Two influential pastors recently defended the multisite church strategy as a biblical and effective way of bringing more people to Christ.
Seattle Pastor Mark Driscoll and Chicago Pastor James MacDonald made their arguments in an informal debate with Mark Dever, a Southern Baptist pastor, who has some misgivings about the one church in multiple locations model.
"Are you concerned that it bills people too much into you particularly?" Dever, who leads Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., asked.
The question was directed toward Driscoll, whose church – Mars Hill Church – has at least 10 campuses throughout Washington state and in Albuquerque, N.M. Mars Hill utilizes satellite and internet technology to broadcast sermons preached by Driscoll to the different locations.
In Albuquerque, the campus pastor preaches 25 percent of the time.
Driscoll doesn't believe the multisite strategy makes it all about him or one preacher in particular.
"It does the opposite," he said, in a video posted on The Gospel Coalition website.
"We find that giving, small group participation, church membership and service is higher at a video campus than where I preach live," he pointed out. "Consumers come to see us (live); missionaries go elsewhere. They don't care if we're there or not."
Meanwhile, Driscoll argued that Dever's approach of one church in one location with one worship service is more likely to shine the spotlight on the one preacher.
"They're more addicted to you," the Seattle pastor contended. "They have to come talk to you, shake your hand, be in the same room with you."
MacDonald, who leads Harvest Bible Chapel, a church with five campuses in Illinois, admitted that in one geographical location, there is a level of influence and a reputation a pastor has built up. But he believes that that is something he can expend for the purpose of spreading the Gospel in that region.
Multisites have become one of the more popular strategies for church growth in the last decade. Currently, there are an estimated 3,000 multisite churches in the United States, according to Leadership Network. A recent comprehensive survey by the Network revealed that multisites have a 90 percent success rate.
But while multisite is mainstreaming, Dever, a Southern Baptist, holds fast to the stance that the church is to be one assembly. Ecclesia, a Greek term that is often translated to "church," means assembly, he stated.
He also believes more elders and preachers need to be raised up.
But so do Driscoll and MacDonald.
MacDonald indicated that he doesn't support those who are "hoarding" by only building multisite and never planting churches.
Though they may be the primary preacher for their multiple campuses, each of the campuses has its own staff, including pastors.
"I've got campus pastors who are first among equals with their own elder teams, membership, small groups, discipline, everything at the campus," Driscoll said. "If something happens to me, these all become autonomous churches and lead pastors become primary teaching pastors. So the whole thing is built for me to back out."
Moreover, Mars Hill, with its multiple campuses and some 24 services each weekend, has at least 300 open slots for other people to preach throughout the year. Dever's Capitol Hill, with its one service, provides at most 50 opportunities for others to preach.
So when responding to Dever's question "what happens when you die?" Driscoll stated, "It's going to be far easier than it is for you because you're a pastor-centered model. We're a mission-centered model."
With seemingly less qualms about multisites – at least the way Driscoll and MacDonald are doing it – Dever concluded that their approach is a slow church planting strategy more than anything.
"It's a massive church planting strategy," Driscoll affirmed.