Blog

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.

What to Look for in a Microsite Leader

We’ve talked about the three keys to a successful microsite, and at the top of that list is leadership. The strength and growth of the site hinges on a leader committed to your vision and wired to develop people. There’s no one right kind of leader—several personality types can be successful—but there does need to be screening on your part to make sure this person has the right spiritual DNA.

So, how do you know? What should you look for in a potential leader? When your leadership team talks to the person, start with these basic questions.

Does This Person Have a Life-Change Story?

This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to assume someone who has been in church has truly experienced life change in Christ. Don’t be embarrassed to start right here. Ask them to tell their story of how Jesus transformed them. After all, they need to be able to explain this to the people who come to the microsite as well.

Does This Person Have a Calling to Ministry?

A microsite isn’t just a place for people to watch church. It is a church. The person who leads this gathering will be guiding people on a spiritual journey. While the skillset for a smaller gathering like this may be on a different level from a pastor of a megachurch, there’s no less a need to hear them share a clear passion for reaching people with the Gospel.

Expect to hear something like this: “I love this community, and there are so many people here who don’t go to church. I can’t stand that.” “God’s already at work in our apartment building. In the last month, I’ve had people I rarely talk to ask me about my faith.” “I have this vision for a church gathering right there in the prison. I can really see it happening.”

If there’s no passion, no desire to see lives changed, proceed with caution. That’s what will sustain them over the long haul.

Does This Person Have a Record of Sticking with It?

This may be tougher to gauge if you have no history with this potential leader. But don’t be afraid to get references. Look, a microsite leader is a key face of your church in a particular community. Treat them the same you would any other hire—even if they’re a volunteer (ideally, you get references on your volunteers, too, but that’s a whole other blog).

You need to make sure this isn’t a person who jumps from one area of ministry to another because it seems more exciting. Microsite, as the new hotness, can attract early adopters, which is not a bad thing, but weigh their interest carefully.

The bottom line is you need to ensure this person will walk through the ups and downs of a microsite. Just because it’s a smaller setting, that doesn’t mean it’s easier. In fact, consistency of a quality leader can be even more important because there’s no other staff.

Does This Person Embody Your Church’s DNA?

Most likely, a microsite leader will be remote from the sponsoring church. They’re not attending your weekly meetings; they’re not stopping to talk to the leadership in the hallway; they’re not hearing and seeing the vision of the church each day.

While ongoing training is essential to make them feel like a part of the family, the DNA you send a leader with is crucial. In other words, spend time intentionally training them before they launch so that you’re not having to redirect and correct later. Plus, pre-training helps you uncover areas of concern in a potential leader.

Can This Person Develop Leaders?

Since a microsite leader won’t be preaching, they can focus much more attention on developing disciples. Granted, they’ll likely be volunteer leaders themselves, but they’ll need to have some margin available to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The “how” will vary by situation, but they’ll need your help to make that happen.

What you need to ask yourself is if this potential leader has the knack for connecting with people and helping them grow spiritually. Easiest way to tell? Just look to see if they’re already doing so.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should get you started as you interview a potential leader. What would you add?

How to Resource a Microsite

Recently, we talked about the importance of making your microsite feel like a part of your faith family. That means more than just posting the location on your website; it means resourcing the people who worship there to give them a reason to support the mission and vision of the church. After all, they’re worshiping to the same music and sitting under the same teaching.

By resourcing, I’m not talking about the initial technology investment you’ve made to get your livestream delivered. That could be as simple and cheap as a Chromecast or an AppleTV or as complex as a multisite receiver and projector.

Instead, I’m referring to the ongoing relationship you have with your microsite leader or leaders to supply them with what they need to stay connected. That means investing time and effort into their success, and if they’re going to be successful that’s just what you need to do.

Initial Training

McClean Bible Church, which has a number of microsites, does a solid job getting their leaders up and running by covering the details that go into success. Typically, you can adapt the training you already have, such as training for a new campus pastor or even a small group leader. Granted, you may have to create something from scratch—or heavily modify other training you use—but you want your leaders to be ready.

Help them understand how to set the environment, how to connect with new faces, how to plan a meeting, how to respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading, how to pray for people, how to deal with conflict, how to lead a movement in their community. Help them grab hold of your values and understand why you do what you do. (Actually, these are the same types of things you should be teaching your own staff and volunteers.)

