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 church.

(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, I 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 this model.

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 multi-site concept

My prediction is that multi-site churches will exist alongside single-site churches in the foreseeable future.

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 perspective.

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 live presentation.

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, high-quality preaching

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 preach.

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 quality presenters.

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 convenience stores.

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.


Dr. Charles Stanley

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

The Lesson Vault

Hundreds of ready-to-use lessons available online.
For more information, click here.