Life.Church, one of the fastest-growing churches in the country, opened its 30th campus in Rogers, Arkansas, on Sunday, and two more campuses are expected to open by the end of the year.
Bobby Gruenewald, innovation leader at Life.Church who founded the popular YouVersion App, noted that the latest campus was significant in that it showed their ministries spreading to new metropolitan areas, whereas "for several years, we've just been expanding inside of cities that we already had locations."
"That's a new area for us, a new city, metro area. And we've done a few new metro areas in the last few years," Gruenewald explained to CP.
Those cities include Overland Park and Wichita in Kansas as well as Omaha, Nebraska. Later this month, the multisite church will be opening its 31st campus in Springfield — Life.Church's first location in Missouri.
Originally launched in 1996 with a small number of people meeting at a rented dance studio, Life.Church — led by Pastor Craig Groeschel — has grown to average 85,000 weekly worshipers in several states.
Gruenewald talked with The Christian Post on Wednesday about the church's growth and his opinion on the best model for multisite ministries. He also addressed criticism. Here are excerpts from the interview:
CP: What's your opinion about the growth you've seen at the church?
Gruenewald: We've really started to see some significant growth in the last few years, adding several campuses and picking up the pace in terms of new locations that we're adding.
We're excited about it. The church is continuing to grow. Not just the number of campuses, but attendance, and just a lot of the key metrics that we're looking at. We see a lot of people coming to Christ through the ministry, which is a big emphasis for us, but it's an exciting time for sure.
CP: In addition to the newly opened campus in Rogers, Arkansas, and the upcoming new campus in Springfield, Missouri, isn't there also a 32nd campus opening soon?
Gruenewald: That's correct. Our 32nd campus, we've announced the location. It's in West Wichita. It will be our second in the Wichita metro area. It's really the result of how fast our first campus in Wichita has grown. And so, we've added a second location.
The specific date of the launch isn't set yet because its contingent on a few construction variables, because we're actually building a facility out. It looks like it should definitely be before the end of the year. It won't be this month for sure, but it will be in the next couple of months.
CP: For those who are not familiar, how do these campuses work? Do they show attendees video from the main Life.Church campus or do they have their own in-house preachers?
Gruenewald: Our model is that we have local campus teams, we'll have a campus pastor, we'll have local staff that focuses on children's ministry, youth ministry, small groups, depending on the size of the campus, the team will be anywhere from five people up to maybe 18-20 people in size.
Usually when we're starting a new location, its somewhere around five to six full time staff. And they are focused on that community or that part of a community if it's in a larger metropolitan area.
As far as the way that the teaching component of our services go, the teaching component is delivered via video to the sites so it comes from our broadcast location. We don't have the terminology of "main location." Because [with] our model, we have campuses and we don't have a main campus and then satellite campuses. We have just everything is a campus. Even our campus that we broadcast from has its own local staff that's specific to that location.
We have a central support team and our central support team would be a lot of centralized services and leadership for different ministries, including Pastor Craig, myself, and others that are part of that team. And that group is independent from any campus team. We don't have any campus responsibilities.
CP: Some multi-site churches, The Village Church in Texas being an example, have started to emphasize a lot more autonomy for each campus. What is your opinion of this trend?
Gruenewald: I don't know enough to know if it's a trend or if it's just a different approach that people are taking. What I do know and have learned is that there have been several different ways that people have approached multisite.
There are several successful approaches that are distinctly different in how they work. So there's some where it is all local teachers, local communicators, and they are all teaching on the same subject matter. There's some where the actual names of the churches are different, but it's common teaching but different names of churches instead of one common name for the church. They take on a name that's local or specific to that area of the community. That would be, like for example, what North Point church (led by Pastor Andy Stanley) does.
There are examples like it's more of a fellowship of churches in terms of its structure or it starts off one way and moves towards a set of closely related churches but yet autonomous in terms of how they function and their governance.
I think there are a lot of different successful ways to do it. We have an approach that's been kind of consistent with who we are and the way we've done it for a while. It's changed a little bit over the years, but for the most part it's been a fairly consistent approach.
I don't believe there is any sort of "one right way" to do it.
CP: Some have been critical of Life.Church and have argued that it is nothing more than a glorified entertainment company rather than a church. How do you respond?
Gruenewald: I would presume the person that said that has not come to our church. If they have, then I would invite them back because I don't think that the people that are part of our community and our church would say that at all about it.
Our mission is to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ. In some cases, we've had unconventional approaches to it. But I think you would find that we're a church that's extraordinarily committed to evangelism. We always present a very clear Gospel message every single week, every single service.
It's why we see such significant life-transformation that's taking place in our communities and so it's very much at the center of what we do as a church. We're trying to reach unchurched people that don't know Jesus and introduce them to the Gospel and it's a very overt thing we do.