Multi-site churches–what do they reveal about us?
Since my arrival back in the San Diego area I have run into a number of fellow believers that are currently fellowshiping in one of the multi-site churches that exist in the San Diego area. Each of them told me that when they were first invited to visit this new and different way of “doing church” they were skeptical that they would actually enjoy it and thus they went in with almost no expectation that they would ever desire to actually become a part of that type of church.
But, once they actually did attend, they realized their concerns and the skepticism those concerns produced were unfounded. In fact, they found many things that struck a chord in their hearts and that just “made sense” to them.
A few weeks after having those conversations I watched a video from the recently held CC Senior Pastor’s conference. It was a panel session with Greg Laurie, Bob Coy, and Brian Brodersen answering questions lobbed at them by Ricky Ryan. [lightbox title=”2012 CC Senior Pastor’s Conference” href=”#vimeo_lightbox” inline=”true” width=”630″ height=”355″]Click here to watch.[/lightbox]
The first topic discussed had to do with the validity and challenges of multi-site churches. At first, I questioned the wisdom of beginning with that subject considering that probably 99 percent of the pastors in the room don’t pastor multi-site churches, probably don’t like them, and more than likely will never actually attempt to move to a multi-site type structure for the churches they pastor.
But as the discussion unfolded it became clear to me that this was an amazing window into the minds of these men of God that revealed some important principles they navigate ministry by, along with a small glimpse of American church culture that it would be helpful for all pastors to understand.
Based on what Greg Laurie and Bob Coy said, (the guys who actually pastor multi-site churches at this time), my perspective is that they navigate in their pastoral ministry based on the following principles:
1. If you have been gifted by God with communication skills that can draw large numbers of people to hear you expound truths from God’s Word, you have a responsibility to use that gift to the fullest. Be creative and use as many vehicles as possible to unleash your gift for expanding God’s kingdom. Good, Godly stewardship is clearly the motivation.
2. If God has given you the desire, the people, and the financial resources to expand the influence and impact of your ministry in a church form, rather than just your recorded messages alone, give serious consideration to doing so. Keep in mind that expanding the seating capacity in your current facility is extremely expensive. If you’ve already gone to multiple services and are already using available technology to use every square foot of space to its maximum potential, why not take the much less costly step of establishing other, off-site campuses. This might mean planting the new satellite church from the ground floor up, renting a building, assigning existing staff to be the pastors at that campus, and all that goes along with that. Again, this too is an example of good stewardship.
3. Or, if a fellow pastor is struggling with the size of his congregation and the different challenges that presents, especially in the financial realm, then definitely consider using your gift of drawing people. Make your gift available to draw people into this church that this brother would then no longer serve as the senior pastor. He will no longer have to worry about the financial side of things or the fact that his teaching gift isn’t quite ready yet to draw large numbers of people to listen to him. This will actually free him up to use his other pastoral gifts, especially the relational ones like counseling, personal encouragement and exhortation, and so forth which he is obviously much more gifted for experienced in. This too is an example of good stewardship, but not just for the gifted communicator and his ministry, but for the pastor of the small church that has been struggling.
4. (This next principle wasn’t discussed on the video, but is based on my discussions with my friends who attend multi-site churches). Although it isn’t essential that the pastor teaching the congregation at the Sunday services actually be there in person, it IS essential that the worship be done live, preferably by members of the congregation using their gifts. If there aren’t enough people with worship leading gifts from the congregation itself, a worship team from the hub-church can be sent out to lead live worship for the satellite campus.
In other words, the key element that most Sunday services are built around, the message, can be delivered by the senior pastor on a recorded video or by a live-feed from another site, BUT, leading the congregation in worship must be done live and in-person. This is also good stewardship because it offers the opportunity for actual members of the satellite church to use their gifts to bless the entire body at that satellite location.
And what do multi-site churches reveal about those that attend?
1. At least initially, they want to hear and SEE someone that can really communicate God’s truth to them, regardless of whether the person is actually present or not.
2. They understand and act as if the title “pastor” doesn’t necessarily imply anything other than an ability to teach God’s word and they don’t have a problem referring to someone as their “senior pastor” that they have never actually met and probably never will and will certainly never have an actual relationship with. To them, for all intents and purposes, a person with an ability to communicate God’s word effectively–a bible teacher, is qualified to be referred to as “my” pastor.
