A church can best reach a city when it “goes to the people” rather than expecting the people to come to it.  This means that a church in a metropolitan area should seek to multiply, not by building a bigger building, but by taking new ground for the kingdom through opening up new, smaller gathering places throughout the city.

There is biblical evidence for “multi-site” churches, as Gregg Allison writes about.  In addition to Allison’s blog, notice how Paul speaks to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete [one church] so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders [plural] in every town [multi-site] as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). It seems that Titus was to serve as a sort of “theological overseer/shepherd” on the island of Crete. Consider, too, that Timothy was charged to lead the church in Ephesus through theological shepherding (1 Tim. 1:3).  Ephesus was one city and no doubt had many sites–which is made clear by Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to keep men from preaching unsound doctrine (1:3-7) and to appoint qualified leaders in Ephesus (3:1-7).

But there is the practical element of reaching as many people as possible that makes a difference as well. All truth is God’s truth, but not all truth is contained in Scripture (advanced physics isn’t in there, neither is English grammar). God has providentially given us wisdom, by his Spirit, and wisdom is always intensely practical.  Here are five practical benefits of multi-site churches:

  • More, smaller facilities are cost-effective (you can find cheaper, even foreclosed, space to buy and remodel).
  • Different “tribes” and “peoples” will be reached (because some people will refuse to drive to the ‘burbs and attend services at the nice, comfy, predominately white church).
  • More intimate fellowship between God’s people (and people will still recognize they are a part of a bigger body and movement, but they won’t get lost in the shuffle–their name and face matter).
  • Ability to focus on reaching particular neighborhoods (cities change when neighborhoods change, not the other way around).
  • Ability to gear non-essential, stylistic issues toward the culture of the neighborhood (e.g. music, etc; as opposed to causing a stink at the “building” where old fogies and young hotheads clash).

How can we reach people and transform a city if we just build bigger buildings? There can be more services, but will we really reach people from 20 miles away in the ghetto with our giant, suburban buildings? Probably not. If churches are to transform cities (as they were expected to do in the New Testament) then we must go to where the people are, and we must keep people on mission in their part of town.  That means if you live in the ghetto, you are on mission there.  If you live in the ‘burbs, it means you are on mission there. If you live in the urban center, you are on mission there. And if you live on the outskirts of town, then you are on mission there.

I realize this is not possible for all churches for a variety of reasons. But it should at least be on the radar and a future goal. If a church isn’t there yet, there should be, by God’s grace, a concerted effort to get there.

What are your thoughts about multi-site churches?

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11 thoughts on “For What It’s Worth: Multi-Site Churches

  1. If churches are to transform cities (as they were expected to do in the New Testament) then we must go to where the people are, and we must keep people on mission in their part of town.

    They were? Please explain where Paul states that the church is to transform cities. Paul does not instruct Titus to go and construct buildings throughout Crete. Appointing elders in not the same as constructing a building.

  2. Joe, thanks for the comment, but I feel you missed my point and are not paying attention to the whole of the post.

    In the sentence you quoted, I never said Paul told Titus to construct buildings, and I never said appointing elders is the same as constructing a building. Indeed, I never wrote either of those things in the entire post.

    Furthermore:

    1) Paul never explicitly “states” that the church is to transform cities. What I wrote is that NT churches were “expected” to transform cities. How do we know this? EVERY SINGLE ONE of Paul’s letters were written to Christians in CITIES: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica, Ephesus (1/2 Timothy), towns in Crete (Titus), and Colosse (Philemon). Paul did not want a holy huddle in these cities, it was expected that the Christian mission was to spread the gospel.

    2) If churches want to meet in homes today, that is well and good. The population is just so much larger than it was 2,000 years ago that this might not be practical. For our context today, especially in America, smaller, low-cost facilities are more beneficial than a huge mother ship. My point is exactly the opposite of constructing buildings. I’m talking about looking for parts of the city to redeem and take over for Jesus.

