The Multi-Site Church Revolution

May 22, 2006 by

Multi-Site Church RevolutionThe brick and mortar church building on the corner is not a concept you’ll find in the Bible—and the concept’s days may be numbered. Or at least no longer ubiquitous. The physical church building has more than a few limitations, including interior space, room for exterior expansion, financial burdens, and the backwards idea of church as a physical building instead of a spiritual community.

Enter the multi-site revolution, which threatens to redefine how we think about church and church buildings. The Multi-Site Church Revolution: Being One Church… In Many Locations by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird lays out the vision for multi-site churches and the practical reality of how to make them happen.

What is a Multi-Site Church?
One church meeting in multiple locations. It could be multiple venues on the same campus, different locations in the same city or even locations spread across different regions, states or countries. Multi-site churches share the same vision, budget and leadership across all of their locations, no matter how far flung they may be.

Why Multi-Site?
Take your pick of reasons, though the most common is a lack of space. When churches can’t add more seats or expand their building (due to lack of money or local zoning) going to multiple locations allows a church to continue growing and reaching people without being limited by the size of a sanctuary. As more churches experiment with multi-site it becomes less an issue of space and more an issue of how to effectively reach people. The Multi-Site Church Revolution quotes from the book Beyond the Box: Innovative Churches That Work, which comments, “The key to understanding the multi-site movement is to remember that fulfilling the Great Commission drives these congregations, not a growth strategy.” (22)

How Does it Work?
Just as there is no right way of doing church, there’s no right way of doing multi-site church. Almost every church does it differently. Some rent schools, theaters or auditoriums, some partner with other churches or organizations. Some have on-site preaching, some do live simulcasts and some do live or pre-recorded video sermons.

Basic Keys for Multi-Site

  • Having a campus pastor at each location to ensure accountability and consistency is key.
  • Video sermons aren’t as distracting as you might think. Many people report feeling apprehensive about video preaching initially, but quickly forget about the video and get hooked by the content.
  • Multi-site church is not like rolling out a McDonald’s franchise. It’s not cookie-cutter church. Each different location can have it’s own unique features attributes. What’s key is figuring out the core DNA of a multi-site church that doesn’t change from location to location.

What About My Church?
The multi-site strategy is a concept any church should at least consider—it’s not just for mega-churches. It isn’t for every church, but it could be a solution to space problems, a better way to reach a specific demographic or a way to overcome the limits of geography.

Back to the Book
The Multi-Site Church Revolution gives a basic overview of multi-site churches and then dives into the nitty-gritty details, complete with several worksheets to help you process what it might take. Throughout the book are tons of stories of multi-site churches in action and one of the appendixes includes a list and basic details for more than 60 multi-site churches mentioned in the book.

It’s a great resource for church leaders with space problems or the vision to make evangelism a core part of their church. It’s also a good book for anyone who doesn’t understand the multi-site idea or thinks it’s just for big churches with big numbers.

Aside: What About Denominations?
As I read the book one of the big questions that kept coming back to me but was never answered is where do multi-site churches end and denominations begin? They are two different structures, but it seems like the lines quickly blur when a multi-site church crosses state lines or has more than a dozen locations. Are multi-site churches the modern-day precursors to denominations, enabled by new technology? Unfortunately this sort of high-level question isn’t addressed.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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12 Responses to “The Multi-Site Church Revolution”