3. But at the same time, they do want a real relationship with a “pastor” from their church, which is why the multi-site churches have campus pastors at each location. The members of the church desire and need the fullness of pastoral ministry, but it isn’t important that it come from the person they enjoy listening to each week alongside hundreds of others and that they refer to as their “senior pastor”.
4. The gifted communicator that isn’t actually present is what draws them in, but the majority of the people are kept in the body by the real relationships they build with the campus pastors and the others that congregate alongside them on Sunday mornings and during the week.
What does all of the above mean? I’m not sure.
What I am sure of are the many questions that multi-site churches raise in my mind, questions like:
1. Is there anything required, other than the ability to communicate God’s word effectively in a way that draws large numbers of people to hear you do so, to be given the title of “pastor”.
2. Is the title “pastor” given, rather than “evangelist”, because there is a teaching element to this communicator’s gift and because most of the people that are drawn to listen to him are already believers and need instruction rather than preaching?
3. Does good stewardship always require that you expand the impact and scope of your gift to as many people as possible?
4. Is it possible that what we believe is good, Godly stewardship, might actually be hindering someone else from stewardship lessons that are derived from day in, day out faithfulness?
5. Although I’m sure it’s happened somewhere, what happens when the gifted, non-present communicator is no longer present on video? Has the church lost its pastor? Will the flock scatter and find another place where there’s a gifted, non-present communicator?
This is a great and very thoughtful post on the topic.
Much to chew on!
Jeff, good post, good observations, good questions. For me, the verdict on the video venue church is about 10 years out. Currently, it appears as if the core of Biblical church life is intact – there is the Word, worship, community, ministry outreach, and pastoral presence.
The big concern for me isn’t how it operates, but the operational assumption which creates or extends the super-star pastor. Your question #5 above asks what happens when the super-star pastor is no longer in that pulpit. It’s a good question, but it’s also a question that applies to even a single site church built around the ministry of a gifted pastor.
I don’t think that we need to cut the celebrity pastor down to size, what is needed is that whether multi-site or single site church , a real sense of community be developed and pursued. My hope is that when I die/leave/am kicked out of CC Fremont, not one person leaves – that the church isn’t built on me or around me. My hope is that the people’s hearts are so knit together in the love of Christ, that the people so love one another and what the Lord is doing, that my presence isn’t the deciding factor but the totality of the ministry is. One of the glaring weaknesses of the modern church isn’t the celebrity status of some of its pastors – that is unavoidable and to fight that is to try to prevent the sun from rising. The glaring weakness I’m referring to is the lack of koinonia, community, hearts knit together in the love of Christ. When that happens, pastors can come and go and the church remains strong.
Great insight brother. You second to the last sentence is dead-on and I think if we’re honest, we need at least ask whether the celebrity status inclination in all of us might not be the main contributor to the glaring weaknesses you refer to. Which might then mean that to truly have those things we have to intentionally limit the exposure of the celebrity to the people who so eagerly bestow that status upon him.
Jeff, great thoughts and good questions. I serve at a multi-site church. What’s different is that we don’t have a superstar teaching pastor. We have four teaching pastors, all with decent giftings. We all rotate between our four campuses and prepare our messages collaboratively. We consciously do not want to elevate a single individual to cult of celebrity. Now that we are preparing to launch a fifth site, we are moving toward part video and part live teaching.
Our motivation for being multi-site is not to maximize the giftedness of a single teacher, but to create as many options as possible for unchurched people. In our culture (Utah) church attendance is still fairly normative. We realize Christians will drive quite a ways to hear their teacher of choice. But why expect unchurched people to do so? We want to empower our people to invite their friends who are far from God to come to our services, where they will have a positive experience and hear the gospel. So we want to distribute those services to as many places as possible to make it as easy as possible for lost people to come. That’s why we do multisite.
Also, in our religious culture, there is no model for megachurches. Local people worship in moderate sized meetings. So multisite and multiple services at each site allows us to create a contextually sound experience to invite our friends and neighbors to attend.
So for us multisite springs out of our mission, contextually applied in our religious culture.
