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Sometimes, the best answer to prayer is "No." That's what Seacoast Church discovered in 2002, when the city of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, rejected their proposed building expansion. With space at a premium at their original location, leaders at Seacoast—which had grown from 65 people in 1988 to a congregation of more than 3,000—decided to try an experiment. They rented an empty 10,000-square-foot retail space at a shopping center about a quarter mile from the church, set up chairs and multimedia equipment, and started an off-site worship service.

The off-campus approach, featuring live music and a videotaped sermon, worked so well that Seacoast started another one. And another. And another.

Today, Seacoast has a congregation of 7,000 spread over a network of nine campuses. And what once was seen as a setback is now considered a godsend.

"For a couple of years we couldn't figure out what God was trying to tell us," Geoff Surratt, network pastor for Seacoast, told CT. "Now as we look back, we see God's hand was working. That rejection turned us into a multisite church. This is not just an outreach strategy—this is who we are."

Seacoast is one of almost 1,000 U.S. churches to embrace a multisite approach, according to the Leadership Network (www.leadnet.org). Sometimes called a "satellite" or "franchise" model, going multisite is seen by advocates as one of the leading innovations of the 21st century and by critics as a sign that the church has sold out to consumerism—becoming just another big-box retailer, selling salvation with convenient hours and a discount price. The answer, as usual, lies somewhere in between.

Sweating the Small Stuff

It's five o'clock on a Saturday evening in Oklahoma City, and Kevin ...

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In the Magazine

September 2005

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