This may take several weeks to cover, but the more you work the soil prior to the launch, the stronger your site will be.

Ongoing Training

They say that vision leaks. And if that’s true on your campuses, there’s an even stronger risk at your sites. With video conferencing solutions available for cheap (or even free—with limitations), you have no reason to put off ongoing training for your microsite leaders. They need you to keep pouring in the vision and explaining what’s coming next.

Dedicate an hour a month (or quarter at the least) to connecting with your microsite leaders. Tell them about the wins at all your campuses, the impact of the current sermon series, the change God is working in you. Ask them to share their own stories (I recommend having them email stories to you and asking one or two to share). Then, give them an overview of what’s coming next. Finally, spend some time talking about one of your values at each meeting.

If you don’t have time for this, at least consider including microsite leaders on your production or planning meetings for Sunday (or recording them to send). You can provide some of the same training in that venue.

Ongoing Coaching

This part’s a bit harder to pull off, but ideally, a seasoned leader in your church should spend time individually with each microsite leader once every week or two. You can spread this around if need be, but the goal here is to provide some hands-on coaching or correcting as needed. Talk numbers, talk spiritual health, talk vision. Hold them accountable to these as you lead them.

The goal isn’t to overwhelm people with meetings. Rather, the goal is to do the type of one-on-one you’d do with any staff member. They need the touch.

Church Materials

Going back to McClean, each week they provide their microsites with bulletins/worship guides and other printed materials for their services. It’s a great way to make guests feel like they’re “at church.” Maybe that’s not feasible for you because of distance or time, and that’s okay. Just get creative.

For example, you can set up an email template for your microsite leader to email those who come. You can provide PDFs of the worship guide, discipleship books, spiritual gifts tests, small group study guides, posters—everything. Plus, you can give them access to a Dropbox folder with images and videos for social media. This keeps the quality higher than if you let them make their own stuff on Microsoft Paint.

Finally, make sure you include them on any “weekend talking points” type emails that you send to staff. If you don’t have one of those, get someone to take notes at your meetings and send those. You want to make sure microsite leaders walk people through the same response time and next steps as your campuses.

Times to Connect

Don’t forget the fun. Invite microsite leaders to your staff retreats, all staff gatherings, and other staff adventures. There’s no better way to keep the “us versus them” mentality at bay than making it feel like everyone is an “us.”

3 Keys to Microsite Church Success

Before you launch your first microsite, you need to have in mind the outcome you’re looking for. Are you testing the waters? Are you strategically expanding to a community where God is already at work? Something else?

Then you need to work toward that goal. A successful microsite rarely happens without intentionality on the part of the sponsoring church. Sure, these networked locations may be a trendy thing to do, but that doesn’t mean you can just sit back and expect them to flourish without help.

Success depends upon knowing why you’re moving forward, and it depends on the effort you put into the experience. And, really, you don’t even have to spend much money to make that happen. Instead, focus on these three keys.

Finding the Right Leader

The number one indicator of success for a microsite is leadership. That shouldn’t be surprising. The same can be said for church plants, campuses, and nonprofits. Without a key leader driving home the vision, you’re very rarely going to see growth—numerically or spiritually.

In other words, don’t skimp on this one. You should not launch or incorporate a microsite until you have prayed and waited on God to raise up the right person. Resist the temptation to jump in and hope a leader shows up. I’m not saying that won’t happen, but it’s rare.

Your best leaders for a microsite are very likely already a part of your church—or have been in the past. Look for proven volunteers or ministry leaders who have bought into your mission and have a vision for a new campus. Scan through comments you get from your live-stream. Is there someone who keeps showing up week after week? When you know a key leader will be moving to another city or community, gauge their interest in starting a microsite.

And once you’ve found the right leader, spend time training them. We’ll look at this more in the weeks ahead, but treat a microsite leader the same way you would a new staff member. Invest time in helping them understand where God is leading your church and how the microsite plays a part in that vision.

Setting High Expectations

There’s a reason you should use the term microsite, partner, or network location instead of campus. Many microsite churches meet in homes, and you don’t want to set a level of expectation that you can’t fulfill in a living room, rearranged basement, shared community space, or converted garage.

But don’t let that be an excuse. Your job is to exceed what guests expect.

