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Where Should Your Microsite Church Meet?

The beautiful thing about a microsite church is that the meeting space can vary to fit what’s available in the community or city. I’ve seen them done successfully in dozens of locations, and I’m always impressed by the passion and desire of people to make them happen no matter the limitations.

This list is by no means an exhaustive one (and I’ll keep adding to it), but I hope it gives you some ideas for your microsites. Just keep in mind that the tiers below are meant to give you a quick overview, but costs may vary from one location to another. In other words, no promises.

And one other quick not on these. If you use a temporary space each week, you’ll need to figure out storage for all your gear (such as TV/projectors, sound equipment, etc.). You may also need to factor in the cost of a trailer or storage unit and plan to have a team of volunteers ready to help.

Potentially Rent Free

  • Homes: This is the easiest and most common starting place for many microsites. The cost investment is minimal, but just know the logistics of managing larger groups can be tough (e.g., parking, seating, childcare).
  • Neighborhood Clubhouses: Sometimes, the use of a neighborhood clubhouse is included in HOA fees. It’s a good place to jump to if you outgrow a house or if you’re targeting a certain neighborhood.
  • Apartment Complex Community Spaces: Some apartment buildings have viewing rooms or other common spaces for tenants. This is a great way to reach the apartment community.
  • College Campuses: Your local university may have spaces that students can use free of charge, such as meeting rooms, fraternity/sorority houses, campus organization buildings, and more. Ask your college students or faculty to point you in the right direction.
  • Church Buildings: This may seem odd, but some microsites meet in church buildings. This is especially true with smaller churches that no longer meet on a regular basis or have a schedule that you can work around.

Potentially Lower Cost

  • Restaurants: Some restaurants are closed on Sunday mornings and have plenty of seating, which makes this work. (But keep in mind that microsites can meet whenever you choose.)
  • Gyms: There’s lots of open space in a gym for a larger gathering (especially in rooms designed for group workouts). But you’ll most likely have to set up and tear down each week.
  • Community Centers: Some communities and towns have spaces you can rent for a low fee, which you can usually find on the community website. Just make sure you read the fine print on the contract; otherwise, you may end up having to use their equipment. Also, some of these spaces may not be the nicest.
  • Libraries: Libraries often have larger meeting rooms for community events. Just know that some smaller branches have limited hours throughout the week.
  • State Park Facilities: Some state parks offer conference centers or meeting rooms for a low rental fee.
  • Corporate Office Buildings: Ask local business owners if they’d be willing to allow you to use meeting rooms or other large spaces in their buildings.

Potentially Higher Cost

  • Shopping Malls: Many malls in America are hurting, and they need reliable tenants. You’d have plenty of parking and flexibility for the space.
  • Group Lodges/Camps: Some rural or vacation areas have lodges or camps owned by faith-based and non-profit organizations. You may even find one with solid AV equipment.
  • Local Event Spaces: If a space is good enough for a wedding, it can work for a microsite gathering. Plus, Sunday mornings aren’t often high-demand times for these spaces. You could get a discount for longterm use.
  • Theaters: Movie theaters already host a number of churches, and some chains even have staff who help make this happen. But don’t overlook smaller local theaters as an option. They’re often landmarks that people know how to find easily.
  • Hotels/Conference Centers: This option can be pricier and come with additional requirements for what equipment you’re allowed to use (so, read the contract carefully). But you often get a higher level of quality.

Other Options

  • Prisons: Some churches have microsites that meet in local or state prisons. The requirements and restrictions can make this tricky (e.g., you may have to send in DVDs/thumbdrives of the sermon, you may not be able to meet every week, etc.). So, work with a chaplain or local/state official to get the details. No matter what, though, this is an incredible outreach opportunity.
  • Public/Private Schools: Schools have plenty going for them to allow your microsite to grow. But in some locations, legal issues can make using the buildings tougher.
Church

Children and Student Ministry at a Microsite Church

On this site, I’ve talked quite a bit about the Sunday worship experience at microsite churches, as well as resourcing adult leaders. But what do you do with children and students? Is it possible to integrate a ministry for them into what you’re doing at a microsite?

