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The Multi-Site Church RevolutionBeing One Church in Many Locations
By Geoff Surratt Greg Ligon Warren Bird
ZondervanCopyright © 2006 Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou Say You Want a Revolution?
Meet several highly successful multi-site churches
These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also. -ACTS 17:6 ESV
It is coming ... a movement of God. Some even call it a revolution.
On Sunday morning at Seacoast Church, where I (Geoff) serve on staff in Charleston, South Carolina, a band launches into a hard-driving worship chorus as lyrics and background images are projected on screens and television monitors throughout the auditorium. Everyone begins to sing along with the worship team.
This describes the experience at many contemporary churches, except that this scene happens eighteen times each weekend in nine locations around the state, all of which are known as Seacoast Church. Using many different bands and worship leaders, Seacoast's eighteen nearly identical weekend ser vices represent the look of a church that chose not to fight city hall in order to construct a bigger building. We instead continued to reach new people by developing additional campuses.
At another church across the country, a congregation just north of San Diego sings "How Great Thou Art" inTraditions, one of six venues on the same church campus. North Coast Church in Vista, California, developed six different worship atmospheres, all within a few feet of each other. Traditions is more intimate and nostalgic, while other venues range from country gospel to a coffeehouse feel to vibrating, big subwoofer attitude.
The elements unifying these six on-site venues are the message (one venue features in-person preaching, and the others use videocasts) and the weekly adult small groups, whose discussion questions center on the sermon that everyone heard, no matter which venue they attended. North Coast has now developed multiple venues on additional campuses, so that on a typical weekend in early 2006, worshipers chose between more than twenty different ser vices spread across five campuses.
Over in Texas, Ed Young Jr., senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, preaches every Sunday morning on four campuses - Grapevine, Uptown Dallas, Plano, and Alliance - all at the same time. Ed delivers his Saturday night message in person in the main sanctuary on the Grapevine campus. It is videotaped and viewed the following morning by congregations at the other venues via LCD projectors and giant projection screens, framed by live music and a campus pastor. "We decided we could reach more people and save a huge amount of money by going to where the people are and doing smaller venues instead of building a larger worship center in Grapevine," Ed says.
In downtown Chicago at New Life Bridgeport, a small church meets in a century-old former United Church of Christ facility. The pastor, Luke Dudenhoffer, preaches a sermon that he's worked on with up to ten other pastors across the city. Each pastor leads a satellite congregation of New Life Community Church, which is known as one church in many locations.
At Community Christian Church in Chicagoland, eight different drama teams perform the same sketch at eight different locations. Then up to three different teachers deliver a message they've developed collaboratively. Most ser vices have an in-person preacher, though some sermons are videocasts.
These churches, and more than 1,500 churches like them across the country, are discovering a new model for doing church. Going beyond additional ser vice times and larger buildings, churches are expanding into multiple venues and locations, and many of them are seeing increased evangelism and even exponential growth as a result. The approach of taking one church to multiple sites seems to be the beginning of a revolution in how church is done in North America and around the world.
When four university computers were linked together for the first time on something called ARPANET in the fall of 1969, there was very little press coverage of the event. Aside from the scientists working on the project, no one considered this event revolutionary; it was just an adaptation of concepts that had existed for many years. In spite of such simple beginnings, ARPANET, known today as the Internet, has revolutionized almost every aspect of our lives in the twenty-first century - from how people get sports scores to how they buy airline tickets to how they size up a church before visiting it.
Revolutions often begin with little fanfare. They are usually built on concepts that have existed for many years and are seldom recognized in the beginning as revolutionary. The measure of a revolution is its impact, not its origins.
That is why we believe the multi-site church movement is revolutionary. The concept of having church in more than one location isn't new or revolutionary; the roots of multi-site go back to the church of Acts, which had to scatter due to persecution. Elmer Towns points out that the original Jerusalem church "was one large group (celebration), and many smaller groups (cells).... The norm for the New Testament church included both small cell groups and larger celebration groups." Likewise, Aubrey Malphurs observes that Corinth and other first-century churches were multi-site, as a number of multi-site house churches were considered to be part of one citywide church.
Until recent years, few churches in this century have purposely pursued a multi-site strategy. In fact, many churches in the movement have stumbled into multi-site almost by accident. The potential impact of the multi-site movement, however, is extraordinary. Even though the movement is still in the very early stages, multi-site churches are beginning to have a significant influence on how people are being reached with the good news of Jesus Christ.
For Most Churches, Multi-Site Is a "God Thing"
True to historic movements, this new paradigm is finding expression around the world, across all denominations, church sizes, and structures. Churches with 20, 200, 2,000, and 20,000 attendees are experimenting with the "one church in many locations" idea, while denominations are testing multi-site as both a church revitalization model and an alternative to customary church-planting models.
