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

[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.


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

[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.


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? 

The Church Planter’s Library (1): Introduction

[Editor’s Note: This summer we are posting some old but good pieces from BtT. This post originally appeared on July 7, 2009.]

There is a noticeable upsurge of interest in North American and International Church Planting among young seminarians. Rarely does a day go by that we do not meet, speak with, or receive an email from, a young student interested in church planting. More often than not, one of their questions is, “What books do you recommend for somebody interested in church planting?” That is the question that this blog mini-series seeks to answer over the course of three more installments covering North American Church Planting, International Church Planting, and Cultural Context.

Several reminders, caveats and disclaimers, however, before we begin: First, we do well to remember that our time reading Scripture is by far the most important reading we will do when preparing to plant churches. Reading through Dever, Keller, Driscoll, and Stetzer will never replace reading through Acts, Romans, Ephesians, and I Peter. We profit from spending serious time in the Word every day, as it is the lens through which we read anything else.

Second, the book lists I provide are in no way comprehensive. I assume that I am recommending books to those who are pursuing a well-rounded theological education. My recommendations will deal with selected sub-categories within a broader theological and missiological education. Third, these booklists should be viewed as lists of “books that are helpful to work through” rather than “books by authors who think just like me and with whom I agree on everything.”

Finally, please contribute to the conversation by commenting. Your thoughts will be particularly helpful in this series, as you contribute to a lively conversation about a very important topic-church planting and renewal. If you think of additional books that are helpful, or have comments about the books I have included so far in the series, do not hesitate to comment. It may turn out that the comment section is as helpful to our readership as the lists themselves.

With those caveats in mind, I hope that you find the next three installments helpful. In the first installment, I will provide a booklist for North American Church Planting and Renewal. In the second, I attempt a booklist for International Church Planting. Finally, I provide a list of books to help the prospective church planter get to know his international or North American java