When Dave Ferguson graduated from Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College he knew the best way for people to find their way to God was through the local church. He talked to some churches about joining their staff but found “I wasn’t the best fit for them and they weren’t the best fit for me,” so Dave, his brother Jon, and a couple of friends started Community Christian Church in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. Now Community has eight campuses with over 600 leaders and more than 5,000 in attendance each weekend. The Big Idea, a book written by Dave and Jon, along with Eric Bramlett is being published by Zondervan this month.
How do you describe what Community does? Multisite? Satellite churches? Multiple campuses?
Most people use multisite and multicampus as synonymous. We didn’t really like the term satellite campus because it implies there is something smaller that orbits around a larger body. The term we’re using is “reproducing church.” That’s caught people’s attention. It’s indicative of reproducing at every level—leaders, artists, campuses—and churches too.
How did CCC end up becoming a multisite church?
There was no clear dream of being multisite from the beginning. However, we did have a threefold vision from day one: phase one, that we would be an impact church; phase two, that we would be a reproducing church; phase three, that we would be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches. We didn’t have the courage to talk about phase three very much, but we did pray about it.
Are your various campuses attracting similar demographic groups?
We have eight different campuses. Six of them are quite a bit alike. One of the newest is in Pilsen in Chicago, the largest Hispanic community east of Los Angeles. One of our campuses is in a gated seniors’ community. The other six are in surrounding Chicago suburbs.
Do you maintain similar programming each week among the various campuses?
At every campus we do what we call “The Big Idea.” All of our adult celebration services, our small groups, and our students and children do The Big Idea in an age-appropriate kind of way. We feel like people get bombarded with a lot of Christian info, but we try to live out this one thing to accomplish the Jesus mission each week. That’s one of several things we do to create alignment.
Is “alignment” another way of saying “centralized leadership?”
No, alignment is how we maximize our impact and fight against diffusion of energy. Alignment is very important for a multisite church—actually it’s important for any large church. Alignment doesn’t mean that you’re trying to make everything identical. We have the “four ones that create alignment”—one vision, one staff or team, one budget, and one eldership. What we’re seeing happen so far is that there will be a number of churches with two sites, not many with three, but a lot with four or more. That has a lot to do with alignment. Those with two who see that it’s utter chaos likely won’t move on to start other campuses. Those that figure out how to align the campuses will continue to start more new sites.
How does your leadership structure work?
We actually use the term leader for anyone overseeing a group of 10, and every leader has a coach, and each coach has what we call a super-coach. Every super-coach has a staff person who works with him. We have about 600 leaders, coaches, and super-coaches who oversee Community Christian Church. That’s our Leadership Community. The elders are selected from that Leadership Community, and our staff is accountable to them. The great thing is that no one gets appointed to be an elder unless he is a leader and has people following them.
Are there more campuses in Community’s future?
Yes. This year we’re going to start one or two sites, and this is not even one of our top two or three initiatives, it’s just kind of who we are. We’re starting our ninth campus in a few weeks. We started the eighth one just four months ago. The dream is to see 200 campuses in the Chicago area, and we think we can reach 100,000 Christ-followers. We don’t just want to see 100,000 showing up for church. We want to see 100,000 who are on board and helping to accomplish the mission.
At what point should a church consider multisite as an option?
We’re seeing a lot of brand-new churches—before they even started—have a dream to reproduce. My encouragement for church planters is to think about it from day one.
What about existing churches?
For existing churches it has to do with leader readiness. When you have enough leaders saying, “Yeah, we want to make that new thing happen,” then you’re ready. I don’t think it’s about the size of the church, or reaching 80 percent capacity, or any of the typical growth numbers. When you have people with a missional spirit, then you’re ready to do it. I’d like to encourage people to think more proactively than reactively. That feels more like a movement than just overflow.
What level of leadership “buy-in” does there have to be?
I think the staff needs to buy in. Then beyond that we talk about a matrix—it’s the leadership structure that needs to support a brand-new site. As long as we have enough people to fill in that matrix then we’re good to go. Everybody else can stay put. We’re not trying to tell everyone they have to go, only those who want to be a part of a mission.
Community Christian has been a real leader in the multisite movement across the U.S. How are you replicating what you do in other locales?
Four years ago we started the NewThing Network (www.NewThing.org). There are eight churches in the NewThing Network now: two in Chicago, and one each in Denver, Manhattan (New York), Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Knoxville. Our different teams get together weekly through teleconference and videoconference and we get together in person twice a year for peer mentoring. We do coaching with a lot of churches and we’re doing a number of things like our multisite practicum and conferences, but primarily, NewThing is a whole network of new and reproducing churches.
Have you been surprised at how many churches have followed your lead?
I don’t really think like that. I think, “Of course people ought to do this!” It’s a great way for the church to accomplish Jesus’ mission. Why wouldn’t more people do it? It’s been a rush to be a part of. I think a lot more churches could accomplish a lot more if they got on board with this.
How many churches in the U.S. are using the multisite model?
As far back as 1990 there were 10. By 1998, when we went multisite, there were about 100. By 2004, according to Leadership Network, there were about 1,500. A recent survey says 30 percent of churches across the country are considering multisite as an option.
Is this an American phenomenon, or have you seen it at work in other parts of the world?
It’s happening elsewhere, too. When you see churches in other parts of the world with 40,000 or 50,000 people, or even hundreds of thousands of people, you discover that those churches have multiple locations.
What do you see as the future of multisite?
I think the good news is it’s symptomatic of something bigger that’s happening. Churches are embracing the idea of reproducing. What I’m predicting is that as you start other sites you get this reproducing virus inside the body and unless the senior leadership squelches it (because they’re afraid of it), those churches will become church-planting churches.
Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.