The multi-site movement, however, isn't confined to the suburbs or to the opening of new locations for growing churches. Urban churches facing the prospect of closure due to dwindling membership are being revitalized as they become satellite campuses of a growing congregation elsewhere in their city. Rural churches are expanding into other communities in their region as they continue to grow in their own town or village. The impact of multi-site churches of every size, shape, and denominational background is just beginning.
It seems to be happening everywhere, with each church having a different trigger point.
After preaching the two Saturday evening ser vices, Craig Groeschel went home with his pregnant wife, Amy, and in the middle of the night, they headed to the hospital for Amy to give birth to their fourth child. Craig was not going to make it for the next morning's ser vices in their fast-growing congregation, Life Church in Oklahoma City (which stylizes its name as LifeChurch.tv).
Now what? they wondered back at the church. Someone had a crazy idea: "Hey, let's roll the video from Saturday night." That decision proved to be divinely inspired.
"'Life Church even extended itself to Phoenix in July 2005. How can a church in one location "jump the fire trail" almost one thousand miles like that? It starts with the church's leadership being convinced that it is something God wants them to do as part of their mission.
A multi-site approach is well suited to fast-growing congregations like Life Church, and high-visibility congregations tend to be the ones highlighted in the recent wave of media attention to the multi-site movement. But far more churches are flying under the media radar. They come in all sizes and settings, but their results are equally as impressive.
Take, for example, twenty-five-year-old Chartwell Baptist Church in Oakwood, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, where Peter Roebbelen is pastor.
"We backed into multi-site," says Peter. "It's not something we intentionally tried to do. It was more like a disruptive moment when we faced a problem and saw an opportunity." In essence, their problem became an opportunity.
For Chartwell, the initial motivation for becoming multi-site was to accommodate growth. "We needed to go to a third ser vice, but we wanted to do it during the optimal Sunday morning time," Peter explains. So Chartwell began experimenting with the use of additional campuses. That was in 1993. Ten years later, Chartwell was offering six Saturday night or Sunday morning ser vices on four campuses. By 2005, more than 1,200 people regularly attended one of the Chartwell congregations, yet the original church's seating capacity was 260 - and still is - which is consistent with their particular strategy of creating a sense of relational intimacy within each local worship setting.
Life Church and Chartwell are typical of how a congregation becomes multi-site. Most churches that use a multi-site approach evolve into it, rather than starting out with it. According to our research at Leadership Network, the 1,500-plus multi-site churches across North America become multi-site by extending themselves to more than one location: some to locations across town, some across the state, and some around the world.
Church analysts have been observing this trend for a number of years, which was initially seen only in the more innovative churches.
What is a multi-site church? A multi-site church is one church meeting in multiple locations - different rooms on the same campus, different locations in the same region, or in some instances, different cities, states, or nations. A multi-site church shares a common vision, budget, leadership, and board.
What does a multi-site church look like? A multi-site church can resemble any of a wide variety of models. For some churches, having multiple sites involves only a worship ser vice at each location; for others, each location has a full range of support ministries. Some churches use video-cast sermons (recorded or live); others have in-person teaching on-site. Some churches maintain a similar worship atmosphere and style at all their campuses, and others allow or invite variation.
What kind of church uses the multi-site approach? The multi-site approach works best for already growing churches but is used by all types of churches. The majority of multi-site churches are suburban, but many can be found in urban contexts and some in rural contexts. Multi-sites are found among old churches and new, mainline and nondenominational, and in all regions of the country. Smaller churches (30 - 200 people) tend to do multi-site as a niche outreach or as a regional-campus approach. Medium-size churches (200 - 800 people) that go multi-site tend to have only two or three campuses. Larger churches (800 - 2,000 people) and megachurches (2,000 people and up) are the most likely to be multi-site and to do it in a way that develops a large network of campuses.
Why become multi-site? The purpose of becoming a multi-site church is to make more and better disciples by bringing the church closer to where people are. The motivation is to do a better job of loving people, including different types of people, with an outcome of making significant advances in obeying Jesus' Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37 - 40) and Great Commission (Matt. 28:19 - 20).
How long do multi-site churches last? Several churches have been multi-site for up to twenty years, and a handful for even longer. Some churches use a multi-site approach as a transitional strategy during a building program or a seasonal outreach. Other churches intentionally choose to be multi-site only temporarily as a church-planting strategy to help new congregations start out strong.
Excerpted from The Multi-Site Church Revolution by Geoff Surratt Greg Ligon Warren Bird Copyright © 2006 by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird. Excerpted by permission.
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