The Multisite revolution is an appropriate title to describe one of the most exciting, innovative, and for some, controversial movements in today’s church. In Geoff Surrat’s upcoming book (Network Pastor of Seacoast Church based in Charleston, SC) he discusses this powerful and sweeping method of church growth. If your church is not already implementing multisite, chances are you have considered its merits and possibilities for your church.
As we began to look more deeply at the multisite/multivenue movement we should not be surprised to find a wide variety of methods being used. From churches offering varying worship styles around the campus, to locations several states away. One thing they all have in common is visionary leadership that is willing to think outside the box to reach people with the Gospel.
In the next few issues we will explore the inner workings of a few of the over 1000 churches that use multisite solutions. We’ll discuss when and why your church should go multisite, dig into the technology and meet these innovative Senior Pastors, campus pastors, and media/tech leaders in some of the most exciting ministries leading the multisite revolution.
North Coast Church History
When Senior Pastor Larry Osborne became the pastor of the then Carlsbad Evangelical Free Church, there were 127 adults and children who gathered for worship. From there, attendance actually went down for the next few years! It was during this time (Larry calls them “the dark years”) that God began to slowly put together the core team (both staff and elders) that would lead North Coast into the exciting ministry it is today. By 1990, attendance had grown to nearly 800 in a rented Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Then, just as they were getting comfortable they lost their lease.
With just $30,000 in the bank, the congregation was faced with a tough decision: Stretch and spend nearly $2 million to buy and fix up a building that would allow for continued growth— or play it safe and rent a much smaller storefront that could easily be paid for, would comfortably accommodate the current congregation— shutting the doors to future expansion.
Fortunately the leadership chose to stretch and make the sacrifices necessary to buy the property that allowed for growth. And once again, God responded to their obedience. The funds came in and so did the people.
By 1998 they were squeezing over 3,000 people into four services. Running out of space and lacking the funds to build and time to build a bigger facility, the leadership decided to provide an additional service using live worship with a video feed of the weekend message. Thus started the first Video Café (and the beginning of a national movement known as the video venue and/or multi-site church movement). Today, using a combination of live worship services and video worship venues North Coast Church has five campuses and 21 worship options including Country, Alternative, Traditional and Contemporary each weekend with well over 6,000 in attendance.
In 2000, North Coast began the process of acquiring a 40-acre property in Vista, CA with plans to create a new main campus with the intent of keeping their satellite campuses operational for the long run.
First United Methodist Church Wichita, Kansas
Each Sunday morning for more than a decade, 40 residents of the Wesley Towers retirement community in Hutchinson, Kansas have gathered for worship each Sunday. But rather than hearing a message from the community chaplain, or a visiting pastor, they see the service and sermon from First United Methodist Church in nearby Wichita, Kansas.
First Church has broadcast its weekly morning worship services for more than 30 years. When the broadcast began in 1975, the key objective was to allow aging members of the congregation to remain connected to the body.
“When a member reaches a certain age, they are forced to disconnect from their own church,” said Senior Pastor Dr. Michael Gardner. “When they are no longer able to physically attend, there is a real loss— of community, of connection, and it is a real trauma for them. The opportunity to be a part of our television congregation provides them a bridge.”
Today, the church is making a concerted effort to take that service to nursing homes and retirement communities across the state. Their objective is not simply to keep in touch with former members, but to actively reach out and grow a new congregation, one that meets via television, in small groups across the state.
“It is our twist on the multi-site concept, and we’ve been doing this for many years,” said Kirk Longhofer, Director of Communications and Technology. “Our thought is that these groups should actually function as extensions of our congregation. We hope that their weekly worship experience will mirror what we offer in our own building. The church’s commitment extends beyond simply providing a televised worship service. The church’s pastoral care team routinely visits members of their television congregation when they are hospitalized, and provide other needed pastoral care.
“We have hosted funerals, visited people in homes, and provided all the normal support that you might expect a church to offer it’s members,” said Longhofer. “We even had a men’s group travel two hours to assist an elderly couple in making repairs to the foundation of their home.”
Today, nearly a dozen of these satellite congregations meet weekly, with a total attendance of more than 200. The numbers are growing rapidly. Plans are in the works to triple the number of satellite congregations by the end of 2006. The church ensures that each group is connected with a chaplain or pastor to provide pastoral care to residents. These pastors are on site each Sunday, and also serve as liaison back to the church. Check their website at www.firstimpressions.tv
National Community Church
National Community Church started in 1996 with a core group of 19 people meeting in a District of Columbia public school. The school got closed down and was on the verge of becoming a homeless church when they landed in the movie theaters at Union Station. Once there, Pastor Mark Batterson quickly realized that this was a unique location for a church in the middle of the marketplace environment. Pastor Mark says “I went into church planting with the traditional mindset: meet in rented facilities until you can buy or build a building. Then I realized that we could never build a Union Station. We have our own parking garage, metro system, train and bus stop. We have 40 food court restaurants. All of that in the most-frequented destination in DC. 25 million people pass through Union station every year!”
So they saw that God has strategically positioned them right in the middle of the marketplace. That has become a huge part of the church’s DNA. Batterson says “We want to do ministry in the middle of the marketplace. So our vision is to meet in movie theaters located at metro stops throughout DC.” The church currently has five services in three locations and also recently launched a coffeehouse called Ebenezers right on Capitol Hill. They also host events at the largest nightclub in DC.
Outside Seacoast Church’s bustling original campus in Mount Pleasant, people stream past a building under construction and into an auditorium that is packed for most services.
