This is the second in a three-part series “in defense of multi-site churches.” You can find part one here.
II. WHY THE SUMMIT CHURCH BELIEVES THE MULTI-SITE STRATEGY CAN BE PRACTICALLY WISE
A. A multi-site model is an acceptable, if not better, alternative to addressing a church’s growth by building bigger buildings, multiplying services, or planting new churches.
Assuming that a growing local church decides not to turn people away when its facility is “full,” it faces three options to accommodate growth: build bigger buildings, multiply services, or plant new churches. Simply turning people away, obviously, is a terrible and unbiblical option. The Apostles did not turn away the 5000 new believers in Acts 2, even when they surely were overwhelmed with the problems these new believers posed. As John Piper said of his own church, “The question is no longer whether we’ll be a megachurch, but what kind of megachurch we will be.”
Buildings are expensive. Large buildings are enormously expensive. They are also inefficient uses of space. Large auditoriums (that seat several thousand people) are difficult to use for any other purpose than one weekly assembly of the entire church body.
The multi-site model allows churches to save much of the money usually spent on a building. Venues in which smaller congregations can meet are much more plentiful and can be rented on a Sunday or, if owned, can be used throughout the week for other purposes.
Jim Tomberlein, who has written a great deal on the multi-site movement, notes that a multi-site strategy is usually a zero-sum game, financially speaking. Most campuses will make up the money spent on startup costs within the first year.
The church might decide to multiply services, but you quickly reach a limit of how many any one location or teaching pastor can handle. Also, as will be discussed below, having people drive more than 20 minutes to get to their assembly place can hinder evangelism and local community ministry.
Some say that when a church reaches capacity it should just plant a new church. This is certainly a good option, and one we are pursuing concurrent with our campus-multiplying strategy. However, most studies show that church planting will not itself alleviate space needs of a local church. Many churches have found that even when they convinced 200 of their people to go and start a new church (an extraordinarily difficult feat, I might add!), they ended up making up that growth in the original congregation within a few months. In other words, even if you plant 10 churches out of your church in 10 years, chances are that you will still be dealing with space problems each year.
Furthermore, finding the people willing to leave their church to plant a new one as well as the leader who can do it are both difficult! Yes, they should be willing to leave. But there is a gap between what people should do and what they will do, especially in churches that are growing rapidly and filled with young and immature believers.
Church planting is a wonderful and effective evangelism strategy and should thus be pursued aggressively by every local church, but church planting will not provide a solution for a church’s space issues. So, by all means, plant churches, but in order to steward the people God is bringing to the original campus, you’ll need a different solution!
Multiplying campuses is not an alternative to church planting; it is an alternative to multiplying services, building a larger building, or turning people away. Furthermore, not only does multiplying campuses not replace church planting, it facilitates it.
B. The multi-site strategy facilitates church planting.
The multi-site strategy does not preclude church planting. Rather, it fosters it! Not every church planter is equipped to be a senior teaching pastor. Campus pastors need to be men who are gifted leaders and good communicators, but not necessarily preachers. Many guys who are great leaders and pastors do not enjoy doing what I do each week, spending 20+ hours preparing messages and deciphering vision. As campus pastors they exercise leadership within their gifts in a way that they could not as church planters. Many of those not gifted to be the senior leader or primary teaching pastor would still make ideal campus pastors.
As you plant new campuses, you will notice some who begin to demonstrate the gift set to lead independent churches. This seems to be how the Jerusalem church operated. They noticed leaders emerging in the ministry who had the capacity to plant churches and they sent them out.
Finally, it has been our experience that multiple campuses provide a leadership pipeline for developing church planters. It provides a place to hone the skills necessary for teaching and leadership. The multi-site strategy is integral to our church planting strategy.
Thus, we have found that the multi-site strategy does not in any way eclipse church planting. In fact, it provides an opportunity to determine who has the right gift set to plant and pastor. As it stands now, new churches fail more than half the time. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have an in-between stage in which leadership abilities can be tested?
C. The closer a congregation meets to where the people it is trying to reach live, the more effective can be its evangelism and community outreach.
Being closer to where the people live helps you engage them, invite them to your services, and perceive the needs of the local community. Our desire is for everyone in our community (the Triangle) to be no more than 15 minutes from a thriving evangelical church or a Summit congregation. We tell people, “Stay where you are; serve where you live; be the church in your local community.”
D. The multi-site church is better suited for the post-pastor succession.
It is rare, in every generation, for one pastor to be able to hold the attention of several thousand people each Sunday. Many churches with one of those pastors built an auditorium to hold the audience, but for whatever reason the successor did not have the same ability. While grateful that the church attempted to be a steward of those God was bringing to them, how depressing it is to walk into one of those huge, nearly empty sanctuaries on a Sunday now!
If our church has ten thousand attenders, we believe that it would be better to have ten campuses of one thousand, who identify with ten campus pastors, rather than one campus of ten thousand who identify only with the one. If the lead pastor passes on, it is easier to find ten pastors to lead one thousand than one who can continue to lead the ten thousand. The many empty, depressing monuments now polluting the American landscape are evidence of that.