By Thom S. Rainer
The trends are fascinating.
About 50 years ago, many congregations in the United States began adopting the “multi” model. This first phase of the multi-model was primarily multiple worship services on Sunday morning. To be certain, it was controversial. You heard cries of, “We’ve never done it that way before” and “You will not be able to know other people in the church.”
The controversies quieted for the most part. Then the multi-site model began to gain momentum about two decades ago. Again, similar objections were raised. I was an early adopter of this model as a pastor in 1995, and I experienced firsthand the challenges of leading such a congregation to start a second site for our church.
The multi-venue model is not new, but it is gaining momentum. I define multi-venue as worship gatherings at the same site beyond the Sunday morning services or beyond the same worship center or sanctuary. For example, a church may start a service for college students on Tuesday evening. Or it may have a Korean service meeting in another part of the church facilities concurrent with an English-speaking service.
Though the model is not new, there seems to be a perfect storm accelerating the growth of the multi-venue approach. Here are six components moving the model forward.
- Multiplication is a proven model. The New Testament is clear about multiplication. The purpose of Paul’s missionary journeys was to take the gospel and to start, or multiply churches. We have seen the efficacy of the multiplication model in groups, Sunday school classes, ministries, church plants, and new church sites.
- Church leaders realize more than ever how underutilized their church facilities are. As a consequence, these leaders are looking at opportunities to start new services, for example, in times and places they did not consider in earlier years. I worked with one church that welcomed a Chinese congregation on Sunday afternoons and utilized its fellowship hall for a more contemporary service concurrent with other services on Sunday morning.
- Many churches do not have facilities. They often have to pay for expensive lease space. Or they have to move from school to school as they grow, or as the schools decide the church can no longer rent their facilities on Sunday. These churches would love to be in a place with a greater sense of security and permanence. They are often finding the perfect solution by sharing a facility with another church.
- Non-Sunday worship services will increase in number. Many church leaders are taking the leap and leading their congregations to offer at least one service other than Sunday morning. This move allows the church to reach more people without building or buying expensive facilities.
- Multi-venue is a great way to reach ethnic and language groups. These congregations are able to share facilities instead of the expensive path of owning or leasing multiple facilities.
- There will continue to be challenges for many churches that want to expand their facilities. Those challenges may come as a result of having insufficient acreage to build. Or they may be the result of a municipality or other approval authority denying a church permission to build. I have been involved in several legal consultations where the latter took place. Multi-venue services become a solution to this challenge as well.
For certain, multi-venue services are not new. They have been around for quite a while. But, for the reasons noted in this article, we will see a rapid expansion of this approach in the years ahead.
Let me hear your thoughts on this development.
Posted on December 2, 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.
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Steve …wow! The last part I have so thought about! This large gathering but only the one pastor on a screen. Instead of teaching and raising/discipleing another to pastor the extra site. U are correct about teaching the congregation to a “personality”.
Also, high numbers and true relationship building is two different things. I know the multi-venue is trying but I have experienced it’s a huge “One church, 5 locations” ego, money making scam. –not all I’m sure. Just be careful.
Steve …wow! The last part I have so thought about! This large gathering but only the one pastor on a screen. Instead of teaching and raising/discipleing another to pastor the extra site. U are correct about teaching the congregation to a “personality”
I agree that multiple congregations sharing a facility is not multi-venue. It is smart and minimizes facility costs while releasing money for missions, etc. Instead of labeling it multi/venue, it is an example of force multiplication. The same practice could be applied to vans which often sit unused in church parking lots.
Multi-venue as I understand it utilizes live streaming services to satellite locations. This concept presents a risk of congregants enamored with a personality versus Jesus. And, if the pastor should be called home, the sheep get scattered chaotically. A congregation large enough to require additional facilities likely has individuals called to preach. Such congregations might do better to plant satellite churches with their own pastor thereby scattering sheep strategically.
From what I’ve seen money is what drives multi venue churches. A successful consumer church puts in a new campus in an affluent area even though there are already several churches there.