The difference is, there are now as many people who experience Seacoast at an off-site campus as there are at the original campus. Founding and Senior pastor Greg Surratt starts the message before the Mount Pleasant location…”And for those of you in Summerville … ” Surratt calls to involve those watching him from far beyond Mount Pleasant.
Seacoast was born in 1988. Already, on a given weekend, Surratt’s words are heard by worshippers at nine campuses across South Carolina and into Georgia.
In Summerville, 600 adults and children at the Dorchester County Senior Center, where they, like those worshipping at Seacoast’s seven other campuses, have their own campus pastor and live music, but watch Surratt’s videotaped message on large screens.
About 250 people gather in Greenville SC as well where a live band brings home modern music that’s come to define Seacoast.
The church that started in 1988 with 65 people meeting in an apartment clubhouse now draws nearly 8000 on a given weekend and will top 10,000 at Easter and Christmas services.
Today, Seacoast has joined a continuing national trend: large multisite churches that draw tens of thousands but become smaller through the multi-site revolution. The churches often meet in different places but share some staff, a name and a worship style, according to the Leadership Network, a group created in 1984 to serve large congregations.
In 2003, the Leadership Network released a study that found at least 1,000 churches across North America could be described as multisite.
Seacoast didn’t set out to grow through multi-site. But in 2001, when the town of Mount Pleasant denied its request to expand on its main campus, the church switched gears.
The result: In three years, the church has launched eight campuses.
“Our mission is still the same,” says Creative Pastor Shawn Wood. “To help people become fully-devoted followers of Christ. That has not changed. We are just now able to accomplish this mission through multi-site locations”
Seacoast has not changed it’s mission, but it does have a new motto: “One church, many campuses.” In fact Seacoast Church is a part of a group of three churches that will be sharing how they do this at a national multi-site conference hosted in Charleston, SC this May. www.multi-site.org
LifeChurch.tv started in 1996 with just 8 people and now has seven campuses and 29 worship experiences with over 17,000 in attendance in three different states, including Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona and soon, the Internet.
LifeChurch.tv first realized the need for broadcast technology and multisite because of two situations. They quickly outgrew the first building they ever constructed and had to start providing additional services in a nearby movie theater. Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel was driving back and forth between the two services; speaking in one while the music was being performed at the other one. One weekend, Craig’s wife Amy went into labor with their 4th child in the middle of one of the Sunday worship experiences. Since no one else was prepared to teach, the only option was to play a video of Craig’s message from the night before. It turned out to be a viable solution to the desire to take God’s message out to as many people as possible.
One of the first permanent satellite campuses came when the leaders of Metro Church approached Life in 2001 with the idea of joining together. This became what is today the Edmond campus and the central offices of LifeChurch.tv Soon after the Tulsa and Stillwater campuses were added; the messages were taped, copied to DVD and driven to the campuses.
As the vision for expanding outside of the state grew, it was clear that there would have to be another way to get messages to campuses, as mailing them would mean that out-of-state campuses would be a week behind. It was then that the decision was made to build a satellite uplink system and rent time on a satellite every weekend to send out live broadcasts of the message to all of the campuses – and potentially to anywhere in the world.
Speaking of anywhere in the world, one of the most unique innovations in multisite will come later this year when LifeChurch.tv opens its brand new Internet campus. The Internet campus will provide a completely real-time experience that will include live music, a live internet campus pastor, and live teaching. They are building it in such a way that people can become part of this community not just by observing LifeChurch.tv but by engaging with what God is doing in the life of the church. Using a dedicated internet campus staff and brand new internet technologies (multi-user web chat, live support software) to incorporate the elements and ministries that are core to LifeChurch.tv, They will provide opportunities to be a part of biblical community, to serve on the campus, to commit to LifeChurch.tv membership, to participate in a life group, and on-and-on. They are using one of the most powerful communication tools available in the world for the ultimate goal of leading people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.
Today LifeChurch.tv has seven total campuses in three different states with 29 total worship experiences every weekend.
Fellowship Church Grapevine, TX
When Fellowship Church’s Grapevine campus reached its maximum capacity for weekend services, Senior Pastor Ed Young and the leadership team faced a challenging situation. Among the options was an expanded worship center or multiple service locations. Since a new, larger, or expanded worship center would not fit the budget or needed timeline for relief, the answers were found in Plano, Uptown Dallas and the Alliance area of Forth Worth Texas.
As they continue to learn the lessons of ministry at satellite locations, they continue to grow and innovate as they have done for many years.
Fellowship Church Plano: A renovated furniture store became the location of the first satellite campus. Little did they realize the amazing response this location would have in the community. Opening weekend came, and they were overwhelmed with the response. Almost twice the number of anticipated people showed up! So, they added chairs to the worship center, room to the nursery and children’s areas, and a permanent sign to the outside of the building to let the community know they were there for the long haul. Since opening the campus on January 16, 2005, the church has had a steady stream of new members.
Fellowship Church Uptown: The Uptown campus found a temporary home in the historic North Dallas High School. Using the auditorium for the worship center, the cafeteria as a nursery and the band room as the children’s church, this location has provided an amazing opportunity to reach into the heart of Dallas. But they soon saw a need for a more permanent location. Recently, a building in the Arts District became available for purchase and they will soon move in and be able to reach even more of the Uptown crowd!
Fellowship Church Alliance: Fellowship found yet another temporary location near Texas Motor Speedway. Following the model in Uptown’s temporary location, they set up church each weekend at Northwest High School’s main campus and began holding services on Easter weekend 2005. Alliance is continuing to grow, and soon will need to find a permanent location in that area as well.
These are just a few examples of churches using multisite solutions.