Research: Multi-site Churches Offer Plenty of Challenges, Rewards

by Shawn Hendricks

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The opportunity to be in two or more places at once might be tempting to many pastors.

Churches are often seeking new and creative ways to reach a larger audience more quickly and efficiently, and some are finding that one way to do that is by launching additional sites in their communities, states and throughout the country.

It's a growing trend that many congregations find both rewarding and overwhelming, according to Scott McConnell's book, Multi-Site Churches: Guidance for the Movement's Next Generation, published by B&H Publishing Group.

"Adding a site does not simply add an address to your church," he writes. "It adds complexity ... Traveling the multi-site journey unprepared could cause irreparable damage to your church."

But it also can impact an area of the community for Christ that just one church campus otherwise couldn't reach.

In the book, McConnell, who serves as associate director of LifeWay Research, provides detailed advice and information for churches that are in the process of starting a new site or considering starting one.

After in-depth interviews with leaders from more than 40 multi-site churches, McConnell and his research team outlined what they had learned about how to do everything from deciding whether to become a multi-site church to choosing the right leader and location.

"This became more than simply a new set of research findings," McConnell wrote. "It became a story of God's movement that needed to be told and guidance for which many churches have asked."

The number of multi-site churches has grown from about 10 in 1990 to more than 2,000 in the United States last year.

In the book, McConnell takes a look at what seems to be working for these multi-site churches and what isn't going so well.

"We specifically asked [churches] to share the challenges they faced, so that the next generation of multi-site churches could be better prepared," he writes.

McConnell contends that churches should try to avoid any new approach that shifts them from their "God-given evangelistic focus."

"The focus of the church should be nothing less than sharing the message in both words and actions that God loves the world so much that He sent Jesus to die for us," McConnell writes.

Even as a church examines practical aspects of its readiness to add a site, leaders and planners must see evidence of God's activity in essential milestones such as providing a campus leader, a core group and finances.

Though the campuses have a connection, each one can quickly take on a life of its own with a unique personality.

The Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La., is a perfect example. In 2004 the church added its first two additional locations. Within the next four years it added seven more.

"On the surface, no two sites look alike," said lead pastor Dino Rizzo. "Some of our campus pastors wear goatees ... some tuck their shirts in, others go tails out and others might even wear a tie once in a while."

One campus is Spanish-speaking, two are on the other side of the world in communities hit hard by AIDS, another is in a poor neighborhood, and yet another is in a relatively affluent community.

But even with all their differences, Rizzo said there is one thing that holds it all together.

"There is a God-given vision and core DNA that guides Healing Place Church," he said. "We are a healing place for a hurting world."

Sharing the same vision and values at each campus is crucial, writes McConnell.

There are those who may have doubts about the multi-site church approach, but many church leaders believe the ultimate goal - reaching a lost world for Christ - is worth the headaches that come with it.

"The advantages of being a multi-site far outweigh the challenges," said Barry Galloway, a campus pastor at the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard campus of Desert Vineyard in Lancaster, Calif. He added that having access to the resources of the original church is particularly helpful.

McConnell explains that the original church often provides "central services" to its sites. These services include everything from preparing bulletins to writing new employee policies.

In the end, McConnell contends, the multi-site avenue is simply a tool to accomplishing God's work.

"The multi-site movement is only one small piece of God's movement through His church to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the entire world."


Methodology: Research for this book included in-depth interviews with leaders at more than 40 first and second generation multi-site churches as well as contributions from nine multi-site experts. The interviews occurred from Aug. 1-Sept. 30, 2007.

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