Multi-Site Churches Go Interstate

Mars Hill Church is coming to town.

Pastor Mark Driscoll’s megachurch recently announced plans to expand into Portland, Oregon, and Orange County, California, using multi-site campuses that feature live bands and a sermon piped in from the main campus in Seattle.

The move is part of a trend among megachurches to extend their brand of church to new communities, in hopes of reaching unchurched people with the gospel. But critics fear the out-of-state campuses turn churches into franchises like McDonald’s or Starbucks.

The reason for the new campuses is simple, according to the Mars Hill website.

“Oregon needs Jesus Christ,” claims the introduction of the new location. “The city of Portland is known for many things, but the gospel of Jesus is nowhere on the list.”

Bob Hyatt, pastor of the Evergreen Community in Portland, agrees that people in his city need to hear about Jesus.

But he has some doubts about Mars Hill’s method, which seems to him more like corporate expansion than church planting. “If you are a church planter in Portland, it’s a bit like reading the notice that Wal-Mart is coming and you are the mom-and-pop store,” he said.

Hyatt is also concerned about the long-term health of the out-of-state campus model. Rather than building up a local body of believers, he said, these campuses are dependent on having a celebrity pastor for their survival.

“It’s not just an extreme example of the church-celebrity model,” he said. “It’s complete capitulation. It’s enshrining that into the DNA of the church.”

Mars Hill isn’t the only megachurch to cross state lines.

Lifechurch.tv, based in Edmond, Oklahoma, has 14 campuses—10 in Oklahoma, along with sites in New York, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee. Seacoast Church, a megachurch near Charleston, S.C., has 13 locations in three states. Bethel World Outreach Center in Brentwood, Tennessee, recently started campuses in Phoenix and Dallas.

The surge is being driven by technology breakthroughs, said Warren Bird, research director at Leadership Network and co-author of Multisite Church Roadtrip. “First churches discover that multi-site works, and then they begin to ask if they’re really dependent on geographical proximity,” he said. “As North Point’s Andy Stanley often describes, they first jumped 10 yards and found multi-site works just fine through back-to-back auditoriums. Then they jumped 10 miles to their first campus. Then they asked, ‘Then would it work 100 or 1,000 miles away?'”

Not all of the out-of-state campuses have been successful.

LifeChurch.tv started campuses in the Phoenix suburbs of Mesa and Gilbert back in 2005. Those campuses are no longer listed as active on the church’s website.

Bobby Gruenwald, innovation leader at Lifechurch.tv, said that the church’s approach to out-of-state campuses has evolved. The key to success is finding local leaders and making sure the church meets the needs of its local community.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned is the importance of adapting what we do to the specific needs of the community and size of the campus,” he said.

Jeff Kinney, regional pastor for Seacoast, agrees. He said that a megachurch’s brand name alone doesn’t guarantee success for an out-of-state campus.

Kinney said that local and distant campuses operate differently. Those close by draw people who are already familiar with Seacoast. In some ways, they serve as high-quality overflow rooms; the main job of the campus pastor is to duplicate the experience of the main campus.

Distant campuses, like the one in Asheville, North Carolina, are more like church plants. That’s because a church’s brand name can have limited appeal.We thought going to Asheville—we’d put a sign on the marquee and people would show up,” Kinney said.

That didn’t happen. Instead, that campus draws people who didn’t know anything about Seacoast. “These guys function more as entrepreneurial pastors,” he said.

Bethel has tried a hybrid approach to its out-of-state campuses. All of its locations have a live preacher, while administrative tasks such as payroll and accounting are done from its central office.

Pastor Rice Broocks said that more local congregations of all kinds—independent churches, denominational churches, and multisite campuses—are needed.

“The more options you have, the more chances there are to reach people.”

Hardworking Sloths: Disguising Spiritual Laziness

My family used to play “Where’s Waldo?” with a three-toed sloth at the zoo; eventually we’d find him suspended like a hammock from a tree branch above us. I used to think he got a bad rap as nature’s laziest creature. After all, I don’t have the strength to hold myself upside down on a set of monkey bars for 10 seconds. Then a zoo volunteer explained that sloths have curved claws that allow them to dig into branches and hang without effort. Our sloth, it turns out, really was as unmotivated as he looked.

I found myself thinking about that lethargic critter the other day while listening to a recorded Eugene Peterson lecture and arguing with my MP3 player.

Peterson: Pastors are highly susceptible to the sin of sloth.

Me: What are you talking about? Pastors are some of the most overworked people alive.

Peterson: Sloth is most often evidenced in busyness … in frantic running around, trying to be everything to everyone, and then having no time to listen or pray, no time to become the person who is doing these things.

Score one for Peterson.

