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March 22, 2016

“The Long Game”: The question multisite churches must answer immediately

By Stephen Smith

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s why I’m including one in this piece. Lets dive into into the graphic first, then I’ll highlight the run up to what got us (Houston’s First) to this decision.

Initial considerations: We first had to answer the big question. “Can Multisite Campuses of Houston’s First ever become autonomous congregations? If so, what is the timeframe, criteria, and motivating factor?” The answer is YES! The entire concept is to produce healthy cooperating churches that multiply.

A 5-Year Incubation Period is mandatory to establish roots and culture within the community. Between the 5 and 10-year mark, the church can begin to prepare and position a site for autonomy which would occur in its 10th year.

Step One: 10-Year Autonomy Option. After the 5-year incubation period, the church begins to move toward being a cooperating, independent congregation. Not only are they financially solvent, they are also producing leaders who lead thriving ministry. The entire autonomy period is 10-years in length, or sooner, if the Senior Pastor and leaders are in agreement.

Step Two: The multisite campus assumes any indebtedness associated with that location’s property.

Step Three: The multisite reimburses the sending campus for 75% of capital investment, less any debt associated with this capital investment. This investment would include property and buildings, but would not include the repayment of normal operating expenses and salaries incurred by the sending campus in the operation of that multisite.

Step Four: The new church commits to remain a cooperating Southern Baptist Church adhering to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). If the church should cease to be an SBC church, the assets revert back to Houston’s First Baptist.

“Where do we do this?”, “How many do we have?” and “Is this church planting?

As the multisite conversation began to take shape within our congregation, people asked a few questions first: “Where do we do this?”, “How many do we have?” and “Is this church planting?” The mission of the Task Force we created was to answer these priority questions.

During the five months leading up to our formal presentation, the answers to questions one and two came quickly. The answer to number three was the one that took the most time. In our times together, we were forced to play scenarios out to the end. It was when we saw our multisite model firmly rooted in missiology and not ecclesiology that a great new world seemed to open up before us.

A few years later, a deacon would describe the process we went through as the making of a “church planting machine” able to, in the grace of God, build up congregations that would eventually become autonomous, cooperating churches that also would go on to plant more churches. The infographic is a visual representation of our first official step toward a coherent multisite strategy.

Alongside funding church planting nationally and globally with some profound agencies, we believe that part of a sturdy local strategy is multisite. The right people, in the right location, with the right ramp (both culturally and financially) to autonomy will have a better survival rate than those who just want funding.

My article will be a disappointment to some at this point when I tell you we have not yet launched any autonomous congregations in our model to date. That certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t planning for it. And that’s an exciting first step for us.

It can also be an exciting firsts step for your church family as you move forward into church multiplication through multisite.


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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