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Bruce Frank believes multi-site churches are part of a rapidly growing movement. While Frank has been Biltmore Baptist Church’s (biltmorebaptist.org) lead pastor for more than five and a half years, the church is fairly new to multi-site churches. The Arden campus had outgrown its facility and its land so another site was launched a little more than two years ago. Now Biltmore has three sites – Arden, East (Swannanoa) and Franklin – and is planning another by 2015.
“It’s become a good way to reach people,” Frank said. “Everyone is learning from one another.”
While the sites grew out of necessity Frank said the church has found it is a “great way to reach communities” and it fit the church’s theological and philosophical standards.
“It’s messy in a lot of ways,” he said. “For us it’s been a win in many regards.”
Part of the motivation behind starting the other sites was the effort to be good stewards. Frank said they wanted their members to “stay where you are and serve where you live.” They tried to open sites in areas where people were already driving from each week. Having a site in their own community opens up the possibility that visitors will come if invited.
Biltmore Baptist Church Facebook photo
A team from Biltmore Baptist Church prays in Guatemala City, Guatemala, during a 2013 mission trip. One of the luxuries of being part of a larger church body is the opportunities for ministry.
Before starting another site Biltmore tried to prepare for every possibility. They laid the groundwork six to eight months before by building a network within the community and serving together on projects that would help that community.
Because no other church was implementing multi-sites in the area, people didn’t know what to expect, Frank said. They had to battle the mindset that people didn’t “want to leave my church.”
“You’re not leaving your church,” Frank said. “You’re just going to another campus.”
Some other questions they faced were:
How do you staff in a way that’s effective?
How do you make sure none of the other campuses feel like a stepchild?
When Biltmore exceeded its Sunday morning capacity a Sunday night service was added but Frank said, “it wasn’t growing like the rest of the church.”
So the question arose, “How do you create space?”
“We were philosophically opposed to spending millions/billions on a building,” Frank said.
With 8,000 on campus one Easter, “it was either … stop growing or build a big box,” he said, but the multi-site approach offered the congregation a more viable option.
It allowed them to reach neighborhoods they weren’t able to reach before, but still support the members who loved being part of Biltmore.
“It started off as a necessity [and] ended up being a strategy,” Frank said.
One of the staff pastors meets with each of the campus pastors regularly about structure as well as to help secure how the church’s message is getting shared. Frank tries to meet with the campus pastors to improve leadership development. Another leader oversees the health of the campus as well as looks for new sites. When making decisions, all campus leaders are included.
Each campus has a worship pastor and children’s leader. Currently, only the East campus has a student pastor.
“We try to look at everything,” Frank said.
Part of the issue Biltmore deals with is that western North Carolina, unlike Charlotte, does not have huge pockets of population.
Biltmore began looking at 900 people who were driving 20-25 minutes to the church. So they encouraged the members to “stay where you are, serve where you live, [and] be the church in your community,” Frank said.
Like other multi-site churches Biltmore prefers to promote from within.
“We would know their character, their skill set,” said Frank. “They know our church culture, our DNA.”
For instance the man who helped launch the East campus for Biltmore was a student pastor at the main campus before assuming that new role. He led that campus for a year before accepting a call to be the pastor of a church in Apex.
But Biltmore brought someone in for the Franklin site; they started by coming to be part of the main campus for several months before launching that site.
The church is developing an internship program that helps teach men and women about various areas of ministry. Interns are assigned reading as well as different assignments throughout the church to help the many ministries the church has.
When people are interested in joining with Biltmore they can attend a membership class that explains who the church is. Each class is about two hours and Frank makes sure he is at those classes.
“We try to explain who we are,” Frank said. “Biltmore’s not for everybody.”
Starting a site doesn’t just happen.
Frank said you have to develop bridges into the community first and recruit people who are already living in the area to help. They plan block parties and distribute information about six months ahead of the launch.
“You’re basically loving your community before moving in,” Frank said.
When Biltmore began to add cell groups in homes four years ago, the church began to move toward starting multiple sites. “What that will look like in five years I couldn’t tell you,” Frank said.