One of the first things that they tell you about church planting is that it comes with a cost.
This cost is most obviously felt by the pioneers who are on the ground. They have stepped away from circumstances that are familiar and comfortable, often from fruitful ministry where they were able to play to their strengths, and embarked on a journey into the unknown where they find themselves starting again relationally, battling feelings of isolation and needing to grind something out of nothing.
Less obvious, but no less important, is the cost that is borne by the sending congregation. They have invested significant resources – both money and people – in establishing the new plant. Those left behind often find that some of their close friends are no longer around, that some of the gifted and passionate people who were building with them have left a vacuum, and that the focus of vision and prayer has been on something happening ‘out there’, which can leave a feeling of inertia in the original congregation. We have come to refer to this price paid by those left behind when a church plant goes as ‘the rip effect’.
When you are planting multisite, the rip effect can be both easier and harder than it is in conventional church planting. On the one hand, the people that have left haven't gone as far. They are still part of the same church, albeit at a different site, and you will see them at church wide events every so often, so at least to an extent the relationship can be maintained. Similarly, sometimes their gifts can be deployed in a way that benefits the whole church, and though the vision focus is on something 'out there', the momentum is still carried and the story still told by the church as a whole, even after the new site has been sent out.
On the other hand, many multisite churches start new sites at a much greater rate than traditional church planting would occur. It is one thing to pay the price of the rip effect once, but when a congregation is asked to do it again, and again, and again, it starts to take a heavy toll upon them and can make people reluctant to plant again any time soon. The emotional burden of constantly building friendships with people, only for them to be sent out somewhere else, the ministry cost of raising up new leaders, preachers and musicians over and over again and and the vision cost of always talking about the ‘next thing’ starts to stack up. When your initial congregation is asked to send out too many times, the rip effect can become unmanageable and there can be a strong sense in people that ‘stability’ is required for a time, rather than further pioneering.
In fact, this can become one of the biggest deterrents to momentum in multisite churches. Getting to three or four sites is manageable for most, but going beyond that is inhibited by a number of factors, and primary among them in the rip effect.
So, what can be done?
Here are five things that we have found helpful at Christ Church Manchester in combatting the rip effect and maintaining pioneering momentum.
(1) Starting Small
As obvious as this point sounds, the fewer people you take out of your existing site to start the new one, the smaller the disruption will be when they leave. If you remove one hundred (or even forty) people from an existing site, then - depending on the size of your church - there is a good chance that most people in the congregation will be sending out several friends, and most ministry areas will be depleted in one way or another as the new site goes.
At CCM we do things a bit differently. Instead of sending out something that is essentially a ready-established church into a new location, we send just a handful of people to pioneer and dig something out from scratch. Usually this is just up to a dozen people starting a midweek group, and gathering in a few more before launching Sunday meetings. We rarely have more than twenty even when Sundays start.
Obviously doing things this way has its own challenges. A smaller team means that the new site is truly in 'church plant mode' for a while as it is building in the early stages and reaching out to new people, but with the additional resources available by leaning on the whole church, borrowing preachers and musicians, and 'renting a crowd' where necessary for the early months. On the other hand, it means that new sites can be sent out at a much greater pace, with several in different stages of planting all at the same time, as the rip that is caused by each is much smaller and more easily absorbed to support rapid multiplanting.
(2) Multiple Centres of Gravity
In many multisite churches, one of the sites is considered (whether by design or default) as the 'main' site. This site will usually have a congregation that is larger than the other sites, may be directly led by the senior leader of the church, is geographically central to the spread of sites and sometimes has a facility that is used for most 'gathered' events.
When a multisite church is set up in this way, it is obvious where to look when recruiting for a new site plant. It would typically be this 'main site' from which people and resources are diverted, so it is the same people being asked to endure the rip effect over and over again. It is no wonder that after a few times these people are wearied by the process!
At Christ Church Manchester there are currently six sites. One of them is the the 'original' location where it all started. Another is the only site to have multiple meetings each Sunday. Another still has our largest single congregation. The next site meets in the facility where we run our training school and other church-wide meetings. Then there is the site that meets right in the centre of our city. And finally is the brand new site which most dominates the story we tell right now. There are several sites that you could argue are the 'main CCM site', but in truth there isn't one. Each site relates to each other as a peer, rather than as a moon caught in the orbit of something much larger.
This means that when we send out, there is no single place that we sent from. In our latest site, the planting team of eleven was drawn from two of the sites, plus a couple of people from the local community. Whilst these people will be missed at their previous sites, no site lost more than four or five people, and so the rip effect was minimal. When we plant next, the people will likely come from other sites entirely, which again will minimise the rip effect that people are asked to endure, as it is not the same people enduring it every time.
