5 Trends in How Multisite Churches Start and Grow

by Warren Bird

Last week we announced that the U.S. now has at least 8,000 multisite churches, a phenomenon growing in churches worldwide (www.leadnet.org/world) and which Leadership Network tracked in a recent survey. In March we’ll release a report named the Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard. The following draws from the section on how multisite churches start and grow:

• The typical multisite begins in the 1,000 size range. In our survey churches had an average (median) attendance of 1,200 when they became multisite.

• Almost half say they could have gone multisite at a smaller size. Only 5% of survey responders say they went multisite too soon for their size (i.e., they should have been bigger first), 54% say they were about the right size, and the remaining 41% say they could have gone multisite “at a smaller size.”

Minimum overall attendance recommended for going multisite starts around 850. Is there a sweet spot or tipping point for what the ideal size might be? Those who say they were “probably too small to go multisite” when they did averaged (median) 450 in attendance when they first became multisite. Those who said they were “about the right size” were 851, and those who “could have gone multisite at a smaller size” were 1,500.

Time will tell whether that recommended launch size will continue to inch downward. Is the 850 number based on the fact that the surveyed churches are mostly larger? We don’t know. We do know that with each passing year, more churches are moving sooner (thus smaller) to become multisite. Maybe in the future maybe we’ll even see church plants regularly start with two sites.

• Campus viability ranges from 2% to 25% of the sending church’s overall attendance, directly related to size. Churches with 15,000 and higher attendances said they can start a viable campus with the equivalent of 2% of their total attendance (or 3% of the attendance at their largest campus). That’s 350 people on average. But these are averages, and there’s a lot of variation, which again suggests they are model dependent. On the “heavyweight model” side, three different churches said they need 2,000 to start a viable new campus—and those were churches of 3,000, 8,000 and 10,000. On the other “lightweight model” side, a number of churches said they could start a viable camp with under 100 people—and those too were churches in the thousands.

The percentages needed for a new campus to be viable change in direct proportion to the overall size of the church. So rather than aim at a standard “rule of thumb” number to offer across all church sizes —such as 5% or 10%—it seems better to peg the percentage with the church’s overall size.

• Likelihood of multisite increases with size. Our survey confirmed a principle that’s held true as long as I’ve been tracking the movement: the larger the church, the more likely to be multisite and the more campuses and services it has. In fact, drawing from Leadership Network’s database of large churches, independent of this survey itself, the trend line is unmistakable:

chart

Other topics that will be covered in the Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard:

• How new is the typical multisite church?
• Where are new multisite campuses starting? The answer may surprise you.
• Growth patterns of multisite churches.

Download the report here.