Up until this time, the two primary ways for a local church to fulfill the Great Commission has been church growth and church planting. Church growth has focused on growing a congregation in one location, often through the use of multiple services. Church Planting has focused on starting new churches in different locations with the intention of reaching new people for Christ. Both church growth and church planting have had a relative measure of success over recent decades. A new emerging model is the multi-site church, which is somewhat of a blend of the two.
A multi-site church is simply ‘one church in multiple locations’. All sites share the same leadership team, budget, staff and administration. In most cases, the name of the church indicates both the overall church name and the particular site location (e.g. Hope Church North and Hope Church South). Each location develops its own set of volunteers for ministry areas but there is one leadership team and one teaching team that oversee and are involved in all sites.
There are now over 1500 churches around the world using this model. Some of the benefits of this new strategy include: the ability to reach a larger number of people through having a presence in different parts of the city, the ability for a church to maximise existing ministry strengths, the elimination of the need to build bigger and bigger buildings all the time, the opportunity to provide small church intimacy with large church resources, the harnessing of existing credibility and reputation for new congregations, and the mobilisation of many new people into ministry.
There are also a number of challenges with this approach: the need for intensive leadership development, the need for a much greater degree of teamwork, the importance of alignment, as well as the fact that existing churches in an area can feel intimidated by a larger church starting a new site up.
Unfortunately, there is a common mindset that exists amongst some church leaders that says, 'We've already got enough churches in this area – why start another one!' Personally, I think it is essential to keep looking at how many people aren’t in church rather than those who are. Here in Australia, only 10% of people attend church on any given weekend with about 20% attending once a month. That means that around 80% of our communities are still 'unchurched'. I think you’d agree with me that the reality is we need all existing churches in every community to reach more people and we need new churches to join the task at hand.
The motivation for a multi-site strategy should be evangelism, not just creating a more convenient location for people who live further away from the church. However, staring a new site with a solid core of existing members is a tremendous strength and a site nearer to their home can help assist them in seeking to win their friends and neighbors for Christ.
For further research on this new trend, I recommend the following resources:
- The Multi-Site Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations – this book published by Leadership Network is the best comprehensive overview of this new model of ministry. The book includes a list of many of the leading multi-site churches and their contact details. This related web site is also excellent.
- Multi-Site Church Road Trip.
- Leadership Network has a wealth of multi-site research papers available on their web site.
- Dave Ferguson and NewThing also offer some excellent resources and training events. Also check out Dave's excellent new book The BIG Idea: Focus the Message, Multiply the Impact, which an essential teaching concept for multi-site churches.
- Multi-Site Churches: Guidance for the Movement's Next Generation by Scott McConnell.
- 125 Tips for Multi-Site Churches by Jim Toberlin. NEW
- Multisite Church Pitfalls (published in 2017). NEW
- MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multi-Site (2017) by Brad House and Gregg Allison. NEW