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February 24, 2014Missiology

Multisite Churches are Here, and Here, and Here to Stay

Multisite churches are no longer just a fad—they are growing in Evangelicalism and beyond.
Multisite Churches are Here, and Here, and Here to Stay
Image: strobe right / flickr

Multisite churches are on the rise. This is not a fad, this is not some sort of temporary trend—multisite churches are here to stay. It's like the megachurch now—just a part of our church landscape—the new normal.

My friends at the Leadership Network recently released a preview to their newest study on multisite churches. Here's a rundown:

LifeWay Research has done a significant amount of research in the area of multisite churches, and I have written a number of blog posts on the subject, particularly regarding in-person versus video preaching.

Are multsite churches really here to stay? Are multisite churches wise when it comes to accomplishing the mission of God? How can multisite church be done well? Here are three thoughts worth considering about multisite.

1. Multisite is the new normal

Among recent church trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and more common. No longer just a new trend, they now number more than 5,000 churches, and growing. Among the 100 Largest churches, we find only 12 have a single campus (although one church did not report how many campuses it has). On the Fastest-Growing list, the number with a single campus is much greater—42, reflecting close to a split in the number of churches that do and do not have multiple campuses. Multisite is the new normal among large churches and widely embraced elsewhere.

Some once believed this move to grow via multiple campuses was a temporary trend, but it appears to be a trend that's here to stay. While it was once the domain of only the largest churches, we now see smaller churches deploying the same methodology. What's interesting to me is the number of churches that utilize a multisite methodology and are also committed to church planting. The two are definitely not exclusive of one another.

It was once the case that the only churches that expanded to a multisite model were those that simply were at capacity and could no longer hold the number of people that attended weekly services—this is no longer the case. Smaller churches who want to accomplish the mission of God by reaching their cities are now sprouting multiple sites.

2. There are still some concerns

Unfortunately, multisite churches still face their fair share of issues (which are very similar to large churches in many cases). The best ones overcome them, but many struggle with similar issues.

In a past article for Outreach Magazine, I discussed three concerns facing multisite churches that I see still apply today.

Pastoral Responsibility

Despite a church's best intentions at new sites, sometimes certain pastoral duties get lost: scriptural assignments such as praying over the sick (James 5:14); watching over those placed in your care (1 Peter 5:1); discipline (1 Cor. 5); and breaking bread with the beloved (Acts 2:42). I know that those duties are supposed to be the job of the campus pastor, but we also know it sometimes does not happen. The focus is easily placed on the event more than the community. And sometimes that results in people come for the show without connecting to the community.

Christian Community

Connected to pastoral ministry is the community of faith itself. The church is not merely a gathering, but a united people who work together for the glory of God and the good of their neighbors. One of the weaknesses of event-driven multisite churches is that some tend encourage (unintentionally at times) a come-and-get mentality over a come-and-give ethos. Of course this is not only a problem for multisite churches, but the potential for the problem is significant. Don't misunderstand me; I get that it can work, but it's not easy. If you are going multisite, I hope it keeps you up at night, wrestling with ways to build community in a system that can easily discourage it.

Reproducing New Teachers

Perhaps my biggest concern with the multisite paradigm is that, without intentionality, it will limit reproduction. Let's face it-- it's easier to create another extension site than it is to create another faithful pastor who is a great communicator. Our Great Commission strategy should include the reproduction of biblical communicators, not just big campuses.

Also, because of some recent research we've conducted at LifeWay Research, I do have some concerns about video venues when it comes to multisite churches. The fact is that many people are not open (or are less open) to multisite churches.

Here are some key stats from our recent research:

  • Self-identified born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christian are more likely to prefer sermon preached in-person (37% to 27%)
  • Americans who Never attend (47%) are most likely to say it would not matter
  • Americans age 18-29 (37%) are more likely to say it would not matter than those age 45-54 (24%) and 65+ (26%)

After releasing this research, I had Bob Hyatt and Geoff Surratt weigh in on the issues. Here are excerpts on their posts, first from Geoff Surratt:

More helpful thoughts from Bob Hyatt:

3. Plan to see more, but plan to do it well.

While I do have some concerns about multisite churches, I am by no means anti-multisite churches. I help pastor a multisite church myself.

Statistically, multisite churches:

  • Reach more people than single site churches.
  • Tend to spread healthy churches to more diverse communities.
  • Have more volunteers in service as a percentage than single site churches.
  • Baptize more people than single site.
  • Tend to activate people into ministry more than single site.

Like I said, I am not anti-multisite or anti-megachurch, but I am anti-consumerism. Church is not about being the best purveyor of religious "goods and services." And if a megachurch or a multisite thrives by appealing solely to the "come and see" mentality that is so prevalent, we will all regret it.

No matter the number of campuses your church has, reproduction is the goal--reproducing believers, ministries, groups and churches. That can be in a megachurch, multi-site church or, for that matter, in a house church.

So, if you are going multisite, make sure you stay focused on multiplying the mission of God—not just your brand of church or the reach of one person. Let's make it more than projecting the image of a pastor on another screen.

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Multisite Churches are Here, and Here, and Here to Stay