Multisite: If I wanted to watch on a screen I’d just watch from my TV at home

multisite-video-messagesAt thousands of multi-site churches around the world the message is played via video instead of being provided live and in person.  This has been a source of many questions from the investment to make it as life-like and “live” as possible to questions from individuals wondering what the experience will be like.  Overwhelmingly the most frequent concern from individuals considering a video message or location relates to something like “Why would I come watch a video message when I can watch a message from home?  I’d prefer it to be live and in person”.  Here are my responses:

Church is a collective “us” and a individual “you” – If you define your church experience by who is teaching, how they are teaching or if it video vs. live then your definition of church might be misguided.  Church isn’t a building, it’s not a speaker, it’s not the lead pastor or the teaching team.  Church is YOU and US.  We need your gifts to be awakened and used in the kingdom as much as you need great teaching on Jesus Christ.  Consider the letters that the apostle Paul wrote churches that desperately want to hear the message of Christ and longed to have Paul visit but never saw him.  They relied on stories passed on between believers.  They relied on letters to be read in front of groups from Paul for encouragement.  I’m certain that there were comments that people would rather see Paul live than just get a letter from him, but by all accounts those letters made an huge impact in the community. (Romans 1:13)

Community is difficult to participate in from your living room – Part of getting together in a larger community is to share together our gifts, our concerns and to be built up together.  While I love to hear great speakers and only  have access to them via the Internet and watch them from the comfort of my own home I can also state that it is impossible to enjoy the benefits of “community” from my couch.  Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages us “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Leaders are born in video locations – I usually reserve this statement for individuals who have an option to go to the live teaching or visit a video location.  A large church can enable and empower incredible leaders.  Teams are put together to provide worship, hospitality, cleaning and maintenance.  While large churches desire everyone to be involved and ignite their gifts, what we have found is providing video locations provides a MULTIPLICATION effect that allows even more people to get engaged in the kingdom with their gifts.  When we started our three video locations our entire worship team tripled.  The amount of individuals in groups and participating substantially increased.  Individuals who were desiring to be engaged in the kingdom but were not in the large church context blossomed and started to lead in dramatic ways at smaller video locations.

Video locations are likely not for everyone, but the impact is undeniable.  Paul in the early days of Christianity likely had to deal with many of the same frustrations about not being able to be everywhere preaching and teaching live, but the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is alive today through many different delivery methods.  From live teaching to video teaching and beyond.


Teaching the Campus to Be a Campus

disconnected-400x250When you launch a multi-site video campus a fair number of individuals may transition from the live campus.  Additionally, when you launch you will have visitors that are not used to video teaching.  This means that you, as a campus leader/pastor, need to help teach the campus, how to be a campus.

For example eight weeks into our launch of our video campus the teaching pastor (on video) invited everyone with a specific issue to stand up during the message.  At the live campus this worked beautifully and connected perfectly in the message, yet at the video campus no one stood up during that prompt.  It created an awkward moment in the room and there was a feeling of being disconnected.  This had nothing to do with the technology, or how poor the video quality was, or what camera shot we were using – we spent a lot on the technology.  The disconnect related to the campus not interacting with the teaching.

There are two approaches to fixing this type of disconnection.  First we could have implemented a “no teaching pastor can call out an action in the room” which can create a sterile message and minimizes campus interaction during the message, which is not ideal.  Alternatively the campus pastor can help facilitate that interaction.  The campus pastor normally is watching what is going on in the room and could jump in, while the teaching occurs, and underscore who at the video campus should be standing.  Additionally the campus pastor could let a few individuals know beforehand that there is a callout to stand for a particular opportunity and encourage those to stand if they feel led to.

Anything the campus pastor can do to interact within the campus with the video teaching can help support the interaction during the message and help eliminate the disconnect feeling.  Interactions like clapping when the teaching pastor welcomes the campus, or laughing during jokes during the message help model how the campus attendees can feel included.

