NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Multi-site churches have grown in number from about 10 in 1990 to more than 2,000 in the United States last year, according to Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research.
It’s a trend many congregations find rewarding and/or overwhelming as they seek new ways to reach their communities, states and throughout the country, McConnell notes.
“Adding a site does not simply add an address to your church,” McConnell writes in a new book, Multi-Site Churches: Guidance for the Movement’s Next Generation.
“It adds complexity” — which can cause “irreparable damage” to a church or, conversely, impact a community for Christ in a way that one church campus cannot do, according to McConnell.
Detailed advice and information for churches in the process of starting a new site or considering starting one is relayed by McConnell in Multi-Site Churches, published by B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Research for the book included in-depth interviews with leaders at more than 40 first- and second-generation multi-site churches from Aug. 1-Sept. 30, 2007, as well as contributions from nine multi-site experts. McConnell and his research team outlined what they learned about how to do everything from deciding whether to become a multi-site church to choosing the right leader and location.
“This became more than simply a new set of research findings,” McConnell writes. “It became a story of God’s movement that needed to be told and guidance for which many churches have asked.”
In taking a look at what seemed to be working for multi-site churches and what wasn’t working, McConnell writes, “We specifically asked (churches) to share the challenges they faced, so that the next generation of multi-site churches could be better prepared.”
Churches should try to avoid any new approach that shifts them from their “God-given evangelistic focus,” McConnell counsels from their research. “The focus of the church should be nothing less than sharing the message in both words and actions that God loves the world so much that He sent Jesus to die for us.”
Even as a church examines practical aspects of its readiness to add a site, leaders and planners should see evidence of God’s activity in the new site through milestones such as securing a campus leader, a core group and finances.
Though the campuses have a connection, each one can quickly take on a life of its own with a unique personality.
The Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La., is one such example. In 2004 the church launched its first two additional locations, adding seven more within the next four years.
“On the surface, no two sites look alike,” lead pastor Dino Rizzo said. “Some of our campus pastors wear goatees … some tuck their shirts in, others go tails out and others might even wear a tie once in a while.”
One campus is Spanish-speaking, two are on the other side of the world in communities hit hard by AIDS, another is in a poor neighborhood and yet another is in a relatively affluent community.
But even with all their differences, Rizzo noted, “There is a God-given vision and core DNA that guides Healing Place Church. We are a healing place for a hurting world.”
“The advantages of being a multi-site far outweigh the challenges,” said Barry Galloway, a campus pastor at the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard campus of Desert Vineyard in Lancaster, Calif.
For a time, the original church often provides “central services” to its sites, from preparing bulletins to writing new employee policies, McConnell writes. But in the end, the multi-site approach is simply a tool to accomplishing God’s work, McConnell contends, describing it as “one small piece of God’s movement through His church to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the entire world.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hendricks is a writer in Richmond, Va. An Inside LifeWay podcast with Scott McConnell and Lizette Beard, a member of the research team and project manager for LifeWay Research, is available at http://www.emedialink.com/view_video.php?viewkey=7ceedafdff83bb8ea471.)