Thanks for this, Ross. What is the name(s) of your church and can you direct me to your website? Thanks.
Thanks for the response brother. It’s clear that you know the cultural context of where you’re serving and have thought through what appears to be an effective structure to meet them.
I can also see how having a teaching pastor only do every 4th Sunday at the same location would tend to curtail the inferring of celebrity or “superstar” pastor status on just one guy.
Other than the pulpit ministry at each campus, are there other aspects of the way you’re doing church that cause you to view your self as one church in multiple locations, rather than just 4 churches that have a rotation in the pulpit?
Do any of the teaching pastors do any other aspects of pastoral ministry? If so, do they do so at the same location all the time? Or, do they rotate doing that also?
Are there pastoral care pastors at each of the locations that actually pastor that group of people day in and day out?
Each location has a campus pastor who oversees ministry teams at that campus, such as Kids Church, clean team, etc., also oversees discipleship, pastoral care duties, visitor follow-up etc.
The teaching pastors all have system-wide responsibilities. One oversees worship, another missions, another leadership development systems, etc. etc. They also do pastoral counseling, lead small groups, teach classes and disciple people, do weddings and funerals. These are not campus specific, but just what comes up through our relationships as we cycle through the campuses.
A few factors make the church feel like one church versus four separate congregations. The look and feel of all the sites is the same. We do the same music in every campus, along with the same message. As people are baptized, we share the video testimony in all campuses that day. Youth groups meet at each campus, but they all do the same approach, directed by one church wide youth pastor. They meet monthly for a united time. The youth all go on the same mission trips and camps. Adults also go on joint mission trips and do joint community service projects. We have a quarterly system of classes called Alpine U that are open to all campuses. We do a united worship night monthly, along with occasional other united events such as an annual vision conference, a women’s conference, etc.
Thanks for the thorough explanation brother. Very helpful.
Hi, Jeff – I understand your point, yet it will be impossible to achieve. I don’t know that I have a celebrity status inclination within me – I just know I like good preaching and teaching and someone who can ‘bring it’! I’m not sure how to limit someone’s exposure to celebrity. And face it – how did so-and-so become a celebrity pastor in the first place? They are very very good at what they do. They can ‘bring it’. A wonderful understanding of God’s Word and a glorious experience of God’s love is had under their ministry. In addition, there is the anointing of God and the effect that God has determined this minister and his ministry will have. I don’t know that any can limit the success of the celebrity pastor. It is the responsibility of that celebrity pastor to manage his celebrity so as a healthy church is established – not just pack them in, but grow them up.
For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, as I’m also not entirely sure what my stance on multi-site is, wouldn’t the apostle Paul be considered a multi-site pastor, using the technology of his day to reach and teach more people?
I really appreciate this discussion. I find myself very skeptical of multi-site churches, but confess that I have wondered if this might not be a good move for [some] churches as they grow.
Multi-site is definitely sexy in the evangelical church right now and all the advocates of it have an abundance of glowing reasons for why they [multi-site] are so great. I’d love for some of these pastors to highlight some of the downsides as there are always cons amidst the pros.
From the perspective of a non-multi-site church in the midst of several multi-site startups I definitely have a few thoughts/questions. I agree with Tim’s point, I’m not sure we will know the full ramifications of such a move for a while longer. I also agree that there is a level of personality centeredness at any church, and while there is a part of me that is bothered by the phone calls to our receptionist each week to see if I’m teaching or not, there’s a part of me (if I’m honest) that likes it. My question would be, is solo-pastored multi-site just catering to that part of us that just likes the attention? It’s not my place to judge another servant of Christ, but it’s a question nonetheless.
I came across a national congregations study a couple of years ago which highlighted the fact that while most churches in America (90%+) are small (sub-400 adults), most American churchgoers attend a large church (400+ adults). It is funny to me that Millennials, who by their own admission don’t care much for the Mega-Church-Christianity of their Boomer parents, are opting to be apart of mega-churches that feel small, even though their still mega.
This is getting long, but one last observation. Recently a very large mega-church in San Diego opened a multi-site campus 15 minutes from us in North County. I’m not bothered or threatened by the move; there are plenty of people who need Jesus in San Diego County. But, having just watched the movie “Money Ball” a few days before they opened the doors on their fully baked/packaged campus, it got me thinking.
