Effective Multi-Site Children’s Ministry

by Nina Schmidgall, National Community Church (Washington, DC)

Multi-site ministry is an effective way for churches to expand their influence and reach more communities! More and more churches are exploring multiple campuses. National Community Church first went multi-site when we launched our second location in 2003. Since then, we have navigated multi-site children’s ministry as we have continued to expand to our current six locations, meeting primarily in movie theaters across the Washington, DC, metro area.

Before we went multi-site we had to identify the things that made us “one church.” Our family ministry team began to explore how our children’s ministry would operate as one ministry as well. We decided that, like the overall church, we should have one budget, one primary set of policies and procedures. Each location should have individual leadership but share one vision, mission, and set of values. Just as the adults would hear the same message at various locations, our children would learn from the same lessons each week.

Here are some benefits to multi-site children’s ministry:

Reaching New Communities

One of the greatest benefits to multi-site family programs is the ability to reach new people and new communities. We give people the opportunity to feel comfortable inviting friends from school and neighbors to a location right there in their own community—without asking them to cross the bridge. Multisite church puts the “local” back in the local church.

Growing Small

The greatest benefit of being multi-site is the opportunity to have the excellence and resources of a large church with the intimacy of a small church setting. We are able to grow—but by going smaller! Our multi-site structure allows our families to feel the sense of community at their location. Children are still able to receive significant hands-on attention of a smaller church. Families have connections with one another. Our teaching and small group teams have great connections with each child. We are able to respond to individual family or child needs.

When Andy Stanley was recently asked where the church is going, he answered, “Smaller.” Hooray for multi-site then!

Collaboration and Shared Resources

The multi-site approach raises the level of quality for our ministries across all of the campuses. We have a strong commitment of collaboration among our ministry leaders. When we overcome a challenge at one location, we are able to implement that solution across all locations.

Learning Opportunities

Innovations at the new campus inspire improvements at every other campus! Whenever we try something and it works, we take it back to other locations. Multiple locations can be intimidating because, when you make a decision, you have to make it work across all your locations! BUT many of our best ideas come from an experiment we tried at one location.

One of our core values as a church is “everything is an experiment.” The multi-site framework gives us a wonderful opportunity to put that into practice!

Best Practices of Multi-Site Children’s Ministry

Every church does multi-site a bit differently but here are some of my recommended tips and tricks.

Strong Leadership and Strong Vision

In order for multisite strategy to succeed, strong leadership is essential at every site. Within family ministry, we call this person the Location or Campus Coordinator. It is very important to have a “face” with the “place.”

Re-invent! Be flexible!

Systems we had in place when we had two locations have to be adjusted now that we have six—and might have to be totally re-worked when we have 20! We have to encourage a strong attitude of flexibility with our teams and with our parents.

Safeguard the Brand

One leader I know recently identified the head of the ministry as the “Guardian of the DNA.” I love this idea and would identify this as one of the most important aspects of my job leading the family ministry. As we launch more locations, my team and I guard the DNA of our ministry. We regularly visit all campuses, giving a quality check and ensuring commitment to the overall vision. We invest in our team and re-communicate our vision again and again.

Of course, this means that you need to KNOW your DNA. What is the DNA that you are guarding and why is it important? What can be flexible and what really can’t? Can you communicate your vision in 30 seconds? Can your teammates do the same?

Communication

This might be the big ugly hurdle for multiple locations. Keeping everyone on the same page can be tough! A system for communication is essential with multiple campuses. Our teams at each location share a weekly report—touching base about how things went for the morning. This allows our team to ensure we are properly supporting each location, helping them address any needs or concerns, and celebrating their wins.

Ensure Adequate Support

Unfortunately, I have heard too often that new or branch locations do not feel like they have the support they need from the pre-existing campuses. Much like a church plant, the teams in place are trying to juggle multiple hats and face new and unique challenges. If you are launching an additional site, over-estimate the support and infrastructure that site will need to be successful.

Launch

Launching a new location is when a lot of multisite systems are set into place. If you are launching a multi-site ministry, here are some ideas:

  • Preparation – Set a timeline and budget goal for your location launches. When we first aim to launch, we raise a core team and they begin meeting for a period of time in preparation for the launch. Typically, these are people who live or work in the community of the upcoming launch and have an excitement and energy to get it off the ground. We have a couple of “prep” services for a few weeks leading up to the official launch date. This allows us to be in the space and practice setting up and using our equipment.
  • Ministry Matrix – To fill all of our leadership and volunteer needs, we prepare what we call a “Ministry Matrix”—a diagram of volunteer slots for each ministry. We print it on a huge board and take it with us to all launch team meetings so that the launch team can visually see where the needs are and where we need some more help.
  • Volunteer Vacuum – We make an extra effort to maximize our recruiting strategies for ALL locations each time we launch a new site. One great benefit of being a church that is continually launching new locations is that we are consistently creating new service opportunities. We create a “vacuum” for new volunteers. Each time we launch, we encourage folks to prayerfully consider joining a team to help plant a new location or re-commit at their current location.

Our pastor often says that there are many ways of doing church that none of us have even thought of yet! What a privilege to try something new! If you are exploring multiple sites, embrace innovation and the opportunity to take the gospel into new communities!

Nina Schmidgall serves as director of family ministry at National Community Church in Washington, DC. She originally moved from California to the nation’s capital to serve as a legislative director in the House of Representatives. Writing and directing education and family policy, Nina realized her deep passion for strengthening the family and the home. She now oversees the family ministry department and children’s programs at NCC’s seven locations. Nina and her husband, Joel, live on Capitol Hill with their three small kids: Eloise, Ezekiel and Lorenza. When she’s not working, Nina enjoys dance, photography and bargain shopping. Twitter: @ninaschmidgall

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The Orange Group is a gathering of leaders who are passionate about engaging churches and families to influence the faith and character of the next generation. Contributors include some of the most widely respected thought-leaders in children’s ministry, including Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller, Kendra Fleming, Jim Wideman, and Bre Hallberg. New blog entries, podcasts, webcasts, and video downloads are available every week to help you keep leading yourself and growing with your team.