Multi-Site Church: Risky but Worth It

The multi-site approach is taking a larger footing around the country with churches refusing to limit their reach within their own church walls and even within their local city.

Megachurches are busting out of their buildings and looking for expansion beyond their current facility. Multi-site, however, is not just about getting bigger. It's about pursuing the vision to expand the kingdom impact 10 times because you want to, said Jason Mitchell of the Coast-to-Coast Multi-Site Conference.

The third annual Multi-Site Conference in San Diego, Calif., brought together some of the most innovative voices in multi-site churches on Monday to give church leaders insight into a growing and highly successful model of expanding church.

Not all church leaders are up for broadcasting their sermons via satellite on multiple campuses simultaneously. But the nation is going to see more and more churches doing it, according to Dave Ferguson, pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ill.

McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., is one of the newbies. The megachurch of some 13,000 attendants each weekend just launched its first multi-site community campus at the Rosslyn Spectrum in January. McLean is one of those churches busting at the seams. It has nearly maxed out its 2-year-old $93 million campus and, according to the head pastor, Lon Solomon, reached its limit on the impact the church can make on "secular Washington, D.C."

The church was only left with two options: either be content where they are at and the current impact the congregation is making in the community, or "think outside the bun," as Solomon said in a sermon last fall. Four months later, the megachurch is going outside the bun.

The plan - to build 10 community campuses in the next 10 years around Washington, D.C., or what Solomon called "surrounding Washington and pounding Washington" with the gospel.

Still in millions of dollars in debt for the new facility, congregants at McLean face another major investment - an estimated $3 million a year - for the new expansion. It is entering risky territory, Solomon admitted. But people's lives are worth it, he said.

McLean's mission even before adopting the multi-site model has been to "make an impact on secular Washington with the message of Jesus Christ." And the church is not going to wait for the people of Washington, D.C., to go to them. Rather, the church is determined to "unashamedly take the message of Jesus Christ" to every single person in the nation's capital.

"We're ashamed here at McLean Bible Church about nothing," stressed Solomon.

Churches pursuing multi-site, however, have some skeptics raising concerns. Scott Thumma, a professor of the sociology of religion at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, told The Washington Post that megachurches may be focusing on spreading their own brand and just getting even bigger and their pastors, more famous.

Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., tells church leaders that multi-site is more than just growing a church. "It's about reaching a city and reaching a geographical locale."

And other churches like Seacoast Church in Charleston, S.C., embrace multi-site because the city council would not allow expansion at the one location. Seacoast now has nine locations with 10 distinct venues in South Carolina and Georgia with over 3,000 people worshipping each weekend in an off-site campus.

Multi-site is a costly investment. But Solomon tells congregants, "It's going to be the best money we ever spent at this church."

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