  • Jon Crawford
    May 22, 2006

    While there ARE benefits to multi-site churches, I’m involved with a less-than-perfect multi-site church. Here’s the situation: We had a church going on in one area and trying to do a college ministry in the evenings in a college town nearby. Then, we decided to start doing a full-on replica of our Sunday morning service on Sunday nights in the college town. The problem is that the material doesn’t always translate.
    We are pretty modern church and we use a lot of multimedia. But what media works in one location doesn’t work in the other. For instance, our Sunday morning service is mostly thirty-somethings. So you’ll get a lot of U2 and Sheryl Crow. But neither of these bands a really liked by the trendier college-town crowd. So that’s one problem.
    The second is that the Sunday night service (the second location) is basically an after-thought. Since our location (Sunday morning) was in place first, all planning is done with this first service in mind. For the most part, this isn’t a big problem, but occasionally it is. And when it is a problem, it’s really obvious.
    Third, the “no building” thing has sort of been a problem. It has been hard to feel like an actual church when you don’t really exist 6 days/week. Yes, I know that WE are the church, but not having a ‘home base’ really can slow things down a bit – even if its only psychologically.
    Anywho – I can’t recommend the mult-site church plan. We JUST announced that our second location will be spun off into its own church within the year because the system wasn’t working. We weren’t able to learn the culture of this second location by trying to cover so much ground. (Not to mention a touch of imperialism that goes with “expanding your domain” as a church.)

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  • kevin
    May 22, 2006

    I’m not trying to sell books here, but it sounds like you need to read this book, Jon. The way you describe attempting multi-site church is not exactly how the authors would recommend it. You can’t just clone a service and hope it will work somewhere else. You have to take things apart and try new methods. Maybe all you use from the first location is the sermon. Maybe you don’t even reuse the sermon and it’s more the back-end stuff–DNA, budgets, ideas, etc.

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  • Rich Schmidt
    May 22, 2006

    I’ve been intrigued by the multi-site idea ever since I heard about it 5-6 years ago via North Coast Church and Community Christian Church. We’re a church plant, and sometimes we wish we had just started a second campus of our parent church instead of starting a whole new congregation. The ability to partner on “special interest” ministries for kids, youth, singles, couples, etc, would be great. As well as losing most of the administration headaches.
    Anyway, we’re in our 6th year and don’t have a building, but we’re thinking about maybe doing “multi-site” stuff ourselves in order to reach different groups or to get something started in a couple of nearby towns that some people drive in from.
    It can definitely be done well… or not. Maybe I’ll pick up the book. Thanks for the review!

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  • RC of strangeculture
    May 22, 2006

    Multi-site churches sometimes scary me b/c like some mega-churches seem built upon the cult-of-the-personality of a particular leader…
    i fear for what happens to individuals when attractive leaders at the center of a congregation fail…
    if God is God and the church is dedicated to teaching and raising up leaders than I question to value of overarching leadership and sermons sent via sattelite.
    –RC of

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  • Kelly Filgo
    May 22, 2006

    I am the Dir. of Communications at a large multi-site church in Colorado. We are about to go from two campuses to three and I can tell you that you can easily create as many problems as you solve when you go multi-campus.
    We use a senior pastor at each campus and they are in charge of acting out our vision, mission, values according to the needs of the part of town they are in. That part works pretty well and prevents any “cookie-cutterisms” that may crop up. We do the multi-site thing because we want to reach the whole city, not just the parts that all look the same.
    The headaches come for support departments, like mine, where what flies at one campus, won’t necessarily work at another. Especially when it comes to commonly shared resources like the website. (SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: Therefore, in my world anyway, we aren’t really saving any work by being multicampus. That is fine… it just needs to be understood.

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  • Jon Crawford
    May 22, 2006

    Having a overseeing Pastor for each campus is crucial. But let me add one more requirement. The pastor must really “get” that community.
    In our multi-site setup, the two communities that our campuses are located in couldn’t be any more different. One is a college town with a large homeless population, and one is a yuppy-driven, soccer mom suburb. The college town site pastor is from the suburban area, and doesn’t really yet speak the language of this second campus (although a year later it is getting better).
    That said, choose a site Pastor that really understands the heart and needs of the setting of each church campus.

