Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Multi-Site Church Model, Part 1

One change that is sweeping through the Western church today is the multi-site model, where one church spins off several branches or sites. This phenomenon is so popular that a recent book by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird called A Multi-site Church Road Trip has the audacious subtitle: Exploring the New Normal. According to their book, on a typical Sunday in 2009 some five million people—almost 10 percent of protestant worshippers—attend a multi-site church in the US or Canada. Leaders at some forty-five thousand churches are seriously considering the multi-site approach according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research. Before you jump on the bandwagon, I want you to think about a few things.

What does it mean to be a multi-site church? Basically, it is one church meeting in more than one location. Some use the term “campuses,” or “services,” others call them “satellite churches,” “polysites” or even “house churches” or “missional communities.” With such a wide range of descriptions I imagine one could say that our organic church networks or even CMA as a whole could represent this idea, but I personally believe that would be a stretch. Listening to those considered the forerunners in this model, it is clear that they mean one church in multiple locations…not multiple churches like we would articulate.

There are, of course, variations on this theme. Some are video-venues where different styles of worship are offered at different sites, sometimes even on the same campus, but the same sermon from the same preacher is beamed in to them all on a larger-than-life screen. Others are spread across a city while some branch out across a state and a few go even interstate. Some are on the internet; a few are even branching out internationally. For some it is a way to grow their church when there is not any possibility of building a larger facility. For some it is a way of building a network of churches. Many like it because they can have church for a variety of different tastes. Some even would call it church planting, while others say that it is counterfeit church planting. I heard one person describe the Mars Hill Campus strategy as "Just add water and Driscoll and POOF you have a new church." For the next few blog entries I will weigh in on this subject. All seat backs and tray tables must be in their upright position. Fasten your seat belts.


bobby gilstrap said...

The critical question is "What makes a Biblical manifestation of a local church?" Whether an organic church model, or a mega-church model, or the multi-site model, we must ask "Is this a Biblical manifestation of a local church?" If that question is answered, then most other questions can be answered (i.e.: leadership development, discipling of believers, etc.).

And yes, we must be evaluating how people choose to "do" church today. We have hopefully learned from historical models of the local church in America ... so we best evaluate what we are doing in today's changing culture. Not in a "look down your nose" critical way, but with a genuine desire to effectively fulfill God's desire for his local congregation in this generation, and for generations to come.

Taqgbo {grimtraveller} said...

Actually, it's not a particularly new idea. Kensington Temple in London was trying this idea back in the early 90s, complete with the video broadcast of one superstar beaming his sermon to the faithful. Personally, it felt funny to me, but that could have been down to reasons that were to do with me and not the idea itself.
Really, as far as I'm concerned, the question is not whether it works or whether or not the people want it, but rather, is this the way a relational God is leading his people ? We don't want to be stuck in some inflexible interpretation of times past but neither can we afford to ignore the recordings of the NT writers in the name of "a different time and place and context". Perhaps I'm naive and it's wishful thinking, but I really believe that there is a foundation of practice that exists in God's ekklesia that transcends time, place and context. Anything truly led by the Lord could exist at any point in history or any place in the world. I stand by the analogy of the family - God has a blueprint for what a family should look like, yet no two families of the zillions in current existence are alike ! But in the world today exist many types of family structure that are anything but biblical/ God led.
Hmmm. Should we be disturbed at our need to keep coming up with new forms of church ? Do we not eventually keep coming back to square one, even if we won't publically admit it ?
Just a little food for thought.