A Megachurch Dilema
It’s a practical problem right? As a church gets sufficiently large, it starts running short on parking spaces and seating. You already have two or three morning services, one or two night services, a Wednesday night, and a Saturday night. At a certain point the church must decide between building a bigger building or adopting multiple campuses strategically located throughout the city.
It’s also hard for a pastor to tend to the actual needs of the individuals within his congregation once the population exceeds about 100. He might be able to remember your name and ask about your family, but he won’t be able to apply the gospel individually to the sin in your life, counsel you through a marriage difficulty, or train you for your own ministry.
I understand the legitimacy of these needs, but I think that the multi-site church can be short-sighted and miss out on some of the biggest ministry opportunities for these growing churches.
Opening disclaimer: Although many (but not all!) megachurches have deeply rooted theological, moral, and practice problems, for the sake of this post I would like to assume that these problems are not present and that the growth is a result of genuine ministry and the beckoning of the Holy Spirit. It will help this post to keep some focus.
The Unconvincing Reasons Against Mutli-Site Churches
Before I really get going, I’d like to mention some reasons against the Multi-Site church that I don’t agree with
1. The Lonesome Prophet Reason: It wouldn’t be that large if it were faithful. False. Acts 2:41. Three thousand people were saved by gospel preaching at once. They joined the church. The Spirit blows where it wishes and causes people to be born again. If the Holy Spirit decides to cause radical fruitfulness in one area and not another, this is not evidence of a counterfeit gospel.
2. The Hipster Reason: I stop feeling important when everyone is into the thing that I’m into. Examine your heart.
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:11-14 ESV)
3. The Ego Reason: The only reason pastors create multiple campuses is because their ego is too large for one building. Sure, their are certainly egotistical pastors out there who find their self worth in the number of people they can count at their church, and this is most certainly a horrible reason to open a church campus. Yet, the problems for a large church still exist. There is just not enough room for all of the members. The church leadership has to do something, and creating a new campus is as reasonable as any.
4. The Judas Reason: The money for buildings would be better spent on the poor. Yep, I went there.
So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
Yes, we should care for the poor and tend to their needs. Yet, churches also have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of God and that is done in actual locations. You have to solve the location problem or you neglect the ministry that God has called your church to. Churches ought to have a mission and budget to mercy ministry, but we still have to address the location.
The Birth of A Multi-Site Church
A gifted church planter and team of believers begin a church. They start meeting in a house, a theater, a school, a rented space, or in the facility of another gracious church. As time goes on this church outgrows their space and they buy a building based on their anticipated needs. At this point they perhaps make another facility change, until finally they have to pick between an absurdly large building or just a second campus. The bigger building still has some logistical problems, and the second campus has the advantage of covering a different region of the city and it could be effective in reaching people who would otherwise be unwilling to make the commute. In reality, the second campus sounds like a completely reasonable decision.
Growth is a Legitimate Goal
Christians have the message of good news. We have experienced the joy of salvation and adoption as sons. We have gloried in the cross of Christ, we have experienced change in our character, and long to serve others and worship God more deeply. In its purest form, Church growth is just “this” happening in more peoples’ lives. Naturally, church leaders and average Christians should desire church growth.
My Solution: The Church Planting Church
If we are so eager to promote this “good growth,” we should really pause to question if either the absurdly large building or the second campus gets us closer to this kind of good growth than planting a new church. While it’s true that the spacing problem can be solved in various ways, we still haven’t solved the bigger issue: how does a pastor shepherd people who he can’t spend his time with? Sure he can preach, but so can someone else. When his marriage is hurting, or he wants advice for reaching his coworkers with the gospel, how will he be supported? The normal multi-site church answer is “small groups.” In reality, that often means untrained volunteers with good intentions pooling their ignorance. I don’t trust my zealous friend and dear brother in Christ who is new to the faith and to help me through my spiritual doubts or relational problems. He isn’t my shepherds, doesn’t need the responsibility of shepherding.
Note that there is a very significant difference between a church plant and a second campus. A church planting church trains up leaders from within, cosponsors theological/ministry education, oversees the establishment of a new fellowship of elders, sacrificially generates support revenue for the church plant’s infancy, and creates a sense of unity among all Christians in the city by showing that they care more about the spread of the gospel than their own church’s name. In contrast, a second campus reacts to a space problem by adding a building, and the decision is deemed successful because the second campus grows.
It isn’t sinful to have a second campus. I know of several churches that I generally support and agree with who have made this decision, such as Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis or Mars Hill Church in Seattle. But in this opinion I stand firm. The church needs strong Christians who have been shepherded by qualified pastors who know them personally and care for them. The world needs Christians who are in line with the mission of Christ in proclaiming the message of reconciliation and being servants of all. For this reason, urge your large, faithful, church to plant and be a blessing to others.