The Evolution of the Multisite Church

Multisite churches have become the "new norm"—but is that a good thing?

Whatever your opinion of multisite may be, there can be no doubt it is the new normal.

Multisite has joined a list of models and approaches that were once out of the mainstream and now are commonplace—most of us know of one or more multisite churches.

Though I would not have guessed it 10 years ago, it’s normal now.

No longer just a new trend, they now number more than 5,000 churches—and growing. Multisite churches have even grown faster than megachurches (which are also growing). In fact, last year, 62 of the 100 fastest growing churches in America (as reported in our research at Outreach magazine) were multisite. Among the fastest growing and largest churches, this is just normal practice—and growing every year.

But, that has led to much conversation—some profitable, some not. Since large and fast growing churches are engaging in the practice, that (in and of itself) raises suspicion with some people. There are also ecclesiology (and other) questions as well. Yet, I am not addressing all of those (sometimes legitimate) concerns here, but rather talking about the growth and mainstream acceptance of the practice, and hopefully encouraging a certain type of multisite.

Though I’ve been occasionally cast in that light by the uninformed, I am not “anti-multisite.” Yet, my experience is that if you are not filled with breathless enthusiasm for every innovation, you must be against it. Such is life.

I am, however, critical of multisite done poorly, and I am in favor of multisite done well—thoughtfully, and in such a way that intentionally addresses some of the issues that may be inherent with that format.

And, when research shows us some of the positive outcomes of multisite, it should help others see—at least those willing with willing eyes—the impact the model is having.

As we saw in some recent megachurch research, multisite churches defy a large number of the stereotypes with which they are associated. The facts from the study are clear.

Multisite churches:

  • Reach more people than single site churches.
  • Tend to spread healthy churches to more diverse communities.
  • Have more volunteers in service as a percentage than single site churches.
  • Baptize more people than single site.
  • Tend to activate people into ministry more than single site.

In the midst of this growth, my experience is that there is one predominate format that many people consider the norm for multisite churches today. There may be, however, a newer model that builds off these successes and better addresses the potential drawbacks.

What is the most common version of multisite today, and what may be the next evolution of it?

In other words, if multisite is now a new normal, what should the new normal multisite be?

Let me share some thoughts.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.