What Makes a Great Campus Pastor?

Ask any multisite church leader today what the most important component is in multisiting and the overwhelming answer is the campus pastor.

When I went to Willow Creek in the year 2000 to pioneer the multisite strategy I was the startup campus pastor for the first site, second site, third and fourth sites while leading the whole multisite effort. Why? No one wanted to leave the mothership for a role that had never been done for a strategy that had never been tried. Today Willow Creek gathers in seven locations across greater Chicago with much better campus pastors.

We have come a long way from the early days of the multisite movement when no one knew what a campus was, or if they did, wasn’t interested in being one. Once seen as just an emcee for a video service, the campus pastor role has become one of the most strategic and sought-after staff positions in the church.

At the end of the day, successful multisiting is not about sermon delivery (video vs in-person teaching), location, facility, technology or funding. All of these are important components in multisiting, but the critical success factor is the campus pastor. Why? Everything rises or falls on leadership. Did I mention that the campus pastor role is the most important factor in the success of a multisite campus?

What Does a Campus Pastor Do?

The answer to that question will depend upon the church’s purpose for multisiting, but the basic premise of a multisite church is to consistently reproduce the ministry best practices and DNA of the sending church. Therefore, the primary responsibility of a campus pastor is to ensure that transfer—to be one church in multiple locations. This involves leading local site staff and volunteer teams to extend the reach and impact of the sending church.

What Are the Characteristics of an Effective Campus Pastor?

Having assisted many multisite churches across the nation, here are the characteristics I see in effective campus pastors. Assuming that this individual is a spiritually mature person of character with a proven track record, an ideal campus or site pastor is the face with the place who is a:

1. High Capacity Leader: A high energy, catalytic self-starter who not only gets things done, but makes things happen.
2. Team Player: Someone whom people will follow, but who can also follow the senior leadership of the church. Not a lone ranger maverick, but someone who is able to work on a team and within the church structure.
3. People Magnet: A relational “animal” that draws people like flies to honey. They love people and people love being around them. They have a high “fun factor.”
4. Mobilizer: This person not only attracts followers but can turn them into volunteers, volunteer teams and volunteer leaders; the key to success in any pastoral position.
5. Multitasker: Shows high capacity to juggle a lot of balls and loves the juggling act.
6. Communicator: Doesn’t have to be a Bible teacher unless on the teaching team, but is capable and articulate speaking to a room full of people.
7. DNA Carrier: Bleeds and defaults to the mission, vision, values and senior leadership of the church.

The two traits that repeatedly come to the top in all of our surveys about campus pastors is that this person needs to be a high capacity leader who possesses the DNA of the church.

What Are the Challenges of Campus Pastoring?

Multisite works best with empowered and centrally-supported campus pastors who are committed to and united around the mission and central leadership of the sending church.

The typical challenges to navigate revolve around the preaching strategy, mission-alignment and reporting structure.

Most multisite churches utilize a matrix-style organizational strategy that involves a solid-line (authority) and dotted-line (influence) reporting structure between the campuses. Lack of mission and organizational clarity or buy-in handicaps and frustrates multisite church leaders and their campus pastors.

The third multisite campus is typically a game-changer because it usually requires a multisite director on the senior leadership team to manage the tensions between the central team and the multiple campuses. It’s at this stage that a campus pastor is needed for the original campus so the senior pastor can focus on leading all the campuses through the campus pastors.

Where Do You Find Campus Pastors?

The first place to look is internally. Leadership Network reports that 87 percent of all campus pastors are internal hires.

Who is on your staff right now with your church’s DNA? Someone who has proven themselves and is ready for a new challenge? Who is the best person on your team? Lead out with that person.

If not on the staff, is there someone in your congregation who could transition into this role? There are many high-capacity marketplace individuals sitting in your church who have the leadership capacity and your church DNA looking for a place to have a significant kingdom role.

The next best place to look is within the network of your own staff team. Who do they know around the country who could be good campus pastor candidate for your church? Bring them on the team and incubate them. Take a year to train and acclimate them at home base before launching them into their own campus.

Lastly, you can contact the various staff search companies like The Vanderbloemen Search Group, The Slingshot Group and Agora, or place ads online at Church Staffing, Minister Search and denominational websites.

What makes a great campus pastor? Here’s how one church leader described the campus pastors in their church: “Our campus pastors have an unwavering loyalty to the lead pastor, believe in the mission of our church, connect with their congregation and develop leaders.”

May their tribe increase!

Campus Pastor as Key to Multisite Success: Research, Sample Job Descriptions

Jim Tomberlin is the founder and CEO of MultiSite Solutions. This article is republished with permission from MultiSite Solutions.

Jim Tomberlin
Jim Tomberlin

Jim Tomberlin (@MultisiteGuy) is a multisite strategist and church merger specialist at The Unstuck Group and the author of several books, including Better Together: Making Churches Mergers Work-Expanded and Updated<