Starting a new campus is tough. Sustaining an existing campus is even tougher. But nothing compares to trying to keep a campus afloat when it becomes a big drain on the operational budget. It can really erode the excitement around your multisite ministry.
Recently, I spoke with a very large church with an established plan to plant campuses around their metropolitan area. In fact, they set a goal of starting ten campuses by 2020. I absolutely fell in love with the vision and their determination to see that vision come to fruition.
However, the level of excitement in the pastor’s tone changed completely when I asked, “How are the two campuses you have doing financially? Any unexpected challenges?” He nodded his head and explained that the two existing campuses have already become enormous cash burdens.
This church—like many—infused more money into their first two campuses than they anticipated. After five years, the campuses still have not been able to pay for themselves. As a result, the main campus has been unable to start any of the remaining eight churches. No church leader should think they are above this fate. You should (and can!) understand the financial needs of what it will take to have a successful multisite ministry before you make the leap.
What can we learn? After you identify the financial trigger points in starting a multisite initiative, you need to focus on getting the campus to self-sufficiency. Here are a few tips to help your multisite campus become self-sufficient as soon as possible:
1. Buy nothing!
Buildings are short-term solutions with long-term consequences. Figure out the balance between what you need long term and what you need right now. The building you can afford to buy now will be too small in a few years, and you won’t be able to get the majority of that money back. The building you cannot afford to buy now, well… you can’t afford it.
2. Find existing spaces that don’t need a lot of work.
Spaces, such as schools, typically have a good number of resources available, such as seating, a stage, lighting, and audio/visual equipment in the auditorium. Not only can this be incredible cost saving, but it puts you directly in touch with the families in the community. Don’t just rent space from them—invest in them. Engage the parents in painting projects at the school, putting coats on needy kids, and making sure that hungry children are fed at lunch. Once the campus has reached its full growth potential in attendance and giving, you can start to look at the next steps.
3. Meet in another church or rent a “timeshare” space.
This is a great option that few churches consider. There are so many churches out there that hold only one service. Let them do their service at 9:00, and pay them for letting you do your service at 11:00. Lease improvements/retrofits and purchasing are two very expensive options. Renting a “timeshare” space can save your campus a ton of money, and help your campus get to self-sufficiency faster.
4. Include your campus pastor in all of the financial conversations.
Your campus pastor is the one who’s going to be building relationships with your new church members. Therefore, he will be primarily responsible for cultivating generosity at your new location. Sit down with your campus pastor and talk about the financial plan, along with a cost structure. Set goals. Follow up on them.
5. Grow towards your people.
A campus is an extension of your existing church, which is what makes it different than a plant or a satellite church. Do a survey to see where the largest—or fewest—number of your giving units drive from to attend church. If there are a decent number of people who are driving more than 15-20 minutes to attend your church from a certain area, you have a good idea of where your next campus should be.
You shouldn’t launch a new campus until you know how you plan to become financially stable and how long it will take you get there. That doesn’t mean there won’t be unexpected surprises along the way; it just means everything won’t be a surprise. You will be able to move forward with an even greater sense of confidence, knowing you’ll be able to sustain what you started.
The quicker your campus moves from start-up to self-sufficient, the sooner you can begin planning your next launch.