Twenty-Two Problems with Multi-site Churches

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AndyBern's picture

A church linked to its pastor through video should not be the norm. A pastor's primary responsibility is not preaching, but pastoring: shepherding the flock. Not being a member of a multi-site church, I am only presuming the video link is one-way. The pastor can't see his congregation. But even if he could, a video link doesn't really allow the pastor to do his job as a pastor effectively. He needs to be present to care for the needs of his congregation.

On point #1, I believe the early church was multi-site in the larger cities. They met in houses, and I expect even the larger houses were not big enough to hold all of the members in a city. Obviously they didn't have video links. But they did have a plurality of pastors (elders) in each city. I think it possible that the pastors were spread out among the various house churches.

Andrew Bernhardt

dmicah's picture

Much has been written on both side of the issue. For instance: http://www.9marks.org/journal/pastor-defends-his-multi-site-church

The technology of broadcasting preaching is really no more problematic than the technology of reprinting books, or even amplifying a voice to speak to a larger audience. Paul would probably have used anything possible to spread the gospel to a broader audience. More pertinent to the argument against multi-site is its tendency toward the propagation of church as a religious economic ecosystem. The production, the celebrity of the staff, the corporate hierarchy inherently required by its infrastructure, and success by size syndrome. The true problems of modern church stem from Americanizing the church via franchising, marketing and the groupthink of social engagement(My church is hip, I'm with cool people, I'm a part of a movement). But multi-site structure does not create these problems, though it does seem to multiply them.

 

 

Bert Perry's picture

One thing that is greatly missing here is the question of what kind of church makes it easy for a pastor to really make disciples.  He hints at it in #3 and a few other places, but let's state things explicitly.  The pastor of a large church will have more difficulty making disciples of the members than the pastor of a small church, and in the same way the pastor of a multi-site church will have more difficulty than even the average megachurch pastor in doing this.  

Moreover, inasmuch as many small churches use the big ones as models, you're going to have thousands of pastors of smaller churches trying to "match the mojo" of the multi-campus mega-churches, not realizing that they don't have the requisite amount of P.T. Barnum in their blood to recreate an inner Mark Driscoll.   So the harm is huge.  It is more or less the repudiation of Matthew 28:18-20 among a huge portion of the supposedly fundamental and evangelical pastorate.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Micah,

There is a difference between spreading the Gospel and pastoring a church. You cannot shepherd a congregation from a distance. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Bert Perry's picture

Chip, one question--and I've not got a fixed answer in my head yet--is whether one can even really "spread the Gospel" remotely.  If we look at evangelism efforts that do not include a strong component of discipleship--VBS, Billy Graham Crusades, outreach at the County Fair, TV evangelists, and the like--what we get IMO is a situation where we have a lot of apparent decisions, but very few follow through and become disciples.  There are some blessed exceptions with the work of shortwave radio like HCJB and such, but the data I'm seeing so far indicates that as a rule, we are not spreading the Gospel if we do not spend the time and effort to actually make disciples.

OK, I fess up.  I'm at least pretty close to that fixed answer, but I like to believe that I'm capable of being persuaded.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Bert,

Totally agree with everything you said about remote evangelism not being the most effective way, but even in your statement you acknowledge that it is possible. My point was not to endorse remote evangelism in any way but to show the difference between evangelism and shepherding. Shepherding is not possible without personal interaction which does not (cannot) happen in satellite churches. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

driddick's picture

Many are writing as if satellite locations don't have pastors. Has anyone ever attended a satellite campus that didn't have an on-site pastor (or multiple pastors in many cases)? I'm just not tracking with the thought process that people attending a video teaching location can not be shepherded and discipled by a pastor. Would welcome feedback on this.

dmicah's picture

Chip,

You are apparently assuming I'm pro multi-site which I am not. I'm simply saying the structure is not inherently wrong/unbiblical. For instance, I don't subscribe to Baptist polity in which there is a combination of senior pastor and deacon board as church leadership. While I don't subscribe to it, I don't think it's wrong/unbiblical because there is so much autonomy and flexibility in the organization of ecclesiology.

A church can shepherd and equip through a multi-site venue with multiple pastors and elders just like any single venue church. A multiplicity of elders and mature leaders is the biblical paradigm. Some like Summit Church in Durham are trying to do this even though they are multi site. Again, even while defending MS, I don't think it's the best possible variation of ecclesiological paradigm. I'm all for small/home churches. 

