How Motivation and Implementation Strategies Define the Multisite Church: 3 Concerns

McChurch. Franchised Jesus. Theological clones. Incubator congregations. Ecclesiological buffets. From the devil.

If there is a classification of church that gets put down more than megachurches, it would have to be multisite churches. Is the critique fair? Sometimes. But not always.

As we found with megachurches recently, there is plenty of good that comes with the stereotypical bad. In the megachurch research we saw that they don’t really draw away members from other local churches as much as people think they do, they are healthier financially, and they are growing at a faster pace than smaller churches.

But what about multisite churches? Let me say that I know some really bad ones… they fit all the stereotypes. But, I know some good ones, too. I’ve preached at several that were on mission, raising up leaders, and doing great ministry.

Warren Bird and Leadership Network– the same group that did much of the megachurch research discussed here on the blog– released some research on multisite churches last fall. And wouldn’t you know that it showed several positives regarding multisite churches.

From the research:

– Multisite churches reach more people than single site churches.
– Multisite tends to spread healthy churches to more diverse communities.
– Multisite churches have more volunteers in service as a percentage than single site.
– Multisite churches baptize more people than single site.
– Multisite churches tend to activate more people into ministry than single site.

Yep– facts are our friends. And, people who hate multi-site churches will probably not like these facts. (They did not like the megachurch facts either!) The fact is there are some good statistical indicators backing up the approach.

And the number of multisite churches is exploding. In fact, 62 of the 100 fastest growing churches in America are multisite. And there are now more than 5,000 multisite churches in North America:

megachurchesVSmultisite

But is this multisite explosion a good thing for churches in North America? Often yes…and sometimes no.

As I see it, the answer is rooted in the motivation and implementation of the strategy. If a church is using a multisite strategy as an alternative to spending $20 million on a centralized campus, most of us would agree that is a wise decision. If they are using it to spread only their “brand of church” or to provide the pastoral team with a “vacation campus” halfway across the country in a tropical destination, it’s probably not a wise decision.

But if a pastoral team is faithful to reaching the communities in which their campuses are located and to ministering to the campuses in an equitable fashion, I wish them all the success. Using a multisite strategy to engage a community through mission and to multiply disciples in the body is a win-win, and it’s happening all over the country.

Unfortunately, multisite churches still face their fair share of issues. 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.

Where Now?

So am I anti-multisite? Not at all.

I am not anti-multisite or anti-megachurch. I am thankful for both of them. However, 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.

The best churches know and do that– so learn from them.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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