How to Handle Governance in Multisite Churches

I am often asked what is the best governance model for a multisite church. The answer is the same for any healthy church or organization—one that works!

It is my observation that most large and/or multisite churches (over a 1,000 in attendance) are typically “pastor led and board protected.” It is very hard to multisite or grow churches that are purely or mostly board led and congregationally governed.

Growing churches tend to move away from “program governance” to a “policy governance” model. The primary role of the board in a policy governance model is to provide counsel and accountability to the senior pastor for the implementation of the mission and vision and performance and execution of the office of the senior pastor.

These boards do not micromanage the day-to-day operation of the church but instead focus on ministry ends, not ministry means. The senior pastor’s role is to lead the board and be accountable to it. Together they are the final authority of the church guarding and guiding the mission and execution of agreed upon policies.

Though churches have different titles for board members (deacon, elder or trustee), here are some general mistakes I have observed that churches make around board governance:

1. Having paid staff members on the governing board besides the senior pastor.
2. Having more than seven people on the board.
3. Having the wrong people on the board (spiritually immature, micromanagers, power-hungry, etc.).
4. Mandatory term limits.
5. No objective mechanism for rotating elders off the board on an annual basis.
6. Assigning board members to represent and be the voice of specific ministries or campuses.
7. Handcuffing the board by having competing and equally authoritative bodies—nominating committee, finance committee, church counsel, etc.
8. Living by an outdated constitution and irrelevant bylaws that were created for a different time and culture.
9. Having boards that essentially do nothing but provide a “window dressing” appearance of accountability for the senior pastor.

When it comes to multisite church governance, there is not a lot written.

Most multisite churches do not have separate board members at each campus, but draw from all campuses in the board selection process. They typically do not have a “representative” board member strategy, but a Who is the most qualified person to serve the whole church? strategy.

Sometimes existing board members are a part of a new campus launch but their function and relationship on the board does not change. In time, board members emerge from other campuses, but the qualifier is not campus representation but character and gifting needed on the board.

Here are the mistakes I have seen multisite churches make concerning governance:

1. Establishing separate boards at each campus instead of maintaining one board that draws from all campuses that serve the whole church.
2. Appointing separate board members from each campus to “represent” their campus on the board.
3. Appointing board members only from the original campus.
4. Transferring board members from a church merger.

The basic premise of multisiting is reproducing ministry best practices. Unfortunately the governance model of most churches is woefully inadequate and outdated for ministry in the 21st century.

As a church shifts to a multisite strategy it’s a good time to reevaluate its constitutional bylaws to make sure it is empowering and not embalming.

Read more from Jim Tomberlin »

This article used by permission of MultiSite Solutions and The Unstuck Group.

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 (with Warren Bird) and 125 Tips for Multisite Churches.