Tony Morgan just shared a powerful
article written from the perspective of a growing church that tried
launching a second campus and failed. As I was reading it, I realized that
much of what was true about this failed experiment was also true for my church,
Central, when they launched a second site, except for one detail: our second site is still open and it’s a vital part of the community. This forced me to ask the question: Why?
We like to do things a little differently at Central. In
fact, it’s common for us to say on Sunday morning, “If you’re new with us
today, we want you to know that this isn’t normal.” It’s normal for us to say it isn’t (you see, it’s funny because…)
summary, I’d say our two-campus model is along these lines. “When
launching a second campus, we want you to know that what Central did isn’t
Let me explain. Jeff Maness, senior pastor at Element Church
in Cheyenne, Wyoming offered seven points as to why their second campus
failed. I will explain each, and then share why I think Central was the
exception to the rule.
1) We offered live preaching
on launch Sunday at the new campus.
Maness explained that they offered live preaching at a
campus that was expecting to be a live-feed campus. This means that the campus wasn’t
going to have a live preacher normally, instead it was going to receive a
life-feed from the “broadcast campus” (which is actually what they call it), and the preaching would be projected onto a screen for the congregation to watch. It’s a very common model for second sites.
At Central, when we launched the second site, we also offered live
preaching on the launch Sunday. The only difference is that we’ve offered it
every Sunday since. It’s a fun arrangement, but with two campuses, we often only
have one preacher. A normal Sunday for the preacher involves preaching at the
first service at 9AM, driving across town to preach at the 10AM service at the
other location, and then back to the first location for the 11AM service. While it’s an adjustment at first, it’s
something we’ve gotten used to. (I remember my first time preaching this circuit
and it was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.) All that to say,
if we were to move to a live-feed method, at least in the normal sense, I’m
guessing we’d be closing the door eventually too.
2) The campuses were too
close in proximity.
Their two campuses were 15 minutes apart. Our two campuses
are less than 5 minutes apart. For Maness, they suffered because their second site
was clearly the inferior site. Or as Maness explains: “it was a portable
location in a high school that just couldn’t compete with the amenities that
our permanent Broadcast Campus had.” With only a 15 minute difference, people
who came to the satellite campus first, and wanted to keep going to that church,
would just move on over to the broadcast campus.
Central’s sites are only 5 minutes away from each other, but
it works because we do not view one site as inferior to the other. It’s true
that our newest location has inferior spaces, but as a church we are committed
towards making them equal. For example, our new site has inferior children’s
spaces, but we are committed to changing that, hopefully this fall! What it
lacks in children’s space, it makes up for in location. Central worships 300
people on most Sunday (also kind of small by most standards for a church with two locations),
but of the 300, half are college students. The second site is in walking
distance to the campus, and has allowed us to connect with, disciple, and reach
hundreds of college students. Just last school year, there were 60 people who
came to our new site for the first time, who attended regularly and only ever
attended our new site. For these people, our new location is the only location they think of when we
talked about “Central.”
3) We set up our campus
pastor to fail.
They had a volunteer be the campus pastor for their satellite
campus. I agree, this is a bad idea. Thankfully, we don’t have a campus pastor.
We have a lead pastor and an associate pastor (me!) and they are pastors at both locations. While a lot of people
claim to be one church, two locations, I think Central is actually living it
out. We are truly one community that happens to worship at two locations on any given weekend.
4) Our staff were stretched
thin and lost focus.
Over time, their second location was pulling so much energy
from the staff that they had to shut it down. With their second location, they
didn’t add any staff. Instead, they had everyone continue to do the same job,
but now for two locations. It became too much to bear.
What’s funny is that this was also true for Central: all of
the staff continue to lead the same ministry areas, but now with two locations.
I have to admit, adding a second location has been a strain
on Central’s staff as well. The good news is, they have taken the challenge,
and run with it. I should mention that Central does have some turnover of
staff, and this causes some people to worry about the strain we are putting on
them. (Thankfully, Central is the healthiest workplace I have ever worked in).
The truth is that we live in a college town where people move in and out a lot.
I have to say, of all the people who have left staff while I’ve worked at Central,
I can’t think of any who have left because of the strain of leading two
campuses. It’s always been for other reasons, usually personal or career decisions.
5) The physical, emotional,
relational and financial strain on your church from launching just one site is
more than I could possibly have imagined.
Maness didn’t count the cost. While it was costing a lot of emotional
and relational energy, it also costs a lot of money, and if you don’t have the
money, then all of the other kinds of stress will begin to compound. Like I said, having two sites at
Central has been a strain, but it certainly hasn’t been a strain financially.
Our church rose to the challenge, raised the money, and we launched the second site with an income-neutral building. This takes some explaining.
Instead of buying a building and turning it into a church,
Central decided to buy a building, turn it into a community center, that we
happen to also use for worship on Sunday. With its location close to campus, we
remodeled the upstairs to be apartments that we rent to students, the store
front is rented in partnership with a local work co-op, and the main worship
space is rented throughout the week to community organizations to use for
events and concerts. We rent, but with an attitude of partnership and outreach.
We’re here to serve the community. We want to be a blessing to the community.
Not only has this allowed us to bring thousands of people through our
doors every year that would never enter the church otherwise, but it pays the
small mortgage we have on the property. In fact, once we pay the mortgage off, our second site will become
income-producing and we will be able to pour that money into even more mission and
6) We didn’t fully consider
our other options.
They were worshiping three services, and launched a second
campus instead of trying an evening service. With this one, Central differs.
When we launched our second site, we were worshiping two services on Sunday morning and one in the evening. Central was definitely maxed and ready to do something
7) We finally closed the
Eventually this church in Wyoming had to close the doors to
their second site. Thankfully, this is unlikely for Central. Our new
site is a vital part of the community and our mission. BUT, if Central ever
wanted to get rid of the new site, they could sell it and come out with a large
sum of money—I mean, it’s now worth a lot more than when we bought it. But instead
of thinking in terms of shutting doors, we’re in the midst of praying about opening new ones. We’re praying about launching a new church in a community over an hour away. Instead of another
site, it will be a full-fledged new church start that will work towards autonomy
while remaining in relationship with Central. Some might feel like a church
that worships 300 (and 150 are college students) can’t successfully launch
another church in a completely new community. It’s true, if we use the traditional model and
attitude of others, we’d likely fail. But we don’t plan to. As I’ve said
before, “If you’re new with us today, we want you to know that this isn’t
Here’s a short video about our second site shot a couple years ago: