By Kent Fillinger
The second coming of the megachurch appears to be the multisite movement—or perhaps the next generation of multisite ministry arrived before you were even introduced to the original version. Dave Ferguson, lead pastor of Community Christian (Naperville, Illinois), is an often quoted and passionate proponent of multisite ministry. He introduced a new concept—the “polysite church”—in an article in the February 24 Christian Standard. He described the polysite church as the next wave in church reproduction. A recent article in Rev! magazine titled “Mega, Schmega” (March/April 2008) described multisite ministry as the answer for the future church.
Some 2,000 churches across the country do some version of a multisite model, including 25 of the megachurches and emerging megachurches on our list. The question is, what can we learn from these churches as we brace for or embrace the church of the future?
MULTISITES AMONG US
Since 2005, among churches tracked by Christian Standard, there has been a 67 percent increase in the number of megachurches and emerging megachurches using a multisite model, with seven new churches joining the ranks last year. Nineteen additional churches have plans to launch multisites in 2008. If these 19 churches are successful, then almost 40 percent of the megachurches and emerging megachurches will be multisite churches by the end of this year. In addition to the growing number of multisite churches, the number of multisite locations grew from 48 in 2006 to 68 total sites last year.
Younger churches are more likely to transition to the multisite model. One-third of the 25 multisite churches have started since 1990. And while the multisite model enables a church to continue growing beyond its physical constraints, the original campus still maintains the largest percentage of the overall population—an average of 82 percent.
The multisite model continues to have a positive correlation to overall growth. Last year, emerging megachurches with multisites grew 4.1 percent and megachurches with multisites grew 5.4 percent.
While the growth rate of these multisite churches was better than the overall average, the evidence does not indicate growth rates continue to increase as more sites are added. For example, the megachurch and emerging megachurch with the greatest number of locations, respectively, both declined in attendance last year: Community Christian (Naperville, Illinois) declined 1.1 percent, and New Life Christian (Chantilly, Virginia) declined 5.5 percent.
In spite of this, two-thirds of the megachurches and emerging megachurches with multisite models plan to continue adding additional sites in the future. The megachurches and emerging megachurches that desire or intend to add more sites in the future grew 11.4 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, last year. The remaining one third of the multisite churches with no plans to add more sites in the future declined 1.5 percent in attendance last year.
Examining the growth rates of the 19 churches with definite plans to launch a multisite in 2008 reveals that both the megachurches and emerging megachurches in this group grew at a better-than-average growth rate last year (3.6 percent for the emerging megachurches and 9.2 percent for the megachurches).
Jim Tomberlin, a multisite church strategist, has created a questionnaire to help churches decide whether multisite ministry is right for them. His first question: Is your church growing at least 5 percent a year? Based on this one evaluative filter alone, 8 of the 14 megachurches and 4 of the 5 emerging megachurches planning to go multisite in 2008 should reevaluate.
The multisite ministry model is not the simple solution to growth that every church desires. Three of the multisite churches listed have eliminated unsuccessful sites during the multiplication process, and one multisite church leader said, “We’ve been in decline since launching our second campus four years ago. Rather than multisite being a growth engine, our experience is that it has been a momentum buster. We are still experimenting with ways to make it successful.”
Therefore, it appears the multisite ministry model is an “all-in or all-out” proposition. The multisite churches that have made a 100 percent commitment to the concept and plan to continue implementing the multisite vision appear to have a higher potential for continued growth. But the multisite churches that decided to try multisite ministry only as another possible growth strategy without the necessary long-term commitment or without the internal conditions necessitating a multisite model seem to have stifled their growth instead of sparking it.