Multi-Site church: Does it really work?

I once went on a vocations weekend to work out whether I was called to be a vicar or not. Turns out that I was. Anyway, on this vocation weekend, there were sessions aimed at getting our minds to think theologically in a practical way. One of the sessions was about giving us scenarios and trying to work out what the best theological, practical and pastoral way forward was. One of the scenarios was about a vicar who had, wait for it, seven parishes to look after in a rural environment. The scenario went on to talk about how some of the churches felt neglected, some were dying, one was thriving well and most of the churches had one or more problems.

After the weekend, I got home on the Sunday and started to catch up on my blog reading, sermon listening and church watching (I have some friends over in the USA who attend a megachurch and they broadcast their services online). On one of the blogs/talks/service webcasts, the topic of multi site church came up. The pastor was talking about how that particular church was going to be growing and the method of growth was to be through multi site church.

Some of you at this point will be asking What is multi site church, anyway? Multi site church is simply this: One church, meeting in several locations. Mostly, this is simultaneously. But this idea is evolving and changing and is becoming, as is the case with most Christian phenomenons, a million different things.

Since that time, people have critiqued the idea of multi site church. And many have argued for it’s Biblical grounding, especially here.

I just don’t know about the idea of multi site church. Even if there is a biblical basis for being one church but having little offshoots at every turn that doesn’t mean to say that it is for today, for now. And it doesn’t mean to say that it will work in every case.

Being called into ministry in the church, it’s something I’m starting to feel strongly about. A church needs a pastor. And that pastor needs to have the capability of pastoring. And that means pastoring effectively. I don’t see how a senior pastor of a church can effectively and properly have a relationship with the ‘mother ship church’ and all it’s daughter churches. If someone were to say, ‘Yes, well the daughter churches have their own pastoral team’, then surely that would be better off being a church plant?

Church planting, in my mind, seems to be far better than multi site church. Sure, let’s plant churches that have a same ethos, set of values and similar mission plan; but let’s not confine that church plant to another church where they will have to follow the mother church in pretty much every decision the mother church makes. That just doesn’t seem sensible to me. It’s almost as if these multi site churches are trying to vet churches in their locality to make sure they’re kosher or not. More than that, but that the mother churches are actually keeping control and authority over any churches that may spring up in the community. I don’t think that’s right.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong. There may be some great benefits to the multi site church phenomenon. But I just can’t see any at the moment. To me, multi site church leaves a church vulnerable to splits, poor pastoral care, poor leadership and little freedom. And that’s just to mention the practical things. What about the way in which God may be limited in this? Doesn’t this just seem like that poor vicar who had seven churches in his parish? One church, yet seven? Yet all of them had problems that came about due to the amalgamation of the churches in the first place!

Do you think multi site church is a good idea? Why or why not? Are there any benefits at all to multi site churches, or is it evangelical papacy being birthed? Let me know 🙂

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • AgentCormac

    Dean, given that the Church of England has some £5.3 BILLION WORTH OF FINANCIAL INVESTMENTS (link to CofE 2010 Annual Report below), surely it can afford to have pastors just about anywhere and everywhere it wants! However, surely it could – and surely, surely it should – be using all its available resources to help the needy (in every last sense of the word) rather than using that unimaginably vast amount of money to get richer and richer and richer? Isn’t that what the church should be all about? Or is it really all just about power and wealth? What, do you think, would Jesus have to say about the church’s financial portfolio? I think the words ‘immoral’ and ‘hypocritical’ might well feature heavily.

    http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1244828/final%20annual%20report%20at%2019%20april%202011.pdf

    • Unfortunately, AgentCormac, I can’t comment on the Financial report of the CoE. I know they invest in a lot, but I’m not part of the CoE, technically. I’m part of the CiW; they have a completely different story to tell 🙂

      Also, just because a church denomination has a lot of money, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t give it to the poor and needy. 🙂 You have to remember that.

  • AgentCormac

    But in the context of your article (parishes ‘neglected’, ‘dying’, etc), surely you must have a point of view on the CofE’s wealth?

    And I’m sure the church does give some of its money to the poor. But clearly with £5.3 billion worth of investments (never mind its portfolio of land, property, etc.), the church isn’t exactly doing everything it can for the needy.

    • Maybe, but throwing money at poor people and those in need doesn’t always help their situation. I can’t really comment on the Church of England finances. It takes a lot of money to allow clergy to live, a lot of money in legal costs over things, a lot of money on fabric. I daresay a lot of money does go on the poor and on mission. And a lot will probably be held in reserve.