The coming multi-site church revolution
There is a revolution brewing that will change
church life as much as franchises have changed business life in the
past 30 years.
When I was growing up, the business world,
from restaurants to motels was dominated by mom and pops. My, how
things have changed. We don't shop at J.R.'s Hardware. We shop at
Home Depot. We don't eat and Bob's diner. We go to Chili's. We don't
get our hair cut at Jim's Barbershop. We go to Mastercuts. We don't
stay at the local motel. We stay at Holiday Inn. Franchises
have radically changed the way we shop, eat, and cut our hair. In a
similar way, Multi-site churches will change the way America goes to
(Note: I am neither advocating, nor
denouncing. I am reporting and predicting.)
I attended a multi-site church for the first
time a couple of years ago and reported on it in the the article,
have seen the future. At the time I saw an incredible future for
this model. Consider this article an update on that article.
I got an email this week from
Warren Bird. He
is working on a new book on multi-site churches and asked for my
help. This got me curious as to the status of this movement. I knew
Fellowship Church was doing new sites and Northpoint was planning
another one. I had no idea how many churches are experimenting with
Warren Bird estimates the number to be 1000
churches that are experimenting with the multi-site concept. This
number does not surprise me. I have been in several churches myself
that are experimenting with this concept.
Here are a few observations about the
My prediction is that multi-site churches
will exist alongside single-site churches in the foreseeable
Multi-site churches will not put single-site
churches out of business. They will offer either another level of
competition, or an additional partner in ministry, depending on your
Good live preaching will always be preferred.
There is something about seeing the presenter
live. It is why I have a job. You can get my seminar on video and I
will say pretty much the same thing. But, there is something about a
Good live preaching is better than good taped
preaching. But, good taped preaching is better than bad live
preaching. If you had heard as much bad preaching as I have, you
might see more potential for this idea.
The projector and TIVO make this possible.
Why is this happening today? If you attend a
large church that has an IMAG (Image magnification system--meaning,
the preacher is on the big screen) you will find your eye naturally
drifting from the stage to the 4X image of the person on the stage.
Unless you are on the front few rows, you will tend to watch the
screen anyway. Big screens and bright projectors make this possible.
Also, the TIVO technology makes it a lot
simpler. One of the challenges with multi-site is timing. Normally,
they have a live band in both locations, but pipe in the preaching
from one site to the multiple site. Sometimes this is done by
bringing in a tape from, say, the Saturday night service. Sometimes
it is done live. If it is done live, there is a problem--getting the
band in the alternative hall to wind down at the same time the band
winds down in the main hall.
Solution: enter TIVO. Yes, TIVO. The glorified
VCR that you use to tape the latest edition of Law and Order.
Using TIVO, the video hall can be recording what is happening in the
main hall. When the band winds down in the main hall, the technician
hits pause on the TIVO. Then, when the band finishes up in the video
hall, the technician hits the play button. The TIVO records and
plays simultaneously, playing what is happening in the main hall
with about a five minute delay.
You still need local leadership
Just because you watch the preaching on a big
screen doesn't mean you don't need local pastors. You still need
pastoral care. You still need small groups. You still need to make
calls, contacts, and visits. Someone still needs to give Friday
nights to Jesus. Someone still needs to cast a vision. You still
need someone to talk to, someone to hug you, someone to cry with.
Multi-site churches will not eliminate the need for pastors, they
will redefine the roll of pastors.
Multi-site churches ensure predictable,
For years we have been going to growing
churches and coming home to try to implement the methods learned
there. One problem. We didn't have Bill Hybels for a preacher. We
couldn't duplicate the preaching of Rick Warren.
Can I let you in on a dirty little secret? The
success of Willowcreek does not have all that much to do with their
methodology or programs. it has to do with the preaching ability of
Bill Hybels and the rest of the preaching team. Willowcreek has
grown because people like to come to Willowcreek to hear Bill Hybels
I was listening to an old tape by Rick Warren
where he referred to the "four purposes of the church." Four
purposes. Doesn't he know there are five purposes? Hasn't he read
Purpose Driven Church? Oh, no he hadn't, because he hadn't written
it yet. Rick would like to tell you he grew his church because he
balanced the five purposes of the church. Well, in the early days,
he left one out completely. But, guess what. was a fast growing
church back then too. You know why? Saddleback grew because people
like to come and hear Rick Warren speak.
Problem: we don't have Rick Warren.
Solution: you can't get Rick or Bill on DVD,
but you can get Andy Stanly, Ed Young Jr. or a host of other high
There are a million question still to be
answered and we will only figure it out by experimenting
There are numerous models out there and some
still to be imagined. I imagine somewhere along the line a church
will use an Andy Stanley DVD as a fill in between pastors and then
say, "Hey, this isn't so bad."
I imagine small groups trying this where they
watch Ed Young on their big screen and discuss it.
I imagine both tightly controlled models and
loosey goosey models. Some will be multiple campuses of a single
church. Others will be independent churches using the preaching of
another church's pastor through DVD and a big screen.
I imagine single site, multi-venue models as
well as multi-site models.
It is likely the most successful players at
this will be built from the ground up with this in mind and will not
come from the existing pool of mega-churches. They will be churches
you have never heard of.
Some smaller, weaker churches will be hurt by
this trend, in the same way that Wal-mart has hurt a few mom and pop
Lots of mistakes will be made along the way.
We don't even know all the questions yet, much
less all the answers.
You learn by doing. Dive in.
I thought about providing a list of some of
the churches that are doing this, but it is easy enough to find them
yourself. This world is changing rapidly so if I made a list today,
it would need to be updated next week. Do a search on Google for
multi-site churches and see where your nose takes you.
We recently had the privilege of hosting Josh Hunt for our mid
winter Sunday Morning Bible Study leadership conference. The
emphasis on investing and building relationships is the key to
reaching our society today. Fellowship is premium in a world where
we face an epidemic of loneliness. People are looking for more than
a "friendly" church. They want a place where they can grow and
develop lasting relationships that will assist them in building a
biblical foundation for life. If you have not had the opportunity to
have Josh Hunt in your church or attend one of his conferences, make
plans to involve your leadership. His concepts will make a
difference in your thinking about how simple it really is to reach
out to people.
Charles F. Stanley
Senior Pastor First Baptist Church Atlanta
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