Life.Church is a leader in the multisite church movement, and Kevin Penry has played a key role in developing their strategy as a founding member of the five-person Directional Leadership Team. Kevin oversees all of the operations related to the campus launches and the ongoing ministry at each location. Life.Church is currently the largest church in America, so they must be doing something right. In the article below, we’ll take a closer look at how Life.Church got started and dig deep into four crucial keys to their effectiveness.
Looking back, no one could have known that Life.Church’s world impact would emerge from their humble beginnings in the middle of a flyover state. In January 1996, Life.Church began in Oklahoma City with 40 people meeting together “in a two-car garage, equipped with just a borrowed overhead projector and two construction lights purchased at Lowe’s for $19.99.” From 1996 to 1999, attendance grew rapidly and the church acquired its first facility.
In 2001, Metro Church, a 25-year-old, nondenominational church, merged with Life.Church and gave the church a large new building with an 80-acre campus. Rather than move completely to the large new campus, however, Life.Church took the bold step of becoming one church in two locations as a multisite pioneer.
At the beginning, Lead Pastor Craig Groeschel drove back and forth between the two campuses to preach live sermons in each location. After a Leadership Network gathering where Jim and Kevin met one another, Life.Church went back to the drawing board and implemented a brand new multisite philosophy oriented around a new core value–reproducibility.
Over the past fifteen years, God has used Life.Church’s commitment to reproducibility in significant ways. Today at Life.Church, more than 70,000 people attend one of 25 campuses every weekend across seven states, with more than
120,000 in attendance on special weekends. Nearly 10,000 people were baptized last year alone! In addition, Life.Church functions debt-free and operates with a 30% margin to fund future campuses.
Beyond their own church, Life.Church also created YouVersion, the free Bible application for mobile phones and the first app of any kind in history to be offered around the world in more than 1,000 languages. They also resource thousands of churches worldwide through their (also completely free) Open Network.
The Life.Church journey is a wonderful example of a diversely gifted leadership team committing to a God-given direction and then staying the course for well over a decade. In surveying the multisite landscape today, only a small number of multisite churches ever get beyond three locations. In all of North America, only a handful of churches have reached ten or more campuses. So how has Life.Church been able to break through each of these barriers, continue to grow and fund all of its initiatives debt-free?
Obviously, the most significant answer is that God has been moving in powerful ways. In experiencing Life.Church up-close and personal, we observed four crucial keys to their effectiveness:
1. Strategic Clarity
The mission of Life.Church is clear and simple, “To lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.” Many churches have similar mission statements, but what Life.Church has that most churches don’t have is strategic clarity. Life.Church is clear on who they are, where they want to go and how to get there. They have a well-defined strategy to accomplish their mission and they are ruthlessly focused on accomplishing it. They tenaciously resist being distracted or diluted by non-mission critical ministries, programs and activities. They are not a church with multiple campuses, rather they are one church across many different locations and everything they do reflects their strategic clarity at each site.
2. Well-Defined Systems
You may think that ministry across twenty-five different locations would be unwieldy and inconsistent, but you would be wrong. Not only does Life.Church have clarity about how they want to accomplish their mission, they also have well-designed systems to implement their strategy with amazing consistency across all their campuses. They
have created centralized support systems with great feedback loops in order to free up the local campus staff to focus on frontline ministry. “Seize the data!” is one of the mantras at Life.Church, and they place a heavy emphasis on personal and organizational self-awareness in a culture where it is safe to fail in order to get better.
Life.Church has fully maximized the reproducibility inherent in the multisite model. They are very intentional about baking in reproducibility in every staff role, every ministry, at every level and in every campus. Everyone and everything is expected to reproduce. Every campus is launched with an expectation and strategy to reproduce new campuses. As Kevin Penry told us,
One of the strengths of multisite is the ability to learn, improve and perfect though interaction to get better and better. Those who become good at anything do it over and over and over again.”
Because of their core value of reproducibility, Life.Church invests heavily in training, resourcing and equipping their leaders to reproduce in every new location. Sixteen of the current twenty-five campuses were “cluster-birthed” by eight campuses. As a result, Life.Church has done something very few multisite churches have done—they have multiplied congregations to the third generation.
Perhaps the greatest take-way is that Life.Church has figured out how to create and sustain financial margin. Without ever engaging a funding appeal or campaign, Life.Church’s campuses annually generate more than enough capital to sustain all of their current campuses and launch additional ones. The focus is not on raising money or saving dollars, but on creating margin.Life.Church does not build large campuses, instead choosing to invest in worship spaces that seat 700-1,000 people with corresponding children’s space and parking lots that are filled multiple times over the weekend. The goal for every campus is to offer seven weekend services (two Saturday night, three Sunday morning, two Sunday night). Filling the same space multiple times is great stewardship and provides needed resources for ongoing multiplication.
The Life.Church way is one way to do multisite, but it is not the only way. There are lots of ways to do multisite and every church needs to figure out the way that’s right for them. This is what we help churches figure out at MultiSite Solutions. It’s inspiring to see the kind of impact that is possible when a church fully embraces and commits to a strategy to fulfill their mission in ways that unleashes the gospel and people in such powerful ways.