High-Tech Circuit Riders
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 Seacoastwhich had grown from 65 people in 1988 to a congregation of more than 3,000decided 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 strategythis 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 consumerismbecoming 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 Penry is sweating the small stuff. A former architect, the soft-spoken Penry is now director of operations for Life Church, a 14,000-strong megachurch with five campuses in and around Oklahoma City.
It's been a busy weekend for Penry. He performed a wedding this afternoon, and stopped in for an interview and campus tour before heading out for another wedding tonight. Since arriving, he's already straightened the doormat by the church entranceit was facing the wrong way ("You've got to look at these things from the point of an outsider," he says).
Around the corner in the worship space, Kelli Schneider, who oversees the church's tech crews, is huddling with her staff, decibel meter in hand. There have been a few technical glitches in recent weeks, and Schneider and the crew are trying to straighten them out.
It's mid-May, and the campus, which opened 90 days ago, already qualifies as a megachurch. More than 2,000 people attend six worship services, or "experiences" as Life Church calls them, each weekend. About 700 of those people came from other Life campuses, and about 1,300 are new to the church. Overall, Life's five campuses have a combined 23 experiences with an average attendance of just over 600 per experience.
Compared to churches like Willow Creek (whose auditorium seats more than 7,000), this campus's worship feels small. That's intentional, says Life Church pastor Craig Groeschel. Groeschel, 37, started Life with about 50 people in 1996 and has tried to hang on to a small-church feel despite the congregation's growth.
That's accomplished by offering as many time options as possible and starting smaller satellite campuses in recent years. Life's first two campuses seat 2,000 and 1,400 respectively. Every campus started since then has about 500 seats, and some will have as few as 200 people at an experience.