Planting a church is not an easy endeavor. Working through the plowing, planting, watering and weeding stages before ever even reaping a harvest is tough work. It can be very difficult for a guy who is in that process to watch as a mega church 50-80 miles away, with a budget in the $10’s of millions and 12 worship teams can come in and drop the Walmart Superstore of churches in the same community. The reasoning may be good stewardship and purely motivated on many levels, but I wonder if the community might not be well served by such a mega-church looking in that local community for solid pastors pastoring solid churches that they might help support financially or administratively, or practically with some help in the area of worship?
Ok, I’m rambling now… I’ll stop.
Hi, Miles – good rambling. As to your last paragraph, many don’t equate solid with successful. So often, success means numbers and solid means health. And often again, most will pay lip service to both, but many think in terms of one or the other. Think in terms of evolution – the drive of my nature is to get my DNA into as many places as possible. Often solid and successful don’t have the same DNA.
The kind of relationship between the successful mega-church and local solid church pastor you envision could be done, but would need to be carefully nurtured. It’s hard for me to imagine a mega-church approaching me and saying, “Tim, you’re a solid guy with a healthy church, but you’re not effectively reaching your community and we want to help you reach your community more effectively. Here’s a couple of worship bands and some suggested sermon themes, etc.” That’s a lot for a pastor to swallow. (I’m sure my pride plays a big role here!) What would they want of me? Instead of a hostile takeover, is this a friendly takeover? I’m rambling, too.
I totally agree with your assessment. It’s unfortunate, but true, that it would be highly unlikely for a mega-church to come alongside a smaller “solid” church to enable them to be more effective in their community, but it would sure be a cool blessing. Imagine though you have Mega-Church “A” (to return to our ministry mathematics) who has a heart/vision for reaching community “X” and observes in their appraisal of “X” that there is a affiliated church “B” that is already ministering there, but not in the capacity that they could, because of a small congregation and little influence. How amazing would it be if “A” helped reach X by investing in B? With no strings attached, just for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Kingdom.
Or, maybe mega-church pastor “A” recognizes that little influence small church pastor “B” could really be helped by attending some further training or conference to make “B” more effective in reaching “X”.
I realize that it would probably never happen. But this is what we have sought to do at CCE by helping other smaller churches in practical ways with our ministry Calvary Admin Services. We recognize that most “B” pastors of small/young churches are not equipped to handle the many Administrative needs that they face. So, we try to help. Furthermore, we have a passion to see a solid church planted in a local community (about 20 minutes from us). We are currently coming along side the guy who has the heart for that community, to help him plant effectively. He’s not from our church, but he has a vision and call for the community, so we want to help.
May not be the best way to make a NAME for ourselves on earth, but I’m quite sure it is beneficial in the Kingdom of God.
Tim, Miles….I appreciate the thinking you guys have put into this already and that you express in such an understandable way.
From my perspective, celebrity status and the damage it does to those who receive it and those who bestow it is the result of at least these 3 things:
1. An amazing gift and ability to “bring it” as you mentioned Tim.
2. Consistent, regularly scheduled exercise of that specific gift for primarily the same group of people.
3. The lack of exposure on a regular basis of the other components that make up the person who has the amazing gift.
If the only exposure the members of a church have to their senior pastor is him teaching God’s word, and that takes place without him actually being present, you’re opening the door for the celebrity gene that we all possess to be set free and do it’s distracting-from-God’s-glory best.
When the guy that “brings it” is seen in person and is living out the fullness of who he is in interaction with those that he teaches regularly, all of the windows of his house will be visible to be peered into to by a fairly large portion of those he teaches.
If the only window the people he teaches have access to is the one that he puts the most work into and thus is the most polished, (his teaching skills), it isn’t that difficult to think he’s something they are not….a celebrity.
Using a Lazarus analogy, does a “senior pastor” on video still have some grave-clothes he needs to surrender and step out of? Of course.
Are those grave-clothes visible to be examined by those he only speaks to on video? No, not possible.
If they aren’t visible to those he is teaching regularly on video, then isn’t it possible he might actually be depriving them of an aspect of growth in Christ that can easily contribute to stunting their growth. And not only that, but could it actually be energizing the celebrity gene they have that seeks to bestow celebrity status?