 

 

 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

"In 1909, [J. Frank] Norris...accepted the pastorate of the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, where he served for forty-four years until his death."

"In 1935, Norris accepted the pastorate of a second church, Temple Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. By 1946, the combined membership of the two congregations was more than 26,000. For sixteen years, Norris commuted by train and plane between the two churches."

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Frank_Norris

----------------------------------------------------------

J. Frank Norris simultaneously pastored two enormous churches a thousand miles apart, in the days before simulcasting was a possibility.  (Did he preach in one church one week, and then the other the next?  I don't know.)

With 26,000 members, he clearly never knew everyone.  Pastoral discipleship would obviously require a lot of delegation (which is how large multi-sites also are run today.)

DavidO's picture

I love my gospel-loving friends in multi-site churches

That's just a weird locution.

Mark_Smith's picture

Why not just have the local facility have the local pastor do the preaching? I can only think of one reason to have a multi-site church....a celebrity preacher. And by extension the local people wanting a hot, hip preacher. Where am I wrong?

Bert Perry's picture

driddick wrote:

Many are writing as if satellite locations don't have pastors. Has anyone ever attended a satellite campus that didn't have an on-site pastor (or multiple pastors in many cases)? I'm just not tracking with the thought process that people attending a video teaching location can not be shepherded and discipled by a pastor. Would welcome feedback on this.

Probably best to answer this with an acknowledgement and two questions.  It is granted that it seems very wise to take the man who seems to excel at teaching and let him handle the lion's share of it.  Now the questions:

1.  Are not all elders/pastors (Titus uses the titles interchangeably) called to be "apt to teach"?  How do they demonstrate their fitness for their office if they do not get regular chances to do so?

2.  For the "chosen one", so to speak, how does he bring the text down to where the "rubber meets the road" if he is not actively involved in the lives of those to whom he is preaching?  

So it would seem that, even beyond the relative anonymity of large auditoriums used for video screenings, the "video church" phenomenon is going to work against active discipleship.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I have attended one of the satellite campuses of Driscoll's church while visiting relatives.  I thought that at least for the services I was there, they handled it very well.  At the service where we got Driscoll's message by video, the local pastor actually led the first part of the service, and the music was local as well.  After the message, the pastor announced that he and other counselors were available after the service, and they remained near the front so anyone could find them.  The other service was entirely local and preached by the local pastor, and at that one, they had communion at the end.

I'd pretty much agree that just having a local church plant there would have been sufficient,  Even that group was a little large for the local pastor to know everyone, but that is certainly true in larger fundamental churches as well.  You really need more than one elder and a good smaller-groups ministry to be able to shepherd everyone in a large church well, but even the apostles had to deal with that in Jerusalem.

Dave Barnhart

Ron Bean's picture

Many of the twenty-two problems apply to churches with multiple services as well. 

The early post-apostolic church had multiple congregations under one overseer and we know how that worked out.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

driddick's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Probably best to answer this with an acknowledgement and two questions.  It is granted that it seems very wise to take the man who seems to excel at teaching and let him handle the lion's share of it.  Now the questions:

1.  Are not all elders/pastors (Titus uses the titles interchangeably) called to be "apt to teach"?  How do they demonstrate their fitness for their office if they do not get regular chances to do so?

2.  For the "chosen one", so to speak, how does he bring the text down to where the "rubber meets the road" if he is not actively involved in the lives of those to whom he is preaching?  

So it would seem that, even beyond the relative anonymity of large auditoriums used for video screenings, the "video church" phenomenon is going to work against active discipleship.

Bert,

Answer 1. How do single-site churches with more than one pastor on staff accomplish this? I would assume multi-site churches could employ similar approaches.

Answer 2. If your definition of "actively involved" means weekly or daily personal interaction, then every teaching pastor should limit his congregation to 50-100 people. If "actively involved" means that he understands the needs, culture and life realities of his congregation, then multiple locations can work well.

Your final statement that video teaching works against active discipleship is interesting perspective. Recently, the largest study of multi-site congregations conducted to-date, concluded that multi-site churches viewed their satellite locations as stronger at "spiritual growth" than the main campus where teaching was conducted live.

I appreciate your thoughts and the discussion!

dmicah's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

 

driddick wrote:

 

Many are writing as if satellite locations don't have pastors. Has anyone ever attended a satellite campus that didn't have an on-site pastor (or multiple pastors in many cases)? I'm just not tracking with the thought process that people attending a video teaching location can not be shepherded and discipled by a pastor. Would welcome feedback on this.

