More on Multi-Site

I recently got a copy of the eJournal by 9 Marks (named from the book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church). It is the official “multi-site” issue. (Check it out in it’s entirety here.) The blog post I reposted here by J.D. Greear is in the issue, as are others for an against multi-site. You should most definitely read it in its entirety. I will when I get a sec. However, I’ve been skimming the cons to multi-site and noticed something interesting. First, here’s a list of the articles against multi-site:

  • “Nine Reasons I Don’t Like Multi-site Churches, from a Guy Who Should” By Thomas White – A young, tech-savvy seminary professor explains why he’s not getting on board the multi-site revolution.
  • “Exegetical Critique of Multi-Site: Disassembling the Church?” By Grant Gaines – A pastor-scholar weighs the exegetical arguments in favor of the multi-site church and finds them wanting.
  • “Theological Critique of Multi-Site: Leadership Is the Church” By Jonathan Leeman – The local church on earth is constituted by a gathering of Christians, which means the multi-site and multi-service “church” is not a church, but an association of churches.
  • “Historical Critique of Multi-Site: Not Over My Dead Body” By Bobby Jamieson – Regardless of the fact that multi-site churches haven’t existed for most of the past four hundred years, historic Congregationalists and Baptists have a lot to say against them.
  • “The Alternative to Multi-Site: Why Don’t We Plant?” By Jonathan Leeman – The multi-site church phenomenon looks like a capitulation to consumeristic culture. We should plant instead.

Now, I’m not going to address everything brought up in them, but the first article is really short and digestable, so I’m going to tackle the nine points addressed in it. Here goes:

1. A Contradiction In Terms

Here Thomas White argues that the Greek word ecclesia (the word we translate “church”) means “gathering.” He then says “The oft heard mantra “one church many locations” is a contradiction in terms.” Since that’s what Journey is, I want to speak to that. The church is the assembled people – the gathered people. When Journey gathers at NE, it’s a gathering of Journey. Same at NW. It’s not all of the gathering, as not all members of Journey gather every week. Other churches generally have four times more people on “membership” roles than those that actually attend. Journey is about the exact inverse of that, I believe. Maybe those other churches should be looking for where the rest of their church went before they start asking if what we’re doing is biblical. I’m just saying.

2. Spiritual Colonization

The argument here is “mini-dioceses” that rule the campuses from a central location. Well, at Journey we don’t have a “central location” besides that of Raleigh (currently). Our goal is to reach Raleigh for Christ and there’s not a specific area of Raleigh that we’re based out of. While we spend more time during the week at NE, that’s just because we can’t get into NW during the week – it meets in a theater. Campus locations will grow as we launch new ones and such, but our location is Raleigh. Not a “central location.”

3. Encouraging Consumerism

He argues that the more locations, the more variety you get and people can shop around. I think consumerism is way more likely in a church with one location. Case in point: mega-churches. When we launch a campus, we need a ton of people to get involved to volunteer there or fill the places at the current campus that were emptied by the launch team. At Journey, we have hundreds more volunteers than single-site churches.

4. Cannibalizing the Body of Christ

He points out a multi-site that “partnered” with a smaller church, then replaced it’s staff and sold it’s stuff. A agree with his point that this is a bad thing. However, I’ve never seen this happen and I suspect it’s not a common occurrence.

5. Shepherds Who Don’t Know the Sheep

This point addresses Hebrews 13:17 where ministers of the gospel will be held accountable for their sheep and how can a video minister do that with sheep he doesn’t even know? Well, first of all, a pastor that rightly divides the Word of God can be certain that the Word will not return void. Also, that’s what campus pastors are for. At Journey, either campus will find a number of pastors (Jimmy Carroll, Paul Crouthamel, Rob Wetzel, Smooth Via, and Paul Callaghan) weekly with whom they can speak and pray. Also, they can set up meetings with them throughout the week. It’s called “doing life together.”

6. Understanding Planting and Preacher Training

He may have a slight point here. We do need to focus on planting churches as well as campuses. That’s why Journey gives to multiple church planting agencies. Who knows, maybe we’ll even plant one ourselves. Partnerships are especially helpful at church planting – shared resources are great. Acts 29 is a great organization that does this well.

7. No Scriptural Support!!!

Ah, I most definitely disagree here. While the church that was formed out of Peter’s sermon might have fit within Solomon’s Portico at first, remember that “the Lord was adding to their number daily” and they “were going house to house.” Does White really think that they organized meetings indefinitely at Solomon’s Portico? Also, could thousands of people really hear? Did they have to all meet together weekly to be called a church? Bi-weekly? Monthly?

8. Unanswered Questions

Since he gives questions, I guess I’ll give answers.

  1. What happens when this generation’s gifted communicators leave?
    • One of the other pastors at that church will take over. This is more biblical that “hiring out” a pastor like many churches do. If the people go there just to hear that communicator, they shouldn’t be there anyway.
  2. When they retire or pass to heaven, will these franchised churches of today lead to the disenfranchised religious of tomorrow?
    • Some could, but the ones who grounded their people in the Word of God will stand firm because Christ is their cornerstone.
  3. Will these locations stand vacant symbolizing a failed religious experiment?
    • The one’s who worshiped the communicator and not Christ probably will. And that will be a good thing.
  4. What if one location wants to call its own live preacher? Will that be allowed or does the founding assembly own the property and make the decisions?
    • If a church starts fighting over ownership, then they need to repent and turn from that. The body is just that, a body. They should function as one. They should also submit to the one (or ones – plurality of elders, anyone?) called to be their leader(s). If that many people have an issue with the elder(s)’ decision, then maybe that part of the body should meet with them as fellow brothers in Christ.
  5. Could a remote location choose to begin piping in a new rising star with no connection to the current branches?
    • That would be a decision for the church as a whole to make. A campus is not separate from the church – it is a part. This does make it easier to have someone fill the pulpit who can actually preach when the pastor is out of town. Or even better, our pastor was in Uganda recently and Smooth uploaded part of a message from him to the internet. I then downloaded and Jimmy preached for about 10 minutes from Uganda to both of our campuses. Then we played the rest of his pre-recorded message. He was able to preach while being halfway around the world! Most single-site churches would never even think of that, much less have the technology for it.
  6. Why not just plant churches?
    • We plan on doing this as well. The multi-site model helps us be wiser with our resources.

Wow. That was fun. Next?

9. Priorities

This is an important thing to keep in mind. Let us not strive after numbers and instead strive after reaching Raleigh, and North Carolina, and the world for Christ. It’s always good to keep the Gospel as the main thing – we’re called to use our talents and God-given abilities spread the Gospel (Good News) of Christ. And remember, God doesn’t always call the equipped – He also equips the called (a.k.a. all believers)!

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