In preparing for this article, I got my hands on as much multisite literature as I could find. Friends loaned me books—including two multisite church manuals. I Googled…and Googled…and Googled some more! I informally discussed multisite churches with a couple of multisite pastors. Through my reading and research and interviews, my initial concerns with the multisite expansion model remained unresolved. Questions went unanswered. And answers often came attached with, “Well, God is blessing this thing. Our church is growing.” While one cannot argue with God’s apparent blessing, Christians—and especially church leaders—must be certain their philosophy of local church structure squares with Scripture. Before we talk about the multiple sites or campuses, we must understand what the Bible teaches about the church.
Reprinted with permission from the Baptist Bulletin, July-August 2009.
As my family and I took our seats following the final congregational song, a large screen descended from above the pulpit. Within seconds, a pastor appeared on the screen and asked us—and the 1,200 other worshipers—to open our Bibles to Ephesians 4. He would be preaching a sermon titled, “Imitating God in Our Relationships with One Another.”
Knowing that the thriving midwestern church had embraced a multisite church structure, my wife and I had informed our children that they would not hear live preaching that Lord’s Day morning, but their response to a preacher on a screen surprised me. At first I attributed their dismay to the fact that we are from a small church in an even smaller community. But as I dug deeper into their dismay, I discovered that their problem wasn’t with the size of the church or even the use of video technology; their dismay stemmed from the fact that the announcements, prayers, Scripture reading, and congregational singing were live events, while the preaching was not. It seemed the church had unwittingly prescribed a greater importance to the parts of the service that were live. In my children’s young and impressionable minds, the preaching was of lesser value because it wasn’t an incarnational, in-the-flesh, event.
That Sunday morning in 2008 is my only firsthand experience with the multisite church movement, but because I love the church and am enamored with it, I had begun thinking through the theological implications of the multisite structure long before attending my first multisite church service. The purpose of this article is neither to defend nor attack the multisite church structure, but to ask some questions and offer some explanations regarding the important theological and ecclesiastical implications of the multisite church structure. Perhaps what is written here will stimulate some thoughtful discussion among the pastors and laypeople of our association.