In my last post I explained how our church does multi-congregational ministry. In this post, I want to flesh out how it’s different from “typical” video multi-site church and why I think our approach is better.
What’s the difference?
Technically, a multi-site church is one church meeting in multiple locations. The term multi-site is a bit like the term automobile. Just like there are different kinds of automobiles (cars, trucks, vans), there are different kinds of multi-site churches. For this discussion, I’m comparing multi-congregational churches with video multi-site churches.
A multi-congregational church is one church (one 501c3, payroll, employer ID, etc) with multiple congregations, each led by a Lead Pastor and elders who oversee the ministry, preach live, lead the vision and shape the culture of the local congregation in very specific and customized ways. Examples would be Redemption Church, Harbor Presbyterian, Exodus Church, and Redeemer Presbyterian (kind of).
A video multi-site church is also one church with multiple locations (usually called “campuses). In video multi-site, there is a highly gifted preacher (or team) who provide the sermons via video each week and lead the vision of the church. Local campuses are led by a Campus Pastor who reports to a centralized overseer from the main or original campus. While each campus has some distinct flavor, the branding, naming of ministries, culture and identity are highly similar between campuses. In some cases, even the service is planned identically (same songs, order of service, etc.). Examples would be North Point Community Church, LifeChurch.tv, Mars Hill, The Village Church and dozens of other nationally known churches.
Many churches are some kind of hybrid or something else altogether — these are not the only two kinds. However, video multi-site is the typical kind of multi-site church (amazing that anything could be typical that is still so historically new), and I want to compare that to our less-typical approach.
Some might ask, “Why talk about what’s better? Can’t we just say they are different? Aren’t we all trying to reach people for Jesus?” I appreciate that kind of question.
Let me state very clearly: I am not against video multi-site. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad. I actually think video multi-site is a good thing. It’s awesome when a church has a such a vibrant ministry that it can even consider expanding into video multi-site and reaching more people.
Let me also state very clearly: I’m not saying video multi-site doesn’t work. It works amazingly well. People are coming to Christ in droves as effective ministry gets pushed into new communities.
Video multi-site is good and it works. But I still think it’s weaker than multi-congregational church. And, since many of my readers are church leaders and pastors — some of whom are considering expanding their ministry to some kind of multi-site approach — I think it’s worth making a case for why our model is stronger.
5 reasons why multi-congregational is better.
1. All ministry is truly local.
I was recently at a gathering of larger church pastors and some were explaining how they do video multi-site. They emphasized a crucial phrase: All ministry is local. Their point was that if everything at a campus has to come from the mothership, it’s a bad thing. Local leaders have to be strong.
I agree that all ministry is local. But in a multi-congregational model, we actually believe it.
At a video multi-site, all ministry is local except the preaching. All ministry is local, except the primary catalyst for instruction, culture-setting, and vision.
You can call your kids ministry the same thing and have the same signage, but you can’t tell me that the culture in Edmond, OK is so similar to Wellington, FL that it makes no difference where the preaching comes from. I know that television, technology and pop culture unite us more than ever, but you can’t convince me that the culture in Bellevue, WA is the same as Olympia, WA — let alone the same as Huntington Beach, CA.
For example, LifeChurch.tv previously had a few campuses here in Phoenix. When I spoke to one of their leaders prior to launch, he was unaware that our suburban community has a 25%+ Mormon population. Additionally, they were surprised when their southern-accented preacher didn’t thrive out here in wanna-be-California. I was not surprised.
In multi-congregational church, sermons are preached, vision is cast and culture is shaped totally by leaders who are in the community where they are ministering. Lead Pastors have the opportunity to think through and address the issues that face their people and their neighbors in a way that video-preaching cannot.
2. Every level and kind of ministry is multiplied.
Video multi-sites are incredible at multiplication. Prior to going multi-site, they grew by multiplying services, small groups, and leaders. Then they grew by multiplying campuses and ministries. To do any kind of multi-site well, you have to multiply like crazy. But in video multi-site, everything gets multiplied except the preachers and the visionary leaders.
On the other hand, in a multi-congregational model (like a church plant) even the senior leaders get multiplied. This strengthens not only the congregations that get started but the body of Christ as a whole.
Now, some video multi-site pastors, like Mark Driscoll, have argued that he does multiply preachers because when he’s out of the pulpit he’s giving 15 preachers the chance to preach live. This means if he’s out of the pulpit 10 weeks a year, he’s giving 150 opportunities to preach. That is truly impressive. But while video multi-site gives a man the chance to preach, it never gives him the chance to be the preacher. Which leads to my next point…
3. Gifted young leaders want to stay.
I have no scientific data or research to point to, but from being quite connected in the ministry world, I can tell you that turnover among video multi-site Campus Pastors is very high. Additionally, many churches are having a hard time finding the kinds of leaders they need to be Campus Pastors.
In some cases, one wonders whether the turnover is because of the unhealthy culture of the particular church or because of the model itself. I’m not sure, but I know that gifted, visionary, leaders (especially with preaching gifts) are initially attracted to these visionary video multi-sites to receive training and growth, but often end up leaving when they realize there will not be a real opportunity to lead (North Point seems to be an exception).
On the other hand, we are attracting and keeping many young leaders who see that they can lead a congregation, have and cast a vision, and preach regularly while still having the benefits of being part of a healthy, visionary movement.
4. There is real freedom and real team.
My favorite part of being a Lead Pastor at a multi-congregational church is that I have the real freedom to lead with a real sense of team, friendship, and accountability.
I have a friend who was a Campus Pastor at a big video multi-site church that told me his boss came to town one day, didn’t like a song they sang (not on theological grounds, but stylistic) and told him, “We don’t sing that song here. You may not play that again.” Forget that the song fit his context better than the mothership’s context. It wasn’t allowed.
That would never happen for me. Instead, I can shape our ministry in ways that fit our context but still not be alone. I have real friendships with real peers who are in the same role as me and understand the same pressure I feel. We can carry each other’s burdens and help one another deeply.
5. It’s less dependent on one visionary leader.
All churches are personality driven to some degree. This is normal because people follow people. This is inevitable.
What nobody knows, however, is what will happen to the video multi-site movement when the visionary leaders go. The movement is too new to know. I’ve heard an assortment of ideas and plans for how things will be handled and many of them sound promising. But it concerns me to think that so much is riding on one leader.
In our model, the church as a whole is riding on a number of people. We’ve even lost our two best preachers (one to plant in San Francisco and the other to retirement) and have thrived despite the loss. This is partly because our model communicates that nobody is that important. As a result, the environment tends to be more humble and healthy.
Some video multi-site pastors scratch their heads when we tell them what we’re doing. They can’t imagine that something like this could work without a person like them calling the shots. It defies their categories.
Which makes me think we’re on a really good track.
These are some reasons why I prefer our model. In the next post, I’ll share some of the down sides and explain the advantages that video multi-site has over what we’re doing.