Multi-Site 2

Posted: March 31, 2008 in church, consumerism, ministry, multi-site church

To continue our discussion via comments and email, here are some of my thoughts regarding multi-site churches. The good and the bad are intermixed. As with all things, there are both good and bad aspects and elements that can be used for the glory of God and elements that are simply about the glory of mankind or a particular man.

1. I question what multi-site says about what church is. I come from a free-church tradition that places a great deal of emphasis on the local church. Some of you reading this will know what I mean, and could sing along if I started out, “You can’t go to church as some people say, the common terminology we use everyday…” The multi-site church movement suggest, even at it’s best, that “church” is a place where certain things happen, not a people sent. Obviously, these two impulses aren’t mutually exclusive, but when you can “go” to church online, I have to ask whether that’s more about services than serving.

2. If you’ve got something good, why not extend what God has blessed. This is a strong point of multi-site to me. Trust me, I’ve been around long enough to know that they’re not a lot of great preachers out there. And some bad ones, who are good at many other things in ministry, spend 30+ hours a week working on sermons that don’t turn out well. I would rather see a good preacher on video and work alongside a great minister on my campus than have a preacher who is bad at preaching and spending so much time preparing sermons that they are bad at everything else too. It’s conceivable that campus pastors can inform and work alongside a lead pastor and the local church can accomplish more for their community and the kingdom.

3. I don’t like what multi-site says about church leadership. I fail to see how elders or pastors can effectively pastor people they don’t know. I understand that many multi-site churches function more from a corporate model of leadership than a pastoral one. I believe that as children are born, people die, and decisions are made about church life, the elders of the church, the folks charged with spiritual discernment for the body, should actually know the body. They need to be able to look into the eyes of the people they are charged to lead. What’s more, If I’m preaching a sermon about tithing, while I wouldn’t back off the importance of tithing, I might approach it differently if I lived in Michigan — who has been experiencing a one-state recession for years now — than I might in Houston where the economy has not been as deeply hurt by recent national developments in the economy. One size doesn’t fit all! And multi-site appears to work against contextualization. We would never try to evangelize S. Africa from Austin. And Austin may be just as different from S. Africa as it is a retirement community in S. Florida.

4. Going multi-site can be a good use of the Lord’s resources and meet changing needs across the American landscape. Houston is a big city and there are folks who feel blessed and called to work with a particular church. For one reason or another, the life of one particular body speaks to them. There’s one problem; they live 25 miles away and traffic is “heck!” Several years ago our congregation dismissed our Wednesday night gatherings because people spent more time in the car getting here than they spent here. Interestingly, many of these folks lived about 10 miles from one another. Had we been thinking we might have taken the opportunity to establish another gathering place and different modes of spiritual formation. I still kick myself for not being forward enough to think about multi-siting then. Now the opportunity has passed. We could have formed something, using very little resources, instead of throwing in the towel. In this way, multi-site is rolling with the punches of life in the big city.

More to come…

  1. david says:

    “I fail to see how elders or pastors can effectively pastor people they don’t know”

    This isn’t necessarily an invalid criticism, but does it unnecessarily confuse “pastoring” with “preaching”?

    i would say that it is hard to effectively preach to people you don’t know, but most multi-site churches are set up with campus-pastors so the pastoring is done by those who do know the congregation.

    good stuff, though! thanks.

  2. Sean says:


    Thanks for the comment. What I mean by “pastoring” is not preaching. It is the work done by local lay leaders — in my tribe, these are “elders” who are selected by the church for the specific task of pastoring (visiting the sick, shepherding, providing counsel, and working alongside clergy to form and implement the vision of the church). In some multi-site congregations, the elders all live and worship on one side of town, one location and are also the “elders” for the other church, a separate location. This is what I mean. I hope that clears it up. Thanks again.

  3. Bret says:

    Hey Sean,

    I’m glad you posted a link to your blog in your history post this week – good stuff.

    I share in your leaning toward church planting rather than multi-site…a lot. I have some very good friends at Farmers Branch and I’ve had this conversation with them on several occasions.

    There are indeed benefits to the multi campus approach and I think you’ve noted most of them in this series. There are also different approaches to multi-site that function on healthier or unhealthier levels.

    I know of one young church (a Mission Alive church plant) that is getting ready to plant its first church. As I have helped the lead church planter talk and dream through this process one of the things we’ve discussed is the lack of resources in young, small congregations. One the one hand this highlights the need to remain in community and relationship with larger established congregations.

    However what we’ve been discussing is viewing this church plant as the hub of a network of house churches and worship gatherings. It has happened and is happening that this missional congregation is seeing new house churches formed, sometimes a considerable distance away. But what happens if these house churches are growing and multiplying before a new “church” can be planted (due to the staffing, financial and logistical issues that we all wish weren’t really an issue)?

    As new house churches are formed in a particular area (say 3 or 4), rather than continue to drive across town to the worship gathering of the “original” church, they should simply find a place where they can gather in community on Sunday morning. Especially since many of these house churches are comprised of new Christians, the “original” church would probably still need to provide staff support – perhaps in the form of teaching or preaching – until the new gathering reaches a point where they can function on their own, with their own staff.

    There is NO reason why this collection of house churches should not and could not provide the pastoral care for their small community or handle the leadership of ministries in which they are involved.

    I guess this could be considered a multi-site approach – though it is VERY specifically not to be a permanent multi-site situation. My point is that this idea is currently being used very well by large wealthy mega-churches, but it could perhaps be a more appropriate answer to small, intimate, missional local bodies.

    This also provides a solution to the problem that many church plants face regarding youth and children’s ministries. Imagine…different gatherings of Christians working together…crazy talk.

    sorry for the long response, I get a little carried away sometimes!

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