Set the stage for a worship experience, even if that means moving furniture around or putting up pipe and drape to control the lighting in a garage. Train someone to direct parking in the cul-de-sac. Prepare greeters at the front door and near the parking area. Brew some coffee, or set out some water bottles. Prepare a welcome message based on this week’s sermon (see the next point for more about this). You may even want to set aside a room as a nursery.

The setting of the microsite doesn’t limit your ability to kick it up a notch. Get creative in making people feel welcome and allowing them to worship.

Making Them Part of the Family

When I worked remotely for a nonprofit years ago, I often felt disconnected. Don’t get me wrong. I loved being able to work in my gym shorts, but the company didn’t do a great job involving people who were outside the office. Some weeks, I heard nothing from the office. And, really, I had no idea where the company was going.

I’ve also had some great remote experiences. In those cases, the companies took time to bring remote employees together for training, there were daily or weekly video calls, and they made sure everyone knew where the organization was heading.

In a similar way, microsites work best when the sponsoring church stays connected. Keep your microsite leaders updated on the sermon series with notes and outlines. Send a weekly email to the leader to give them the weekend’s talking points and upcoming events. Include microsite leaders in on weekly production calls. Provide them with the same discipleship and group materials you give to your campuses (you can even just send PDFs if need be). Include microsites in your kid camp plans. Invite key leaders to vision events. Find ways to keep them in the loop.

The more connected microsite attendees feel, the more they are a part of your church, and the more they will carry the mission of the church into the community.

What Is a Microsite Church?

The multisite model of church has begun to mature, and one thing has become clear: Not every location has the resources for a campus. Rural communities and small towns in particular can be bypassed in favor of cities, college communities, and high-density residential areas. That’s not a bad thing, just the reality of the multisite model. We go where God is at work changing the most lives.

But as high-speed Internet spreads to more and more areas, people in rural communities and small towns have begun streaming services from larger urban and suburban churches. They’re looking for vibrant worship and gifted communicators. And they look online to find it. For many people, this stream has become their Sunday experience—whether as a single family or as a group that meets together.

This provides a huge opportunity for growing churches. In areas where a campus isn’t feasible, other expressions of church are possible. People are already streaming. People already call distant churches their “home church” and the pastor “my pastor.” That means we can step into what God’s doing there.

People are already streaming. People already call distant churches their “home church” and the pastor “my pastor.” That means we can step into what God’s doing there.

That’s the point of a microsite. A microsite is a community of connected and invested believers in an area where there is no physical campus for the sponsoring church. The community shares in the life of the church on Sundays and beyond through live-streams, discipleship materials, leadership training, and small groups. But they usually meet in homes or community centers, rather than a dedicated building, and they usually stream the service on a TV.

The key here is “connected and invested.” A true microsite has a leader (or leaders) who has been trained and released by the sponsoring church to build on the vision and mission of the church in a given community. The title of this person isn’t as important as the role they play in aligning the microsite community with what God is doing in the church as a whole.

In the days ahead, we’ll cover some of the big questions in microsite, such as how biblical microsite is, keys to success, and how to train leaders. But just keep in mind that this is more than just someone streaming a service. A microsite is about relational connection and spiritual growth. And it truly is possible to see that happen—even from hundreds of miles away.

So, let me know what questions you have, and we’ll keep exploring in the weeks to come.

pexels-photo-302186.jpeg

Why You Should Launch a Microsite

It’s no surprise that I’m a huge proponent of microsites. (I mean, I started a whole website to talk about them.) And I’d love to see every multisite church at least consider them as a part of their strategic planning. Microsites have enormous potential to reach areas that have long been on the outer margins of the multisite movement. And I’ve seen God at work in these smaller settings to bring about real life transformation.

They work.

And, really, any vibrant church can tap into the microsite movement regardless of the number of campuses they have. There’s a much lower cost of entry than many other growth models.

Here’s why you should consider launching a microsite.

You Already Have People Live-Streaming or Driving

If you have a live-stream featuring powerful worship and a gifted communicator, you’ll have people watching. You’ll have people who think of you as “my church.” Some of them will even drive an hour to reach you.

In other words, God is already at work in that community.

The problem is that you also have a disconnect. Few people who live-stream on Sundays or chew up the interstate to get to you each week will invite people to join them. Few of them will be going through your discipleship program or jumping into your small groups.

They need something much more intentional to close the gap. Microsites can do that.