I don’t understand how two churches sharing the same building equates to “multi-venu.” Wouldn’t that be consolidation?
I believe one of the reasons this works so well is it supports love in all of its trial by action and fire to move forward.
And you know, that fruit of the Spirit stuff, as it is written, “against such there is no law.”
Thanks for catalyzing a great model. Some say it’s old. As we say amongst my friends, it may not be a new car, but it’s new to me.
I’m curious as to how doctrine plays into the decision to “host” another church or share facilities with a completely separate congregation. Also, how does the practical aspects of signage work for such an arrangement, particularly if two separate congregations are meeting concurrently?
I’ll answer the second question first – most instances the two congregations are not using the facility at the same time (on the clock). Signage may be challenging at the outset, getting multi-lingual signs if necessary, but once in place people tend to go with the change.
Doctrine is a sticky subject. One church I worked with provided a local synagogue with worship space during the high holy days when the synagogue didn’t have enough space for their worshipers. It took some work and accommodation but the partnership created between the Jewish and Christian congregations was strong and vibrant. But it took work to figure out how to make the worship space meaningful for the different congregations.
Great to see cooperation with synagogues. It hearkens back to the early days before the church split with the synagogue in the 2nd or 3rd century. Since then, most Christians don’t consider Jews to be co-religionists. But perhaps they should.
We have so much of God’s money tied up in buildings and property. One generation has strapped another generation with a heavy burden which in turn prevents the local church from being nimble enough to change ministry methods to reach a highly secularized population.
I love this idea and this model utilizes the physical property better, but do you think this is a solution for a small number of churches? What about those in smaller cities or rural churches?
I think the building/property issue is a ticking time-bomb that most churches are not brave enough to defuse in time. Giving trends in the younger generations do not seem to be stable or plentiful enough to keep of with the demands of these bigger and aging church structures.
Great article as always. You make us think.
I think much of the answer to the rural question will have to do with history, both societal and cultural. If the churches are in a town that has had modest growth and is dwindling (southern tier of Virginia) there may be reluctance to “admit defeat” and close a church building – even when there is a viable worship space nearby.
Culturally the question is more nuanced. In our community there are historically black churches and historically white churches. As a white pastor it will be more difficult to overcome the racial divide which is often unspoken.
One last thing to consider, at least in our context, is the issue of finances and always being told a small, rural church wasn’t “good enough” because they weren’t big enough. The stigma of small = failing may be too much to set aside and combine churches.
Last, still the age-old question of “who worship’s at 10:00 Sunday morning?” Most churches here worship in the 10:00-11:00 am Sunday window. To move somewhere else would mean to change worship time. But that’s not a rural thing exclusively – you’ll hear that in bigger cities too.
Isn’t the idea of non-Sunday worship services diminishing the larger concept of the Sabbath and making worship like any other personal weekly activity? It seems that the historic touchstone of The Lord’s Day provides a necessary context to personal and corporate worship even though we may not promote it much.
Good point Jim. However, the corporate structure seems to be doing away with the idea of “weekends off.” Especially the retail and manufacturing industries where many are off other days during the week. And what’s more, many do not have two days off in a row, much less on the weekends.
I believe having worship services on other days of the week aside from the traditional Sunday gathering, is not giving in but just being wise to keep the worship of the Lord and the equipping of the saints as the main thing.
The Sabbath was given to Israel under the Law. Believers in the Body of Christ have liberty to meet any day of the week as often as they choose.
I totally agree. We host an Arabic language congregation on Saturday evenings and a Napoli congregation on Sunday afternoons. On Sunday evenings, the local branch of the International House of Prayer meets at one of our two campuses. Our vision is to open a week night modern service for young adults and next gen.
PREACH Dr. Thom!!!! The least expensive way to grow is “multi.” Multiple services, multiple venues, multi-site, and the recent entrance of mergers will continue to grow the “multi” experience.
Hi Thom. We actually do this. We have an English service that meets at 9 and then again at 11. And at 11 we have an Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish service (all a part of our church) that meets with. They each have a bi-lingual pastor. We share the kids ministry. Really cool.