You guessed it, Church Metrics.
  • Groups. The fall may be the best time of year to launch new groups. That’s why this fall I want to measure how many total groups the church is offering and how many total people are showing up to them. Groups are difficult in a small town. You can read my thoughts on why, here. But, they are vital to keeping people connected to the church. I’m really excited about our groups this fall, and I haven’t been able to say that in a couple of years. If your church offers Sunday school instead of groups, you can still use the same measurements.
  • Volunteers. The fall is also a great time to recruit new volunteers. The closer we get to Thanksgiving and Christmas it seems the more people get in the serving spirit. Just last month we added 15 new volunteers at one of our campuses. That’s huge in a small town church, but we still need more. So, this fall I’ll continue to measure the number of volunteers we have, as well as the number of new volunteers that have been recruited. If you need help recruiting and retaining volunteers, you can find out more here.
  • First Time Guests. One of the most important numbers I’ll be measuring this fall is the number of first time guests. They’re the key to church growth. I heard someone say once that in order for your church to grow the number of first time guests that visit during a year needs to exceed your average weekly attendance. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s definitely a number we’re striving for. That means if your church averages 75 people on a weekend, then in order to grow you need to have more than 75 first time guests throughout the year.

Of course, we’ll also be measuring salvation and baptism numbers as well. We just don’t see as much change in those numbers during the fall. Again, you can track those using Church Metrics.

I’d love to hear some of your number goals for the fall. Are you trying to break 100 in weekly attendance? Trying to add 10 new volunteers? Trying to serve 50 first time guests? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe. Also, if you’re looking to grow your church this fall in an incredible way strongly consider becoming a part of the first ever Small Town Big Church Coaching Network. You can find more details here.