To continue our discussion via comments and email, here are some of my thoughts regarding multi-site churches. The good and the bad are intermixed. As with all things, there are both good and bad aspects and elements that can be used for the glory of God and elements that are simply about the glory of mankind or a particular man.
1. I question what multi-site says about what church is. I come from a free-church tradition that places a great deal of emphasis on the local church. Some of you reading this will know what I mean, and could sing along if I started out, “You can’t go to church as some people say, the common terminology we use everyday…” The multi-site church movement suggest, even at it’s best, that “church” is a place where certain things happen, not a people sent. Obviously, these two impulses aren’t mutually exclusive, but when you can “go” to church online, I have to ask whether that’s more about services than serving.
2. If you’ve got something good, why not extend what God has blessed. This is a strong point of multi-site to me. Trust me, I’ve been around long enough to know that they’re not a lot of great preachers out there. And some bad ones, who are good at many other things in ministry, spend 30+ hours a week working on sermons that don’t turn out well. I would rather see a good preacher on video and work alongside a great minister on my campus than have a preacher who is bad at preaching and spending so much time preparing sermons that they are bad at everything else too. It’s conceivable that campus pastors can inform and work alongside a lead pastor and the local church can accomplish more for their community and the kingdom.
3. I don’t like what multi-site says about church leadership. I fail to see how elders or pastors can effectively pastor people they don’t know. I understand that many multi-site churches function more from a corporate model of leadership than a pastoral one. I believe that as children are born, people die, and decisions are made about church life, the elders of the church, the folks charged with spiritual discernment for the body, should actually know the body. They need to be able to look into the eyes of the people they are charged to lead. What’s more, If I’m preaching a sermon about tithing, while I wouldn’t back off the importance of tithing, I might approach it differently if I lived in Michigan — who has been experiencing a one-state recession for years now — than I might in Houston where the economy has not been as deeply hurt by recent national developments in the economy. One size doesn’t fit all! And multi-site appears to work against contextualization. We would never try to evangelize S. Africa from Austin. And Austin may be just as different from S. Africa as it is a retirement community in S. Florida.
4. Going multi-site can be a good use of the Lord’s resources and meet changing needs across the American landscape. Houston is a big city and there are folks who feel blessed and called to work with a particular church. For one reason or another, the life of one particular body speaks to them. There’s one problem; they live 25 miles away and traffic is “heck!” Several years ago our congregation dismissed our Wednesday night gatherings because people spent more time in the car getting here than they spent here. Interestingly, many of these folks lived about 10 miles from one another. Had we been thinking we might have taken the opportunity to establish another gathering place and different modes of spiritual formation. I still kick myself for not being forward enough to think about multi-siting then. Now the opportunity has passed. We could have formed something, using very little resources, instead of throwing in the towel. In this way, multi-site is rolling with the punches of life in the big city.
More to come…