The answer to that is complicated. That’s because kids and student ministries can vary significantly from one microsite to another. So much depends on space and resources—not to mention available leadership. In other words, what you won’t find in this article is a one-size-fits-all solution for your microsite.

But that said, there are several general guidelines that could help you find something that works for you.

Make Peace with Your Space

Many microsites launch in smaller spaces, such as living rooms, basements, hotel meeting rooms, restaurants, and even barns. These spaces work for a small gathering, and they make financial sense (especially if they’re free).

But they often don’t offer much flexibility in terms of space. You may only have one large gathering space available to you. And that’s okay.

The truth is that in many microsite locations such as these, you may not have any room for a nursery, a children’s worship area, or a youth hangout. Even though those types of areas are essential to your larger campuses, don’t let that stop you from pushing ahead with a microsite.

If you don’t have any of these spaces, you’ll have to work on training your microsite leaders to help parents with young children who attend. They’ll need to know how to deal with any disruptive behavior or situations with grace.

But the bottom line is that your space will dictate much of how you approach children and youth. If there’s no room for what you’d like to do, that’s okay; a microsite can still work.

Start Younger

If you do have extra space at your microsite location, always start younger. Your first addition should be a nursery and/or a space for parents to go with children. That’s a nice perk that families will appreciate.

More space? Add some sort of gathering for preschool children. Ideally, this includes at least a rudimentary curriculum with games, songs, and lessons.

Your next addition would be for elementary kids. But wait to roll this out until you have a solid volunteer or staff member who can spearhead a quality experience for kids. You’ll hurt the reputation of the microsite far more with a subpar kids church compared to just not having one at all.

As for students, very few microsites offer something on Sunday mornings for them specifically. Most have their youth worship together with everyone else. But they do offer other options, as we’ll see later.

Add Slowly

Even if you have the space and resources, add to your microsite’s ministries slowly and carefully after much planning and prayer. This will save you some pain in the long run.

First, you want to make sure you’ve found the right leader for each of these areas. These may very well be volunteer roles, but you still want there to be high standards and expectations for those who lead these ministries.

Next, once you start these ministries, you’ll have to sustain them. Having an on-again-off-again nursery is frustrating for parents, for example. And with a microsite, you’ll need enough volunteers who can keep everything humming each week. Not to mention that you’ll need enough kids coming on a regular basis to justify having those ministries.

Finally, you must have a meticulous safety plan in place to protect your workers and your kids. This isn’t a church building with computer check-in stations on every corner, but the safety of the kids is just as important—and maybe even more so because of the scale.

If you can’t promise the parents you’ve taken every precaution at the microsite to assure the safety of the kids, then don’t launch any kind of children’s space. You need a solid check-in and check-out system, rules governing the number of adults with kids at all times, bathroom protocols, background checks for every volunteer and staff member, and all the same precautions you’d take at your larger campuses.

Does that complicate things? Yes, absolutely. But it’s worth every bit of the complication.

Keep It Standard

For your curriculum choices at a microsite, go with the same materials you use across your other campuses. You already have access to those resources, they’re good quality (hopefully), and your staff knows them.

But there’s a bigger reason for doing this, even if it costs you a little more. Namely, a standard curriculum across your church means you have experience you can share with microsite volunteers. Include them in your meetings (via Zoom or recorded videos if need be) so they feel like they’re a part of the team. Invite them to talk to a ministry leader on your staff once a month. Open your staff gatherings to microsite leaders.

When you do this, you add another layer of connection between the microsite and the church as a whole. And you’re continuing to develop a pipeline of potential leaders.

But go one step further by also including children and students on camps, trips, and outreach opportunities. True, the microsite could be too far away to do everything with the rest of the church, but whenever possible, allow them to sign up and join larger events.