(3) Dynamic Community Building
The third thing that we do is that we work really hard to build community and we recognise that this is a dynamic process. Newcomer integration is something close to our hearts, and this is not just the remit of a specialist 'integration team' but something we want everybody in the church to own.
Of course, making a point of speaking to newcomers on a Sunday is a start, but it goes beyond this. Spending time with them beyond the services, eating together as the church, inviting people into your home, and also inviting them into a community group are all key ways of helping the newcomer feel like part of the community.
I think most people get this point (whether or not they are doing it is a different question entirely).
What fewer people get is the necessity of this for those doing the inviting. In any congregation, there will be a gradual transition of people. There will be the natural churn of people leaving for whatever reason, and a constant supply of new people joining. Whilst somebody may be at the core of the community today, if they stop reaching out and building friendships with new people coming in, eventually they will find themselves closer to the peripheries. This will be true whether you are sending people out or not, but it is certainly accentuated by the rip effect. However, by working hard to constantly be building people into community, adding in new people and allowing friendships dynamics to evolve and develop over time, you may not be able to eradicate the pain of a friend moving away to pioneer the next new thing, but you will be able to ensure that people have healthy circles of friends remaining in the congregation and are not cut off or isolated by no longer being in as close proximity to those who have planted.
(4) Small Ministry Footprints
I find it fascinating to reflect on the ministry of Jesus. After going with his disciples to a few villages and preaching the kingdom, healing the sick and casting out evil spirits it wasn't long at all before Jesus had them doing the things they had seen him doing. Three short years later, with Jesus ascended to heaven and this same group of disciples were left to figure out how to do build the fledgling Jerusalem church they did a great job. So much of their practice was modelled on what they had done when Jesus was bodily with them, and yet empowered by the Holy Spirit they got on just fine when he left.
Jesus ministered with them in such a way that they would be ready to take it on when he had gone, and we must do likewise with those around us. At Christ Church Manchester we have trained over a hundred new preachers in the last few years, forty of whom are currently active across our sites. We are developing scores of musicians and worship leaders. We give opportunities to lead groups to people who have never done it before - who may be overlooked elsewhere. This is no accident - it is succession planning! It is hard to go when you can't see anyone to fill your shoes, but we are getting to the point now in certain sites where leaders are encouraged into the next thing to give some space for the gifted people coming up after them to have a go. This is an incredible thing!
Preachers - as good as your teaching gift is, why not use it to raise up others after you and create space for them to have a go? Leaders - why not delegate real authority and let others learn to lead. Reduce your footprint. Increase your impact. Multiply your pool of gifted people and ensure there are ample resources to pioneer and pioneer again whilst keeping the rip effect to a minimum.
(5) A Pioneering Core
When you look at the way your church is set up, a good question to reflect on is 'where does the impulse to pioneer come from?'
There are several answers you might give.
Perhaps it is not really there at all, in which case I would encourage you to do what it takes to get that spark lit - get in the scriptures, spend time with the Lord, draw alongside zealous apostolic leaders who are into multiplication.
Perhaps it is coming from a group of people - whether yourself or others - who have prime responsibility for maintaining and pastoring what is already going on. This creates a difficult internal conflict. As much as your may be convinced that further pioneering is needed, it can be hard to bite the bullet and ask people to take the rip effect unless you are able to take a big step back and spend more time looking at a region as a whole than you do in the details of a particular congregation.
Perhaps it is coming from energetic people who have no authority. For goodness sake, empower them and coach them. You want to harness that energy and put it to use, not let it build up and fester.
What I love about the way we have things set up is that it comes right from the core. The senior leader of CCM is Colin Baron, and he doesn't lead any of the sites himself. This releases him to dream and pray about 'where next' and spend time investing in those who can make it happen. Most Sundays you will find him on the back row of the newest site, being a 'warm body in the room' and offering support, guidance and coaching, all the time keeping the focus on planting again and again at the top of the agenda. Without this coming from the centre it would be so easy for those of us focussed on a specific site to succumb to the desire to 'consolidate', and yet the fruit we have seen be being able to go to new places and create space in our sites for new people to step up and take responsibility shows that this drive to keep going to the next place is not only Biblical, but it is also effective.
The rip effect is real, and if you are planting new churches or sites, you need to be ready for it. But the rip effect needn't be deadly - either to your people or your momentum - and by the grace of God you can push past it and see many more sites and churches planted throughout your region and beyond.