One Church. Multiple Sites.

Wikipedia says that multiple-site churches started in the mid 1980s . By the 2000s there were thousands more. The only truly multi-campus (if you count churches without walls) community I know within a mainline denomination is Urban Village in Chicago – a United Methodist new church start up. Maybe you know of others.

But most multi-campus churches are part of new denominations like Vineyard Churches, although they call themselves a movement rather than a denomination. Mark Driscoll started his own denomination of sorts in that the Mars Hill Church now has fifteen locations in four states.

We could say that churches of the same denomination are all one church with imagedifferent sites throughout a specific geographic region I suppose, but all the churches in mainline presbyteries, associations, dioceses, and conferences (i.e. denominational regions) tend to be individual communities on their own islands. And instead of being connected – even to other neighboring congregations in their own denominations – we consider our neighbors to be the competition. Each congregation – even in the same denomination – has its own pastor, its own financial secretary, its own building manager, its own web designer, etc.

What if . . .

  • 3-4 churches in the same denomination saw each other as different “campuses” of the same church, sharing one building manager, volunteer coordinator, etc.
  • Churches within 5 miles of each other shared a common youth minister, web designer, and accounting manager, paid according to the size of the church. (i.e. congregations paid a pro-rated amount according to participation from their particular “campus.”)
  • The One Church with 3-4 Campuses offered gatherings 7 days/week, thus making multiple portals to community possible without exhausting any single “campus.” For example: Mondays – Faith on Tap near Congregation #1, Tuesdays – Book Study in public library near Congregation #2, Wednesday – Small Groups in the homes of members from all four congregations in a variety of neighborhoods, Thursdays – make dinner for a shelter close to Congregation #3, Fridays – Parents’ Night Out in Congregation #4’s building, Saturday – mission project somewhere (one week a Habitat Project that all four campuses sponsor, the next week Love Bomb a laundromat ); Sunday – worship at 9:30 am, 11:00 am, and 6:30 pm in 3 of the 4 congregations. The fourth congregation might serve hot chocolate in a park or something.
  • The four churches have staff meetings together, share pastoral care responsibilities (e.g. one pastor visits the parishioners from all four communities who happen to be in the same hospital.)

Today, some churches merge or form “sister relationships” with each other which is code for “our church is dying and we need someone to prop us up.” But what if connecting as one church with four sites was seen as a means of enhancing community and growing our capacity for mission?

One culture shift we need to make is becoming less prideful (“Our church is Big Deal Church on the Hill“) and more Kingdom-focused (“Who cares through which portal someone enters just as long as transformation happens?“)

Are we in denominational churches willing to take a leap like this?

Friends: I was remiss in not acknowledging the source of the image. Many thanks to LC. Thanks as well to my partner in dreaming – EH.

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5 responses to “One Church. Multiple Sites.

  1. Thanks, Jan, this is so much to think about. It would be a great topic for God Talk on Tap as well.

  2. This is really exciting to think about!

  3. Dan Anderson-Little

    Jan,
    Great post. My wife and I are starting a new church in the St. Louis area (a joint PCUSA/ELCA plant). Part of our vision is for this new church to birth additional new churches–either as additional campuses or as stand-alone churches. It’s exciting to think about. I would make one small change to your vision: instead of saying “(e.g. one pastor visits the parishioners from all four communities who happen to be in the same hospital.)”, I would say “(e.g. one pastor trains parishioners from all four communities to visit other parishioners who happen to be in the same hospital)”. 😉

  4. Our church (Swedish baptist, in origins) has four campuses. The sermon is video taped on Sat evening at the main facility during one of two services. Video sermon is played at satellite campuses Sunday morning. Each campus has it’s own music ministry and Sunday school team. Main campus provides admin staff and support. One site bought a ‘used’ church building, one site rents a school, one site rented a school till they outgrew it and they’ve built a facility… Kept the main campus from embarking on ‘mega church’ building projects.

  5. I love this idea…and I also wonder how it works when we’re talking about joining several established congregations, each with their own culture and ethos, into one organization. I think about churches that lean more “conservative” and those that lean more “progressive,” or churches that lean more “business” and those that lean more “family,” and wonder if they could become one church with multiple sites?

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