 

 

Probably best to answer this with an acknowledgement and two questions.  It is granted that it seems very wise to take the man who seems to excel at teaching and let him handle the lion's share of it.  Now the questions:

1.  Are not all elders/pastors (Titus uses the titles interchangeably) called to be "apt to teach"?  How do they demonstrate their fitness for their office if they do not get regular chances to do so?

2.  For the "chosen one", so to speak, how does he bring the text down to where the "rubber meets the road" if he is not actively involved in the lives of those to whom he is preaching?  

So it would seem that, even beyond the relative anonymity of large auditoriums used for video screenings, the "video church" phenomenon is going to work against active discipleship.

Bert, question back at you...for your #2... Wouldn't you be throwing out books, preachers who have passed on, and in a sense, even the Bible's messages if you hold that a person must be actively involved in someone's life to bring the text to bear upon the hearer?

dmicah's picture

I think a key metric to evaluate for the large and/or multi-site church is the number of churches they plant, and people they send out. For instance, if a church has 5 campuses in their city, at first blush, you say "Boo..multi-site." Then you learn over the past five years they've sent 20 pastors and hundreds of individuals to plant completely independent churches across the country as well as in other countries. Not just random people in the church, but key pastors and leaders being encouraged to step out and plant. Wouldn't that be the definition of discipleship and equipping? Preparing men and women to move out and start new congregations. When a church is focused on sending more than "growing" it has to mean something regarding the heart of the church's leaders even if it's coming from a large and/or MS church.

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding driddick's questions:

It is certainly plausible that a multi-site church could theoretically rotate preaching duties so that all could be trained.  Now what is the reality?  If you have chosen a preacher to be televised based on his perceived ability, do you consistently give the pulpit to the "second, third, and fourth string"?  The very premiss--based in the economic law of comparative advantage--is going to work against you in this.

Moreover, there is still the issue of whether the one preaching--first or tenth string--really knows the people he's preaching to. Can the pastor of campus A really be aware of the needs/concerns of Campus B?  Not without ESP or some such thing!

Which leads to Micah's comment.  I'm not saying that every bit of teaching needs to be done in light of the specific knowledge of the congregation.  As he notes, we would have to discard Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, and (going out on a limb) even the Apostle Paul if that were true.  What I am saying is that there will be consistent times in church life when it is important that the person doing the teaching know and understand those to whom he is teaching.

Example; the youth group in my former church was going through a video series that was actually pretty good in what it did, but what I noticed quickly is that the kids weren't catching on to the topics--it was aimed at senior high/early college, and these kids were/are small town and were in junior high at the time.   So we stopped it and started going through the book of Matthew.  It was simply more relevant to them.  

More importantly, I've learned that a "canned" video series (video pastor, canned Sunday School series) often serves to hide some pretty egregious shortcomings on the part of those teaching.  Same setting as above, going through Matthew revealed quickly that other adult volunteers did not have consistent times in the Scripture.  Now had the author of the video series been trying to pull a fast one, what are the odds they'd have caught it?

Make no mistake; I've got The Treasury of David, Matthew Henry's Commentaries, and a host of other books on my shelves which I consult routinely.  I just think that if we are seriously about the business of making disciples, we've got to be careful about this and need to consciously "take off the training wheels" to let God's people grow.  One especially bad form of "training wheels" is, in my opinion, the multi-campus church.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

What are the advantages of a multi-site church compared to having separate churches?

Also, what is the connection between groups that gather at different locations?

driddick's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

What are the advantages of a multi-site church compared to having separate churches?

Also, what is the connection between groups that gather at different locations?

Mark,

Below are the highlighted findings of the largest survey of multi-site churches conducted by Leadership Network. While all of the findings are not "advantages" some of them could definitely be argued as such. 

