Would Jesus Do Multi-Site? #WJDMS

Would Jesus start a multi-site church? This is the question that stuck with me when I finished watching the video of two multi-site guys and one who is theologically against multi-site. However, none of these three men ever ask this question. In fact, as engaging as this video was, there are a lot of questions that they never address that I’d love to hear them answer. Watch the video and then join the discussion. Are there questions you would’ve asked?

Here are a few of my questions:

1. Would Jesus start a multi-site church? If He had the technology then that we have now would He have used it? Jesus was incarnational and attractional but I don’t see Him as being attractional in the same way that MacDonald and Driscoll are attractional.

2. Would Paul start a multi-site church? When Paul said I have become all things to all people so that by all means I might save some does “all things” and “all means” include video venues? If he could’ve spoken via video to the Church in Colossae, Philippi, Ephesus and Galatia all at the same time, would he? Isn’t Paul’s statement largely about contextualization and not about indiscriminately using everything the culture uses when communicating ideas?

3. Is multi-site capitalizing on celebrity (and even creating celebrity by putting someone up on a video screen) rather than capitalizing on the power of the Gospel to transform lives? Is ecclesiology here dominated by a personality or by the Gospel and by the Ghost?

4. Is Driscoll’s question about how many time slots Dever makes available to the next generation of pastors to preach even valid? After all, he is comparing Dever’s church that has 900 people and 75 opportunities a year for younger pastors to preach versus Driscoll’s church that has 7,500 attendees and about 300 opportunities. If Dever’s church was the size of Driscoll’s but with the same proportion of opportunities for training and equipping others, then he would be providing nearly 650 opportunities a year for others to preach. This isn’t an argument for or against multi-site, but rather to say that the comparison Driscoll uses breaks down when logic is applied. If this were a valid argument he should’ve just said “Well, I have more people than you so my strategy is better than yours.” or “You have less people and this is a two-to-one argument so clearly we win.”

5. Is multi-site a better use of resources? There has been a lot of angst in recent years about “buildings and budgets”. Perhaps we could even ask, “Would Jesus start a church with a million dollar building?” much less if He would invest hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars on video equipment. Talk about proportions, maybe we should be comparing Dever’s budget for service, mission, and evangelism with multi-site and see how much is caught up in overhead, salaries, buildings, and tech. On second thought, let’s not…I’m tired of churches comparing themselves to one another based on numbers.

6. Is it possible, as MacDonald suggests that the video venue is less about the celebrity speaker than a one campus venue is about the live pastor? Are Driscoll and MacDonald suggesting that Dever’s congregants are more consumeristic than the congregants of their multi-site campuses? That’s unsubstantiated and slightly offensive, isn’t it?

7. Driscoll talks a lot in his books about the combination of missional and attractional and I completely agree that a church can be both. I even agree that I see Jesus as both incarnational and attractional. However, I fear that the video venue and the celebrity pastor skews more towards attractional than it does to missional. Sure, their services and their bands and their videos enable them to mobilize more people because more are attracted in to hear the Gospel. But is there a cost associated with that? I don’t know…I’m just asking questions.

8. Could they have maybe spent more time talking about Dever’s point about ecclesia? The other two really pounced on that one, right? Maybe they could’ve invested more time in that portion of the discussion. It was really the only theological approach to the conversation. What does that say when two multi-site guys (whom I respect) are quick to dismiss a theological point and redirect immediately to a discussion about numbers, churches, influence, etc. MacDonald even said he does video venues where he has some credibility already established. It seems their ecclesiology is heavily weighted on a personality. Going back to my question about Paul, I don’t think he would’ve wanted to establish a church in any town that was inappropriately dependent upon him. It’s even likely that the Gospel spread so rapidly in those days because other than a year here and a month there and a letter here, Paul mostly equipped others who would equip others who would equip others.

9. What does introversion have to do with anything?

Well, I have more questions and a few answers but I want to hear from you [and from Dever, Driscoll and MacDonald]. You can probably tell from how I framed my questions that I am skeptical of the long-term success of multi-site though I’m not completely opposed to it in some cases. I also don’t fully agree with Dever in that there should only be one service. Instead, I just want to have more than a 12 minute discussion about this from some of these guys who I’m sure have thought (and hopefully prayed) long and hard about the decisions they have made in how to shepherd the sheep entrusted to their care. I praise God for what these three men are doing and I raise these questions because if I ever find myself needing to make these decisions, I want to have spent due diligence in thinking through the Christological, ecclesiological, and missiological implications of such decisions.

Your turn…

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Lia

    I think one of the push backs against even modernized Christian church constructs is this idea of size and scope. After growing up in a church where I didn’t know anyone outside of the youth group (because it was a few hundred people itself) and only chatted with the head pastor once in 7 years, despite his good teaching, I realized I wasn’t learning anything. I was absorbing, sure. But without being able to challenge ideas and teachers and each other in a community and tackle contentious and difficult points, all I was doing was listening, taking the small group quiz (where you all agree, nod your head that being a Christian is so hard but it’s ‘worth it’ for some unknown/undiscussed/regurgitated reason), and leaving. For me that was never influential to my mind, only my automated responses. I think this translates to many churches who do multi-site, as well as those with huge services, and I’m not convinced that that structure is theologically sound or even logical. There’s a reason we don’t put kids in lecture halls or give them a video and expect to change their thinking/behavior.

