I have been allowed early access to the The Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard which releases to the public on Tuesday, March 11th. With the report author’s permission I can share some of the highlights in this article. To be alerted when the full report is available, sign up here.
The subject of multisite churches continues to be a controversial one in some circles. I have previously written on some of the advantages I see in this model, as well as arguing that a large church gives a great environment for many leaders to flourish, some of whom would have floundered if sent off on their own to start a church. It is all about knowing who you are.
Unfortunately much criticism of multisite stems from jealousy, and an assumption that if a church is growing it must be fatally comprised in some way or “lightweight.”
Today many churches are plateauing, or shrinking, and due to their ageing congregations are basically sleep-walking to a demographic death. If multisite is a hopeful sign we should embrace it fully. There is no reason why multisite and church planting can’t co-exist peacefully, and be seen as two different strategies that can be used depending on local situations.
The National Congregations Study, a separate report to this one suggests that in the United States alone, 5 million people worship at one of 8,000 multisite churches, which accounts for 1 in 10 of all Protestant churchgoers. This burgeoning movement is here to stay.
The current survey is of course limited by all the usual potential responder biases of any similar work. However, it is the largest of its kind to date with 535 response from 12 countries (though 91% were USA based).
Key headlines from the report include:
- 85% of multisite churches are growing
- The mean growth rate is 14% a year
- 60% of these churches are less than 5 years into the process.
- 88% of multisite churches believe planting a new site led to an increase in volunteer involvement in church ministry
- Multi-site churches report that there is greater growth and greater evangelistic impact being seen in new sites than either the original church or other more traditional church planting models they have also used.
- 1 out of 3 multisite campuses came about because of a church merger, meaning that a church that was in danger of ultimately closing is often rescued and recycled into a new role as a multisite venue.
- Multisite churches largely raise up their own leadership, with 87% of campus pastors being found internally
- Most multi-site churches are committed to planting both independent churches and multi sites, and a significant number of multisite churches have already spun off a campus as an independent church or are considering that as a longer term goal.
- Most believe that 15-30 minutes apart is the ideal distance between campuses. But interestingly it was common that the actual distance was around 15 mins.
This does seem like good news. There are some key principles regarding multisite churches. Success seems to depend on a “One church, One vision” approach. Also the leadership gifts of both the overall leader and the campus pastor are critical, and mutual respect and trust are going to be critical here.<
Multisite is not something that should be tried to revive a plateaued or shrinking church. Multisite simply makes you more of what you already are. If you are in maintenance you are going to reproduce that, if your church is already growing numerically and spiritually, your sites are going to reproduce that.
Multisite is meant to be an answer to the twin problems of lack of space at the first campus, and the desire to mobilise church members who travel increasing distances to church to make an impact on their own communities.
I would challenge a young leader who is considering planting an independent church to consider instead whether they might like to be a part of this multisite revolution. If nothing else, getting involved in a church where an expectation of growth is part of the culture and reflects the weekly reality may help to ensure that when you do plant, that DNA is contained in the new church. If you have never served in a burgeoning church, it is perhaps unlikely that you will be able to found one. Not every church needs to grow large, but every church needs to grow spiritually and by salvation.
Too many churches today are satisfied with a situation where they have not seen a single person become a Christian in years. If you are in that situation, this survey and others about the reality of the multisite situation suggests that one possible way to revitalise your congregation is to find another church to merge with. There are challenges to that process, not least the humility required. But if we are about building the Kingdom of God, we should be prepared to consider any strategy that is not against the Bible to do so.
I am hopeful that the growth of multisite churches is a sign of hope for the Western Church, and a sign that God is not finished with us yet.