Reaching Beyond Your City with Hybrid Model of Multisite and Church Planting
Published on 12/11/2012
by Warren Bird
Brad Bell and leaders of The Well in Fresno, CA, have developed a no-cost way to launch new sites and extend the church’s reach outside its metro area.
The Well’s innovative approach blends concepts of small group expansion, multisite development and traditional church planting for what leaders view as a “hybrid” model that has spawned three new Well locations outside its core city.
“We laugh because we’re not sure what to call it,” says Brad, directional leader of The Well. “It’s not really church planting in the traditional sense, and it’s not really multisite as most of us know it. It’s some combination of the two.”
Being the Church in Distant Neighborhoods
The Well’s new model was an outgrowth of the church’s focus on “being the church in every neighborhood.” After launching multiple locations around Fresno utilizing a multisite model, the church began to see its “every neighborhood” mantra impact people outside the city.
Members of Kingsburg Church meeting in a local school.
“We had people driving in from smaller communities all around Fresno, and some were driving an hour to get here,” Brad says. “So that meant we were pulling the Christians out of their community to come to church and be the Church in Fresno. That didn’t make sense to us."
“We decided that if the church needs to be the Church wherever people live, let’s figure out where they live and help them be the Church there,” he explains.
So The Well launched life groups (its name for small groups) in several communities outside of Fresno. In some communities, the life groups grew and multiplied, and participants of the groups wanted to meet together regularly in their community vs. driving every week to attend The Well in Fresno. Some life groups banded together to create a what The Well calls a faith community.
Faith community participants typically still attend one of The Well’s multisite campuses in Fresno most weeks. But leaders in those communities began to develop strategies to meet more often and reach their communities.
“It wasn’t long before we said, ‘You have the core of a church plant here,’” Brad says. “Why don’t you stay connected to us, and use whatever we have that can help you launch a church? But you don’t have to drive to Fresno. You just incarnate where God has placed you.”
The Well formed a church planting network called Edah and a developed a formal process for moving from a faith community to a full-fledged church.
The Well choose to name their church planting network "Edah" after a Herbrew word meaning community or gathering.
For faith communities with shared affinity, mission, vision and values, The Well provides online resources to help the faith community develop its own bylaws and articles of incorporation, 501(c)(3) non-profit status, elder-board structure, video teaching, and training materials.
Initial leadership for the faith communities comes from life group leaders who don’t want to become pastors, but they do want to have greater visibility and commitment for reaching their own cities. “We hold their hand every step of the way for how to launch the church,” Brad explains.
How the Finances Work
Where the rubber most often meets the road—with finances and the leadership required to launch a new church—the new faith-community-turned-constituted-church has its own bank account and manages its own finances.
If one of The Well’s new churches needs chairs or a sound system to conduct services—as the faith community in Madera recently discovered—the new congregation comes up with the money for it. “That smaller church is probably not going to get what it needs this side of heaven if they have to rely on the bigger group,” Brad says. “They should be able to do what they need to do to reach their community.”
When the new church is ready to hire a pastor, its leaders also secure financing for that move and can tap into The Well’s internship program for a potential leader.
“We’re not telling these business guys they have to be church planters,” Brad says. “We’re just telling them to love their city and reach their neighbors. At some point they say, ‘We need a shepherd, we need a point leader.’ And we say, ‘Great, we have an internship program. Here are five resumes of guys who are well trained that you might interview.’”
More Decisions on the Local Level
Brad says The Well learned from previous multisite launches and church plants that it’s better to give the new church more autonomy in those early make-or-break decisions.
“Our old pattern was trying to be too involved,” Brad says. “We wanted to help them, so we said for example, ‘You don’t need a bank account, we’ll be your funnel. You don’t need elders, we’ll provide consultants in ministry areas.’
“We storehoused it all. We served as the hub. That wasn’t scaleable.”
Bottom line, leaders at The Well want to see faith communities become churches as soon as they can.
A group from Turlock Church shares a Thanksgiving dinner together.
“We’re pushing the church concept because it shifts the burden of responsibility from us to them,” Brad says. “If they want to meet once a month in their faith community and drive to Fresno the other three weeks, that’s fine. They don’t need to hire a pastor, they don’t need kids’ stuff. That’s better than driving to Fresno four Sundays a month and never meeting in their neighborhood.
“But the best would be if they say, ‘You know what, we need to become a church.’”
While The Well’s hybrid model doesn’t cost the church directly to get a new congregation off the ground, Brad knows the church will realize an indirect impact as top leaders take their ministry skills and tithes with them to the new church.
“That could hurt a little bit in lost revenue, as people choose to go to other churches in their community,” Brad says. “But that seems like something God would be pleased with anyway.”
The new congregations find value in staying connected to The Well, since many of the founders of the new church came to Christ and began to grow at the originating church. “They like what’s happening in Fresno,” Brad says. “So whatever church they launch, they want it to be intimately connected to what’s happening in Fresno.”
That connection not only provides the new church with resources to help get started, but also offers a unique opportunity to a newly hired pastor leading the new church—doctrinal stability and as much or as little built-in teaching as the new leader wants.
One of The Well’s pre-requisites to establishing a new congregation is a group of elder-leaders in place. “I need to know there is a plurality of leaders that are keeping an eye on the doctrine and shepherding the flock,” Brad says. “Until that happens in a faith community, the teaching needs to come from our teaching team.”
Model That's Easy to Replicate Anywhere
Once the leadership base is established and the church is official, the new lead pastor can enjoy the freedom and “fun” that comes from being connected to a larger teaching and planning team.
“It’s more fun for a leader if you say, ‘Here’s a bunch of resources, use them if you want. If you don’t, we don’t care,’” Brad adds. “If you want to teach and your elders think that’s the best thing for your church, great. If you want to combine some teaching with our teaching team, that’s great.
“How fun would that be as a leader, to know, ‘I don’t have to teach every week, but I could. I have all these resources at my disposal, but I don’t have to use any of them.’”
Above all, The Well’s hybrid model is proving to be a strategic way to accomplish the mission of being the church in every neighborhood in and around its city.
“To be the church in every neighborhood in Fresno, multisite has been a great model,” Brad says. “To be the church in every neighborhood that’s 30 minutes or more outside of Fresno, it might be that this faith community concept will be the way to go. This is a way for us to answer the ‘every neighborhood’ call."
“This is not us with a map of the world with pins on the map of everywhere we think we need to go. This is us saying, ‘God we want to create a model that’s easy to replicate anywhere you raise someone up.’”
Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, with background as pastor and seminary professor, is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders including Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work with Jim Tomberlin. His most recent title is Wisdom from Lyle E. Schaller. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include “The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches,” “Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future” and “A New Decade of Megachurches.” Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird