I never wanted to be a campus pastor for a multi-site church. As a matter of fact, both times the job has been offered to me, I initially turned it down. However, in God’s time, He convinced me to accept both positions. So here I am, the Chester Campus pastor at Southside Church of the Nazarene in Chester, Virginia, and I love my job! Mult i-Organi zat ional and Mult i-Campus I am asked consistently at pastoral functions and district events, “So what do you really do anyway?” I can see the fear in the questioner’s eyes, wondering if I am building a ministry around a fad that will pass, or worse, that I’m offering a disingenuous church experience. After all, I offer “just a campus,” not a church.
I had some of the same fears when I became campus minister. I was afraid of being seen as a placeholder instead of shepherd to the people I cared for. I was afraid I wouldn’t have opportunities to preach, something I deeply love. I was afraid the uniqueness of a campus would be lost in an attempt to mimic the persona of the church that launched it.
I also didn’t understand why a church would ever start a campus instead of a church plant. I didn’t understand why a preaching rotation and videos were better than a consistent preacher. I didn’t understand the value of multi-campus to a church’s missional impact on a community.
My first campus experience was as an attendee, my second was as a campus pastor. Both of those churches were still working through how to do it well. My third experience, and current ministry position, is again as a campus pastor. Now I am at a church that has well over a decade of experience in campus ministry. My vantage point has shifted radically, and so have my opinions. Southside Church embraced a bold vision in 2004 to become a multi-organizational, multi-campus church in order to reach two percent of the unchurched in Chesterfield County, Virginia, helping them to grow in Christ, and empowering them to serve.
Becoming multi-organizational was primarily about creating new wells of evangelism and increasing our reach into the community in non-traditional ways. Southside had already launched Guardian Christian Academy many years before. That academy started with classes for just kindergarten and first grade and gradually expanded into offering learning opportunities for preschool through grade twelve. It has helped Southside build relationships with families all over the county.
Southside Church also launched a nonprofit community organization called the XZone, which creates mentoring relationships with students through sports and afterschool programs. XZone has become a community partner that the county relies upon for sports programming, recreational activities, and family-oriented community events. It has strengthened our ties with the county and allowed us to reach into public schools in ways a church is traditionally not allowed to do. As a strategic bonus, by having their own 501(c) (3), they can receive community development grants that churches cannot apply for. Footsteps Counseling Center offers licensed, professional, Christian counseling to the community. This helped us minister to people who were hurting and broken in ways that short term pastoral care could not. Again, it expanded our reach and opened up new ways we could minister outside of a church service.
The linchpin in our multi-organizational approach is Streamlined Developmental Services, or SDS. Through a partnership with Dr. Stan Toler, Southside created a model that allows a for-profit company to manage all their non-ministry related daily operations—such as asset management, land development, HR, and back office functions—while turning profits into donations for the church. SDS also manages those same functions for other churches and organizations, bringing in additional revenue. SDS has elevated the profile of Southside, building strong relationships with local businesses and county officials.
When I came to Southside, I had seen nothing like the multi-organizational model they used. Nor had I seen a church with such a variety of connections to families, schools, businesses, and government. Enter the multi-campus vision.
Southside had created a network of connections with families who lived too far away from the church to regularly attend. The multi-organizational model had created the need for multi-campus ministry. Southside needed a campus for people to attend that was within a 20-minute drive of where they lived, everywhere a multi-org partner had created a connection into the community.
For multi-campus to work, partner organizations that call Southside home must have an invested presence in each campus. This allows each campus to offer the same diversity of experience and local mission opportunities.
It also requires a shift in the language Southside uses. Every campus is Southside Church, ministering in multiple locations. It also requires a commitment to excellence across all ministry areas. If any campus appears to be a junior partner, doesn’t convey the same experience of excellence, or lacks commitment to a shared vision, then division and frustration will steal focus from the mission.
If you do multi-campus ministry, you will need to change who you are. Another bold step Southside took was to form a preaching team of six to eight people, one of whom may preach on any given Sunday. This talented team adds value and creativity to sermon development, while publicly elevating the value of various leaders.
Even sermons undergo a group approach. Preachers follow a schedule for turning in a draft, allowing the team to give creative and theological input, forming a final draft, and giving the media ministry time to develop creative content to support the sermon. All campus pastors are part of this team, so even if they aren’t preaching a particular weekend, they have intimately shaped the message being shared in their services.
Multi-campus ministry also requires the formation of ministry teams where a team leader resources and sets vision for the entire group, but each campus has its own director and team for each ministry area. These leaders report to their campus pastor, not the team lead. This allows each campus team to be nimble enough to make culturally appropriate changes that fit their unique congregation while still tracking together with the entire church toward a shared vision and mission.
When you look at the wells of evangelism and community relationships built through the multi-org, non-profit agencies, add in SDS’s shared services efficiency, and consider the shared cost benefit of multi-campus ministry, you have created an environment that is open to growth, easy to replicate, locally contextualized, and missionally unified. Add it up and multiorganizational, multi-campus ministry with a clear mission equals community and Kingdom impact like never before!
From Afraid to Excited
I was afraid, but now I am excited. I lead a campus that has embraced a culture of “whatever it takes” to have a missional impact on our community. Creativity, layers of connectedness, expansive reach, and shared services allow Southside to connect 1,290 people in worship and engage 1,380 people in discipleship through 9 worship venues at 3 campuses and 2 ministry extension sites each week. We are marching toward the vision of reaching two percent of our county, mobilizing nearly 1,000 people in service opportunities.
I never wanted to be a campus pastor, but I am thankful Southside looked past my fears and misunderstandings and invited me to join the team.