Should Multisite Churches Exist?

Something in a conversation I had tonight sparked this post, there is nothing of substantial value in this post, it’s just me ranting. Fitch has an excellent post on this topic here if you want to read it, but I’m just going to wrestle out loud for a minute.

Does the multisite church model work and is it effective in producing the kind of people that are bent towards the kingdom? Is the idea of a local church really compatible with a multisite, beamed in teaching pastor, universally branded, hierarchical methods of multisite church methods of today? There are a lot of questions that I have around this model.
In support of the model, I wonder if “teaching” biblical truths is all that important to be local and contextualized to a specific community. Because if they are universal, then maybe we should just all be listening to Bruxy Cavey or Bill Hybels or whoever beams their face on the big screen. One of the things that Tim Keller says in his Leadership and Church Size Dynamics article is

In a larger church people will let you pastor them if you are a good preacher, in a smaller church the reverse is true: people will listen to your sermons if you are a good pastor.

I think when I say I support the model, I basically mean is I can see what people would argue as to why this was important. I don’t actually agree with it at all. In the quote above, I land pretty heavily on the side of be the good pastor so people will listen to your sermons. In a multisite model, that doesn’t exist.

Then come the problems I have with it. The problems are never ending actually. Whether it be how closely multisite church models seem to resemble corporations or how the teaching pastor is never actually speaking directly to people and only to random topics and ideas or how the entire model seems to be completely void of any local community engagement, I don’t see how a multisite church model effectively models what the kingdom of God is? If the kingdom of God is awakening people to the reality of a resurrected Lord, how is a multisite church doing that? By branding churches with a stamp/logo made by a marketing company that was paid $100, 000? By getting people in multiple cities to believe in your version of Christianity? By mimicking corporations, growth paradigms and marketing strategies? By collecting tithes from all the sites just to keep the main site afloat and running effectively?

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule. People have been affected, changed and brought closer to the kingdom because of a multisite church. But really. Is this the way that Jesus points us to? Is this the slow and patient way forward that we are told it will be? I just can’t help but think that multisite churches are just another exasperated attempt by the evangelical church to offer something relevant that meets people needs but doesn’t actually lead anyone to change let alone be empowered to actually live radically and faithfully in the contexts they find themselves in.

4 Comments

  • I expect the whole idea of multi-site churches is to exercise a greater degree of control than already exists in the typical denominational setting. Denominations already exist and serve to rein in theological differences, so anything even more confining is quite worrisome.

    Over a period of time the multi-site church might morph into a new denomination, but present examples seem to highlight a power hungry leadership who is afraid to grant any degree of independence to any subordinates.

  • “…is it effective in producing the kind of people that are bent towards the kingdom?”

    I think this is the key. Our worship gatherings are formative times. Everything we do, from the way we preach the word to the songs we sing and the way we celebrate the Eucharist are formational.

    Something we don’t think hard enough about, I don’t think.

  • Nathan,

    I am surprised and dismayed by the blanket statements that you make against multi-site churches in this post. It is apparent to me that you, prior to writing this, did little or no research into multi-site models whatsoever.

    If you had, you would have found many multisite churches that do everything you claim they don’t, some better than most. But, to be fair, I will only speak from my personal experience.

    At the two multi-site churches I have had the honor of serving with, the lead pastor (main communicator) speaks directly to thousands of people each weekend on topics that are relevant to what is going on in our lives and world. Those same topics affect the people across all our campuses & if I as a campus pastor feel I need to give a message at my campus, then I am allowed to do so.

    You also made a comment that there is a “void of any local community engagement”, which is simply ignorant. Our church commits 14% of our giving to missions and increases that amount every year by 1%. We have multiple local outreach ministries that have profound affect on the community in which each campus resides. I would challenge you to come to any of those communities and learn otherwise.

    What disappoints me the most is that your argument is based on a personal preference of church & worship style. I would stongly encourage you to seriously look at the multi-site model and, with an open mind, examine it’s effectiveness.

    It isn’t the only way to be the church, not by a long shot, but it is one that is expanding the Kingdom in our current times.

    • Hi WIlly, thanks for the comment.

      We obviously come from two different perspectives on this one. And I guess we’ll both be surprised and dismayed by each other’s statements.

      A few of yours that stick out to me.

      1. the lead pastor speaks directly to thousands of people on topics that are relevant to what is going on in their lives and the world – That unfortunately cannot be true. Does the lead pastor know their names? Does the lead pastor know the individual situations of each of those thousands of people? Is he even a pastor at all? Or is he simply a dynamic preacher who can draw crowds? Who is he pastoring? Certainly not the thousands of people that you mention. The fact that you would even consider one person “pastoring” and speaking directly to thousands of people brings up all sorts of issues.

      2. when you respond to my accusation about being void of community engagement – you responded by telling me how much money your church gave – this is not community engagement. Money is the easiest and simplest thing you could do and I hope you do give – but money isn’t community engagement (as we can see witnessed by the millions upon millions of dollars governments give to communities in poverty with no recovery in site). I made a blanket statement, and then you made one back to me explaining the quantity of initiatives that your local outreach ministries are and their profound affect. Which again, only proves my point that it really isn’t that locally rooted (as it is just another stat for you to use in showing that your multi-site church is actually engaged) as a church. If there are (and I’m sure there is) individuals and small groups that are locally rooted in their communities it is because they are good individuals who are locally rooted and certainly no credit should go to a multi-site church for them being locally rooted.

      The very definition of multi-site churches is absent of being local. You are watching a tv screen of someone from who knows where telling you about the gospel. The multi-site model is a rip off of franchising corporate entities to further a specific brand of Christianity and is absent of having any meaningful local engagement. (that last blanket statement was on purpose, and I do that to make a point not because I don’t think there are exceptions to the rule, there is :)

      I’ve looked at the multi-site model with all sorts of an open-mind and unfortunately, for the size of people that it reaches, I’m still unable to see any worth in it’s so called effectiveness. It would be much more “effective” to take all the leaders that they hire for the hub of administration and send them all off to plant churches in the neighborhoods in which they live.

Join the Discussion