Summit Church

There’s another multi-site church near Journey. It’s named the Summit Church and its pastored by J.D. Greear. I’ve met him and heard him speak in chapel and he’s stinking smart. He just blogged about why his church is multi-campus. It’s a great read, so I decided to repost it here. Here’s what he says.

Why the Summit Church believes that the Multi-Campus Church Model is Biblically Sound, Practically Wise, and Pastorally Helpful

In 2005 our congregation moved to a multi-site strategy out of what we perceived to be a necessity. God graciously was bringing to our doors more than we could handle. We were doing as many morning services as we could in our rented-school facility, and were now having to turn people away. So, we opened another campus 3 miles down the road, where I preached inbetween our other services at the main campus.

Since that time, we have concluded that the multi-campus model for the church is both Biblically sound and practically helpful, and embraced multi-campus as a strategy for growing our church and reaching our city, not merely as a temporary way to deal with a space problem. We currently are a church of about 3000 attenders, meeting in 4 campuses throughout Raleigh-Durham, NC. We plan to add two new sites in the fall of 2009.

We believe that at the core of our mission as a church is the commission to seek and save the lost in our city. We are also a church, however, who believes that faithful ecclesiology must trump pragmatism. We believe that being multi-campus is the best way to do both.

Let me first acknowledge that many of the criticisms of various multi-site churches I find ready agreement with. Many multi-site environments encourage consumerism, foster anonymity, are built on a cult of personality, and have more foundation in the wisdom of men than of God. That said, here is why we enthusiastically embrace the multi-site strategy as biblically allowable, practically wise, and pastorally helpful.

Why the Summit Church believes the multi-campus model is biblically sound

A. The essence of a local church is a covenant, not a manner of assembly

I have heard the objection to our multi-site strategy, “A church is primarily an assembly, and to assemble means all the people come together in one place. Multi-campus fundamentally skews that.” The essence of a New Testament local church, however, is a covenant believers make with one another. Assembly is a much-needed function, but covenant is the essence. Where in the New Testament does it say that “all people must assemble at the same time?” To say that “assembly” means all people in one place at one time is suggestive at best. (To note: The objection that believers who meet separately for corporate worship cannot be one body in Christ would apply also to the multi-service church, not just the multi-campus church.)

In our judgment, the New Testament does not demand a church assemble all together in one place, at one time, each week. As John Piper notes, we have a clear biblical example of the opposite! The new congregation in Jerusalem is frequently referred to in the singular, one “church” (Acts 8:1; 11:22; 15:4). They obviously, however, had to meet in different times and locations. Historians tell us there was no space in Jerusalem available to the disciples large enough for 3000 plus people to meet on a weekly basis. Furthermore, it also appears that many of the house churches in the 1st century churches came together to celebrate the Lord’s supper as one citywide church (see 1 Cor 11:17–20; Romans 16:5).

Those who insist that a local church must assemble in one place at one time are taking one manner of function from some local churches in the New Testament and insisting it be normative for all congregations in all times. This is, at best, an argument from silence, and, as demonstrated, one to which even the first church did not appear to conform.

B. The New Testament gives guidelines, but not specific details, on how to best organize a congregation for pastoral care and effective ministry

John Piper notes, “Neither here (in Acts 2) nor elsewhere in the New Testament do we get detailed instructions on how to organize the church for pastoral care and worship and teaching and mobilization for ministry. There were elders in the churches (they show up very soon in the Jerusalem church) and there were deacons, and there were goals of teaching and caring and maturing and praying and evangelizing and missions. But as far as details of how to structure the church in a city or in an area or even one local church with several thousand saints – there are very few particulars.”

C. The Apostles used the technology available to them to preach in abstentia

It is clear in Acts 2–8 that all 8000 (some scholars estimate the actual size at the end of Acts 3 would have been about 10,000) were not gathering weekly in one place to hear one teaching pastor give a message. Perhaps the Apostles were a teaching team who each rotated between the houses. Maybe sometimes they got together in small assembly places (campuses). Yet they were one church.

