Moving a Fast Growing Multisite Church from Centralized to Decentralized Leadership Structure with Rachel Long

Thanks for joining in for this week’s unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Rachel Long, Executive Pastor of Families and Multisites at Emmanuel Church in the greater Indianapolis area.

Making the decision to go multisite and growing to multiple campuses will inevitably lead to a discussion about who answers to who on staff. The dotted lines and solid lines conversation can really get messy and at Emmanuel Church they found that it began to limit their growth and how they could serve the community. The answer? Decentralization. Listen in as Rachel shares about how to go about restructuring to a decentralized leadership structure in a multisite church.

  • Centralized and on-the-ground. // Early on Emmanuel’s staff realized the question of dotted lines and solid lines was going to get their staff all tangled, so they redefined it for their culture as they moved toward decentralization. If you’re a centralized employee without on-the-ground functions at one of the campuses, then your main objective is to bring excellence and continuity to the organization. If you’re an on-the-ground employee at one of the campuses, your main objective is to grow your campus both numerically and spiritually. Another change was that central staff reported to a central manager but on-the-ground staff now would report to their campus pastor.
  • Green light, yellow light, red light. // Previously the campus pastor had zero autonomy. But with the decentralized structure the campus pastor would be able to make their own decisions in certain areas. Emmanuel now uses a green light, yellow light, and red light framework. For green light items the campuses have full autonomy. Yellow light items are open for discussion with central. Red light items are centralized and can’t be changed.
  • Campus constants. // The team at Emmanuel also created campus constants. This looked like getting everyone around the table, team by team, and dissecting each of the roles within the team. The host team (parking, greeting, coffee, etc.), for example, no longer had a centralized person in charge of everything. Instead each campus had a person that reported directly to the campus pastor. Facilities, production, worship, children’s ministry, student ministry, small groups, and connections all were addressed. It took Emmanuel from May 2018 to August 2019 to fully decentralize everything and give the staff the framework. At first the staff wasn’t bought-in and it took round table meetings where people were face-to-face discussing and agreeing upon the changes. The staff needed to come to a place where they could walk out of that meeting room, ready to live out the mission and make the needed changes in order to see people come to Christ and grow in Christ again.
  • Working through the difficult transitions. // One area that was particularly tricky to decentralize was the weekend worship side of Emmanuel Church. The level of excellence in that area is expected to be super high and there were a lot of shared artists that were moving from campus to campus previously. With the new framework, certain artists would now only be at one campus. That was tough because it separated friendships and affected volunteers rather than only staff. Where Emmanuel landed is that there are worship teams at each campus, but also a central team that has the talent, passion and capability to travel around to multiple campuses and lead worship. When working through these particularly tough scenarios, leadership needs to have solidarity on the final decision or this won’t be handled well.
  • Heart Touch Initiative. // Like most churches, when the pandemic started the staff at Emmanuel transitioned to working at home. In order to better serve their congregation, they launched the Heart Touch Initiative during this time. Staff either called, sent handwritten notes, or Facetimed with people within the congregation (17,000 connections!) These touch points gave the congregation someone to connect with should they need pastoral care, and it kept people connected to their campuses and in the loop. The Heart Touch Initiative was so successful that Emmanuel continues to use it as part of their language and goals now.

You can learn more about Emmanuel Church at and reach out to Rachel at her email address. If you want to learn more about Emmanuel’s Campus Constants, you can download examples of them for each team here. And here are documents focused on Emmanuel’s decentralization process.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.