Our first permanent video campus took around six months to feel like the campus knew how to interact with the video message and no longer needs as many prompts or reminders.  Once the campus feels comfortable with that interaction newcomers see the behavior modeled and disconnects become less noticeable.

Immediately Recognizable vs. Replicated – Keeping the Culture Alive at Multi-Sites

do-not-duplicate-page-nameWhen your church decides to go “multi-site” the first step is to develop a great set of overall guidelines that will provide guard rails for your off site locations.  There are many great examples of these guidelines that are a good Google search away.  What I’ve found is needed beyond the overall guidelines is a way to help multi-site locations extend the core culture to those sites.

When you develop your multi-site strategy, instead of replicating the central locations culture and feel you should shoot for a culture that is immediately recognizable instead of duplicated.  I’ve been to a multi-site location that attempted to replicate the feel of the central location and it felt….wrong.  The sound system, lights and volume were way overdone.  They attempted to replicate the experience and it felt disconnected and off.

We developed what we referred to as Campus Culture Guidelines.  These guidelines were developed by the champions or owners of ministry areas and they documented a short list of 10 or fewer  items that fostered the culture we wanted at any of our locations. Along with the culture items they explained why those were important to the culture we wanted. They didn’t dictate a specific thing to purchase, rather it outlines practices that have become fairly standard in our culture.

Ministry areas that helped form this include home groups, outreach, technology, worship, weekend celebrations, first impressions, hospitality, spiritual development and business operations.

As an example here are a few culture items that we want to be immediately recognizable at any of our sites: volunteers parking at the furthest spaces from the door, a name tag table, free “good” coffee for all, creating an atmosphere that is newcomer aware (with 5 items that should be done at every campus to ensure that), leaving no question unanswered at the welcome desk, etc.

With this packet of information the campus leaders can help develop a culture and feel that is immediately recognizable and not replicated.  While the distinction sounds trivial, in practice it is critically important to allow your multi-site locations the autonomy to implement the desired culture in their own context which will be much more successful than trying to replicate copies of one site out of context in other locations.



Multi-Site: Coming in and out of the video feed

VM_BeginnerVideo_00Leading a campus for a multi-site church creates unique and interesting challenges that can be overlooked.  If you are leading that uses a video for the message, I have found that the transition in to and out of the video (whether it is live or recorded) is absolutely critical.  You can lose the entire room if you fumble the transition from the video back to live in the room.

Transitioning in to the video is easier because there is anticipation of what is coming.  We tend to place a comment that the “teaching will start in just a few moments, why don’t you greet those around you or refresh your coffee” and then start the feed accordingly.  On you way into the teaching (video) don’t mention that it’s video – it’s a teaching time! More challenging is the transition OUT of the message.  Here are some of the ways we try to “bring it in the room” after the video feed in a smooth way:

  1. View the message prior to showing it to your campus – We have Saturday night services and the campus leaders attend the Saturday night service to know how the message will flow and how post service prayer time transitions.   We don’t require campuses to do the same prayer topics at the end of service, however knowing what the live campus does helps prepare.  Never show a video you haven’t watched previously.
  2. Consider similar props – If the message uses props, consider if having a similar prop at the end of the message.  One of our teachings was on a cup and the lead pastor had a coffee cup that was referenced multiple times.  When I saw this on Saturday night I noted to bring a similar cup in and reference it at the end of the video message.
  3. Be prepared for the transition back to the room.  When the video feed ends whoever is teaching tries to use the same language to note the end of the teaching.  For us it is something like “we are going to transition into a time of prayer”.  When this happens the campus leader is prepared to step quickly into the main view of the room.  There isn’t a large pause or awkward gap – be ready to transition smoothly by sitting close and being prepared to MOVE when the transition happens.
  4. Deliver a “bring it in the room” wrap up – The campus leaders then, with props if relevant, deliver a short “bringing it in the room” wrap-up.  This usually is what the campus leader heard, how that relates personally and a lead in to what they are going to pray for.  We aren’t changing the message, only highlighting the premise of the message and how it relates to the campus leader and what it might mean for the campus.  It serves to make it relevant in the context and provides a smooth landing coming out of video and also provides a lead to prayer time at the end of service.
  5. If you have multiple services follow the Holy Spirit – Don’t get locked in to what you did in one service thinking it will be the same the next.  It could be, but be open to what Holy Spirit is doing and be open to changing appropriately.
  6. Take authority in the room – You are the shepherd of the flock in front of you!


