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Multi-site began as a radical idea, now has become a proven strategy

Two new books plot the pathway to growing the church in North America.

By Jim Tomberlin

Going multi-site is not for every church. It will not turn around a sick or dying church, but it can be an instrument to extend a healthy one. Multi-site is not a growth engine, but can be a vehicle for a growing church. Multi-site is not a fad to jump on, but it has become a proven strategy to reproduce healthy, fruitful, growing churches.

What began as a “band-aid” in the late 1990s for a handful of megachurches that found themselves out of room or restricted by zoning laws, the multi-site idea quickly proved to be an effective option for any healthy, growing church regardless of size. Though nearly 50 percent of all megachurches have multiple campuses or video-venues, they only comprise about a third of all the multi-site churches across America today. Church size doesn’t matter, church health does.

What started as a radical idea with a few early pioneers has become the “new normal” across the national church scene in this century. According to a recent survey by LifeWay Research, 16 percent of Protestant pastors indicate that their church is “seriously considering adding a worship service at one or more new locations or campuses in the next two years.”

New multi-site books

Healthy churches reproduce and going multi-site just got a little bit easier with the recent publication of two helpful books. The Multi-Site Church Road Trip by Greg Ligon, Geoff Surratt and Warren Bird is the sequel to the Multi-Site Revolution which helped launch the multi-site movement.

Revolution introduced the multi-site pioneers and became the primer for the next wave of early multi-site adopters. Road Trip re-visits some of the pioneer churches, but mostly focuses on the second wave of early adopters who are proving the model can work for any healthy church with a desire to reach more people and better serve their local communities.

As the authors explain in their own words, Revolution is more of an overview and how-to manual, while Road Trip is more of a series of drill-downs on particular multi-site themes.”

Road Trip introduces the various ways churches have adapted the multi-site model to their local situations. Innovation and variety abounds — rural campuses, urban campuses, international campuses, virtual Internet campuses, campuses through mergers, and second-generation campuses. From Hawaii to New York, Miami to Toronto, Vancouver to Baton Rouge, multi-site has infused new energy and DNA into the church of North America. Road Trip documents this transformation and I loved the ride. You will too.

In spite of the broad embrace of the multi-site model across the nation, no two multi-site churches are the same. Every multi-site church has its own unique “church-print.” There is no “one-size-fits-all” formula on how to do multi-site. Nevertheless, all multi-site churches will wrestle with the same basic issues — funding, location, facilities, technology, staffing, structure, inter-campus relationships, etc. With the broad expansion of multi-campus churches across the nation, best practices are beginning to emerge that will help guide church leaders in the multi-site adventure.

Best practices identified

Scott McConnell’s book, Multi-Site Churches — Guidance for the Next Generation, begins to surface those common best practices. This is the book I wanted to write. It draws from nine multi-site experts and 40 multi-site churches. It is more of a “hands-on, here’s how to do it, and what to avoid” manual for going multi-site. I found myself saying “yes, yes” on every turn of the page.

Guidance does what I strive to do with my multi-site church consulting. It draws general conclusions from the collective multi-site church experience, illustrates the conclusions with specific church examples, and then offers specific practical steps in putting together a customized multi-site strategy.

Road Trip is written by pioneers of the multi-site movement. Guidance is written by an outside observer with an objective eye who did his homework. Together these two books are excellent guides for every church leader who wants to multiply the impact of their church through a multiple campus strategy. Both books are illustrative, prescriptive and practical. They complement, reinforce, and sometimes overlap the basic tenants of the multi-site model. They will be required reading for all my multi-site church clients.

These two books came from two different directions, but land at the same location. Multi-site has changed and is changing the face of the church in North America. Be fruitful and multiply!

Jim Tomberlin is founder and senior strategist of Third Quarter Consulting, Scottsdale, AZ. Tomberlin pioneered the multi-site strategy for Willow Creek Community Church. [www.Third Quarter Consulting.com]

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