Researchers say these “multisite” churches, which may share worshippers across town or many miles apart, are growing at a much larger pace than traditional megachurches.
Without the burden of additional expensive buildings, congregations find they grow faster in new places, says Warren Bird, research director of Leadership Network.
Bird, the author of books on the multisite trend, has tracked the number of churches meeting in more than one place for the Dallas-based church think tank; he combined his findings with Faith Communities Today surveys.
Multisite churches have grown from fewer than 200 in 2001 to 1,500 in 2006 to an estimated 3,000 in 2009 to more than 5,000 today. In comparison, U.S. megachurches have grown from about 50 in 1970 to about 1,650 in 2012 in North America.
Multisite comes in all kinds of models: Some congregations speak different languages at different locations; some hear from different “campus pastors” onsite and others are preached to by a senior pastor who speaks live or via video.
“The more campuses you have, the more likely you are to use video teaching,” says Bird. Sergio De La Mora, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church of San Diego, preaches five times every Sunday on its main campus in National City, CA – with one service in Spanish and another translated into Japanese. After morning services, he hops in his car and drives to the La Jolla campus for a 5 p.m. service before returning to National City for its last service at 6:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, videos of his 8:30 a.m. sermon are played in satellite campuses in Escondido, CA, and across the border in Tijuana and Mexico City. A campus pastor runs the service at a location in Tucson, AZ.
At Community Christian Church in the Chicago area, Pastor Dave Ferguson has taken a different approach with its dozen sites.
Each week he gathers in a room with a team of campus pastors to develop a “big idea” into a sermon. A video featuring one of them is created, but the pastors can choose whether to speak from the original manuscript, a version of it they edited or show the video.
In the end, the general message reaches about 10,000 people worshipping at sites that include a community center, a college theater, reopened churches and office parks.
— Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service