Take the Students Outside

So far, we’ve been focusing on kids ministry, which is mainly because space limitations typically make student ministry tough for Sundays. But that’s not the end of the story.

For many microsites, youth ministry simply takes place outside Sunday mornings. If you have some volunteer leaders (or perhaps even staff) who have a passion for teens, tap into that by encouraging them to meet as a group in a home or community space. Quite a few have found Sunday or Wednesday evenings to work best, but it’s really up to you.

Other microsites split students up into small groups at homes throughout the week and then join together for a worship gathering once each month. Still others use the same location as the microsite for a weekly gathering with small group breakouts. And some simply join with another area youth group once each week.

However you do it, follow the same guidelines of sharing the curriculum if possible and the safety protocols you have in place at your campuses.

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The Technology You’ll Need for a Microsite Church

Let me set your expectations before you read this post. Technology changes so quickly that anything I write would be outdated in months (or even weeks) if I listed exact equipment. If I told you to buy a certain steaming box, for example, that model would be replaced in no time.

Instead, I’m going to lay out general tech categories with links to companies that provide the resources you’ll need.

Second, before you consider technology needs, make sure you know the basics of where you’ll meet, how you’ll resource your microsite, and the other logistics. That will drive your technology needs.

With that said, let’s dive in.

Small Venues

A microsite church doesn’t necessarily require a huge upfront investment. That’s the beauty of the model. So, don’t think you need to resource it like you would a full campus. It can be much, much cheaper, especially with ones that meet in homes.

In fact, you can often get away with nothing more than a streaming set-top box, such as an Apple TV or Chromecast. Your church’s app may already be in those app stores, and if you offer live-streaming on your app, you’re all set. You could also simply stream your services on a computer or smart TV. 

Now the caveat: Some rural areas don’t have reliable high speed Internet. So, streaming may not be an option in those locations. (Trust me. I’ve limped along with satellite Internet in the past, and you’re not doing any streaming with that.) 

In such cases, you could have the microsite leader download the message from your website or Dropbox. Or you could send DVDs of the sermon. If you go this route, though, you’ll need think through how this will work and then test it out before going live.

For small group resources, marketing materials, worship guides (bulletins), and other similar print pieces, store them in Dropbox, iCloud, or a similar service for easier dispersal. You could also have them printed and shipped directly, but that depends on how much you want to spend. My personal recommendation here is that you try to keep as much digital as you can to cut costs at first.

Don’t be afraid to test out pop-up banners and other signage (such as yard signs), even if your microsite meets at a house. They add a level of legitimacy to your gathering, and they aren’t prohibitively expensive.

Now, as for worship, your best bet is to keep it simple. You won’t reach the level of excellence you have at your larger campuses, and that’s okay. If you go for live worship, you can usually stick with acoustic. You could also put the lyrics up on the TV with a laptop and ProPresenter (or even something like Keynote). 

You could also simply stream your worship along with the message. Or you could record a stripped down set during the week and send it to your microsites. Whatever you do, test it out before you launch anything.

Larger Venues

If your microsite is meeting in a library or other community space, things can get trickier. But ultimately, you can rely on the same sort of setup as the smaller space. You can still stream through a set-top box, but you’ll need a larger screen and likely better speakers. 

Trust me on this. The library or community center will not have good enough speakers for what you want to do. My friends at Portable Church Industries can help you find the right audio and video solutions for both worship and the sermon delivery. (I’m not an affiliate. But I trust those guys.) You may also want to consider purchasing or making some portable acoustic panels to help control the echo, depending on the space.

As you approach 75+ people, I would highly recommend you begin the transition toward a more reliable streaming solution. Expectations rise with increased attendance. In that case, you’ll need to purchase a professional live video streaming encoder, just like you would for a regular campus. Since no one’s giving me a cut, I’m not going to tell you which company to go with, but you could try Boxcast, Epiphan Video, SlingStudio, or Stream Monkey.

