The multisite movement is, by historical standards, a recent phenomenon. The 2005 research by Todd Rhoades found 10 such churches in 1990, a number that grew to about 100 by 1998. I am a part of that history since I led the church I served as pastor to go multisite in 1992.
Leadership Network research noted the number of multisite churches increased to more than 5,000 by 2012. I have coined this strategic approach “horizontal growth.” The church is expanding beyond a single site (vertical growth) to more than one site.
The multisite movement is not a fad. It is indeed a movement in many ways. There have been thousands and thousands of churches move in this direction around the world. Not everyone likes or embraces the multisite movement; but it is hard for anyone to deny its growth and paradigmatic impact.
I will add to this conversation with six updates about the movement. Some are obvious; some may not be quite as evident.
- All indicators point to continued growth of the multisite movement. I do not have firm updates on the number of these churches, but I would not be surprised if it is close to 10,000 in North America.
- The movement is moving from the early adopter stage to the mid-adopter stage. I estimate the percentage of American congregations moving to multisite is close to three percent. This number is a significant level pointing toward a breakout of many more churches.
- Recent decisions by some churches to revert back to a single site are not indications the movement is slowing. Recent decisions by a few churches to revert from multisite to single site are not indicators of a reversal of the trends. The Village Church in Texas and Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte are two well-known churches making news with their decisions. The leadership of both churches have stated good reasons for their decisions. With the sheer numbers of multisite churches today, you can expect occasional decisions to move back to single site.
- The internet church and the multisite church are moving toward some type of convergence. We are watching both trends carefully. Though I am not certain exactly what shape it will take, there is definitely something moving in this direction.
- The church replanting movement will continue to be a powerful fuel for the multisite movement. Most church replants are led by another congregation. When the acquiring congregation adopts another church, replanting and multisite take place simultaneously.
- Multisite churches will continue to develop specialized focuses. Family Church in West Palm Beach and other locations, for example, focuses on neighborhood churches led largely by marketplace pastors and staff.
This movement is not slowing down. To the contrary, it is a movement whose fastest growth is just about to breakout as it moves from the early adopter stage to the mid-adopter stage.
Stay tuned . . .
Posted on June 24, 2019
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
From Abraham Lincoln, as quoted by Carl Sandburg:
When any church willinscribe over it’s altars, as the sole qualification of membership, the Savior’s condensed statement for the substance of both law and gospel, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself, that church will I join with all my heart and soul
My correction: The Lord thy God.
I appreciated reading the comments. They give me a better perspective of what others perceive a multi-site to be. From my research, there are several wrong assumptions on which people have based their opinions. Some are theological. Others are practical. All of us can grow in our understanding if we approach the topic with humility. However, what troubles me the most is the way that brothers in Christ communicate with one another in ways that do not reflect the fruit of the Spirit. No matter what one thinks about multi-site churches, this is clearly unbiblical. I am currently working on finding ways to better submit myself to 2 Timothy 2:24. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
May I make a respectful request? Please moderate your comments more tightly. I know you prefer to allow open discussion, but the name calling started by Christopher and continued by Mark is such a distraction to the content. Your blog commenters used to have such a irenic Christlike spirit. Now it’s tough to read them because of such jabs as “narcissistic” and “embarrassing.” I know you don’t like banning comments, but consider the rest of us who would like to have more civil conversations.
I hear you, but I am hesitant to do so. I am often the recipient of the criticisms. I feel like if I put myself on a public forum, I have to be willing to take the heat. Frankly, I deserve some of the criticisms. If I don’t moderate comments against me, it’s hard to moderate others.
But you are right. The tenor has become more caustic and uncivil. I will watch it carefully and may make a pivot in the future.
As I stated earlier, I have no problem with several churches under one body of leaders. However, the modern multi-site movement is not a church model, it’s a business model. Furthermore, it’s a personality driven, and I might almost say narcissistic, business model in which the pastor presents himself as a celebrity with his face on every screen.
Your lack of knowledge about multisite is embarrassing. Did you know the majority of multisite churches have their own preacher for each site? Have you ever looked at, for example, Family Church in South Florida? Opinions are one thing. Opinions without facts says more about the insecurity of the commenter.
