Church Growth: Carey Nieuwhof on Multisite Churches

multisiteFascinating post by Carey Nieuwhof on the trend toward multisite churches, that is, churches with one leadership but multiple campuses.

Mega churches once used multi-site campuses as a Band-Aid strategy for growth. They either became too big for their space, or they were restricted by zoning laws to expand. Currently, there are more than 5,000 multi-site churches, and it’s out-pacing the mega church movement as a revitalization strategy for healthy churches whose growth has become stagnant.

It was this graphic that really got my attention:


So why are so few Churches of Christ multisite? Is it fear of violating the principle of congregational autonomy? Is it the fear of change in general?

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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21 Responses to Church Growth: Carey Nieuwhof on Multisite Churches

  1. Mark says:

    I’ll go first. I think some of the reason is that no one (in power) has thought of it. Also, it would take a lot of discussion and transparency at the beginning. The issues include: will it be conveyor moderate

  2. Mark says:

    Conservative or moderate, will the service be the same or different, which members will go over to the new campus at the beginning, will it use the old cofC rule book and how will the rules be enforced, will women be allowed in the pulpit, how much money can be spent on getting it up and running, will that campus get the amount of money it contributes minus expenses to fund programs or will it be stripped of its money and always begging the mother church?

    From my observations, the cofC even in flagship university towns was generally not fond of having a more moderate, separate service for students. I would think that would be one of the first steps into starting a satellite campus.

  3. brent says:

    When I was working for one of the larger C of C’s in the Nashville area we studied the multi-site model fairly extensively, but when we went to launch a second site we followed none of the proven methods and strategies. It really became a church plant rather than a second site, at least in practice, rather quickly. There were originally plans for other campuses, but I don’t believe that the multi-site model is a part of that church’s vision any longer.

    I now attend one of the largest multi-site churches in the U.S. We have 24 campuses across the country and between 75,000 and 100,000 attenders on a weekend. I’ve been amazed at the churches ability to utilize resources, and the efficiency at which they can do things because each campus is not having to come up with everything. They fund new campuses very quickly (always for cash) with the overflow of the other campuses. The level of organization and leadership that it takes to run this model well is more than I’ve seen in most C of Cs, though.

    The biggest objection I’ve heard is the autonomy argument, but I think it really revolves around power and fear. That’s just my opinion though.

  4. rich constant says:

    Now read the first nine verses a first Corinthians.
    And see if your perspective on those simple 9 vs changed at all?

  5. Dustin says:

    I think the strong emphasis on small groups and financial stewardship has really pushed this movement, especially in areas where churches haven’t pushed small groups. Church of the Highlands has done a great job with this in Alabama. Christ Fellowship in Fort Worth has also done a great job with small groups and keeping churches small (partners with Antioch international Movement of Churches).

    My worry with the movement is the video teaching from the pastor at the lead church. This can sometimes lead to the development of a TV star rather than a pastor. Being a student of the work of Neil Postman (see “Amusing Ourselves to Death”), I am deeply skeptical of preaching via a video screen on a weekly basis. Postman wrote some 30 years ago that the televised God is a “vague and subordinate character. ” Though his name is invoked repeatedly, the concreteness and persistence of the image of the preacher carries the clear message, that it is “he”, not He, who must be worshipped. I do not mean to imply that the preacher wishes it to be so; only that the power of a close up televised face…makes idolatry a continuous hazard (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 122.) Recently, Mark Driscoll fell under this weight of being a televised super star who fell in love with his power and brought down his multi-site network of churches with him. The power this can allow a person to have is a terrible thing to bear for many people.

    It is my strong belief that the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, should be the main point of the service, not the sermon. This takes away the pressure of the pastor having to put on a performance for the sermon. As Postman goes on to say that television is a far more alluring idol than a golden calf. If multi-site means small groups of Christians receiving the gift and mystery of the sacraments together as well as sharing life together in small groups and collectively in a large group as the body of Christ, then I am all for it. However, I am against the empowerment of a central televised pastor due to the repercussions this makes possible (See Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy for the problems power can bring).