We know that many of Paul’s letters were intended to be circulated for reading throughout the churches. If Paul could have cut a DVD from the Philippian jail and passed that around, I can’t see why he wouldn’t have done so. I know that some here might say, “Well, yeah, but Paul’s letters were the inspired Bible. He was an Apostle. That’s why his letters could be passed around.” We know, however, that there were several of Paul’s letters passed around that were not “inspired” (think the middle Corinthian letter).

If they had had the technology, don’t you think Peter might have burned a DVD of himself and sent that around? If they could have simulcast John’s recounting of his last meeting with Christ, don’t you think they would have done it? Is there anything that says that we must be able to see the actual flesh and blood of the preacher? Those who say that video removes the “flesh and blood, incarnational” nature of Gospel-preaching would also have to question the use of voice amplification. If it is argued that video removes the incarnational nature of preaching, a similar argument could be made that God did not intend churches to ever be bigger than could be comfortably heard by an unamplified voice, because in so doing it would remove the touchability of the pastor. Obviously, such questions go beyond a responsible interpretation of Scripture.

This is not to say that all technology is allowable or helpful, because there are times that the medium of the message can affect perception of the message itself. The use of technology that was unavailable in Biblical times is a difficult subject, and we must be both open-minded and cautious in appropriation.

Why the Summit Church believes the multi-campus strategy can be practically wise

A. A multi-campus model is an acceptable, if not better, alternative to addressing a church’s growth than building bigger buildings, multiplying services, or planting new churches.

When a church grows, it faces a few options. It might decide it is big enough and tell people they should find another church in the area to go to. For obvious reasons, this a terrible option. The Apostles did not turn away the 5000 new believers in Acts 2, even when they surely were overwhelmed with the problems these new believers posed. As John Piper said, “The question is no longer whether we’ll be a megachurch, but what kind of megachurch we will be.”

A growing church then as 3 options: building bigger buildings, multiplying services at one campus, or planting new churches.

The multi-campus strategy is a more financially responsible response to growth than is building a huge building.

Buildings are expensive. Large buildings are enormously expensive. Large auditoriums (that seat several thousand people) are difficult to use for other purposes.

The multi-campus model allows churches to save much of the money usually spent on a building. Venues in which smaller congregations to meet are much more plentiful and can be rented on a Sunday, and, if owned, they can be used throughout the week for other purposes.

Jim Toberlein, who has written a great deal on the multi-campus movement, notes that a multi-campus strategy is usually a zero-sum games. Most campuses will make up the money used in start up costs within the first year of existence.

In many cases, it will be more effective to add new venues than it will to multiply services at any one location.

The church might decide to multiply services, but you quickly reach a limit of how many any one location or pastor can handle. Also, as will be discussed below, evangelism and ministry are more effective when people are closer to their assembly place.

Church planting usually will not effectively solve the space issues of a congregation.

Some say that when a church reaches capacity it should just plant a new church. This is certainly a good option. However, most studies show that church planting will not alleviate space needs at any one campus. Many churches find that even if you can convince 200 of your people to go and start a new church, they end up making up that growth in the original congregation within a few months. In other words, even if you plant 10 churches out of your church in 10 years, chances are that you will still be dealing with space problems each year. Furthermore, finding the people willing to leave their church to plant a new one as well as the leader who can do it are both difficult! Church planting will not provide a solution for space issues. So, by all means, plant churches, but in order to steward the people God is bringing to the original campus, you’ll need a different solution! Multiplying campuses is not an alternative to church planting; it is an alternative to multiplying services, building a larger building, or turning people away.

Furthermore, as demonstrated in the next point, not only does multiplying campuses not replace church planting, we have found it facilitates it.

B. The multi-campus strategy facilitates church planting

The multi-campus strategy does not preclude church planting, it fosters it! Not every church planter is equipped to be a senior teaching pastor. Campus pastors need to be men who are gifted leaders and good communicators, but not necessarily called teachers. Many guys, who are great leaders and pastors do not enjoy doing what I do each week, spending 20+ hours preparing messages and deciphering vision. As campus pastors they exercise leadership within their gifts in a way that they could not as church planters, where they must devote an exceptional amount of time to study. Many of those not gifted or wired to be senior leader or primary teaching pastor would still make ideal campus pastors.