Thanks to Pastor Matt Poorman, Campus Pastor Vineyard Mishawaka for additional suggestions.

Multi-site Tip: Using the Campus Name vs. Church Name

whats_in_a_name.2When we launched our first onsite campus in November 2015 one of the areas that we were incredibly cautious about is when we use the campus name versus when we use the full church name.  Our strategy was “one church many locations”, which is a popular multi-campus philosophy.  The trick is when do you use the campus name instead of the entire church name.  It sounds silly, but if done incorrectly it can drive community affiliation too much toward the campus and away from the parent.  For example, if your church’s name was “Patmos” and you had a campus that you called “Northbound” how does your greeting team greet people at the front door?  Do they say “welcome to Northbound” or “Welcome to Patmos”?  In your announcements do you say “Hello Northbounders, or welcome to Patmos church”?

Here is where we settled:

At our front door we always welcome with the church name and not the campus name.  If we are one church multiple locations, you want new people to know immediately that you are one church.

At the doors to our auditoriums, inside the building, we never use the campus name or church name, we use a generic good morning or good afternoon.  This alleviates any confusion for people after just coming in the door.

In the announcements the campus leader welcomes everyone using the campus name AND the church name.  Something like “Hi I’m Steve Huffman the campus pastor for Northbound here at Patmos church”.  You need to acknowledge and affirm the community that you are building in the campuses, while acknowledging that you are part of one church.

For any offering or financial giving, always reference the church and not the campus.  In our announcements for the offering we state “We don’t pass a plate here at Patmos church, but giving back is a way to worship Jesus….”.

Phones messages and email signatures always had both the church and campus name in them.  “Thanks for calling Patmos Northbound Campus…”

It’s a delicate and important balance on how and when to use campus names versus full church names in a multi-site church.


Considerations for launching an onsite video campus

drivebyvenueWe had the incredible opportunity over the course of 2015 to plan for and launch an onsite video campus at the Vineyard.  We were stretched for space in our main auditorium at our busiest services and made the decision to use our secondary auditorium, which was being utilized for children’s ministry, for an onsite campus.

During our planning phases we had conversations with a number of churches who had good, and bad, experiences with video campuses.  After a lot of consideration we launched and have live worship, live announcements and ministry time and pipe in the video message live.

Here were the primary drivers for our launch:

We needed space – for new attendees being packed in like sardines can be uncomfortable.  We always try to be friendly to someone coming for the first time to experience what God has for them.  Building a larger auditorium was going to take too long and we already were doing 5 services – adding a sixth was discussed and previously tried but it we found 5 was a practical limit. (2 Saturday services and 3 Sunday services).

We needed a place for leaders to develop – Our lead pastor has a passion for leadership development and for future campus or church planters.  To have an incubator space to walk through actually launching and supporting a campus onsite has been invaluable.  We now have a location that individuals can get behind the microphone and get feedback before they are in front of hundreds of people.  We treat it like our onsite video campus like a full service, however it is also intentionally used as an incubator of talent.

People like a smaller feel – Our Vineyard still has a heart for “small”.  Having an onsite video campus allows for a venue of no more than 125 people to come together.  It’s a smaller feel and people LOVE it.  Very quickly we heard that people were transitioning to the video campus because it felt small and they liked that.  They like the sound quieter we’ve heard individuals with sensory issues who can’t handle so many people around them find comfort in a smaller setting.  Just tonight someone shared that all of the sound and backgrounds in our main service gives them migrants and they find comfort in a smaller setting.