Your worship music setup will definitely depend on the space and what’s allowed. Live music with a full band is preferred, but if that’s not possible, don’t sweat it. Just make the stream or recording sound the best you can. As a side note, if you are going with live music, this is a great way to mix in your interns and residents to give them a chance to lead worship.

With a larger space, you’ll also want to step up the game with welcoming and directional signage, as well as whatever you hand out to people who come. Also, don’t skimp on the t-shirts. 

If you need help thinking through what technology you’ll need, connect with me. I’d be glad to walk alongside you in this process.

Church

How to Measure the Success of a Microsite Church

How do you know if your microsite is successful? That’s a question you’ll need to grapple with before you even launch. If you don’t, you’ll have a tough time measuring the effectiveness and helping your microsite team know what to focus on.

Teams without solid goals will make up their own. They’ll focus on details that may not align with the church’s vision. And you’ll end up with a silo… or some serious animosity when you have to realign things down the road.

Head off the pain by thinking this through before you get rolling.

Define Your Wins

First, work through why you’re launching the microsite in the first place. If you want to reach people who are traveling a long distance to get to your church, that’s your baseline for success. If you’re trying to connect with people in a certain apartment complex, start there.

Don’t be afraid of numbers here. Look at the population of the area where you’re launching and set some expectations about how many you should be reaching. Granted, the size of your space may temper that a bit, but if you can fit 50 or 100 people in a space, then aim there.

Ideally, your measures should be tied to your vision statement. If you’re excited about life change, then measure how many people have come to know Jesus. If you’re a church that focuses on mobilizing to missions, then set goals there. If you love seeing people get plugged in, set some expectations there. Discipleship pathway, markers for maturity, growth factors… whatever it is, make sure you’re keeping those at the forefront.

Just keep one thing in mind: Your first microsite will likely take longer to mature than you think. Moving people through your pipeline will be tougher because you’ll still be figuring out the details and making tweaks along the way. Don’t be discouraged if your numbers are lower than at other campuses for the first year or two.

Set up a Dashboard

Once you’ve targeted your key measures of success, make sure you’re set up to keep track of them. Think through what would prove you’ve met a goal. Baptism? Membership? Volunteering? Attendance?

To measure any of that, you’ll need systems in place that help you keep track of the numbers. Don’t leave this to chance. Your launch strategy needs to include how you’ll capture this data.

I highly recommend church management software for this because most of the best ones can spit out reports quickly. (Also, I’m not a spreadsheet guru… so, help is good.)

Review

Setting up your dashboard is great. But far too often, churches and ministries set them up… and then ignore them. Make sure that your microsite leaders have access to the numbers and can see where they are. Review the markers with the leaders so that they understand the why behind them. (You’ll have to do this over and over because the vision behind goals will slip over time.)

Celebrate when you move toward your goals. The microsite leaders need to know that you truly value what you claim to value. And when goals aren’t met, course correct to address where things are lagging.

In other words, accountability shows you’re truly committed to success.

Evaluate Regularly

At least once each year, meet with your team to review the stats, goals, and expectations for your microsite. Talk through the what the stats show. The truth is your friend here; so, don’t be afraid to be honest about where you are.

Here’s what I’ve consistently found as I coach churches: Low or skewed stats point to underlying issues. They are symptoms of deeper problems. Avoid the easy excuses. Take time to think through what may be causing the lagging numbers. Have someone write down the challenges you’re facing on a whiteboard and look for underlying themes.

The idea here is set expectations for your microsite like you would for any other ministry or campus in your church. People will rise to those expectations, but they have to know you mean them. Ultimately, you need to keep your microsite aligned with the bigger vision God has given the church.

After your review, determine the next steps for the microsite. Are leadership changes needed? Will you provide more funding? Should you adjust the goals? 

Stay Healthy

The point of all this isn’t to add complexity; the point is to make sure your microsite stays healthy. Taking its pulse regularly allows you to keep it on the right track.

Church

Microsite Church Launch Checklist

Before you run headlong into the microsite revolution, take some time to work through this launch checklist with your team. You’ll be glad you prepped when things get messy down the road (and they will).