  3. I agree with most all you say…But my thing is…why not plant more churches in your existing city, as opposed to going the multi-site route. The cost ought not be that much different…Why do I need to rent out a facility so I can video screen my face into a building…is there no one else within my church qualified to pastor/preach to these people? It seems to me if one is qualified enough for me to appoint him elder of a given ‘campus’ he ought to be qualified enough to preach to this ‘campus’.

    I don’t have an issue with big mega-churches, or superstar pastors(I enjoy listening to and reading many of them)..though that does seem to be a bit of an oxymoron…but I do have an issue with the video screening the sermons into different venues. People can podcast if they so choose…But the church is not about your face being all over everything, it is about Jesus Christ. We should be focusing on raising able bodied, qualified leaders and pastors and preachers to carry the message…rather than simply focusing on getting more buildings and facilities to hold more people, so that we can preach to them via video..That is what podcasts are for.

  4. Chris, I don’t know that it’s implied that I think video sermons are the way to go if multi-site is what a church is doing. I don’t see any reason why a campus pastor can’t preach on a regular basis. There is a part of me that does not like the video route, however, godly men use that and it is fruitful for them.

    And I think a multi-site can turn into a “plant,” however, there is something to be said for being connected to a larger body of elders and hence the greater oversight.

    Sometimes, I wonder if the campus/site and plant debate is arguing semantics.

  5. It may be semantics, but it is worth clarifying. What differentiates a plant from a multi-site if you aren’t doing the video thing? There can still be accountability, and oversight…in fact there should be…regardless of if you call it multi-site or a plant. I tend to think it is more an issue of certain Pastors feeling as if they have a certain level of influence, therefore an ability to attract a larger audience…This is true on some level, but again…Podcast, or go to the larger church. It isn’t about the Pastor. I also wonder on what level ego and pride figures into the equation when speaking of the video route. Yes, I know many Godly men have gone this route, but we know them not to be infallible.

  6. I talked with a friend of mine yesterday and we boiled it down to the fact that a plant has the goal of being financially independent within a certain time frame. Campuses do not. Thoughts?

    You wrote, “I also wonder on what level ego and pride figures into the equation when speaking of the video route.” I want to be slow to say that about anyone, especially men who are continually repentant and preach the gospel. They are not infallible, but that doesn’t mean every motive or strategy is “me-centered”.

    Here are Piper’s thoughts on the subject:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/what-are-the-pros-and-cons-of-using-video-preaching-in-the-church

  7. Not ‘me’ centered, but a definite ‘me’ factor I think would be tracking with what I was saying. It may or may not be the case…But I don’t think it is absent from the equation…Either way, like I said, it is more than likely a preference issue. I’m not a fan of doing it…but last I checked Mark Driscoll and John Piper haven’t asked for my opinion.

  8. Thanks for the post James, definitely a growing topic and a great conversation. For what its worth here is my thought on the issue. I think these multi-site churches particularly the ones that use live video feeds are effective and if the gospel is being faithfully communicated then why not. Lets be honest we know that Mars Hill is one of the big names we are talking about, I think its an easy argument to make and one used too often to assume that a pastor needs to feed his ego or gain validation by having his face on the screens of several churches. I think its the first thing that comes up in this argument and is over used. If Mark Driscoll did this for ego or prideful reasons then he should stop writing books, stop recording his sermons for download, sign off of facebook and twitter, and stick to Seattle only. I think when someone becomes big and successful at what they do its human tendency to vilify their way and prescribe our judgments on their motives. Acts 29 by the way is an organization with Driscolls print all over it and its an organization to equip pastors to plant churches, not promote the Driscoll brand. Mars Hill does have several campuses with Driscoll’s face on the screen, but they also allow plenty of preaching time for the campus pastor and promote very heavily the idea of missional communities. I watch Driscoll videos each week for his solid biblical teaching and not his superstar pastor status. James, great point that what works for some, doesn’t work for everyone. If you are multi-site you are simply being good stewards of technology, space, and money.

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