To me, the greatest harness God has given a pastor and the people of his flock to keep the celebrity-status-bestowing and the celebrity-status-receiving gene that we all possess, is the actual presence of the pastor that speaks from the pulpit in real-life interaction with those he teaches.
And one other thought specifically related to something you mentioned Miles, (although implied by others):
Having a numerically small church does NOT necessarily mean “little impact”. In fact, it’s my experience and my observation that most of the time, the larger a church grows numerically the less impact it makes outside of it’s own campus and members because it has to expend so much energy, time and resources, to meet the needs of its members and to pay the bills that go along with large gatherings of people.
I agree… the “Little Impact” of a smaller church is only perceived, and not reality.
Knew you did….just wanted to get it out there! :–)
Hi, Jeff, you write:If the only exposure the members of a church have to their senior pastor is him teaching God’s word, and that takes place without him actually being present, you’re opening the door for the celebrity gene that we all possess…
What you write can also, has also, does also happen in a single site church where the pastor is distant, non-relational, and perceives himself mainly as a talking head. He preaches and retreats and only the staff have access to him. The danger of which you write isn’t inherent in the multi-site church, it is the result of a certain approach to ministry.
I totally agree…it can and does happen in a single site church too. And it’s at that point that certain things are revealed about the flock that type of senior pastor pastors.
What it says to me is that the members of that body have put their own need to hear somebody “bring it” in a way that they like above the character and transparency of the one who “brings it”.
It isn’t dissimilar from a voter making the choice of who to vote for based strictly on how that candidates election will benefit them personally. For this person, the character of the candidate is a non-issue as long as this person can deliver the goods that will benefit him.
I’m sure our culture is a MAJOR contributing factor to this type of thinking, but that doesn’t mean it should be.
And again, Tim, I am totally BLESSED by your clear thinking, honesty, and amazing graciousness in expressing thing the way you do.
Great article and comments. I’ve heard the argument of Paul using the “technology” of his day to communicate to people before, and I’m not sure it holds water. He occasionally used letters to encourage, exhort, rebuke, and so on. But he wasnt trying to be the teaching pastor of a local congregation.
I did appreciate the perspective that Bob Coy and Greg Laurie brought to the subject. They both really stressed the importance of being led of the Lord. And not to look at multi site churches as a formula for growth, but rather something the Lord has to directly lead you in.
We can talk about the best ways to “do church”, and whether or not that changes depending on time and place. I suppose I have a lot of opinions on the subject, hopefully opinions that are biblically based. But I really can’t argue with some one who says, “this is what God told me to do”. For all of the church’s knowledge and insight, simply being led of the Lord is something we cannot afford to lose.
I agree… we need to be following the leading of the Lord and I think everyone represented here would agree that we personally seek for such leading. At the same time, I [at times] grow suspect of people saying “God led me to do it” as if that immediately gives us a pass on anything that we want to do. And, if it turns out successful we take that as the stamp that it was God all along. Is this really the leading of the Lord or pragmatic Christianity?
I agree. There are no free passes, God either said to do it, or He didn’t. There is no doubt in my mind that if I do whatever I want under the guise of the Lord’s leading, I will suffer the consequences to one degree or another.
I’ll admit, some times I’m also suspicious of people who say “God told me to do it”. But the real question is why am I suspicious? Is it because the person in question has a horrible track record? Is it because what they want to do seems to contradict scripture? In those cases I probably have good reason to be suspicious. But if I were being honest, sometimes I’m skepticle because it’s not what I would do. Sometimes I’m skepticle because in some way I feel challenged or threatened by it. In the past, to my shame, I’ve been suspicious of people saying “God told me/led me to do it” because, to some degree, I doubted whether or not God really works that way. It doesn’t stretch my faith to believe Paul heard from the Lord, but it sometimes stretches my faith to believe the average guy in a pew can. It stretches my faith to believe that I can. But that’s a faith that needs to be stretched.
You definitely make some good points.
Perhaps those are playing in my own heart when people tell me that the Lord told them to do something. I sadly count myself a great skeptic in this area. There are only two areas where I am bold in saying “The Lord told me thus and thus” — 1) if it’s clearly expressed in the world, and 2) I’m certain that the Lord spoke to me in 2002 that I’d one day become the head pastor of CCE. Even in those two situations I do not walk around telling people “The Lord told me X.”