Reasoning

Structure

Logistics

  • Figure out where to launch your microsite (that is, the community or town).
  • Determine the location for hosting the microsite.
  • Figure out the flow of service, how the sermon will be delivered, when the site will gather, and how your worship will work.
  • Figure out where people will park, where people will sit (and how many can sit there), and how you’ll handle response times.
  • Purchase the equipment and technology you’ll need to stream video, gather information about guests (e.g., an iPad), or lead worship.
  • Check to make sure your music and other copyright licenses are up to date.
  • Check to make sure you have enough users for your software or cloud-based technology solutions (e.g., church management software).
  • Determine how (or if) you’ll advertise the microsite (website, social media, word of mouth only).
  • Ship or deliver any necessary print materials for the microsite (connect cards, worship guides, small group guides, etc.).

People

  • Connect with a solid core group of people in the area and begin to cast vision to them (look for committed people who drive in from the area).
  • Determine if the sponsoring church will be sending staff or volunteers to help and how often that will happen.
  • Just as you would with a campus, tap your key leaders for guest services, small groups, and worship. (Don’t leave this until after launch.)
  • Provide training to these key volunteers at least a month before launch.
  • Do a soft launch at least once before the “real thing.”

Timeline

Your timeline will depend on your unique situation, but the order of events will usually be set. This also assumes that you’ve already worked through the pre-timeline logistics.

One Year to Six Months Before Launch

  • Determine the microsite leader.
  • Begin training and resourcing the leader.
  • Identify key members of the team.

Six to Three Months Before Launch

  • Gather your key leaders together for worship, prayer, and vision casting at least once.
  • The leader should meet with the key leaders one on one at least once during this window.
  • Finalize logistical plans for your microsite.
  • Make sure all technology is in place and working.
  • Cast vision in your small groups that meet in the area.

Three Months Before and up to Launch

  • Perform training with all volunteers.
  • Gather again for worship, prayer, and vision casting.
  • Do at least one soft launch before you launch for real. (The goal is to make sure you clean up any problem areas. I highly recommend you do this at least once each month.)

Post Launch

  • Evaluate your first service and make adjustments.
  • Continue training your microsite leader and key volunteers.
  • Celebrate in videos and social media!
  • Continually monitor the effectiveness and health of the microsite.
  • Include microsite leaders in your strategic planning.
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Choosing the Right Location? Go Where God’s Already Working

I love studying those circles.

When we review the stats for our livestream broadcast, areas where people are watching show up as circles in a range of sizes. As you might expect, we have small, rural communities with a few streamers represented by small circles and larger circles near our campuses.

But then there are the exceptions. Some rural communities and small towns in our state show much larger circles than you’d expect — lots of people streaming Sunday after Sunday.

When people ask about the “right location” for a microsite, I always come back to those circles. Sure, we could strategize about what town makes the most sense or where we’d like to test out a model. And there’s room for that. But the most successful microsite starts with one simple (Blackaby) maxim: Go where God’s already at work and join Him in it.

The benefit here is that you aren’t generating interest. You’re very likely walking into life change that’s already happening. And people who watch your sermons and have been transformed or who are passionate about your mission — that’s a pretty powerful core group. They’re much more likely to help you launch something new and to stick with it.

Finding Where God’s at Work

Data is your friend here. (I geek out on data… so, sorry in advance.) Tap into Google Analytics to see where people are coming from, especially on your livestream and sermon archive pages. If you notice patterns, you’re likely onto something good. Test this over a longer period of time (six months to a year) to make sure there’s consistency. Also, factor in the size of communities to get an accurate picture of reach. (Wikipedia can give you a snapshot here.) Consider the areas with a greater percentage of those connected to the church.

Second, dive into the church database. Use the search by address or zip code feature to examine how many people have submitted information from that community. This depends on the accuracy and depth of your database. Cross check that with the analytics to see if you have solid leads on who watches from those areas. (If you don’t have anyone in your database from those areas, see the ideas below.)

