Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Multi-Site Churches

Multi-site churches are becoming increasingly popular in our country. For what this is worth, here's what I think of this new reality.

I both like and dislike multi-site churches. It all depends on what is meant by the term "multi-site."

In the new world of the mega-church, multi-site refers to large groups of people who rarely if ever all meet together but are governed by the same over-arching mega-church name and structure. These are churches that are too large to meet in one place so they come together in different locations. The obvious problem is that churches are communities. How can you be a community and share life together if you are too big to even gather in one place? Additionally, churches of this size almost always have large budgets and staffs. The institution often overshadows the community.

John Piper is a favorite author of mine, but the church where he pastors has multiple sites. My guess is that the attendance swells at the particular building where he preaches in his rotation.

This mega-church type of multi-site reality ends up getting so large that most people in the church do not even know each other. This is not community - at least not what we see in scripture. This I do not like.

There is another type of multi-site church that I do like.

When "multi-site" describes small groups of people who meet together frequently but in different locations, this is a positive thing. Since churches should be communities, it ought to be clear that the people know one another. They gather frequently. They share lives together. They carry out the "one-anothers" of scripture.

The above implies that they gather together frequently. The majority of the time, they meet in homes (some times they may gather in parks, restaurants, coffee shops, beaches, etc.). Because of the frequency, it may be difficult for one family to always host the get-togethers. How can a church keep one family from shouldering the responsibility of having the meetings at their home all the time? The solution is simple. The church gathers at multiple sites - different homes.

Each simple church can work out how this will function. If the Sunday gathering (if there is one on Sunday) is the largest, then the folks with the biggest house could host that one. Others with smaller homes could host gatherings during the week. Some type of rotation could be set up. Flexibility would be a key to making this work.

One large benefit to meeting at multiple sites is that this way the church does not become identified with any one person or family. It doesn't get referred to as "so-and-so's church." Church leadership does not by default fall into the arms of this home owner.

This method also keeps any one family from feeling like the gathering is a burden. If every meeting is at one home, the hosts will eventually burn out. I like people, but having groups in my home that frequently would be difficult. If, on the other hand, we could host some gatherings but go to others' homes some of the time, this would be very welcome.

An additional bonus is that if the church gathers at multiple locations, this makes it easy for any of the people to go out of town without it being a big deal.

If "multi-site" describes a relatively small group (25 or so people) that meets in multiple homes - this I like.

4 comments:

micah7 said...

"How can you be a community and share life together if you are too big to even gather in one place?" Are muli-site churches so different than what could happen with a growing house church in this regard? If these multi-site churches never branched out and started new congregations you would be left with one incredibly huge ultra mega church. I think that once a congregation grows so large, you need to plant another church not only for practical reasons but for the advancement of the Gospel. For practical reasons because I wonder how you are going to be a community and share life together when your congregation starts getting up in the 100's. How can I share my life with 100's of people? There's only so many I can actually have a meaningful relationship at one time. Also, for the advancement of the gospel. Once your congregation grows to a certain point, I think it is reasonable that you would have enough people willing and able to plant another church, perhaps in a different part of town, to advance the Gospel. I'm thinking long term here, of course but you can see how that would be a force multiplier of the gospel of time. Is a house/simple church any different in this regard? Eventually any particular house church could continue to grow to the point where because of the number of people, everyone can't have a significant relationship with everyone, you eventually outgrow the houses/restaurants/community centers etc. you gather in, or you have enough people to plant another house church in another community for the advancement of the Gospel. Are these not the same reasons multi-site churches come to be?

Eric said...

Micah,

I agree with you about growth in house churches. Once they reach about 30 people, they should divide into two. This will then allow for greater outreach int he community. Once they divide, they really are two local churches within the body of Christ. There is no large, overarching structure over their heads.

I'm curious as to why, for example, Bethlehem Baptist hasn't divided into ten or twenty smaller local churches instead of one church in three locations. These large bodies don't follow the biblical model.

My concern with many of the large churches is that they tend to have one charismatic pastor who everyone wants to hear preach. Let's face it, the people of Bethlehem want to hear John Piper preach. That's why he has to go in a circuit.

This is case of the large, administrative structure getting in the way of natural, biblical church growth.

Jonathan said...

Further I've been wondering about the ratio between people exercising their teaching/preaching gifts. Within a group of 30, is the ratio 1:30, 2:30, or higher?

In many of these large mega-churches one celebrity preacher gets most of the airtime. Are we OK with the ratios as low as 1:20000. In a body that size I would hope there would be hundreds of people gifted with preaching/teaching. Are we OK with how these members are being encouraged to exercise their gifts when they gathering?

Eric said...

Jonathan,

I agree completely. The bible likens the church to a physical body. All parts must function for it to work properly. In big churches, with only a few parts functioning, the outcome has to be a body that is not functioning as it should. Most of the people are starved of the opportunity to use their gifts.