Key Discoveries and Fast Facts
1. An impressive 85% of surveyed multisite churches are growing—and at the strong rate of 14% per year.
2. Churches typically go multisite in the 1,000 size range, though almost half say they could have become multisite at a smaller size.
3. Campus viability starts at 75-350 people, depending on your model.
4. The typical multisite church is just 4 years into the process, and 57% plan to launch an additional campus in the next 12 months.
5. One in three (37%) churches started a multisite campus as the result of a merger.
6. The vast majority (88%) of churches report that going multisite increased the role of lay participation.
7. The vast majority (87%) of campus pastors are found internally—trained and hired from within the church.
8. Multisite campuses grow far more than church plants, and likewise multisite campuses have a greater evangelistic impact than church plants.
9. Nearly half (48%) of multisite churches directly sponsor new churches.
10. The recommended distance between campuses is a travel time of 15-30 minutes.
11. In rating what campuses do well, spiritual growth and volunteering are near the top, and newer campuses do better at reaching the unchurched.

Greg Long's picture

dmichah and driddick, I'm just wondering if you read the article, because it seems he responds to all of your questions in it, and brings up far more objections that the few you have tried to answer?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

pvawter's picture

There are more issues than simply the question of leadership, though. A multi-site church is in reality just multiple churches under one ministry umbrella, since the church is the people who fulfill the NT obligations of admonition, exhortation, fellowship, etc.
Only those people who actually gather together can be said to be a church, so members who meet at one site do not have that same fellowship with members from another site. They certainly can't partake in the ordinances together. If each site has its own pastor/elders, then each site is its own church. The multi-site church amounts to little more than a mini-denomination.

Bert Perry's picture

Dan

Good points raised.  My question--really guided by years watching corporate executives fudge similar stats, and watching mega-churches come and go--is about whether that growth is sustainable, and by what measures they're evaluating.  Is growth from new converts, or is it poached from other churches?  What are the measures of engagement?  

Now I've got to concede that small churches are often deader than a doornail, and that's going to drive a lot of people to big churches, but my take is that you've got to look very closely at stats before endorsing them wholeheartedly.  (can you guess what I do for a living--think "Deming", but I'm nowhere near as good as it as he was)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Why not just have the local facility have the local pastor do the preaching? I can only think of one reason to have a multi-site church....a celebrity preacher. And by extension the local people wanting a hot, hip preacher. Where am I wrong?

Would something like a mother-daughter church plant be sufficient?  I could see that working if a pastor were helping launch a new church about an hour or so away, at least until the new church had its own minister.

Dave's post was interesting:

I have attended one of the satellite campuses of Driscoll's church while visiting relatives.  I thought that at least for the services I was there, they handled it very well.  At the service where we got Driscoll's message by video, the local pastor actually led the first part of the service, and the music was local as well.  After the message, the pastor announced that he and other counselors were available after the service, and they remained near the front so anyone could find them.  The other service was entirely local and preached by the local pastor, and at that one, they had communion at the end.

I'd pretty much agree that just having a local church plant there would have been sufficient,  Even that group was a little large for the local pastor to know everyone, but that is certainly true in larger fundamental churches as well.  You really need more than one elder and a good smaller-groups ministry to be able to shepherd everyone in a large church well, but even the apostles had to deal with that in Jerusalem.

I don't really have a problem with this particular method of ministry, but I think the goal is to strive for the satellite churches to start moving towards a minister of their own asap, even if he has to tentmake or be bi-vocational for a while.  I think the days of a pastor as full time employee are fading quickly as society's veneer of respect towards Christianity falls away.

I do not agree with the idea of the multi-site ministry as subsidiaries of an ecclesiastical enterprise.  That has multiple layers of fail written all over it.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

driddick's picture

Greg Long wrote:

dmichah and driddick, I'm just wondering if you read the article, because it seems he responds to all of your questions in it, and brings up far more objections that the few you have tried to answer?

Yes, I read it in its entirety. 

driddick's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Dan

Good points raised.  My question--really guided by years watching corporate executives fudge similar stats, and watching mega-churches come and go--is about whether that growth is sustainable, and by what measures they're evaluating.  Is growth from new converts, or is it poached from other churches?  What are the measures of engagement?  

Now I've got to concede that small churches are often deader than a doornail, and that's going to drive a lot of people to big churches, but my take is that you've got to look very closely at stats before endorsing them wholeheartedly.  (can you guess what I do for a living--think "Deming", but I'm nowhere near as good as it as he was)

Bert,

I think your point is absolutely valid. I don't think any survey or data set should cause us to change course on a dime. That being said, discussions like these only get better and more helpful when they include two things:

Experience - meaning, I was there, I worked in it, I visited it, I tested it, etc.

- and/or - 

Data - My experience or opinion has been validated/invalidated by measurable data on a much larger-scale than my anecdote.