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  • Anne Jackson
    May 22, 2006

    I work in communications at a multi-site church (depending on how you look at it, we could have 4 campuses or 6)… in rockwall. anyway, while not without hitting bumps along the way, for the most part our experience with multi-site has been positive. whereas a lot of MS churches “make” new churches, we come along side churches and “merge” (for lack of a better word) with them. they benefit from the material resources we can provide as a large church as well as leadership, and we are able to branch out of the culture our initial building is in to reach other people.
    again, it’s a lot of trial and error, but also keeping the perspective god doesn’t look down and see “oh, that’s lake pointe church” or “Oh, there’s first baptist” or whatever – that we are one universal church and the more and more we can do to help reach others and point them towards christ, as well as discipling believers, the better. :o)

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  • emergingblurb
    May 23, 2006

    Having had similar discussions before on this one I am very interested in this topic. The fact we normalise our world by what has been our experience can be a dangerous precident for belief. If church has always met this way (at least for as long as we can remember) then it must be the only correct way to do it.
    Realisations that church is not something you do but something we are, should be the key to transforming the body into something relevant and useful.
    I am still staggered when people think that we need to be reverent and quiet inside a traditional church building when a less formal approach in a community centre or school hall simply doesn’t come with the same demands. If both are church, why do different rules apply? The traditions of man change what church is til we can no longer remember what it can be …or should I say, what WE can be.

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  • Greg Ligon
    May 30, 2006

    We appreciate your honest feedback. When (hopefully) you read the book, you will be quick to discover that our thesis is NOT that this approach to ministry is for everyone. It is however working effectively in many contexts.
    Regarding the specific comments you made about why it wasn’t working in your context …
    1. Difference in culture, music style, etc. – there are multiple ways of doing multi-site and as one of the other bloggers commented, in some cases the only thing that translates from campus to campus is DNA – or values.
    2. The fact that the Sunday night service is an afterthought is a problem in any context and especially in multi-site models. This approach to doing ministry must be highly intentional and the leadership must be structured in a manner that allows for investment and ownership and input from each campus into the vision of the whole.
    3. Regarding “no building.” This is a common comment and challenge. Some of the most creative solutions are ones that provide a place of identity where people can gather, staff can work, etc. without building a large structure that has to be maintained 24/7 for use primarily on the weekend. Check out Mark Batterson and National Community Church – The only building they own is a coffee shop. All their locations meet in movie theatres along the metro lines in DC. There are also some really creative collaborations that are occuring like that at Stillwater UMC in Dayton, OH whose second location is an area YMCA.
    4. Regarding your decision to spin off as a plant – good for you. There are a number of churches whose multi-site model is designed as a planting model. Check out New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii – might even want to take a site visit there!
    5. Finally, regarding the imperialism comment – in our conversations with well over 100 of the multi-site churches in the US and Canada, I see less imperialism and greater passion for reaching the lost. But you can be the judge on that.
    Again – thanks for your honest feedback!

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  • chowell
    October 31, 2006

    Would like to see job descriptions for a campus pastor at a multi-site church. I know the description could variey greatly from church to church and even campus to campus. Therefore…. would like to have input from several churches with multi-site ministries. Thanks, C Howell

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  • Glen
    November 25, 2007

    Not sure what this site is saying, i think there should be more support out side the church.

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  • Brian
    October 3, 2009

    Just a few comments and questions:
    Is there biblical support – without reading too much into the text – for this setup? In Acts, I see churches planted and connected relationally to a team of Eph 4 gifted people who help lay foundations (Eph 2:20) in local, autonomous, eldership-led churches.(Acts 14:23 Phil 1:1)
    The potential and temptation for abuse is huge – something I would like to avoid – especially for myself who leads a church.
    Raising up leaders and releasing them to lead teams of elders in a church with its God-given vision and values and relating to the culture it is planted in, will certainly avoid ‘bottlenecks’ where we end up with ‘splants’ (splits made to look good by calling them plants)
    Why are multi-site churches better than new church plants – apart from not having leaders to lead the new church? The solution to that is to raise up leaders as a priority so that we can fulfill the great commission.
    The issue of finances etc is one that is not a problem when strong relationships are maintained between those planting out and those remaining. After all, we remain on the same team, even if we move out from under the direct leadership of the ‘Senior Pastor’.
    I believe that the merits – both biblical and practical – of church planting, far outweigh those of multi-site churches.

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