Multi-site Church is Bad Missiology

Your church cannot be missional and have video venues.

There, I’ve said it. I know it’s contrary to what Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler and others are saying and doing. The multi-site trend continues to grow among churches in the United States. It’s been discussed and debated at length in the blogosphere. Perhaps the best discussion took place back in 2006 on Steve McCoy’s blog, Reformissionary. In the comment stream of the post, Darrin Patrick, the pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, shares his struggle with his church’s decision to open multiple sites.  is a fan. Craig Groeschel has raised multi-site church to an art.  Popular leaders such as Mark Batterson and Ed Young are growing their churches by leaps and bounds by opening up “alternate sites” across the country and around the world. According to Third Quarter Church Consulting, there are over 2,000 multi-site churches meeting across the country.

Video Venue ChurchMost multi-site churches are made up of distinct locations that share one pastor, and/or leadership team. In the early days of multi-site, the preacher would preach a sermon at one location, and then drive (or even fly) to a second location to present an encore presentation of the sermon. With the rise of video recording technology, many satellite campuses would watch a pre-recorded version of a sermon. Nowadays, preachers are streamed live onto screens across the country. The idea behind the multi-site church is this: a church starts out small, and grows. They fill up their meeting space, so they start to hold multiple services over the course of the week. Maybe they relocate or build a new building. People are driving in from miles away to attend. The next logical step is to open up another location.

Multi-site church is a logical and efficient solution to a problem brought on by bad missiology.

1. It perpetuates the celebrity pastor mentality. Your oratory skills may be out-of-this-world (they’re probably not),  but do you really want your church to be built around you? Many multi-site churches start with “hey, the pastor can only do so much.” Why not disciple young leaders to preach and teach? Why not dispel the myth of the rockstar preacher by intentionally limiting your influence to the behind-the-scenes equipping of leaders?

2.  It promotes Christian consumerism. Rather than put in the work that it requires to be the local church, many resort to opening a Fellowshipchurch.com franchise. It may be what people want, but wise church leaders will prefer to give them what they need. They need a pastor who knows their name, lives in their community, and can be available for them personally.

3. Realistically, your church has become two when you decided to hold multiple services (especially when these services are designed to appeal to different demographics). What reason (other than the pastor’s ego) is there to insist that these are “one” church? “One church in many locations” is only the illusion of unity. Why insist that every new spin-off church be part of the same brand?

4.  Multi-site church breaks the missiological principle of indigenaity. Rather than allowing each new fellowship to reflect the culture in which it is planted, multi-site locations instead export with them the culture of the “mother” church. I know that some churches try to help this by having a local worship team or support staff, but rarely are satellite locations allowed to stray too far from the formula.

For the record: I’m not against sermon podcasts or broadcasts. God used these sorts of resources maintained my team spiritually on the mission field. I’m also not trying to criticize anyone in particular. If a church is led to multi-site, I want them to be successful and to prosper. This is not intended to tear down anyone. I really am a big fan of many multi-site pastors, and hope I don’t offend any of my multi-site friends with this post. Nevertheless, as a missiologist, missionary, and missional believer, I felt the need to say something.

By the way, Bob Hyatt wrote a great article on multi-site church at Out of Ur.

Be sure to watch for my next post, “Your Sound System Is Where You Went Wrong.”

19 thoughts on “Multi-site Church is Bad Missiology

  1. Pingback: Counter to Current Church Culture Trends : The Edge of the Inside

  2. Hmm… Portland huh?
    I largely agree with you… I DO believe it’s possible to do something that incorporates different worship gatherings at different places under the umbrella of one community, without video venueing it, and without it being franchising… that is- maintaining a single community that happens to met in different places.

    But again- I largely agree with you :)

    Look me up when you get to Portland, “Ernest”… :)

  3. Bob,
    You’re probably right. In fact, the biblical idea of “the church at (fill in city/county/area here)” would be what you’re talking about. I just wonder what the advantage would be to calling a church in Tucson and a church in Dallas “one church.”

    I’d love to visit Evergreen to see how you do it.

    We’ve been in Portland for about two months now. I’d love to get together with you sometime soon. I’ll send you an email.