    • Good to hear from you Lia! I think a large church that is coupled with a thriving small group ministry can be effective even if not everyone knows the senior pastor. On the other hand, it does seem better if that pastor is equipping and sending out others (including members) to start other churches. Maybe when a church gets to be a certain size it should produce another church. Kind of like cell division (though we certainly don’t want the word “division” in the vocabulary).

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  • I’m somewhat critical of the multi-site model for your reason #3. How can a pastor really be a pastor if he’s not even physically present? I know most multi-site churches have “campus pastors,” but why not let them teach? Multi-sites are only doing what denominations did a few generations ago, just with much tighter control over their identity.

    • I’m with you Matt, and I would say that I would be slightly more comfortable with it if the “campus pastor” had a larger portion of the preaching opportunities. In the video it sounds like Driscoll preaches via video about 75% of the time and the campus pastor does about 25%. If that were reversed I think it might be a healthier thing.

  • You’re a wonderful thinker, Nathan! Great questions presented from a perspective of humility & kindness, and reflective of a teachable spirit. Even if you’re not sure of all the answers, which is refreshingly rare! Thanks for making me think. (I don’t have the answers, either!)

    • Thanks for the encouragement David. I definitely don’t deny that those who are doing multi-site are making a huge impact. It’s probably one of those issues that’s just not for everybody in every time and in every place but I know God can use it to His glory!

  • Terri Durham

    Good observations/questions Nathan. I don’t have answers either. Perhaps multi-site doesn’t have to mean lots of video equipment or big budgets? Our church attempted a multi-site campus, with it’s own pastor. The idea behind it was our one campus couldn’t reach our entire community, so by creating others, each with it’s own target audience, we could reach more. By sharing the same budget, staff, and vision it provided more opportunity for success, unlike many mission starts. It was good in theory. After 4 years of renting space in a middle school, we are back to one campus having learned lots of lessons along the way. I would do it again. Differently.
    Great dialogue, great point of discussion! Thanks.

    • Thanks for your authenticity Terri. I think you are describing church planting more than multi-site campuses. I would think that if a church has it’s own pastor then it is well on its way to becoming a self-sustaining church. Or I imagine that was the intended goal. Otherwise, maybe it should’ve been referred to as a mission? I don’t know…just asking.

      I am confident that your church will learn from this experience and will make a difference in the communities you serve! It sounds like you have a heart for the community.

  • In a panel discussion at The Gospel Coalition (2011) Tim Keller said, “video preaching is not sin, but its not a great trend.” I think I can climb out on that strong limb and agree with Dr. Keller.

    To me, the trend’s real value will be proven 20 years from now. My guess–it may have a similar bell curve to that of Christian TV which was massive in the 80’s and is now, well, not so massive. 20 years from now when video preaching is not new and the proponents are “old stories”, that’s when the method will have to still carry its missional weight. Maybe it will.

    The proven mission strategy of the church which outlasts every individual or personality or technology or generation is the discipling, raising up and releasing of planters, pastors and preachers who extend the church into new territory.

    This can be done while employing a multi-site approach to church without using video preaching. Distributed, in-person leadership and teaching in a collaborative team that functions as one church in many locations is a multi-site approach that does not demand video preaching.

    But, whether using video or in-person preaching, the multi-site churches we’ve encountered take the approach primarily because of burden and mission. At the end of the day, for me, there is always a wide berth in experimental methods for those who are extending the Gospel and trusting Christ.

    Full disclosure: I pastor at a multi-site church with 14 locations in Chicagoland. (www.newlifechicago.org)

    • Thanks for the excellent insight Kevin. I agree with you (and with Tim) that I don’t see video venues as evil, just perhaps ill-advised and the short-term success isn’t necessarily an indication of long-term success.

      I’m also intrigued by your church’s strategy and would like to learn more. From what you share it seems like you have a centralized leadership team that shares the teaching responsibilities at each campus. I like that for a number of reasons: Each site has the ability to benefit from a shared vision and unified leadership. Each site is not dependent on one extremely talented individual but on many who are qualified to teach.

      So, will each of these sites become their own church at some time or is the idea that these various sites will always be tied in to a centralized leadership? I guess the one thing I would see long-term is if more locations are added the need might be to de-centralize and allow each of those sites become more self-sufficient. Unless it becomes its own network or denomination.

      Anyway, lots of questions but my overall thought is: good for New Life Chicago and for your missional engagement and expansion of the Gospel in those 14 communities! Thanks for your thoughts here!