Also, sift through any small group info you have to see where they’re meeting. If you have thriving groups that meet farther than thirty minutes from a campus, it’s a pretty good bet that those groups are reaching at least some people who don’t come to your church.

If you need some better info or don’t have a church database, use the chat on your livestream to ask people to fill out a “digital visitor card.” What’s great is that you can use a number of sites to create free or cheap forms. You may have to ask for this several times before you gather any meaningful results, and you’ll only get a small percentage of people who respond. But the better your relationships are with those who livestream, the better your mileage.

No data? You may have more than you think — if you ask. Send out a survey on social media or via email. Ask for stories from those who livestream. Talk to your staff about people they know who drive from far away. Walk the parking lot on a Sunday and look for patterns in counties on the license plate. Talk to connections you have in the target communities.

Step into the Momentum

Bottom line? It’s so much easier and fruitful to step into what God’s doing. Let the data help you figure that out… and then run with it.

Church

Before You Launch Your First Microsite…

Ready to launch your first microsite church? Great. We’ve already talked about the reasons to do so and what makes them successful. Hopefully, you see how effective they can be.

But don’t hit go just yet. Before you begin the trek, take some time to make sure you’re ready for the long haul. Microsites are the perfect place for experimenting and trying new ministry models and ideas, but you still need to answer some questions to make sure you’ve got everything in place to support them well.

Ask yourself these questions:

Church Structure

  • Are microsites centrally driven in your church or locally driven at a campus?
  • Who on staff will be responsible for resourcing and leading your microsites? Who is checking in on them?
  • Who will vet potential microsite leaders? How do you know they meet your standards? Who determines how much training they need?
  • To whom does a microsite leader report? What type of quarterly/yearly review will he or she have?
  • How often will you meet with a microsite leader?
  • How do you determine the health of a microsite? What steps will you take if a one is failing?

Launching

  • Who has the final say about launching a microsite?
  • How will you identify the right area to launch?
  • What steps will you take to learn about the community?
  • How many people from your church drive from this area? How many already stream services?
  • How will you gauge interest in the community? What meetings will you have?
  • Will you develop small groups in the area first?
  • What size core group do you need? What benchmark does the core group need to meet before you launch?
  • Will you have another name for your group prior to calling it an official microsite? (For example, will it be called a core group or community group until it reaches a certain size?)
  • Will you soft launch with a test service before your official launch?
  • How will you determine the physical location that’s right for your microsite? What criteria do you have?

Funding

  • Where do microsites fall in your budget (even if you’re not providing funds just yet)?
  • How much funding will each site receive to launch and each year? Are there benchmarks to determine funding levels?
  • Do tithes and offerings stay at the microsite or do they come to a central budget to be redistributed?
  • Will the microsite leader be paid? Full-time? Part-time?
  • Will there be other staff at a microsite? At what point? Will they be paid? At what point?

Ministry Considerations

  • Will you have live worship or streamed worship? Who picks the music?
  • Who sets the order of service? Who determines announcements?
  • Will microsite leaders be part of your planning process?
  • Will you provide childcare? Children’s ministry? Student ministry? At what point? Launch? After?
  • How do you ensure volunteers and ministry leaders are being trained properly? How do you determine their effectiveness?
  • Who picks ministry leaders at the microsite level? Will they be paid? At what point?
  • Will children/student ministry stick to the same curriculum used at your other locations?

Future Development

  • What steps will you take if a microsite would like to become a church plant? What benchmarks will you have in place?
  • Can a microsite ever become a “campus” of your church? What level would it need to reach?
  • Where are people coming from to get to your microsite? Is there interest for another microsite in a nearby community?

Yes, that’s a lot of questions, and I could list many more. The point is not for you to have everything figured out; it’s for you to be thinking through the complexities of microsites before you jump in. You can always adjust as you learn and grow. But figuring all of this out after you launch is much more difficult—and often painful—than having a plan at the start.

So, take a few weeks and pray through these questions. You’ll be glad you did.