I’ve had 2 girls tell me (when I was single) that God told them they were going to marry me. The implication was, “you better listen to Him.” Neither is my wife today (much thanks to God that they were not prophetesses). I’ve also counseled with numerous bible college students over the years that have said “The Lord told me” as it relates to marriage. I guess we’re getting off topic — perhaps this is a post in the making.
Instead of blaming God I tend to say “I have a vision or desire for X.” If I’m wrong, I have no problem taking the responsibility for it.
Good post, good discussion & good follow-up thoughts! It’s easy to demonize and scrutinize the mega-multi-site (& wanna-be’s), but from a different worldview, one of things that concerns me is the lack of vision for distributing this wealth of resources (not jut money, but all around). This is a pretty small view in respect to the billions that haven’t heard, a relevant discussion for our own culture.
I do think we won’t know the full impact and effectiveness of these ministries for several years. One thing not addressed much is the lack of discipleship and leadership development that is “solid” (related to an earlier comment). This is difficult to do with any sized church, but vital for healthy church communities. And… having an effective, enduring and inherently fruit-bearing vision for the world (ie: world missions).
It is expensive to do these things, that should be obvious. I think we all realize success does not translate into solid, as was said. But the question I have is, ultimately, what does it matter for me and my calling, unless I’m involved with a mega-multi-site church?
There is a huge desire for community, but a lack thereof all the way around. Things have changed so dramatically in our time, and the tight-knit community a church could connect with has become too rare. I’m reminded of a book I read a few years ago called, “Jim & Casper Go to Church”. It’s worth the read though I’m not sure it will change much for us with this discussion. But a lot of the same issues are looked at by this believer and atheist.
What if the mega-multi-site church falls into the category of Paul’s thoughts in Phil 1:15-18 about rejoicing in the gospel regardless of who is doing it & what their motive is?
Of course, for me the question arises… what’s the nature of the gospel they preach?
BTW, I enjoy reading a lot these posts & discussions though I don’t jump in too often… thanks!
Hi, Jeff – you write: What it says to me is that the members of that body have put their own need to hear somebody “bring it” in a way that they like above the character and transparency of the one who “brings it”.
This kind of discussion opens up so many little paths – but I wanted to comment. I think that for most of those in the church, a pastor’s moral character matters more than his ministry ability. I think they care more that he lives it above the fact that he can bring it. Even a reclusive pastor has the confidence of the people he ministers to because the people assume he is a moral man, a man of virtue and character. I know that whoever is in the pulpit whenever I attend a conference, I assume his personal holiness. If you’re a pastor, you don’t have to gain my respect, you can only lose it. For most pastors, respect is theirs to lose, not gain. So even though many/most attending a mega-church will never personally engage with the celebrity pastor, they assume he is a man of virtue. Most mega-church attenders are not indifferent to matters of the morality of their pastor.
You also write: It isn’t dissimilar from a voter making the choice of who to vote for based strictly on how that candidates election will benefit them personally. For this person, the character of the candidate is a non-issue as long as this person can deliver the goods that will benefit him.
Actually (and let me know where you disagree), for me, the morality of the political candidate is pretty much a non-issue. I would rather have an adulterating pro-life President than a maritally faithful pro-abortion President. Can a Christian vote for a Mormon? Of course he/she can. I would rather have a Mormon President working for me than a ‘Christian’ President working against me. I don’t put pastors and Presidents on the same playing field. You can be the President of the United States and have oral sex in the Oval Office and remain President. But if you walk into a room and I am holding the hand of a woman not my wife, my ministry is over.
I am a political cynic. A politician has to gain my respect; a pastor can only lose my respect.
I want to think and write like you when I grow up :–)
I LOVE your point about bestowing respect to a pastor up front and that it is then his to lose…
Totally agree on the political point you made. But between 2 candidates that are pro-life, character enter the mix quickly.
Thank you for your gracious words.
This doesn’t fit with the mega-multi-site discussion, but had to share this article on the Church Planting Movement from Missions Frontiers…
Thanks for that link, Trip. Great article.