Multisite Churches: Who Calls the Shots?

In 3 ½ years of multisite research, every person that I interacted with involved in a multisite church agreed on one thing: leadership structures in multisite churches are incredibly complex. In every multisite church, there’s a tension between freedom, control, and decision-making authority. A pertinent question every multisite church must wrestle with is, “Who calls the shots?” Does authority lie at the campus level, or at the larger church level? What decisions can (and cannot) a campus pastor make apart from the approval of a senior leadership team or governing board?

The senior leadership team has the challenging task of being closely enough involved in the operations of each campus to ensure that campuses rightly embody the DNA of the overall church. At the same time, the senior leadership team must empower and legitimize campus leadership in such a way that they do not feel unnecessarily restricted or compromised of their own unique calling and giftedness.

Nobody Wants to be Micromanaged

While there is a clear tension between control and freedom in multisite leadership structures, the general trajectory tends to be more towards control.

In my dissertation research, 77% of campus pastors agree on some level that the senior leadership team of the entire church maintains significant control over the ministries, decisions, and directions of each respective campus. Similarly, 44%  of campus pastors said their greatest frustration was related in some way to the fact that they felt as though they didn’t have enough freedom, or that they were “managed” or “controlled” too closely.

At the same time, more than half (55%) of campus pastors expressed their desire to eventually serve as a senior pastor. Furthermore, over 50% of campus pastors indicated they wanted more preaching opportunities.

From these indicators, the role of campus pastor in multisite churches could see a significant turnover in the years to come. Unless primarily video-venue multisite churches began to empower campus pastors with more preaching opportunities, or central leadership decides to move towards a more empowering model at the local campus level, many campus pastors may be preparing their resumes in the days to come.  

For these reasons and more, the senior leadership teams in multisite churches should consider a model in which their campus pastors and congregations are able to experience more freedom to “spread their wings and fly.”

Let Campuses "Grow Up”

Like children, teenagers, and young adults, local congregations and campus pastors of multisite churches will only be healthy to the degree that they are given freedom from the “mother campus” to individualize and “grow up.” Certainly in the early years, the senior leadership team must maintain careful control to ensure the healthy duplication of the appropriate DNA. The campuses may need to be treated like “children” for a season.

However, as the congregation and its respective leadership grow and mature, they will likely only grow increasingly frustrated if they feel like they are too tightly-controlled or “handcuffed.” A potential danger of the multisite model is that in some cases it may inadvertently quench the unique giftedness, charisma, and leadership capabilities of the campus pastor. Especially if the campus pastor is a high-level leader and a “lead-by-teaching” type, he must be given the ability to not only preach, but to cast a vision that is uniquely his for his particular context.

Meaningful Eldership

Finally, multisite churches should ensure that it really means something for an elder to be an elder. This is a unique challenge for multisite churches as elders are necessarily spread out over a number of geographic campuses. However, in addition to allowing elders to have real authority in their local congregations, if multisite churches legitimately intend to remain as “one church,” they must commit to all elders – at least in some way – being empowered to lead and have authority at the larger church level. If all elders are not given an authentic voice to the direction of the entire church, then why call them elders?

The same argument should be made for campus pastors. In particular for those multisite churches who give these men the name of campus “pastors,” why should they not be given the rightful, biblical authority that comes along with the office of pastor?  

In conclusion, the distribution of decision-making authority may be the most volatile element in multisite churches. Leadership teams are only wise to the degree that they are willing to have real conversations about control and freedom, giving an open ear to the local campus leadership. Senior leaders in particular must create an environment of transparency and vulnerability in which campus pastors and others feel the freedom to express their confusion or frustrations. If leaders are able to have these honest conversations with a spirit of humility – while be willing to “turn loose” of some control – the future of multisite churches can be very bright.


Jamus Edwards is the Pastor for Preaching & Vision at Pleasant Valley Community Church (PVCC) in Owensboro, Kentucky. He holds a Ph.D. in Leadership from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where his dissertation focused on leadership structures and dynamics in multisite churches.  Jamus is married to Annie Leigh, and they have three children. You can find Jamus’ blog at jamusedwards.com or follow him on Twitter @jamusedwards. PVCC’s website is www.pleasantvalley.cc