I’m not a pastor. But I am busy, like almost everyone I know. When Peterson declares that “the pastor’s primary responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God,” I can readily apply that job description to my roles as wife, mother, musician, and author. The mandate can be stated even more succinctly regarding my task as a human: Pay attention to God. If I don’t, I’m guilty of spiritual sloth, no matter how hard I’m working. In truth, there is an inverse relationship between how overwhelmed I am doing things and how much energy I can give to being attentive.

But did I mention I’m really busy?

Part of the problem is that spiritual receptivity requires unglamorous practices like prayer, time in Scripture, and attentiveness to what God is doing in the people around me. Telling me, “Prayer promotes spiritual growth!” has as much wow-factor as announcing, “Reducing calories leads to weight loss!” I want something new—a development that will lead to breakthrough. Peterson observes that spiritual disciplines have “not been tried and discarded because [they] didn’t work, but tried and found difficult (and more than a little tedious) and so shelved in favor of something or other that could be fit into a busy [person’s] schedule.”

Attending takes time and requires stillness. It’s ineffi cient in a world that considers getting things done next to godliness.

Scheduling is no small matter. Attending takes time without offering quantifiable results. It requires stillness in a culture that rewards industriousness. It’s inefficient in a world that considers getting things done next to godliness. A pastor who refuses to be slothful in the areas of silence and reflection stands a good chance of getting fired.

Our emphasis on external productivity over internal fidelity goes back a long way. Consider the case of King Saul, reported in 1 Samuel 13. Early in his kingship, Saul and the prophet Samuel had an understanding: Samuel would lead the people spiritually, and Saul would lead militarily. However, holed up with his troops facing a brigade of Philistines, Saul faced a dilemma. Samuel failed to show up on time to offer the sacrifice that Saul and his men relied on to keep them in God’s favor. As typically happens when things go off schedule, disorganization set in. The longer Saul waited, the more restless his men became; he was losing them.

Saul did what any good manager would do. He took action. He offered the sacrifice himself.

If I were conducting Saul’s job evaluation, I’d give him a bonus. He took initiative and solved the problem, saving time and boosting morale in the process. But Samuel didn’t see it that way. He told Saul he had failed to keep God’s command, and thus would be deposed by an incoming king—a “man after God’s own heart” better suited for the job.

God is not looking for leaders who take matters into their own hands. He values faithfulness over efficiency. It’s no good to organize the whole world yet be oblivious to the God who created it and holds it together. Yes, we have practical commitments we need to take seriously. But part of being responsible is being response-able: centering our lives in such a way that we can respond to the world around us with the mind of Christ. Such response-ability is impossible if our obligations crowd out any opportunity to get to know him better.

It makes sense that the sloth is the official mascot of spiritual lethargy. I’ve begun to see my incessant busyness as the set of claws that keep me holding on for dear life, dug in, hanging upside down, not getting anywhere. With God’s help, I want to let go, trusting him to show me how to live right side up. My job is to pay attention.

Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

The End of Church Planting?

Next year marks the one hundredth anniversary of Roland Allen’s small book Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? In that landmark text in mission studies, Allen argued that Western missionary methods had little in common with Paul’s missionary practices in the New Testament. The apostle and his partners did not establish large, permanent institutions, nor did they stay in one place for a decade or a career.

Allen wrote during the height of Western optimism, paternalism, and colonialism, and it took time for his ideas to gain traction. Yet the book eventually grew in influence and helped spur the shift toward contextualization and indigenization in world mission.

David Fitch wants to do something similar for North American missions and church planting. Fitch is Lindner Professor of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary and the author of several books, most recently The End of Evangelicalism (not the first doom-casting attempt in recent years).

In a recent blog post that is attracting attention around the web, Fitch encourages church expansion via a missionary team model, rather relying on professional entrepreneurial pastors to plant churches. The latter model has become common in recent decades (Rick Warren is a leading example). Fitch proposes that churches, denominations, and missions organizations send out teams consisting of three or four leaders or “lead couples” who could operate as a team in under-churched contexts.

Rather than emphasizing biblical practice as Allen did, Fitch argues pragmatically and fiscally. (His approach echoes that of Allen’s predecessor, Henry Venn, General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society; Venn proposed indigenization in the 19thcentury in response to lack of funds and warm bodies.) Money is a perennial issue, and not just for the planting organization; Jerry Bowyer recently blogged at Forbes onmoney problems for seminarians, mixing opinion and statistics.Fitch argues that such problems are addressed by his model.

The “lost and hurting” need not wait on financial windfalls, Fitch notes.Fitch would like us to “have three to four leader/leader couples” funded by full-time jobs, which would leave each couple “15 hours of labor (a week) to work together to organize and form a gospel expression … in their context.”They would plant themselves in a context for 10 years, and their careers would fund and fuel ministry to a small local group. Institutionalization and massive growth—typified by recent “suburban” church plants and the sort of large institutions opposed by Allen in 1912—would be avoided at all costs.

