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July 22, 2017

Taco Tongues

By Stephen Smith

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/4rr51

How We Talk About the Variations Between Multisite Campuses

Biology is beautiful. It’s also a great starting place when talking about multisite church multiplication.

Here is a fun fact: three out of my four kids can do a taco tongue. 

Another fun fact: they wear it like a badge of honor. 

Most of the times, the gifted remind the not so gifted of this while sitting at the dinner table. And, as you can imagine, it can quickly get out of hand. Like a good mother, my wife, Star, helps us quickly get back on track. It could either be that she is envious or that it is just gross to do at the table. I’ll have to ask her. 

Multisite is an amazing way to do church. However, not everybody around the world thinks so. One objection people have about the multisite model is its similarity to franchising. It’s a completely understandable leap in thinking. One place thinks of a way to do church effectively then seeks to reproduce it in another place, then another place and so on. To use our analogy to the extreme, it would be as if a pink-haired, blue-eyed church sought to produce offspring that are solely pink-haired and blue-eyed also. So, at the end of the day you produced a clone army of pink-haired kids ready to take over the world. Yes, it is one way of doing it. Yes, there are huge efficiencies in doing it this way. But, does the one-size-fits all approach fit every context? Every mission field? The answer is no. 

So, the big question is: To what degree can your church culture tolerate variation among the multisite campuses. Let that sink in for a moment. Let it penetrate what you know to be true about your pastor, the staff team, and what has been discussed in meetings. 

There is a way to talk multisite. This can only come through clear communication and shared mind about what you are setting out to do.

Let’s talk about two words you probably haven’t used since high school genetics: genotype and phenotype.

Quick definitions:

genotype:  the genetic constitution of an individual organism.

phenotype: the set of observable characteristics of an individual (organism) resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

Let me explain this by illustrating what I know about my kids around that dinner table.

Each of our four kids are both identical and different at the same time. On the genetic level, we each share key markers of “sameness” that have formed a specific “signature” in our family. The DNA of the parents is found in each one of the offspring. This is the genotype part. In this way, they/we share something identical.

At the same time, each kid looks different from one another. They’re phenotypical traits make them that way. Stay with me here. In each child, you see reflections of the parent, but they are certainly not identical. You see, their hair color is a perfect blend between Star’s hair and mine. The eye color is a mix of blues, light browns, and hazel, which I think is a made up color. Hope and Jackson favor Star. Madison and Avonlea (yes, like Green Gables) look more like me. As I mentioned above, some kids can do things the others can’t. It varies from kid to kid.

The same could be true of your multisite campuses: The genotype is the same, but phenotype make each campus express differently. One campus in the suburbs might be more able and equipped to configure their programs (expression of DNA) one way, while the campus in the city center would be more able and equipped to configure their programs in another. Vacation Bible School might be easy at a campus with facilities. Backyard Bible Clubs might be easier for the mobile campus without a stationary facility or some type of ministry center. In either case, notice that the goal of discipleship (hopefully a core DNA marker) is met. Each campus holds up the core value of discipleship, but the way that core value presents look differently across town.

I know half of you are getting weirded out at this point with me advocating all this freedom and variation. Trust me, with a solid core of healthy, clearly articulated organizational DNA, you will see that it makes it much simpler.

The principle is this: The more contextualized you become (which is truly the heart of multisite), the more variations of your church’s DNA you will need to prepare for.

Expect variation. 

Expect hurt feelings at first. 

Expect a long series of meetings in which you determine what is core to the DNA of the church and what is considered a campus “characteristic.” 

But also, expect wins that come from a multitude of places. 

Expect ingenuity and creativity from your staff team. 

Expect new leaders to emerge when they gather within their own context. 

Expect member engagement to rise to a whole new level. 

Above all, expect a table full of beautifully different campus expressions, built on the good core DNA of your church, concerned only with God-centered multiplication, with the gospel as the foundation.


Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith (@stephenandstar) serves in Houston with his wife and four kids. He shepherds four teams within the church: Music, Multisite, Media, and Marketing. He spends the remainder of his time these days with his head in a book or dealing with an unruly yard. His passion is leading worship through song with his wife and leveraging their lives to see ministry multiplied in their home church and beyond.


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