  4. finally. someone has said it out loud. thank you. this video/tv church thing crawls all over and under me. i think the thing i take the most issue with is the practice of drawing together anonymous believers with little or no accountability. look at the crowds in your picture. you can come in, sit down, hear a great sermon (i admit i listen to matt chandler podcasts), and walk away without anyone knowing your name. i know, there are small groups offered. i know there are support groups available. but buying an albertsons so you can put a video screen in there doesn’t really reinforce the idea that you are making disciples instead of groupies.

  5. Thought I’d share a thought. Hope that’s ok. While I largely disagree with what you’ve said, I do think it helps me think through why we’re doing what we’re doing. I honestly don’t think the medium–video or live–is the issue. Are people coming to faith in Christ? I think that is the litmus test. Paul talked about using “all possible means” (that aren’t unbiblical of course).

    I agree with the “celebrity” danger but one way we’ve tried to address that is via a teaching team. I honestly think NCC revolves around me far less than it did when we were a young church plant with one service in one location.

    We are as far from perfect as any church, but I don’t think multi-site is bad missiology. I honestly think it’s good stewardship.

    My two cents :)

    Blessings,

    Mark

  6. While a lot of good things take place in the kinds of churches you describe, I can’t for the life of me see how they are even close to being what I understand a NT church is supposed to be. This is an example of contextualization taken to its extreme. We have so contextualized the church that it has morphed into something quite different from what I read in the pages of the NT.

    Now that you’ve stated what few dare to voice, what are we proposing in its place? In lieu of?

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  8. Mark,
    Thanks for commenting. I really hope you weren’t offended by my post. I just feel that for me to be a good steward of my time on the mission field, I need to question some of what’s happening here in the U.S.

    My experience overseas taught me that the means affect the message. You mention that people are coming to faith, and I rejoice with you over that. But what are people being saved to? What does impersonal (less personal, anyway) church do to our message? Are efficiency and effectiveness biblical values, or American ones?

    This is what I don’t think Stateside leaders are really thinking through. In all of our pragmatism (doing “what works”), we sometimes lose sight of “what’s best.” I just don’t see how video venues could be considered missionally sound. I think they represent a short-sighted, utilitarian missiology that may see people come to faith, but ends up perpetuating a passive, impersonal, consumeristic understanding of church (and, by extension, of God).

    Mark, I know I don’t have a whole lot of readers weighing in here, but consider the other comments on this post. “Cafe addict” and Guy Muse are missionaries on the field. I think I can speak for them in saying that we would like to see American churches apply some of the principles of international missions to what they’re doing in the U.S.

    Does any of this make any sense?

    I’m no expert, and I don’t mean to tear down what you or others are doing. I’m actually a big fan of yours, and I really want to help however I can.

  9. Good post. I share your same concerns and really wonder if the results are what we think they are. I liked your response to Mark Batterson (which by the way, I like alot)…what are they being saved into. What is their concept of church? How do you have someone sensitive to the Spirits move in a service….from across town?

    It’s interesting to me…all around the world churches are becoming smaller, less professional and more organic and yet in the US we’ve managed to turn them into franchises. Are we missing it again? Are we taking the easy way out? It’s alot easier to run some cable then to disciple and train new leaders.
    Camel Rider

  10. Guy,
    Please look for my next post (tentative title: “The Church that Jesus Planted”) for my suggestion of a more missional approach to church. Thanks for asking. I never want to be the guy who criticizes others and never proposes ideas for change.

    EDIT: Er, my next next post. I just cross-posted “Think Like A Missionary” from Contexting. I thought it did a good job of introducing the “Church that Jesus Planted” post.
    Thanks!