Mission methods that do not depend on massive finances certainly deserve consideration, and not just for the reasons Fitch cites. In the first instance, expensive church planting models are not well-suited for many contexts. In poorer locations, teams prepared to minister bi-vocationally could serve for the long-term in communities where churches have little or no chance of producing a minister’s salary.Fitch’s strategy also has value for those who desire to work in expensive under-churched contexts, many of which are cited by experts as locations in need of more gospel witness.

Secondly, seminary graduates increasingly struggle to find employment in ministry, thanks to the economic recession and over-saturation of the market with young seminary graduates. Joel Hathaway serves as Director of Alumni & Career Services at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and is regularly involved in placement consultation for churches and students. When open positions are publicly posted, Hathaway sees an average of fifty and as many as 70 applicants per position.
Many opportunities exist for young graduates willing to raise funds. But freedom from a life of ongoing, time-consuming fundraising can be liberating for students who adopt a profession that supports a life of ministry.One decades-old study indicated that both churches and pastors benefited “when a minister moved from being under-employed as the full-time pastor of a small church, to a forty-hour secular job, with a twenty-hour-a-week assignment to serve that church as pastor.”One can imagine less-vital aspects of a church planter’s day falling by the wayside without much loss, including time spent raising funds or connecting with like-minded souls on social media.

Third, church planting organizations often require candidates to complete a detailed church planting assessment designed to determine readiness and aptitude. In a team approach, no one person or couple needs to excel in every area. Everyone involved could provide some of the necessary skills and labor. Fitch’s model—reflected in some existing models—would broaden the number of useful candidates for church planting.

Finally, many church plants thrive on transfer growth from existing churches and draw members from a wide geographical area. But the model Fitch sketches certainly seems to be focused more on particular neighborhoods and the unreached.

Fitch overreaches when he calls for a total rejection or overhaul of the way in which church planting is done.Church planting efforts are growing in virtually every sphere of evangelicalism. Many traditional plants serve a purpose that more than justifies their expense. Asbury Seminary President Timothy Tennent cites church planting as a crucial mission trend in 21st century Christianity, andhemade church plantingone of four planks for the seminary’s vision in his recent inaugural address.

Given such momentum, models like Fitch’s are more likely to augment church planting than to eclipse it. Tim Morey, pastor of a church plant and church planting leader in the Evangelical Covenant Church, acknowledges the need for experimentation while noting many of the relative strengths of current models. In the comments at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, Morey citesthe good work being done through church planting.”Some contexts are going to work better with bivocational leadership, some contexts won’t.” And even in some contexts where bivocational ministry works well,”it will make sense at some point to hire one or more leaders away from their day jobs so they can give more of their time to equipping the saints for ministry.”

While some aspects of Fitch’s model are currently in use with some success, similar efforts in earlier generations failed to establish a lasting local gospel witness. Ablend of alternative and traditional frameworks could help create stability and sustainability, andchurch leadership is one area where old models could serve newer models.Paul’s “servant hierarchy” approach to church expansion suggests that some traditional models of leadership offset the weaknesses inherent in teams of young, energetic laborers.

One can envision a bishop or presbytery over several missional groups facilitating churchduplication, growth, discipline, and leadership training.Thanks to ITunesU, YouTube, and ministries like Third Millennium that freely provide content, many aspects of theological education can be absorbed”on-the-job” under the guidance of more experienced leaders.Even with hierarchy in place, newer churches create new leaders more quickly than older established churches, a fact often cited by Tim Keller and other church planting experts.
Paul’s own method for ministry was a message: his gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–4; Rom. 1:1–4) and his gospel-shaped way of life (1 Cor. 4:8–17).This message impacted Paul’s method of ministry. He did not choose a tent-making approach to ministry for pragmatic or financial reasons, but for pastoral reasons. He used his lifestyle to model the sacrifice and service required of every Christian (Acts 20:33–35; 1 Thess. 2:9–12, compared with 1 Thess. 4:9–11; 2 Thess. 3:6–12; and a point also made in the middle of 1 Cor. 8:1–11:1). While there is more than one way to see that message take root in every neighborhood in North America, not all of them are created equal. Fitch flags an oft-neglected approach that is worthy of consideration, adaptation, and application.

Jason B. Hood is Scholar-In-Residence at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis and blogs at The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial

In repentance and rest is your salvation

Isaiah 30

8 Go now, write it on a tablet for them,
inscribe it on a scroll,
that for the days to come
it may be an everlasting witness.
9 For these are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction.
10 They say to the seers,
“See no more visions!”
and to the prophets,
“Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.
11 Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!”

12 Therefore this is what the Holy One of Israel says:

“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,
13 this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant.
14 It will break in pieces like pottery,
shattered so mercilessly
that among its pieces not a fragment will be found
for taking coals from a hearth
or scooping water out of a cistern.”

15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.