As you plant new campuses, you will notice some who begin to demonstrate the gift set to lead independent churches. This seems to be how the Jerusalem church operated. They noticed leaders emerging in the ministry who had the capacity to plant churches and they sent them out.

Finally, it has been our experience that multiple campuses provide a leadership pipeline for developing church planters. It provides a place to hone the skills necessary for teaching and leadership. The multi-campus strategy is integral to our church planting strategy.

Thus, we have not found that the multi-campus strategy does not in any way eclipse church planting. In fact, it provides an opportunity to determine who has the right gift set to plant and pastor. As it stands now, new churches face an over-50% failure rate. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have an inbetween stage where leadership abilities are able to be tested?

C. The closer a congregation meets to where the people it is trying to reach live, the more effective can be its evangelism and community outreach.

Being closer to where the people live helps you engage them, invite them to your services, and perceive the needs of the local community. Our desire is for everyone in our community (the Triangle) to be no more than 15 minutes from a thriving evangelical church or a Summit congregation.

D. The multi-campus church is better suited for the post-pastor succession.

It is rare, in every generation, for one pastor to be able to hold the attention of several thousand people each Sunday. Many churches with one of those pastors built an auditorium to hold the audience, but for whatever reason the successor did not have the same ability. While grateful that the church attempted to be a steward of those God was bringing to them, how depressing it is to walk into one of those huge, nearly empty sanctuaries on a Sunday now!

If our church is 10,000 people big, we believe that it would be better to have 10 campuses of 1000, who identify with 10 campus pastors, rather than 1 campus of 10,000 who identify only with the 1. If the lead pastor passes on, it is easier to find 10 pastors to lead 1000 than 1 who can continue to lead the 10,000. The many empty, depressing monuments now polluting the American landscape are evidence of that.

How the Summit Church believes a multi-campus strategy can be pastorally helpful

A. The multi-campus model allows us to enjoy the pastoral benefits afforded by both a large and small congregation.

It is undeniable that large churches face pastoral issues. (It should be noted, however, that a landmark study done by Rodney Stark in 2007 showed that megachurches had more intimacy and better pastoral care than smaller churches.) That said, it is easier for people to slip in and out of a large congregation unnoticed. Here is why we believe that the multi-campus model is the best way for us to address the pastoral needs of our congregation.

One of the primary criticisms of a multi-campus church is that you create disparate groups of people who will never know each other—perhaps never see each other! Realistically speaking, however, this happens also at any multi-service church. For that matter, it happens at any church above 200! The hardest ecclesiological shift for me was not in going to multiple campuses, but in growing larger than 400 members! At that point I realized that I couldn’t know every member in a meaningful way and they wouldn’t all know each other, either. Large churches of all types have members who do not know each other, and not every pastor knows every member.

Of large churches, perhaps the multi-campus large church most effectively addresses that problem, however. Because the venues are smaller, it is easier for campus pastors and elder representatives to keep up with those that come. Smaller venues reduce anonymity. It is easier for our members to be known by a pastor, be under the care and governance of our church elders, and served by campus deacons at a smaller campus rather than a large one.

At the same time, the multi-campus model allows its members the advantages of a larger congregation. Congregations often grow large because many people find the gifts of one pastor-teacher edifying, and the multi-campus model allows for the stewardship of that gift. Larger congregations are able to offer many ministries that smaller congregations cannot. Large congregations often can put more weight and momentum behind their ministries. John Piper writes: “Worship in larger gatherings with other believers whom we don’t know personally can be powerful (the way a whole battalion gathered before battle to hear the commander’s challenge is powerful even though the soldiers don’t all know each other).”

