The Evolution of the Multisite Church

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

The Possible Future of Multisites

Previously, as churches grew, they added services and they built a bigger building. If the growth continued and you had maximized the number of services and the size of your building, then you thought about doing multisite. But what if you started off with a plan for multisite as a way to evangelize your area and limit the amount of money you spend on a facility?

I think churches like Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, and Seacoast Church near Charleston, SC, have developed a great way to do multisite. Instead of spending $20 million on a new 10,000-seat worship center, they’ve strategically placed campuses primarily across a single region to say, “This is the area we are going to church, both through campuses and plants.”

When I preached at Seacoast, I was surprised at the relatively small sanctuary at their original campus (comparatively speaking). Now, they’ve added additional venues there and satellites mainly up and down the Atlantic coast of Georgia and North and South Carolina. This has allowed them to develop multiple leaders, teachers and church planters.

Both Seacoast and Community Christian have started their own church planting networks. ARC, the organization birthed, in part by Seacoast, has partner churches across the country and in Canada. Community Christian’s NewThing has a network of churches around the globe.

Geoff Surratt, one of the founders at Seacoast, responded to an article in which I outlined my three major concerns with multisite churches. In his response, he described how they have used their multiple sites to birth new leaders, both campus pastors and church planters.

He wrote, “Rather than a diminished pool of biblical leaders, we now have an ocean of biblical leaders.” Surratt contended that their other sites have allowed them to grow young leaders and give them additional responsibilities without immediately placing them out on their own to sink or swim.

Some of those leaders are not gifted to preach, but they can be effective campus pastors. Without having to focus on delivering a sermon each week, they are freed to lead, teach and minister in dozens of ways.

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Other campus pastors, according to Surratt, have used the experience to become church planters. Seacoast’s first campus pastor, Naeem Fazal, now pastors Mosaic Church in Charlotte, NC.

Seacoast has demonstrated that multisite like this can build leaders who aren’t called to be the primary pastor, while simultaneously developing leaders who have the right make up to be the key vision caster. They have been able to harness the benefits of multisite church and have built in correctives to the potential problems of other formats.

That’s the kind of multisite that encourages me.

So, that’s happening now in some places, but needs to be happening in more places.

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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.