Multisite Church Movement Grows to 8,000 Sites; Study Shows Success Comes with Reaching More New Believers

Emerging trends for the multisite church movement, which now includes at least 8,000 sites throughout the U.S., include the findings that churches with multiple locations grow faster, have more lay-person participation, and reach more new believers than single-site churches, according to a study by the Leadership Network.

"More churches will continue to explore multisites, not as a tool for growth but as a means of taking the church to more people and taking a healthy church and reproducing it in other places," said Warren Bird, Director of Research and Intellectual Capital Development for Leadership Network, during a web seminar Wednesday.

By definition, a multisite congregation is one church meeting in two or more locations under one overall leadership and budget.

While summarizing report highlights, Bird noted that multisites have experienced the largest growth within the last decade, which he said explains how one out of 10 churchgoers is drawn to these types of congregations.

The minimum overall attendance recommended for going multisite usually begins around 850 however, on average, churches tend to expand to other locations when they have reached an attendance of 1,000 individuals, according to the report. 

Bird said that almost half of the multisite churches they surveyed reported they would have opened additional campuses at a smaller size. Most of them began to expand when they had an attendance of 1,500.

"Is there a sweet spot or tipping point for what the ideal size might be? Those who say they were 'probably too small to go multisite' when they did, averaged 450 in attendance when they first became multisite," said Bird.

He added, "We do know that with each passing year, more churches are moving sooner, thus smaller, to become multisite. Maybe in the future we'll even see church plants regularly start with two sites."

Another aspect of the report found that campus viability ranges from 2 to 25 percent of the sending church's overall attendance. For example, some churches with 15,000 individuals and higher said they could start a viable campus with the equivalent of two or three percent of their total attendance, which would be about 350 people at one location.

However, Bird noted that these are average figures with varying factors.

 "The percentages needed for a new campus to be viable change in direct proportion to the overall size of the church. So, rather than aim at a standard rule of thumb number to offer across all church sizes, such as 5 or 10 percent, it seems better to peg the percentage with the church's overall size," said Bird.

While speaking about church progression, Bird also mentioned that the average growth rate for multisite churches is 14 percent and the likelihood of expanding into other locales increases with size.

"Our survey confirmed a principle that's held true as long as I've been tracking the movement, the larger the church, the more likely to be multisite and the more campuses and services it has," he said.

The Leadership Network tapped into their network of multisite clients for the report. Usable responses came from 535 churches across 12 countries, 91 percent from the US, and smaller percentages from Canada, the UK, and other nations which all together represent 1.8 million in weekly worship.

The full "Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard" report will be available Tuesday, March 11.

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