Neil Cole’s critique of multi-site churches

I just finished reading a five part blog series critiquing multi-site churches by Neil Cole, author of Organic Church and Organic Leadership.

For those of you  unfamiliar with the term multi-site church: a multi-site church is one church that utilizes multiple gathering places at the same time for their meetings.

Let’s say a church has a building that seats 500 people comfortably, but they grow to over 600 and have to switch to two services – morning and late. Pretty soon, both services are filled with people, so they switch to another. Within a few months, the third service is full. It seems the only option is to build a new building, and that’s extremely expensive! But is that the only option?

No, it’s not. Instead of going the expensive route and building a new building, that church decides instead to rent space at the strip mall up the road that has seating for 300 people. Now, instead of spending millions on new land and a new building, they lease space at the strip mall fairly cheaply and send several hundred of their people to the new venue. This frees up much of the space at the original location and allows for even more growth.

Many churches are doing this today. In many people’s minds, this is clearly the best way to spend a church’s money, and some churches grow so large that they have to repeat this process several times and end up with six or seven campuses in a single city.

You ask, “But what about having a church leader on site?” Simple –  another staff person is hired to oversee the new location. They’ll be the church’s pointman there to handle the face to face interaction and do whatever else needs to be done.

“But what about the preaching?” Simple too – either setup a satellite feed to pipe in the preaching from the “mother church” via video, or have the new staff person handle the preaching.

“But aren’t those two separate churches?” That’s up for debate, but the churches who’ve bought into this model will tell you they aren’t. The various locations still go by the same name and are under the same elders. The material taught is usually the same, and even where the preaching isn’t piped in via satellite, the main points of sermons are usually the same as agreed upon ahead of time.

The numbers speak for themselves. Nearly all of the fastest growing churches in the United States are operating from this model. For instance, at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, major growth is a regular occurence. On one Sunday last year they added 2,000 new members, and regularly baptize new believers – sometimes several hundred in a single day!

Churches like Mars Hill wouldn’t be able to handle that volume of growth without utilizing a multi-site approach – it simply wouldn’t be possible.

So does the multi-site approach sound like a good idea?

Neil Cole sees good and bad. It’s good in that church growth is better than the alternative, and good in that it’s better than division. Neil thinks it’s bad in that it’s a hinderance to leadership development, and bad in that it isn’t true multiplication. According to Neil’s write-up, virtually none of the new satellite churches go on to plant additional ones.

I’ll let you read the rest yourself – check out Neil Cole’s five part series on multi-site churches:

  1. Neil Cole, The Multi-Site Church Model pt. 1
  2. Neil Cole, The Multi-Site Church Model pt. 2
  3. Neil Cole, The Multi-Site Church Model pt. 3
  4. Neil Cole, The Multi-Site Church Model pt. 4
  5. Neil Cole, The Multi-Site Church Model pt. 5

If nothing else, Neil’s opinions will make you think. They certainly made me do so.

What do you say – thumbs up, or thumbs down to the multi-site church model?

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