      • Our strategy is to be de-centralized wherever possible and centralized wherever beneficial. We are centralized when it comes to vision, missional direction, coaching, direction, support, team, financial management, risk management, design/media/website, and legal. We are decentralized when it comes to pastoral care, contextualization, localizing of vision, and discipling community (and probably a bunch of other things).

        We are doing an equipping intensive on our multi-site leadership practices in June. Details/registration are at http://www.multiplicitynetwork.org.

      • Sounds like great stuff. I checked out your site and it really resonates with some of my own thinking. I’ll put your conference on the calendar

  • Paul Hunnisett

    Jesus never started a church – not a local one anyway.  The difficulty – or perhaps benefit – is that the NT doesn’t give us any concrete answers on how the church was structured back then.  In Jerusalem they had a church of thousands.  Did they meet multi site, or in one huge location?  It could be argued that, since they met every day, it was simply multi meetings. Because it isn’t that clear then the argument about what Jesus or Paul would have done is weakened. We simply can’t answer definitively, since we just don’t know…

    To my mind, one of the main potential benefits of multi-site and multi-meeting is the ability to keep each meeting small enough to have genuine contribution based worship – like we see in the NT, especially Corinth. The larger each meeting gets, the harder it is to do this effectively and safely.

    • Anonymous

      Great points Paul and I certainly recognize that we don’t have one specific way of “doing” church with one another in the New Testament. I think my main questions for the multi-site movement have to do with ecclesiological concerns and not pragmatic concerns. I also should clarify that I have more questions about video venues specifically than I do with multi-site generally. The “main potential benefit” that you describe is something I can agree on but I don’t know if I would use video venues to do that. The jury is still out for me. I’m just raising the questions to make sure we think carefully about how we communicate the message of Truth. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Jerry Varner

    If nothing else, this is a great chat to get some thoughts going within us.  Our ministry is multi-site, but just barely.  We have 2 campuses; the “second” campus is nearly completely teaching via video. (Personally, I would hate that, but lots of people don’t.)  I agree with the notion that teachers should be trained, nurtured, brought up and into the ministry and my thought is that heavy video teaching usage short-changes those opportunities.  Also, as the discussion in this video went on, it seemed to become more about numbers and less about health.  (Obviously those two things don’t equal each other).  In that, the large church movement often “gets too big for its britches”.  Believe me, I’m all for counting those who come, I understand the Rick Warren “We count people because people count” thing, and I love Jesus while still being able to appreciate a good spreadsheet.  But I think it becomes a dangerous thing when we use numbers among even the top 3 indicators of a healthy ministry.  Numbers seemed to be the driving issue among the 2 pastors trying to convince the 1 pastor to come their way.  And I say that as someone in a large church setting right now, who came from a small church setting as a child/teen, and has ministered in the medium-sized church setting as well.
    Overall, this video was not only a great discussion, but good kick in the pants for us to think seriously and sincerely about why multi-site ministry exists, if it should, and how.  Thanks for posting this!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your insight and perspective Jerry. I raise these questions because I want to make sure we are using technology effectively and not carelessly. It sounds like you are thinking hard about the issue so I appreciate that!

  • 1. Would Jesus start a multi-site church? Jesus was born in the time and culture that God pre-ordained. Had God wanted Jesus to be multi-site, he would have been born today, not 2,000 years ago.
    2. Would Paul start a multi-site church? No. He chose planting and Elders under the power of the Holy Spirit.

    3. Is multi-site capitalizing on celebrity (and even creating celebrity by putting someone up on a video screen) ? Yes

    4. Is Driscoll’s question about how many time slots Dever makes available to the next generation of pastors to preach even valid? No.

    5. Is multi-site a better use of resources? No. I would rather invest in people over $100,000 into technology.

    6. Is it possible, as MacDonald suggests that the video venue is less about the celebrity speaker than a one campus venue is about the live pastor? Size is not the issue because It is possible for any leader to chose to be impersonal in any size church, but Venues are moving in the wrong direction. The debate misses the point that a man who lusts for power and prestige can do that in any size church with 1 venue or 50 venues…. methods reflect one’s choice.

    My article on ChurchPlanting.com gives some perspective http://www.churchplanting.com/2012/03/15/innovation-or-intimacy-which-is-your-1-priority/#axzz20A5iRs1u

  • Duncan

    I think believe churches that use the Driscoll/MacDonald plan view, does raise a concern that the speaker/preacher can get an ego that takes them out of God’s will. I come from a church plant/multi site campus that is far different. We just started a second campus, and rather than have our lead/founding pastor preach at that site, the campus/lead pastor of the new campus preaches, and works with the pastor on the sermon, so they are teaching essentially the same sermon topic, but the antidotes and other illustrations are personal and from the speakers POV. The goal is, to have a leader know what’s going on in that particular area, even if the two churches are in the same state, there are things going on in one city (highest unemployment) that the other city doesn’t deal with and vice versa (High crime rate in the other), and the people are also different in cultural stand points. Paul sent out people to plant churches, and then would send those churches the people that he knew could help fix things at those times, but the goal was to raise leaders from the inside of the church.