B. The multi-campus strategy is an excellent way for a large church to develop and maximize the use of leadership.

I’ve often heard this: “Why build the church so much around you? Do you really think there are no other good preachers in Raleigh-Durham? Why not develop other leaders and teachers?”

We have found that a multi-campus church is better at developing leaders than a single-location large church. My wife remarked to me the other day, “Have you ever noticed that some of your favorite staff members you no longer see each Sunday?” They are serving at one of 3 campuses I don’t usually get to on Sunday. These were guys I raised up, trained, and on which I had depended. Now, as campus pastors, they have the opportunity to lead in ways they didn’t when we were all at one place. And, in their wake, new leaders have emerged at the original campus.

We have more and better leaders as a multi-campus church than we did as a single-campus church.

C. The multi-campus strategy can help protect against a cult of personality.

I’ve often heard, “The multi-site movement fosters a cult of personality by tying everyone to one mega-teacher.” Leader-worship is certainly a danger in large churches, and unfortunately many large church leaders seem all too willing to foster it. However, the cult of personality can exist as much in a small, single-campus church—in fact, sometimes moreso! When I pastored a small church, my congregation seemed to think that my presence was necessary for everything of spiritual significance. I had to marry and bury everyone, and my people wanted me to resolve all problems and answer all questions. I tried to teach them otherwise, but their natural tendency was to be much more dependent on me than they are now that we are a multi-campus church! Summit Church members are now exposed, weekly, to many other Spirit-filled pastors in our church to whom they can look for leadership and ministry.

What the Summit Church is still wrestling with regarding the multi-campus strategy

Does the “one body” ever need to assemble all together in one place? If so, how often?

What is the best way to organize budgeting and staff structures so that each campus has freedom to organize its ministries effectively while at the same we ensure each campus retains the DNA of the whole church?

How do we best do membership and discipline in the multi-campus model?

How can congregations vote on issues when people live too far from one another to be able to congregate often?

How far is too far when planting a new campus? Can one ‘local church’ have campuses all across the world?

If people rotate which campuses they attend, will that make it difficult for elders and other leaders effectively to watch over them?

How will we know when a campus would function better as an independent church?

Conclusion

The multi-campus model is messy. As with all large churches, it is easier for things to fall through the cracks in multi-campus churches than it is in a single-campus, smaller church. Growth from evangelism always invites chaos and disorder into the church. But it is a wonderful and welcome problem. My wife and I sometimes rue the loss of the neatly-packaged, clean, simple life we had before kids. We lived without the worry, fear, chaos, frustration, and dirty diapers that dominate our lives now from dawn to dusk! But we wouldn’t trade it for the world! Our church will deal with the headaches of the multi-campus model if it means reaching more people for Jesus.

We must live with the holy tension of taking care of our body and constantly bringing new, immature sinners loaded with problems into our midst. The elders of the Summit Church believe that the best way for us to do both is to adopt an aggressive multi-campus strategy. The multi-campus approach, in our judgment, best allows us to be effective in evangelism, pastorally responsible over our members, and to develop leaders and church planters.

It is our prayer that in the next 40 years God will allow us to see 10 campuses and 20 church plants in Raleigh-Durham, as well as 1000 churches planted in cities around the world. For us, the argument comes down not on whether you do multi-campus but how it is done. Our responsibility is to do it in a way that is Biblical and God-honoring.

Author: John

I am the Senior IT AV Systems Design Engineer in the department of Enterprise AV Services, part of the Division of Information Technology at University of North Georgia. That means I design, install, and maintain anything that is audio visual: projectors, sound systems, control systems, cameras, lighting, Crestron, Polycom, Extron, Yamaha, Dante, Hitachi, Sony, NEC, and any other techy-sounding thing. I am also the deacon of technology at Christ Family Church in Dahlonega, GA. All in house technology (audio, video, lighting, etc.) is under my care. I attended North Georgia College and State University (now UNG, where I work) for my undergraduate work in Music Performance. I’m also a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where I obtained a Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling. I’m married to my awesome wife (Heather) and have an awesome family (Jack, Debbie, Hannah, Levi, and Emmeline)!

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