  11. Pingback: The Mom-and-Pop Church (Part 1)

  12. As a Worship Arts Director on a multi-site campus, I think I can offer some interesting insight into this discussion. It has been my experience that no multi-site is the same. Our model is very different from many I know. Our Campus Pastor IS the pastor of our congregation…He teaches 8 to 10 times a year live on our campus. He is a part of the teaching team (4 total) that do speak via video. Our Senior Pastor looks to our Campus Pastor to provide leadership, vision, and pastoral care to our campus…we are not here to push buttons. We are the only regional campus of the original campus so when we say “We are one-church-two locations” , we say it from the perspective of partnering to do outreach, global missions, small groups, leadership training and sharing resources. We reap the benefits of an existing church, but yet have the ability to tweak and make it work for our new congregation. We have leadership training on our campus with our leaders the same week they have LT on their campus. I have total oversight and control of the service. I plan my own worship and even tweak or cut creative elements I am given if I do not think they connect with our service. I am not required to do ANYTHING that I do not feel connects with or is in the best interest of my congregation. I believe the success of a multi-site in our style depends on the Campus Pastor. If he is truly given the opportunity to shepherd and lead that campus, what a great opportunity for a young pastor to learn and grow under the leadership of a more seasoned Pastor! Not franchising here – investing to lead others.

  13. Cynthia,
    Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate the reminder that no two multi-site churches are exactly the same. I’m also glad you’re willing to talk about this without being defensive- though I didn’t intend it, my post could be taken as an offense.

    I guess my question would be- why consider your church a “campus” of another church? What’s the benefit there? You mention partnering in missions and other ministries, but you don’t have to consider yourselves “one church in two locations” in order to do that, do you?

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  15. I actually disagree wholeheartedly. I think the issues you raised are potential pitfalls, but certainly not necessary evils. In fact, I think the New Testament church was much more like this than most people realize. There were teaching teams of elders that traveled to various locations shepherding and teaching sound doctrine to multiple bodies under the same “city church”.

    The benefit of multi-site is this: good leadership is hard to find. Let’s be frank. The church in America is dying. More churches die every year. There are, however, churches that continue to grow. Let’s take what they are doing and multiply that, modifying it to fit the local audience.

    One final comment, many pastors do not have the gift of teaching. Many pastors are not shepherds. We succeed when we correctly minister as a team.

  16. Brian,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you felt the freedom to disagree! I know I have a tendency to state my case strongly, so I appreciate you interaction here.

    I won’t assume that you read my blog with any regularity, but I’d encourage you to read through my latest couple of posts about what I see as the counterintuitive nature of the church. It may better explain my perspective than what I’ve written here.

    I agree about the early church being organized at the city/region level. But I think we would probably disagree on the definition of “pastor.” I don’t think the first-century Apostles were pastors/shepherds. I think they were just that- apostles. Their job was to initiate, offer initial instruction, point out trouble spots when they saw them, but then to move on. If mega-church pastors wanted to recast their roles and present themselves as apostles, that’d be one thing… but multi-site churches aren’t the same as city churches. City churches would be a fellowship of all the evangelicals (and maybe some non-evangelicals) in a city or region. A multi-site church only includes those churches that share its brand identity.

    I believe that the “pitfalls” I mention aren’t just potential problems. I think it’s clear that multi-site, video venue, megachurch, etc. are all solutions to problems that they actually generate. There aren’t any leaders? That’s because the impersonality and pastor-centrism of models actually prevent discipleship and leadership development.

    Your reasons for multi-site all seem to be pragmatic. (Let’s borrow/copy what’s “working” and modify it for maximum effect.) I don’t think this is a good place to start, and I think the line of thinking will get us exactly what we’ve got- a leadership vacuum, consumer Christianity, extractional discipleship, and program and event-driven ministries. .

    “Pastors” who are not shepherds are not pastors. They should be ministering our of their gifting. The problem is that most of the other gifts don’t translate into a career.

    You’re right- the church needs to work in cooperation. We can all learn from one another. But in God’s Church, teachers aren’t so scarce as to necessitate piping them in via satellite every Sunday.

  17. Do you think that multi-site churches are really the product of a blurring of pastoral and apostolic type roles? That is, I don’t know any multi-site church whose lead pastor isn’t larger than the church(es) they pastor – whether it is Chandler, Piper, Driscoll, and on and on. Could we have funnelled all the various leadership roles into the one role of “pastor”? And in so doing, constrained those men with huge vision and passion to a church that can’t possibly express the breadth of their vision? And so we end up with multi-site venues? Just throwing it out there.

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