John Hammett: What Makes a Multi-Site Church One Church?

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[Mondays at Between the Times are devoted to posts from the faculty of Southeastern. Today's post is by John Hammett, Senior Professor and John L. Dagg Chair of Systematic Theology. Dr. Hammett winsomely and gracefully engages the growing trend of multi-site churches. What do you think?] 

One of the most important movements in the contemporary church is the development of what are called multi-site churches, which describe themselves as “one church in many locations.”[1] Under this model, what makes a church one is not that the members gather at one location. What, then, do they offer as justification for seeing them as one church? Most often, they point to organizational or missional elements. As one book says, “A multi-site church shares a common vision, budget, leadership, and board.”[2] But such a definition of oneness could fit restaurant chains, hotel franchises, or banks with multiple branches, or an association or convention of churches. Surely the unity of a local church involves more.

One additional element of unity would be theological. Members of one church should be united in believing the “one faith” Paul describes in Ephesians 4:3–6.[3] Indeed, many of Paul’s letters to churches included theological instruction and correction so that the churches could be one in faith, both internally and in relationship to other churches.

But most often, the oneness of a local congregation in the New Testament seems to be relational, rooted in the relationships among the members. So, in Acts 2:44, we read that “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Acts 4:32 continues, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” The image of the one body with many members in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 emphasizes equality in value and honor despite diversity in gifts, and is given as an incentive to mutual care. In fact, one of the major themes of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s appeal to all the members there “to agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10). Similarly, the Philippian church is exhorted to make Paul’s joy complete “by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Unity seems more much a matter of the quality of face-to-face, shared relationships among members than with organizational matters among budgets and boards.

The challenge facing multi-site churches is how to foster such relational unity among believers scattered over a geographical area meeting at different times in many locations. Even churches that meet in one location face a similar challenge, for as they grow larger they will soon have too many members for any one member to know all the others. This makes the development of genuine fellowship across all the membership a matter of concern, not just to multi-site churches, but to all churches that grow beyond a very small size. Somehow the New Testament churches, even the very large church in Jerusalem, managed to live out relational oneness. Their example calls us to deeper commitment to the brothers and sisters with whom we covenant in local church membership.

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This article is adapted from John S. Hammett, “What Makes a Multi-Site Church One Church?” Great Commission Research Journal 4, no. 1 (Summer 2012): 95-107. Bruce Ashford let readers know about this article in 2012. See the post here.

[1] Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird, The Multi-Site Church Revolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006). The sub-title of this book is “Being One Church in Many Locations.”

[2] Ibid., 18.

[3] Theological unity is given both primacy and greatest prominence in the list of five areas of church unity advocated by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears in Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 137-140. In addition to theological unity, they highlight relational, philosophical, missional, and organizational unity.

The Church Planter’s Library (3): International Church Planting

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[Editor's Note: This summer we are posting some old but good pieces from BtT. This post originally appeared on July 10, 2009.]

The apostle Paul was at once the early church’s best theologian, most perceptive observer of culture, and most active evangelist. As an embodiment of these traits, he provides for us an example of the qualities demanded of an international church planter. He must be both theologically and culturally savvy. He must be a theoretician and a practitioner. He sometimes is asked to be both a church planter and a one-man seminary.

Precisely because of these expectations, the international church planter must think deeply and widely about a host of issues. The little booklist that I am presenting is woefully inadequate, but hopefully it will provide the prospective church planter with a good start.

Ecclesiology

After having put in the hard (and fruitful) work of studying Old Testament, New Testament, theology, church history, etc., which provide the matrix within which we can think about church planting, the first order of business is to study ecclesiology and the classic texts on church planting. As I did in the previous post, I recommend John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches and Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church as basic texts on the doctrine of the church.

Classic Church Planting Texts

Also as I mentioned in the previous post, I recommend John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches and Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church. In addition, however, I would add Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, a classic text in theology of church planting.

Theology of Mission

John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad is the single best place for an aspiring church planter to start reading theology of mission. It is a theological, missiological, and motivational masterpiece. For a more in-depth treatment, see J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions and George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions. These two books are classics of 20th century theology of missions and ought to be read side by side. Finally, David Hesselgrave’s Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today is an exemplary theological and missiological treatment of major issues in missions today.

Contemporary Texts on Church Planting

After having beefed up on ecclesiology and church planting classics, you are ready to move to make a more sound theological and missiological assessment of contemporary trends in international church planting. Because of the scope of this installment, I will limit myself to a few of the most influential contemporary texts. I want to go ahead and put my cards on the table here. There are very few good books on international church planting (maybe only 2 or 3). You will notice, when reading even some of the books below, that much of what is written in this discipline is severely lacking in theological depth and breadth and for that reason is deficient missiologically also.

1. Stuart Murray, Church Planting: Laying Foundations. Murray’s book provides a theological foundation and historical framework for understanding the task of church planting.

2. David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally. Hesselgrave builds a biblical-theological case for church planting and delineates what he calls the “Pauline Cycle” of church planting.

3. Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, rev. ed. Steffen divides the task of church planting into five stages and focuses on the “phase-out” stage, arguing that the church planter must make clear plans to “pass the baton” to national leaders or else he will endanger the health of the church.

4. David Garrison, Church Planting Movements. This book offers a definition of “church planting movement,” examples of global CPMs, and instruction on how to prepare for a church planting movement. Garrison’s book is a descriptive text about what he has observed in various global CPMs; it is not a biblical-theological treatment of church planting.