Every multi site church I have attended or researched uses a remote feed of the senior pastor to every campus. Every. Single. One. So don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. In fact the ability to easily transmit a service is what led to the multi site movement in the first place.
I think you need to check your own ignorance before calling out others.
Well I looked at Family Church and from what I could tell the campus pastors do not preach to their congregation each week. One sermon is preached for every campus, usually by the senior pastor with the other guys taking turns every now and then.
Should I say that your lack of knowledge about Family Church is embarrassing?
Embarrassing? Because Mark Freeman gives a generalization from his personal knowledge and you give one counter example?
What is the point of this type of reporting?
The problem I see here is an explanation with no context except to emulate a corporate business model for growth. Regardless of the denomination, multi- site mega churches have grown in step with preaching “bubblegum” gospel. Whereby people have a tendency to go for the show instead of being fed.
I do not know if Thomas is advocating mult-sites or not but the spiritual downhill spiral is taking place across America and we have the churches to blame for this. There is no middle of the road regarding it.
The larger question is, should a pastor be a shepherd or a CEO.
And in what context is a church led by the Spirit?
The pastor should be a CEO if the church is run like a business. Sadly, just about every church tries to be a business, and just like secular businesses, some are more successful then others.
Your comment is nonsensical.
Good question … in my opinion, a shepherd ceases to be a shepherd when he knows not the sheep. How well does a pastor know the sheep in the multi-site, campus, model? How intimate is the engagement? Perhaps the advent of “small groups” is a compensation for the fact that pastors cannot intimately engage with the sheep; much less even know their names.
Multi-site actually strengthens pastoral care. A senior pastor can not properly care for any more than a few dozen. Multi-site forces larger churches to place more attention on training area pastors.
The multi-site movement may not be unbiblical, but it is totally non-Baptistic. Baptists have historically believed in the full autonomy of the local church. The way Southern Baptists grew was by the method of one church planting another . . . with the goal in mind of that church plant becoming an autonomous, independent, self-supporting congregation. Then when THAT church became strong enough, it would establish another new church (“mission”) which was expected to, at some point, become autonomous and self-sustaining. That has always been the Baptist way . . . every church an autonomous church . . . no congregation answering to another.
The multi-site model is, for lack of a better term, a “bishopy” system. It is connectionalism. One large congregation has many smaller congregations under it, answering to it, doing what it says to do. There is no plan for those subordinate churches to become autonomous . . . their relationship to the “boss” church will remain subordinate. In fact, the “replant” idea involves strong churches “taking over” weaker churches . . . not to rebuild them back into independent congregations . . . but rather to maintain them permanently as “satellites.”
I do not believe this is compatible with Baptist philosophy or ecclesiology. I believe that the consequences will someday be severe, and will undo the foundations of our denomination.
I am surprised and disheartened to see Thom Rainer celebrating and promoting it.
P.S: Just because something is growing and increasing does not make it right.
You have every right to disagree with a polity or ecclesiology with which you disagree. You have no right, however, to misrepresent Thom Rainer. At no point does he celebrate or promote the multisite movement. Instead he reports and projects it. You owe him an apology for your caustic attitude and unethical behavior.
I agree, Malcolm. He totally misrepresented Thom.
And I don’t think multisite is the reason the SBC is declining.
I have no problem with the idea of several churches under one leadership body and I think the hardcore autonomous idea of traditional Baptists is what’s unbiblical.
However, Rainer is absolutely a cheerleader for multi-site churches!
It would be worth noting, as hard as it might be to believe, there are other denominations beside Southern Baptist participating in these discussions. Thus, there may be some insight for the group as a whole.
Replanting is not a “strong church” taking over a “weaker church”. Replanting a church happens when a declining church moves to a different location or context. It’s not to take over anything.
If multiple site churches were so bad, why are many of them thriving? Many are effectively spreading the word in places where the message is needed.
Thank you, Les. Many of us Presbyterians love what Thom produces. He is fair and Christlike in his approach. I must admit I get irked when another Southern Baptist assumes the world revolves around his denomination.
Yes, Les. We Methodists thank you as well. You said what many of us are thinking.
Would you consider a church doing a replant of another church in the same Community as multisite?
Yes. See number 5.
We are in the process of such a replant in the same community here in the Raleigh area.