You Already Have Groups Meeting in Smaller Communities

Recently, we tested the idea of hosting a small group event outside of our traditional area. We saw from our stats that hundreds of people were driving in from this smaller community, and we’d heard from them—many of them—about “starting a campus” there.

Our groups event turned out to be a huge hit. Dozens of people came, and they were pumped. We didn’t spend massive money on a building; we spent time investing in relationships. And since then, we’ve begun launching similar events in other communities throughout our state.

What that showed us is there’s a growing potential to gather people in smaller communities who already have an investment in our church. Those groups give us a foundation to build on for microsites.

You Want to Keep Costs Down

To be honest, starting a new campus in some areas just doesn’t make financial sense. The building and staff costs would be unsustainable. Maybe your church can kick in the difference, but that often creates an unhealthy dependency. You end up with a campus that feels like they don’t have any part in what God’s building in their own community. (Not to mention the risk of having to pull back funding at some point.)

Or perhaps you’re seeing a growing number of people coming from a distant community, but you’re not in a financial position to invest in a new campus. Maybe you’re already in a building project, for example.

Either way, microsites allow you to launch sooner rather than later—and for much cheaper. In many cases, the costs can be as low as an AppleTV and whatever church-based resources you need, such as discipleship materials.

You’re Targeting a Location Where a Campus Isn’t Possible

The Rock Church in San Diego rocks the microsite concept (couldn’t resist the pun). And they do so in some unusual places where a normal campus would never work. For instance, they have “closed to the public” microsites that operate in prisons. Other churches have similar models in military communities, inner cities, and apartment complexes. In all these locations, a regular campus just wouldn’t work.

So, if you’re thinking about trying something nontraditional, the microsite model may fit your needs. You can develop faith communities in places that may have seemed out of reach before.

You’re Testing a Location for a Campus

Call it “market research,” if you will, but microsites offer a solid way to test the interest in an area before you commit to a full campus launch. Say you’ve been seeing a number of people coming to a campus from a strategic location. You can tell God is at work there, and you’d like to build on that momentum.

Then, do it. A small investment allows you to build a core, find leaders, and uncover future staff. You’re no longer the church “over there” or “down there.” You’re the church that has a presence in the community.

Actually, what’s amazing about this type of microsite launch is that you’ll begin to see people on the margins who move to the center. They used to feel disconnected because of distance, but planting something local changes the dynamic for them.

Is a Microsite Church Biblical?

Microsite is the new hotness. So, we really should stop to think through the implications and carefully weigh out the biblical merit of the movement. Never jump headlong into any trend without considering that.

But, honestly, I’ve found that when people ask if microsite is biblical, what they’re really wondering about is spiritual formation. Are people truly growing in Christ when they’re watching church on couches? Can they mature as disciples around dining room tables?

The answer is this: It depends. It’s the same issue you have with small groups, for example. You can run the gamut of everything from true biblical community to something closer to a TV-watching, snack-chomping party. The biblical bonafides of calling microsites a church aren’t in the container as much as they are in the intentionality.

Acts points out that early believers met from home to home, but they weren’t there just to hang. They were there to eat together, to learn together, to pray together. The Twelve were set aside to focus on studying and teaching, but the nitty gritty of that teaching played out in smaller communities.

Let’s just be blunt here. Microsites are not church buildings. For some people, that’s a non-starter. And so, if they’re the type who thinks “having church” requires a steeple and a pulpit in a building down the street, then microsites aren’t for them. But the Bible never defined the early church by a type of building. The Bible defines the church by people—specifically, disciples making disciples making disciples.

On the other hand, just having a live-stream on a Sunday doesn’t automatically mean you have a church gathering. If there’s no vital connection to a body of believers, no life change, then you have a spectator sport. Microsite churches—if they truly are churches—depend on intentionality toward discipleship. This shows up in many ways, such as people using their gifts, a focus on studying the Word together, worship, prayerfulness, serving each other, evangelism, and everything you’d expect in a vibrant, life-giving church.

Not every microsite will be killing it in all these areas, but you should see an intentional effort in that direction. A church is supposed to be a living thing, no matter where that church meets.

So, is microsite biblical? It depends. But that’s true for any community that calls itself a church.

How can you ensure your microsites will be biblical? You have to think strategically. You prayerfully watch where God’s at work, and then you go in with a plan.