Go to the People: The Multisite Model of Growth

August 7th, 2013

The realization hit me as I was standing in the middle of nearly 3,000 people at our largest event of the year—“as large as this group is, it is only a fraction of the unreached population in our region.” The Orchard—the church my wife and I founded and lead—has always worked extremely hard to connect to people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus or a connection to a community of faith. But, as I stood there, in a “successful” event with over 1,000 guests, I wondered what it would take to reach the other 20,000 people in our town, the 5,000 unreached in the next town, and the unreached 3,000 in the next. Have you ever wondered that?

Interestingly enough, many of the answers to my questions were within my own congregation. We already had a number of people driving from these outlying communities; all I needed to do was ask them, “How do we reach your friends?” Our interest in and development of a multisite strategy came in response to their answers.

“It’s Too Far!”

Mississippi is largely rural and so many people drive to work or shop from as much as fifty miles away. However, after driving those distances Monday through Saturday, they are far less inclined to make that same trip on Sunday. Even when our attendees could convince their neighbors to visit The Orchard with them once, the return trip was a much harder sell because of the distance.

“I Don’t Understand Church!”

When we planted The Orchard there were plenty of wonderful churches in our area that were communicating the gospel faithfully. Almost all of them, however, were communicating it in a similar way, and so those who “spoke that language” responded. But the unreached were saying, “We don’t understand what you are saying or why it matters to us!”

“I Want to Connect with and Serve People in MY Community.”

I live in the county seat of Tupelo. It is considered by those who live outside of the city limits as “the city”—where life is busy, traffic is bothersome and the pace of life is too fast. The people who live in outlying areas are intensely proud of their communities often expressing great pride in their neighborhoods, schools, and way of life. They all pride themselves on not being in “the city” and celebrate their slower pace of life, smaller schools, and more affordable housing. So, if they go to church, they naturally look to go to church in their communities.

Aside from the “I don’t have anything to wear” and “The church just wants my money!” objections, these barriers were the primary reasons we discovered that people didn’t attend The Orchard. Knowing this, we committed ourselves to finding the right answers to their objections!

The Go-To Church

The answer we discovered was multisite—a strategy for customizing ministry to reach the unreached in our region. Multisite lets a church address the specific gaps in proclaiming the Gospel in a community by tailoring the expression specifically to that community. And, it lets churches address the specific missional needs of the communities in which the sites are located in a way that a centralized community of faith may find more difficult. Multisite allows you to infuse a community with the Gospel in an understandable, geographically accessible, and missionally specific way. In short, it lets the Gospel use the natural elements of a community to introduce the Gospel to the community.

As I stood in the middle of that crowd at our big event, it became clear to me that we couldn’t just keep flinging open the doors and inviting people in—there were too many barriers! We had to go to the communities and address the barriers. Instead of a “Come Here” church we needed to become a “Go To” church. We have found that multisite is an excellent strategy for doing just that.

Multisite Unifies

Most churches don’t plant other churches, because they think they are creating competition for their church, or they think their church could reach all the unreached in their town, or they don’t want to make the financial investment, or they don’t want to give away their members to another church or pastor. Multisite maintains a connection to the mother church that allows for alignment of teaching and passion and for particularization of ministry and mission. While a church plant is often seen as “them” most multisites are seen as “us.”

Multisite is Sustainable

A multisite can be launched in a community where a church plant doesn’t make sense fiscally. Church planters rarely plant churches in communities of five thousand people or less. The likelihood of a church reaching sustainability for a full-time pastor and any staff in a small community is not very good. However that size community and even smaller communities may be the perfect place for a multisite!

People who are drawn to your church love your church! So, if you were to make an appeal to them to leave your church and go be part of a new church plant closer to where they live a few of the entrepreneurial or adventuresome types would go, but most would say, “I like it here.”

But what if you asked them to be part of an amazing new outreach mission that your church was going to lead? At this new site, many of the things that attracted them to your church will be exactly the same. The teaching, the music, children’s ministry, youth ministry, and even the missional heart of this new effort will be the same though it will have a community specific expression. Add to that a passion for the community they live in, and the neighbors they love who don’t go to church, and you have a perfect recipe for multisite!

Multisite Creates Opportunity

One of the other benefits of starting a multisite in a neighboring community is the opportunity it creates for people in that community to lead. It is likely that there are people who have natural leadership abilities who aren’t stepping up at your church because they do not see a particular leadership need. The need for these leadership gifts at the new site—or the need created when a current leader moves to the site—creates opportunities for people to use latent gifts.

Multisite Engages Different Gifts

Church planters generally need entrepreneurial gifts, teaching and preaching gifts, along with visionary gifts. These gifts are less necessary for multisite campus leaders than shepherding, mercy, and missional gifts. In any given church there are clearly more people with shepherding, mercy, and missional gifts than there are with apostolic gifts. This means that there are far more people who could pastor a site than people who could plant a new church.

Multisite is Good Stewardship

In the first year of our first additional campus, we spent $100,000 to start a campus fifty miles away that drew in 200 new people. This price tag included the pastor’s salary, facility rent, and equipment costs. To add those same people to our main campus, if we could have convinced them to drive fifty miles each way, would have cost us $1.5 million in building expansion. Since then, we have planted another campus that added 200 people at a cost of $65,000 and another that added 85 people for $50,000. Each of these sites is reaching people that we could never have reached, at a much lower cost than we could have accommodated them for at the main site. In addition, those sites have now become financially self-sustaining and produce income for ministry in their communities.

So, Why Not Multisite?

With the need for new work and the passion of our people for their communities and their neighbors, why wouldn’t we multisite? With the leadership opportunities that it provides people who have been sitting in the background waiting to lead and the availability of people who have shepherding, mercy and missional gifts, why wouldn’t we multisite? With its stewardship advantages in a time in which we most need to be good stewards, why wouldn’t we multisite? With fifty-percent of the people in our communities and neighborhoods not having a personal relationship with Jesus or a connection to a community of faith, why wouldn’t we multisite?

You tell me.

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