The Evolution of the Multisite Church

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

The Current Face of Multisites

Most multisite churches today have a main campus, even though they don’t want you to call it that. It is a joke at every one I visit. I ask for the names of the campuses when I preach there, so I can greet them all by name. The leadership always reminds me, “Don’t say this is the main campus.” But, having a “main campus” is the actual, if unspoken, reality.

Recently, a multisite church I know closed one of their campuses because they have 8,000 people in their church and 7,000 of them go to the main campus. That’s a main campus, no matter what you call it.

At many multisite churches, the other campuses essentially serve as overflow rooms.

This may be connected to one of my concerns with multisite churches—the temptation to not develop other high-level teachers within the church. It is much simpler to create an extension site, put up a screen and project the sermon of an established pastor then to train, encourage and commission other faithful preachers and leaders. In addition, in some of these churches, planting has been replaced with starting campuses. The attention is drawn away from developing new leaders and pastors, and it is always about one service, one preacher, one weekend, etc.

I’m of a different view. I believe the motivation behind adding sites to your church should not be to spread the “brand” of the church or pastor. An explosion of multisite churches does not worry me—it could be just what we need for campuses to be planted reaching new people—but an explosion of rock-star pastors who want their image on more screens absolutely worries me.

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Unintended consequences are a reality. We fool ourselves if we do not believe we need to be wary of beaming a famous pastor to crowds waiting to watch on a movie screen. Clearly, this is not the case at every, or even most, multisite churches, but it is a built-in temptation that must be intentionally combated. The best multisite pastors are aware of that very issue—and address it regularly by empowering local leaders, sending people out to new churches, and more.

One way to avoid this temptation would be to rethink the way multisite is predominately done. Change the focus from a reactive move due to growth constraints to a proactive one intentionally seeking to saturate a region with the gospel.

Which leads to 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.