5. George Patterson and Richard Scoggins, The Church Multiplication Guide. Patterson and Scoggins teach the necessity of discipleship for healthy church reproduction. They center their discipleship methods on seven commands of Christ, and instruct church planters to teach and embody obedience to those commands. (Note: This book has one of the tackiest covers and most unhelpful page layouts of any book that I have ever encountered. But don’t let this deter you. Patterson planted churches for over twenty years and has plenty to offer.)

6. Daniel Sinclair, A Vision of the Possible. Sinclair’s is a treatise on pioneer church planting in teams. He treats many of the same issues as Garrison (such as leadership, discipleship, CPMs, theological education, etc.), but from a different perspective.

7. Wolfgang Simson, Houses that Change the World. Simson’s book is one of the most widely-read books in the field. He has a fiery pen and wields that pen in order to promote house church planting. Although his argument is an exercise in overstatement that paints the worst possible picture of non-house churches and the best possible picture of house churches, it is helpful for stimulating one’s thought and demonstrating that house churches are not “second-rate.”

A Final Comment

As with the previous installment, I have only mentioned a few of the books that will be helpful for aspiring church planters. (I have not mentioned books in cross-cultural communication, world religions, contextualization, etc.) Further, I have provided little or no critique of each. For that reason, I would like to invite our readership to comment on books that I have not included that you think are particularly helpful, or even to comment on or critique the books that I have included.

What new books (since 2009) can you add to the list? 

Preparing SEBTS Students for the SBC Annual Meeting

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As many readers will know, the SBC Annual Meeting will gather in Houston on June 11–12, 2013. In conjunction with the Convention, I teach an elective travel course at Southeastern Seminary titled The Southern Baptist Convention. The course is divided into three components. First, we meet on campus for one full day to discuss Southern Baptist history, theology, and polity, as well as specific information related to the upcoming annual meeting. Second, the students read several books and articles and listen to numerous audio resources related to these themes. Finally, the students attend the SBC Annual Meeting itself. While at the Convention, the students attend most of the proceedings, meet a couple of times with key SBC leaders, hobnob at the SEBTS booth, and attend the SEBTS Friends and Alumni Luncheon. Most also attend auxiliary events such as the Pastor’s Conference, Baptist 21 Luncheon, and 9 Marks at 9 events, among others.

I thought I would pass on to you some of the resources I use to prepare students for the SBC Annual Meeting. Obviously, we spend quite a bit of time walking through the Convention program, which, along with numerous other helpful resources, is available online. In addition to my lectures and guided class discussions, the students also watch or listen to several lectures, sermons, and panel discussions. This year, I’ve required them to watch the various Baptist 21 panel discussions from previous years (available at the B21 website), which are a helpful gauge of the “hot topics” in the SBC in recent years. I also required the students to watch one of the panels from last year’s 9 Marks at 9. The panel, which included Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and Danny Akin, discussed Fred Luter’s presidential election, the nature of SBC cooperation, and Calvinism, all of which remain important topics a year later.

I also point the students to four lectures or sermons. They watch David Dockery’s fine sermon “Participants and Partners in the Gospel,” which was preached in SEBTS chapel back in February. The sermon is vintage Dockery, calling for denominational unity around the gospel and basic Baptist orthodoxy for the sake of the Great Commission. Students also listen to Dockery’s lecture “The Southern Baptist Convention since 1979,” which helps to orient them to recent Baptist history. The final two lectures are Timothy George’s “The Future of Baptist Identity in a post-Denominational World,” which remains a timely topic, and Al Mohler’s “The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” an address that every Southern Baptist needs to listen to at least once.
The students read two books and over a dozen journal articles or book chapters. The first book is Roger Richards’ History of Southern Baptists (Crossbooks, 2012), which is the most recent history of the SBC. The second book is a helpful collection of essays titled The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time (B&H Academic, 2010), edited by Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenway. The latter volume touches upon most of the current tension points in the SBC from a perspective that advocates unity for the sake of gospel advance.

Unfortunately, for reasons of copyright I can’t make most of the additional essays I require available outside of the class. The students read chapters, articles, and booklets written by SBC leaders and thinkers such as Danny Akin (on the Great Commission Resurgence), David Dockery (on Baptist theology), Nathan Finn (on Baptist identity, Calvinism, and the future of the SBC), Timothy George (on Baptist theology), John Hammett (on regenerate church membership and the ordinances), Chuck Lawless (on Calvinism), Al Mohler (on Baptist identity), Paige Patterson (on the Conservative Resurgence), Ed Stetzer (on missional churches), and Malcolm Yarnell (on the priesthood of all believers).

One resource that I can make available to you is Dr. Patterson’s e-booklet “The Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence: The History, the Plan, the Assessment ” (Seminary Hill, 2012). In this booklet, was which was originally published as three separate articles in The Southwestern Journal of Theology, Dr. Patterson offers a first-hand account of the Conservative Resurgence. It is a helpful look at recent Baptist history from one of the most important shapers of that history. It is also a reminder that Dr. Patterson needs to publish a volume that brings together his collected articles and essays, a topic I have pestered him about in the past. (And again, now, on a public blog . . .)

Anyway, I hope you find these resources helpful. And I hope that many of you will consider attending the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston. Perhaps I will see many of you there.

(Note: This post was cross-published at Christian Thought & Tradition)