“Sometimes called a "satellite" or "franchise" model, going multisite is seen by advocates as one of the leading innovations of the 21st century and by critics as a sign that the church has sold out to consumerism…” – Bob Smietana
Definition: What is a Multi-site Church?
A multi-site or multi-campus church is one “church” in multiple locations. These locations are often called “campuses” or sometimes “satellites.”[i] Leadership Network defines it as “one church meeting in two or more locations under one overall leadership and budget.” The book Multi-site Church Revolution, says this, “A multi-site church is one church meeting in multiple locations—different rooms on the same campus, different locations in the same region, or in some instances, different cities, states, or nations. A multi-site church shares a common vision, budget, leadership, and board.” (Multi-site Church Revolution, Zondervan, 2006, p. 18)
The approach may range from transmitting a sermon by a single (or senior/lead) pastor to multiple locations, to distinct worship services at multiple times and sites than remain under one administrative leadership and budget. One of the newer features of multi-site churches is the Internet Campus. It enhances live streaming video with interactive elements via the Internet – including chatting and submitting prayer requests. Multi-site churches share the common model of “one church meeting in two or more locations under one overall leadership and budget,” while ranging widely on how they accomplish their specific goals. For examples,
- · A satellite church campus may use video technology to connect satellites to the church’s main location, including worship and sermon.
- · A satellite church campus may assign “campus pastors” who serve at the various locations, while administering from a central location.
The pastor in one place and the so-called congregation is in many other places destroys the gathered congregational relationship and defies Baptist views of the church, but seems also to reveal a certain degree of ministerial arrogance. I believe the Bible teaches both church governance and how we should “do” church. If you don’t agree with that you probably won’t follow my conclusions.
Defense of the Multi-site “Church”
For the most part it is fair to say that multi-site advocates approach their methodology from expedience rather than biblical fidelity. For example, in Why Your Church Should be Thinking Multisite, Thom S. Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources gives “6 reasons churches need to consider multisite,” all of which are expedient rather than biblical reasons.[ii]
- · Millennials moving away from large worship gatherings
- · Governmental restrictions on building and land
- · Difficulty in finding large plots of land
- · Acquisition of churches
- · Can take advantage of existing facilities (can be cheaper)
- · Reach people main campus would never reach
Nevertheless, there are some who attempt a biblical justification of their methodology. In Why The Summit Church Is Multi-site, J. D. Greear asserts that the method can be biblically sound, practically wise, and pastorally helpful. The latter two arguments are simply a multiplication of the expediency argument, but in the first he attempts reconciling the multi-site church with the biblical data. In doing so he mostly resorts to negative argument – the church is not defined by assembly and there are no specific details on how to organize a church. The third curiously argues that “The Apostles used the technology available to them to preach in absentia.” Curious, I say, since the apostles had “the care of all churches” and, I suppose, Greear doesn’t believe there are any such offices today. At least one of the apostles (of whom Greear asserts “used the technology available to [him] to preach in absentia”) was not satisfied with in absentia ministry and ordained elders in every church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Greear writes, “It is clear in Acts 2 to 8 that all eight thousand (some historians estimate that the actual size at the end of Acts 3 would have been about ten thousand) were not gathering weekly in one place to hear one teaching pastor give a message.”
A number of multi-site advocates cite the Jerusalem church, as Greear above, as well as house churches found in the Scriptures. They may contend that “house churches came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as one citywide church.” It is inconsistent that those advocates would use this argument for support. They do not apply it to their own terminology and practice. They do not view the various bodies as churches, but rather as “campuses” or “satellites” of one church. This is in contrast to their stated view of the church, as well as the biblical recognition of these bodies (i.e., house churches) as churches (Cf. Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15). Jonathan Leeman’s statement is telling: “Before technology enabled the multi-site church phenomenon, no one ever, so far as I know, read these verses this way.”
Baptists believe that a church is a local assembly or congregation of baptized believers, united in covenant relationship in the fellowship of the gospel, bearing Christ’s authority to exercise the keys of binding and loosing, and observing the ordinances. Further most Baptists have held and still hold that each church is an independent, self-governing body, over which no other ecclesiastical body may exercise authority. Assuming many of my interested readers are Baptists who hold a view similar to this (though they might word it a little differently), I will not spend time here fleshing it out. Suffice it to say that under the multi-site model the definition is stretched to its limit. A “campus” or “satellite” assembles together and looks like a church, but does not have its own separate existence or authority under Christ. Multi-site churches divide the body and distribute its parts in various locations.
Some have noticed that multi-site congregations or campuses in essence are a network of churches under an episcopal type of church government. That may suit those who approve of episcopal church governance, but what a debacle when Baptists adopt it!
Following this consideration, we reflect that there is no clear example of a multi-site church in the New Testament. Paul established churches and asked that they follow his example. Multi-site advocates ditch the examples of the apostles and create their own. Churches in the New Testament not only covenanted together, but assembled together and covenanted to not forsake that assembling (Hebrews 10:25). Assembly is an essential part of the church relationship.
Biblical arguments such as those made by J. D. Greear often depend on the assumption that large churches – such as the one at Jerusalem – could not gather in one place. He claims “Historians tell us there was no space in Jerusalem available to the disciples in which three thousand or more people could have met on a weekly basis.” In contrast to the historians, we find that the church at Jerusalem (even though they met from house to house) did also meet in one place. Acts 2:44-47 indicates they met in one place (and the people were essentially in one place when they heard the gospel message on Pentecost). Acts 4:4 implies they were all together, while Acts 5:12 plainly proclaims “they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.”[iii] Acts 6:2 also indicates assembly, stating “the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them.” The Acts 15 council meeting indicates a gathering of the whole church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:4, 22).The Antioch church gathered in one place (Acts 14:27), and Paul spoke of the church at Corinth gathered together in one place (1 Corinthians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20). Suggestions of the inability of the church to gather because of size do not meet the biblical criteria of proof.
The biblical concept and meaning of a gathered church and the practice of the early churches of the New Testament favor the “local church model” and discountenance the “multi-site church”.
- 8 Statistics Every Multisite Church Leader Should Know
- A Pastor Defends His Multi-Site Church
- Assembly is Essential Too: A Response to J. D. Greear
- High-Tech Circuit Riders
- Multisite Churches are Here, and Here, and Here to Stay
- Nine Reasons I Don’t Like Multi-site Churches
- Now More Than 8,000 Multisite Churches
- Theological Critique of Multi-Site: What Exactly Is a “Church”?
- Twenty-Two Problems with Multi-site Churches