  6. John F says:

    We may find ourselves desiring to “serve significantly.” We want to be recognized as useful. I’m not saying that desire is bad, but it is typical of a significant number of people. We don’t want to be ordinary or average. We see the “recognized, seemingly victorious” people and want that for ourselves.

    Peter said that the activities of Pentecost were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy
    Joel 2:28 “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.

    We want, in our desire to do things for God, to do GREAT THINGS, dream GREAT DREAMS. In the grand plan of God and in His will, some of His servants will make headlines and be placed in the limelight. But that is to be God’s choice; it is not for us to seek greatness and recognition (think about the sons of Zebedee). Look at the tower of Babel to illustrate this concept. There were at least two problems with the tower of Babel. First, God had instructed man to be fruitful and multiple to fill the earth. In Babel, they refused that imperative. Second, they sought to fulfill their personal egos.

    Genesis 11:4 They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

    God, through Jeremiah, tells Baruch: Jeremiah 45:5 ‘But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them;

    We seem to be in the era of the supersize – “Would you like to SUPERSIZE that? We are told to supersize soft drinks, fries, burgers, and churches; mega churches with mega ministries. Many “mega” churches see it necessary to be “all things to all men” and so engage in multiple ministries to attract as many as possible. Bigger is better is the motto, WE will have BIG buildings; WE will have BIG budgets; WE will have BIG programs; and too often a BIG name for themselves. In this approach, it is only too tempting to make for ourselves a name.

    This can be just as bad as those “mini” churches that content themselves with “like Noah, only eight were saved.” We are the few faithful and true, the world is going to hell, we can’t stop it or influence it, we must keep ourselves “pure from the world.” So those churches close the hatch and wait for the air in the submarine to go bad and they die. Churches are doomed to failure, regardless of their size, when they lose sight of their great commission.

  7. Mark says:

    John F,
    I think it all comes down to one question, do you want new people or not? Now most congregations and members will say publicly that of course they do. However, they may put a silent “but” after saying they do which is the same thing as saying no. We want new people but we want, conservatives, married couples with children, people who believe exactly like we do, etc. We want new people but we will not let anyone of them be in leadership even after 10-15 years.

  8. John F says:

    Reread my last sentence: “Churches are doomed to failure, regardless of their size, when they lose sight of their great commission.” I have closely seen (through my best friend of 40+ years) the desire for “MY CHURCH” syndrome (he is NOT GUILTY of such). There is a great danger (in his words also) of superficiality, and that comes when we lose sight of the great commission.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dustin wrote,

    It is my strong belief that the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, should be the main point of the service, not the sermon.

    I agree. But we really don’t know how to do church without being sermon focused — nor do we know how to put communion at the center of the service. I’m not sure it can be done correctly in a large auditorium setting.

    I’d would love to experiment with moving the Lord’s Supper to small groups as part of a love feast — a common meal in which the bread and wine/Welch’s are sacramental. I’ve experienced it in a church plant in Boston, and I found it profound.

    Maybe if we did it that way some of the time, the memory and feelings would follow when we take it together — making communion in the full assembly a celebration of the assembly of all small groups in one body. Could lead to ecumenical thinking. Could be dangerous to the status quo. Could be a very good thing.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Thanks. Also

    To quote Artie Johnson, “Very interesting …”

  11. John F says:

    Leading multisite expert Jim Tomberlin talks about how the multisite movement is changing and how more and more churches are pursuing mergers and acquisitions. (from above link)

    Interesting how corporate many larger congregations have become. We will “hire” a consultant (head hunter) to find the next minister and the like. REALLY!!! And this in a church university town with multiple PhD, professors and the like in the congregation and leadership.. . . .

    We should consider “mergers and acquisitions”? Is Wall Street our template? Can “hostile takeovers” be far behind?

    i BELIEVE IN GROWTH. . . . Spirit led and directed….

  12. Mark says:

    John F. While some churches act like corporations, a bad minister can destroy a church. Also, some of those academics with PhDs look great on paper won’t make good ministers. The other problem is there may be hard feelings if they have to judge each other.

