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.

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.
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.

Church

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?

Church

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

Elevation Church has some solid training and resourcing for their Watch Parties (an alternate name for microsites) to get their leaders up and running. 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.”

Church

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.