“Multi-site churches are the current trend in evangelicalism. The great question is, will they be able to make a generational transition? Will they be able to hold together when the main preaching pastor—who is usually in himself the center of gravity for the whole enterprise—goes off the scene? And how much institutional and spiritual fall-out will occur when he does?”
I love my gospel-loving friends in multi-site churches—both leaders and members! But as Christians we work continually to reform our churches in light of Scripture. So I trust a little push back on the multi-site structure serves everyone, assuming my concerns turn out to be valid. Below are 22 misgivings I have about the multi-site model. All of these are of potential relevance to churches that use a video preacher. Over half are of potential relevance to churches who employ a preacher on every campus.* Some of these are grounded in biblical or theological principles; some are matters of prudence, which means they can be a problem, but are not necessarily so.
Are many multi-site churches doing great ministry? Are lost people coming to faith? Are the saints being built up? Is Jesus’ name being exalted among neighborhoods and cities? Yes and amen! There should be rejoicing over every conversion and every bit of growth that occurs in multi-site churches. And whose church of ours is perfect?! But I would maintain that there is still a place for Christians to discuss and debate secondary matters of polity, which is what multi-site is about. Getting your polity right is not a topic that’s more important than these other matters, but nor is it a topic to be pitted against these other matters. Biblical polity is what protects these more important matters over the long haul. Hence, I hope this list will be viewed simply as an invitation to continue reasoning together over the multi-site model, not as a line-drawing exercise between brothers and sisters in the faith.
2. If a church is constituted by the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the ordinances under the binding authority of the keys, every “campus” where those activities transpire is actually a church. “Multi-site church” is a misnomer. It’s a collection of churches under one administration.
3. For every additional multi-site campus out there, there’s one less preaching pastor being raised up for the next generation.
4. What effectively unites the churches (campuses) of a multi-site church are a budget, a pastor’s charisma, and brand identity. Nowhere does the Bible speak of building church unity in budgets, charisma, and brand.
5. To say that the unity of the church (i.e. the unity of the campuses) depends on the leaders is to say that that the life and work of the church depends that much more on the leaders. Members, in comparison to a single-site model, are demoted.
6. To the extent that a multi-site church relies on brand identity to reach unbelievers, to that same extent they risk building Christianity on their brand identity.
7. Multi-site churches which use video preaching unwittingly communicate that singing is more significant for Christian growth and closer to the heart of worship than hearing God’s preached Word. After all, how many multi-site churches stream their music over video from a central location? A church wouldn’t dare import the music, it’s thought. People need to engage with a live band. People need their music authentic, personal, enfleshed. But preaching? Apparently, it can be imported from afar.
8. When a multi-site pastor implodes, dies, or retires, all the churches that constitute that “church” are put at risk, including all the smaller once-independent congregations that the multi-site franchise took over.
9. A multi-site church formally removes the concept of “assembly” from the definition of “church” since it’s a “church” that never actually assembles (but see 1 Cor. 11:18). This is what it means to be multi-site. As such, members of a multi-site church never need to gather in order to be a church. One might say they should gather for reasons of prudence. But it’s not a formal requirement of being a “church.” A multi-site church could spread its 97 members (for example) across 2 sites or 97 sites. Further…