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MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multisite

August 22, 2017
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Now in its third decade, the multisite movement began as a radical idea to solve church facility restrictions and has now become a mainstream outreach strategy for all kinds of churches. Like any movement there have been various expressions, leaders and criticisms.

The newest book on the multisite church movement comes out this fall and I highly recommend it. The authors of MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multisite have served this movement well by describing its evolution, naming its distinct expressions, addressing its criticisms and charting a course forward for a movement that is not slowing down but is continually morphing.

Written by a seasoned multisite practitioner and a hands-on theologian, Brad House and Gregg Allison address the multiple challenges of a multisite church and provide an invaluable roadmap for church leaders wherever they are on their multisite journey.

Here is a brief interview I had with co-author Brad House, who serves as the Executive Pastor of Ministry at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Describe your multisite church journey.

Multisite wasn’t even on my radar when I entered into full-time ministry. I was hired to help build community through a small group ministry out of a career in Structural Engineering. That background helped me to think through systems and structures that helped promote the development of community groups.

At the time that I came on staff at Mars Hill in Seattle, the church was hitting a pretty strong growth surge and we were running out of options to handle the growth. Our reason for exploring multisite was very pragmatic. We were busting at the seams and could not afford to build in Seattle so we looked for a different option and multisite was just coming into vogue.

The next several years afforded me a front row seat to the multisite experience as we grew from one church with several services to 15 multisite campuses across several states where I was blessed to help develop ministries across those locations and help plant several of the campuses.

That experience led me to join up with Sojourn Community Church where I am the Executive Pastor of Ministry overseeing our four locations within Kentuckiana. Our philosophy at Sojourn is significantly different with live preaching at all locations and a focus on local multisite development. Both experiences were extremely valuable in understanding the multisite landscape.

What was your key learning from your Mars Hill experience?

The rapid growth of Mars Hill provided an amazing laboratory experience. It is pretty rare to get to work in an environment where you get to see your success and failures manifest in such a short time.

Major takeaways from Seattle would include an understanding of the complexity of multisite, the importance of matching models with the rights types of leaders, and the value of understand the long-term implications of your working model.

Many of the challenges that we faced came down to a lack of appreciation for the significance of these issues. I have found since, that if churches can establish the desired model that is consistent with their biblical convictions and philosophy they can look for and match up the right leaders to the model. Ultimately, hindsight from my time in Seattle was a desire to provide others with foresight.

Why did you write Multichurch?

We wrote this book to help churches and their leaders feel more equipped for making the decision to go multisite. We set out to clarify the language around multisite and to promote a vision for doing multisite that emphasizes collaboration, celebrating diversity, and empowerment. It is what we call multichurch.

What are the key takeaways?

The first takeaway might be that there is much more to the multisite movement than most people know. We spend the first section of the book working through the history, theology, and critiques of multisite. From there we jump into the vision for multichurch.

Our hope is that churches will see that there are ways to work together that are life giving and actually make the church stronger, enhancing her ability to participate in the great commission. We want our readers to be excited to build a church that invites all its leaders and members to use their gifts for the Kingdom and walk away with practical steps for establishing a multichurch vision for their body.

What is the difference between multisite and multichurch?

We defined any church that does not limit its gathering to one location and time as a multisite church. Therefore, the multisite model consists of one church that expresses itself in multiple campuses (multiple services, multiple venues, or multiple locations).

We are proposing a further distinction from multisite, a natural evolution of the multisite model that differs from the earlier multisite models in where and how authority and governance are focused. We refer to these churches as multichurch.

The multichurch model consists of one church that expresses itself in multiple churches that have a form of polity that provides the responsibility and authority to make decisions locally about budget, contextualization of ministries, and more.

 What question would you like me to ask?

Many people ask about the implications of our polity. They note that it seems to require a significant amount of maturity and therefore seems to be more difficult. Their observation is correct and that is why we promote it. Why would you want a polity that did not require maturity of the church’s leaders?

What is the future of the multisite movement?

I believe that the multichurch philosophy that emphasizes collaboration, empowerment, and interdependence is the future.

Multisite churches across the spectrum will certainly continue to endure but we expect to see a significant increase of churches embracing the unity and diversity that comes from being a multichurch.

Brad House is the Executive Pastor of Ministry at Sojourn Community Church, a large multisite church with four locations in Louisville, Kentucky, and Southern Indiana.

Brad oversees the multisite campuses and their pastors and is Chairman of the Board for Sojourn Network, a church planting network of over thirty churches.

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