Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next 10 are from an article by church growth consultant and author Thom Rainer:
Trend 6: The multi-site movement becoming a neighborhood church movement.
I have written about the multi-site movement many times at this blog. The next extension of this movement is an intentionality to start or acquire campuses to reach and minister to residents of specific neighborhoods.
This is a good thing — if I follow Rainer correctly. In the past, most multi-site churches added sites largely to accommodate their large size. They remained cosmopolitan churches drawing members from a very large area — and so didn’t identify with a particular neighborhood or even a particular town or city. This is not unusual for very large churches.
But as I read the NT, the early church was one congregation per city, although meeting in multiple locations, typically homes. Hence, the Jerusalem church was a single church under a single apostleship/eldership meeting in homes but also sometimes meeting as one in the Temple courts — which were large enough to hold many thousands of people.
Contrary to much popular evangelical popular literature, the NT says nothing about a “house church” but quite a lot about churches that meet in several houses. See Church 2.0: Part 10.7: Congregational Autonomy, Part 1.
Now, First Century cities were smaller than 21st Century cities — both in terms of population and geographic size. And in the US, we often have a single “city” that includes 20 separately incorporated municipalities. So the modern church can’t follow the First Century pattern exactly — but we can certainly see the value in being united in our ministries, our vision, and our intentionality. That is, 20 congregations that disagree on a few denominational distinctives can still feed the hungry, provide medical care, and offer services to the addicted on a coordinated, non-competitive basis. We can escape the Western, capitalist, competitive mindset and work together. And, indeed, this is happening many places.
To me, a multi-site church can either be a step in the right (First Century) direction by opening multiple sites in the same city or community and using its vast resources to fund ministries in areas that most congregations just wouldn’t have the resources to support. Great!
Or the multisite church could follow the 16th Century denominational model and locate in multiple cities in competition with the other churches already there. And that would be a shame because the Wal-Mart model is not a Christian model for doing church.
(Jer. 29:4-9 ESV) 4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.”
That is, the goal isn’t to pick off the low-hanging fruit from the other churches in town, take your profits, and then rob members from existing churches in other towns. In fact, the very idea of growing by focusing on, say, the white, upper middle class is abhorrent to the gospel. It’s a great strategy to grow a congregation, but it doesn’t grow the church, nor does it provide for the welfare of the city. It’s primarily focused inward, and measures growth by the balance sheet rather than transformed lives.
Therefore, if Rainer sees multi-site churches focusing their energies on a given location and becoming a blessing to the city where they are, and working with other churches in that city to be light to the nations, this would be a very good thing.