  13. brent says:

    John F, how do you know that hiring a consultant, merging with other churches, etc. isn’t what the Holy Spirit is leading these churches to do?

    To me, it boils down to bearing good fruit. If your current church model isn’t, then you need to change the church model. And good fruit isn’t just numbers, it’s changed lives, reclaimed marriages and reconciled souls.

  14. John F says:

    I guess I reacted to the term “acquisition” as though we we acquiring another company or property. And I would agree with Brent on good fruit not just numbers.

  15. Mark says:

    I realize that making the Eucharist the focus of the service instead of the sermon would be radical for the cofC. My recommendation for how to do it gently would be to change the service order. The old cofC service stripped almost everything because anything that could remotely be Methodist, Roman Catholic, etc. had to be removed. This produced the 2 songs, prayer, song, sermon, invitation song, communion song, communion prayers (which did not change), bread, juice, offering, announcements, and closing prayer or something very similar. The saddest part of this order is that there is no reading of the gospel. Some churches had a place for a few verses to be read, but I never remember hearing the gospel.

    One way (without completely using Episcopal Rite I) would be to being with a song, next is the prayer or call to worship followed by the summary of the law as said by Jesus himself, then the first reading (Old Testament), next is the epistle, then the psalm sung in response or read responsively, then a verse or two of another song, the gospel portion would then be read in the aisle by the minister with the congregation standing, then the rest of the song. The sermon, elaborating on the readings, would then the given with no invitation. Next the prayers for the world, sick, suffering, mourners, etc. would be said. Then the announcements, greetings, followed by the offering being collected. The doxology would then be sung before the minster went to the table and began reading “on the night he was betrayed…” Hopefully the minister would break a real, intact piece of matzo and then further break it into pieces that could be offered to people and raise a cup (even if the congregation uses already broken matzo and the individual cups). The congregation would then be invited to come to the table and receive the communion during which each person would be given the matzo while being told “the body given for you” and the cup while being told “the blood of Christ shed for you”. Once everyone has received the benediction would be offered, a hymn sung, and the service concluded.

    I have thought through this and, while it might be a shock to many, did not suggest anything unscriptural though it might violate the franchise agreement. A lectionary would provide the readings which support each other. Reading the portions in the lectionary, which can be quite long, prevents some proof-texting and lets the Bible teach, which it will do.

  16. Dwight says:

    I received a book from a house church group and there focus is the Lord’s Supper, but of course it is a supper and somewhat social, but with God in mind, as they will have scripture readings and talk and singing and praying as a part of it, but not in a perfectly laid out order and not everything all of the time. The original church model was saints in towns over seen by elders, but the saints in the towns assembled in smaller venues like houses. I think it is a very good model, but the learning and changing curve is horrible for those who have done it differently for so long.

  17. brent says:

    The lack of focus on the Lord’s Supper is my biggest complaint with the multi-site church that I now attend, but I don’t want to be a complainer. I spent too many years in full time ministry to turn around and be one of those guys. To me the way we do it (or really don’t do it) is no worse than the “get it over and done so I can punch it off my list of have to do’s” that I grew up with. Most multi-site churches that I’ve witnessed are very focused on drawing people in, and I can see how to an unbeliever it would seem like a very odd practice the way we do it currently. However, done correctly, around the context of a meal and not a formal ceremony, I think it can be a very good evangelistic tool.

  18. John F says:

    As I have stated before, I would like to see a “house church” on every block of the nation. How better to know how to “love your neighbor”?

  19. Dwight says:

    I agree John F. What we have in most assemblies is very much in line with the Temple that was done away with in terms of form and ceremony. God doesn’t want us to just attend and do our thing, but to attend and be apart of each other in Christ.
    In the conservative branches we look past the reason for assembly and press the command to do it, but as we press the command we don’t edify each other except as a by product in our worship to God. We can and should worship God anytime, but we only get a few times out of the week to assemble.

  20. Mark says:

    What does edification look like or what is it supposed to look like?

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