III. HOW THE SUMMIT CHURCH BELIEVES A MULTI-SITE STRATEGY CAN BE PASTORALLY HELPFUL
A. The multi-site 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. That is why we believe that the multi-site model is the best way for us to address the pastoral needs of our congregation.
One of the primary criticisms of a multi-site 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 two hundred! The hardest ecclesiological shift for me was not in going to multiple campuses, but in growing larger than four hundred 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.
However, of large churches, perhaps the multi-site church most effectively addresses that problem. Since the venues are smaller, it is easier for campus pastors and elder representatives to keep up with those that come. In other words, 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-site model allows its members the advantages of a larger church. Churches often grow large because many people find the gifts of one pastor-teacher edifying, and the multi-site model allows for the stewardship of that gift. Larger churches are able to offer many ministries that smaller churches cannot. Large churches can often put more weight 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-site strategy is an excellent way for a large church to develop and maximize the use of leadership.
I’ve often heard this response to the multi-site model: “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-site 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 are the ones you no longer see each Sunday?” They are serving at one of 5 campuses I don’t usually get to on Sunday. These were guys I raised up, trained, and depended on. 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-site church than we did as a single-campus church.
C. The multi-site 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 every problem and answer every question. 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-site 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.
IV. WHAT THE SUMMIT CHURCH IS STILL WRESTINGLY WITH REGARDING THE MULTI-SITE 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 time ensuring that each campus retains the DNA of the whole church?
- How do we best do membership and discipline in the multi-site 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?
The multi-site model is messy. As with all large churches, it is easier for important things (like people!) to fall through the cracks in multi-site 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! It is the same with our church. Growth creates problems, however you facilitate it. The multi-site model is messy. But our church will gladly deal with the headaches of the multi-site model if it means reaching more people for Jesus.
We must live with the holy tension of taking care of our local church 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-site strategy. The multi-site 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 by 2050 God will allow us to put campuses within 15 minutes of everyone in Raleigh-Durham (with some rare but notable exceptions in places where a Summit campus might hinder the work of another local church), as well as 1000 churches planted in cities around the world. For us, the argument comes down not on whether you do multi-site but how it is done. Our responsibility is to do it in a way that is biblical and God-honoring.
 Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe (2007), 49
 “Treasuring Christ Together,” Part 2: Lessons in Love from 1 John by John Piper, September 14, 2003.