The new normal — multisite churches

If multisite churches were a Protestant denomination, they would be the fourth largest in the country.

By John Chandler

I have to hand it to my friend and Virginia Baptist colleague, Glenn Akins. In the early 2000s, Glenn came back from meeting two relatively unknown pastors, Dave and Jon Ferguson of Community Christian Church in the Chicago suburbs. While many were still buying Willow Creek as a “rule maker,” Glenn told us instead to invest in a “rule breaker” — the multisite church. (A multisite church is one church in two or more locations.)

Good call, Glenn! At that time, there were three emerging multisite centers: Community Christian; Seacoast in Charleston, S.C; and North Coast in Southern California. Learning from these, Glenn led his church planting colleagues to rethink how to spur on multisite churches, and a handful began to sprout in Virginia: Coastal Community in Virginia Beach, Highlands in Abingdon and Bon Air in Richmond, to name a few.

What we have since learned is that multisite churches are not a fad but are here to stay. They are the new normal. While we will continue to look at megachurches as the canary in the coal mine to see what is trending in the American religious landscape, we can now safely say that multisite churches are reflectors and predictors for what’s here and what’s next.

Leadership Network recently released a study showing that 5 million people worshipped at one of 8,000 U.S. multisite churches last weekend. That’s 9 percent of all Protestant churchgoers and 3 percent of all Protestant churches. If multisite churches were a Protestant denomination, they would be the fourth largest in the country. Among the 100 largest U.S. churches, only 12 have a single campus. On the list of fastest-growing churches, only 42 of 100 are housed in a single campus. Multisite also is the new normal among large churches.

Furthermore, the central idea of multisite churches — reproduction to public-space venues — will soon enough be widely embraced by smaller congregations and in social-space settings. Evidence of this can be seen in the Fresh Expressions movement spreading rapidly on the East Coast. While multisite thinking was once the domain of only the largest churches, we are now seeing smaller churches deploying the same methodology.

So Glenn, good call. If you have any other investment advice for us, we’re all ears!

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.