All in for multisite churches? Not so fast.

Congregations looking to develop more than one campus face significant challenges.

By John Chandler

Multisite churches are a “new normal” in American Protestantism. According to Leadership Network, multisite churches statistically:

• Reach more people evangelistically than single-site churches.

• Tend to spread healthy churches to more diverse communities.

• Have more volunteers in service as a percentage than single-site churches.

• Baptize more people than single-site.

• Tend to activate people into ministry more than single-site.

So we’re all in for multisite, right?

Not so fast. There remain significant challenges to churches that would go multisite, pertaining to community, celebrity and consumerism. If we are coming to a multisite church to watch a video sermon, do you come for the show without connecting to the community? Does the medium itself promote a “come-and-get” mentality over a “come-and-give” ethos?

This problem is not limited to multisite churches, but the trap of baptizing consumerism is real. In 2009, Shane Hipps wrote Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith. Citing Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, Hipps said that you can’t have people come and watch a screen without expecting that the core message will be framed in terms of the screen: namely, entertainment. As one football coach said in defending his highly confrontational style, “You can’t coach in soprano and hope your team will play in bass.” Are we multiplying consumers as we multiply sites? In a celebrity-obsessed culture, are we creating celebrity pastors to the detriment of apprenticing new preachers and teachers? Are we teaching people to sit back and watch rather than to go and do?

What overrides these very real concerns for multisite churches is the evangelistic mandate to reach people who are clearly never otherwise going to show up at our existing churches. The theological hang-ups evangelicals have with multisite churches don’t seem to trouble the unchurched. Americans in the Northeast, Americans ages 18-29 and Americans who never attend church disproportionately attend multisite churches. These are people who have dropped out or have never opted into church otherwise. If you had to choose between them showing up at a multisite church or going nowhere at all, what would you choose?

D.L. Moody was once criticized for his methods of evangelism. Moody’s famous reply was, “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do witnessing either. Tell me, how do you do it?” His accuser replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody retorted, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

So as multisite churches continue to surge in the U.S. — and they will — I hope we will continue to ask the hard questions about what is being multiplied. But no fair criticizing them if you’re sitting on your hands while your unchurched neighbors remain unchurched.

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