Multi-Site: Agency or Autonomy?
As noted before, there are as many ways to structure multi-site churches as there are multi-site churches. But there is one conversation that persistently arises in almost any multi-site model, and that’s the question of central vs. campus (insert scary music here).
We’re coming ’round the bend of 15 years of multi-site, and what I’ve discovered is that the pendulum is always swinging between campus autonomy and central control (we refer to it as owning vs. resourcing). But a recent insight from Mike Passaro (one of our campus staffers) helped me see the conversation through a different – and eminently helpful – lens:
Do I have agency or do I have autonomy?
If we’ve established a rallying cry around common values, and if we’ve drilled down on our EPODs, we can safely assume that we’ve locked in our identity (who we are) and expression (how we exist). If that safety is there, then the “agency vs. autonomy” question is easier to navigate.
Autonomy says “I want to do whatever I want.” And immediately the central staffers like me freak out, have visions of Lord of the Flies, and assume chaos is just around the corner. And even if that’s not your worst-case scenario, in my experience autonomy does lead to a chiseling away of identity and expression.
Agency, on the other hand, says “I want the freedom to do what I need to do that’s in alignment with our values.” There’s an empowerment in agency. An implied trust. A collaboration and cohesion between central teams and campus teams to know that those who are on the front lines are acting in a manner consistent with our identity and expression.
The questions that those of us living in multi-site world must ask are these:
- If we’re on the central team: Am I giving agency to campuses to do what they need to do? Do I believe that campuses are acting within our values, or am I suspicious that they just want to be left alone?
- If we’re on the campus team: Do I feel the freedom and trust to act with agency? If I go beyond the borders of our values, do I keep that on the down-low or do I trust my central counterparts enough to have that conversation?