More Multi-Site in Every Ecclesiological Serving (Part 2)
It’s estimated that there are over 2,000 churches in America that employ the multi-site model in some form. What are their reasons for doing so and is there biblical support for this decision?
Browsing through the web for proponents of the multi-site church model reveals a number of arguments in favor of multi-site that are also true of church planting. Indeed the main reason churches decide to multiply sites seems to be to deal with growth. And the multi-site model is often presented as an alternative to church planting. And while I believe the Bible is clear about the necessity to plant churches, in certain instances branching out into multiple campuses may be preferred over planting a new church.
In this post I’ll do my best to avoid arguments that could be used to support both church planting and campus adding and focus instead on those things that are unique to the multi-site model. Each of these arguments seeks to be faithful to the teaching and example found in Scripture.
As I mentioned above, church growth is the main reason churches employ multi-site. Their belief is that opening more campuses or venues provides the best solution when a church begins to stretch its capacity. Alternative solutions include constructing a larger building, adding more services, or planting new churches.
In comparison to constructing a larger building, multi-site can be a more financially responsible decision. This model allows a church to maintain the size of its campus while establishing another campus of similar or smaller size elsewhere. To be sure, this other campus will cost money to obtain, but it may be a better use of resources. As one pastor who employs the multi-site model notes, “[Large auditoriums] 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.” Instead, smaller buildings can be rented to host a new campus for a fraction of the cost and without dealing with the hassle of construction or the taking on of a mortgage.
Adding additional worship services is another way to alleviate a crowded auditorium. This is a cost-effective and suitable solution, and indeed, many churches employ this. Many multi-site churches employ this. But for some churches that continue to experience numerical growth, there reaches a limit to the number of services that are feasible. Beyond time and other constraints, preaching at too many services can be quite taxing on a pastor. Oftentimes another solution becomes necessary.
Planting a new church is often considered at this point. Many proponents of multi-site churches will state their affirmation of the necessity to plant churches. Arguments in favor of multi-site are not necessarily arguments against the concept of church planting. But multi-site proponents typically employ church planting for locations that are too far away from the main campus to have any meaningful affiliation with the rest of that body. For locations in close proximity to the main campus, multi-site is desirable for a few reasons: it’s difficult to find enough people willing to leave the parent church to join the plant so that overcrowding is alleviated and the plant has a congregation sufficient to support its needs. Additionally, multi-site churches seek to attract the people in the particular part of town near their local campus. The closer they are to their community, the potentially more effective their evangelism efforts will be (the thought being that it’s easier to witness and minister to the people in one’s own neighborhood). With a church plant, the parent church is probably looking for members who can fill specific roles at the plant and help it get established who may or may not be in close proximity to the new location. Another difficulty in church planting is that it is often pursued in response to large numbers of new believers coming to a church (thus causing the space issues); it is difficult (though admittedly not impossible) to plant a church full of spiritually immature believers. By contrast, launching a new campus lead by the same elders as the main campus and populated by the members in that part of the town helps avoids this issue. In theory, it should be easier to get people in the church to come to the new campus than it would be to get them to join a church plant because there’s the continuity of sitting under the preaching of the same pastors.
Another argument in multi-site’s favor is that a large, multi-site church has resources that several smaller churches individually don’t have. Ministries tailored to specific demographics that perhaps don’t exist in large quantities at smaller churches—singles and college ministries, for instance—are more practically handled at a larger church. One 10,000-person church spread over several campuses can provide these ministries (perhaps centered at one of the campuses) that ten 1,000-person independent churches couldn’t.
Defenders of multi-site will argue that Scripture doesn’t offer detailed instructions on how to organize a church or how to carry out the ministries it is charged with. The employment of multi-site, they feel, is the best way to accomplish the tasks of reaching the most people in their community with the gospel and providing the best means of ministering to and enabling God’s people to worship Him in order to bring Him the most glory.
One way that the multi-site church best alligns with Scripture is the emphasis on unity in the church. When Paul warns the Galatian church about works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), eight of the fifteen works that he lists are related to disunity. In his high priestly prayer (John 17), Jesus asks the Father that the elect may be one in Him as He is one with the Father. This priority on unity, it can be argued, is best fostered by a multi-site church because the various campuses have a common leadership and cooperate together better than most independent churches. Even when a parent church plants another church, in most cases that plant will become largely autonomous and cooperation with other local churches may not be ensured. Of course this is not universally the case, but those who believe in multi-site feel their model best promotes unity in the body.
While the Bible appears to be largely silent when it comes to instruction in the matter of organizing how and where the church gathers, might there be biblical precedence for a multi-site church? Proponents will point to the early church as a possible example of such a model. We know from Acts 2:41 that at Pentecost, 3,000 people there in Jerusalem were added to the church. It is likely that this number continued to multiply over a rather short period of time. Historians say that there was no place in first century Jerusalem where 3,000 or more people could’ve met on a weekly basis. It’s likely that they met in multiple houses, yet they are referred to as the “church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1; 11:22; 15:4). And it’s possible these multiple home gatherings came together to observe the Lord’s supper (This may be what’s happening in 1 Corinthians 11:17-20). While it requires a little reading between the lines, a type of multi-site church may be what we see (at least in some places) in the New Testament.
The case for multi-site churches may not be air tight (we’ll explore some of the arguments against it next week), but many faithful churches upon careful Bible study, prayer, and deliberation have chosen to employ it. While some churches may not be as responsible in the way they execute the multi-site model, we ought not to dismiss it out of hand. There is a case to be made for it, and hopefully we’ve scratched the surface of that case here.
See you next week. Same site.