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Monday, March 27, 2006

Nearly 30% of Churches are Considering Multi-sites

By Kelli Kennedy
Associated Press
LONGWOOD, FLA. - It’s a less traditional crowd that packs the pews of Northland Community Church. They’re happy to forgo hymnals for lyrics projected onto big-screen TVs, eager to trade their Sunday best for jeans and even amicable to substituting a live sermon for one delivered by a virtual pastor.

On this particular Sunday morning, Pastor Joel Hunter’s eyes well with tears as he recalls a recent journey to a poor African village. Several audience members also reach for the tissue. Throughout the 25-minute message, the congregation nods in agreement, many jot down notes, all along, their eyes fixated on the Jumbotron at the front of the sanctuary.

They hardly notice that Hunter is actually a mile away, preaching the sermon live at the main church on Dog Track Road.

With limited space, zoning battles and a growing membership, Northland set up a satellite television feed 27 miles away in rural Mount Dora and four other sites followed.

The technologically infused culture has given rise to the satellite church. Landmark is one of roughly 1,000 U.S. churches broadcasting sermons live to another venue or dubbing Saturday night sermon onto a DVD and hand delivering it to another campus in time for Sunday morning, according to the Leadership Network, an organization that promotes church growth.

Almost 30 percent of the 400 churches surveyed last year by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research said they’re also considering satellite venues.

With mammoth facilities that sometimes rival indoor sports arenas, megachurches are landlocked, busting at the seams with few parcels of land large enough to satisfy their need. Parking spaces are scarce, childcare workers are overloaded and, frankly, there’s no more room at the inn. Church leaders said satellite sites are a logical way for the church to expand in this multimedia era. They provide an alternative to new construction that is millions of dollars cheaper and offer a more intimate setting than the sometimes intimidating megachurch experience.

"When you try to get everybody at one location, it’s just terribly expensive," said Hunter, who was preaching seven services a weekend to accommodate the growth.

Experts credit the success of the satellite church to the technology boom and the relative ease with which the Internet surfing, I-Pod touting generation has embraced the notion of a virtual pastor. Most of the satellite churches have live musicians and onsite pastors, who deliver the announcements, shake hands with congregants and perform baptisms and weddings.The concept allows members to access the resources of a megachurch, while plugging into a smaller church in their own back yard, church leaders said.

The mother of all megachurches, Willow Creek located in the suburbs of Chicago, is starting its fourth satellite location this year. Seacoast Church in South Carolina boasts 7,000 members in nine different locations.

At Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, where roughly 19,000 churchgoers vie for a sanctuary seat every weekend, Pastor Bob Coy said he was stunned when he heard that 600 people were already attending the church’s first satellite site, which started in Boca Raton in November.

Calvary Chapel spent roughly $300,000 retrofitting the Boca campus, with technology, hiring a campus pastor and other staff members. If the church had to buy the land, it would have cost about $7 million, Coy said. He plans to launch a second satellite church later this year.

Willow Creek Senior Pastor Bill Hybels calls the satellite church the solution to the 30-minute problem. He found that members’ participation levels dip drastically if they have to drive longer than that to get to church.

Willow Creek became one of the first churches in the country to start the "church within a church" phenomenon, spawning neighborhood churches throughout the Chicago suburbs. Church size ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 members – a far less daunting number than the 7,000-seat auditorium at their main campus.

The franchise concept also affords churches the freedom to tailor each service to a specific demographic. A satellite offspring of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, is known as the cowboy church. Held on a dusty ranch in Royse City, far from its suburban mother, the message is the same, but the live worship music has a Texas twang, said Pastor Steve Stroope.

Critics warn that some churches are taking the multi-site phenomenon too far. World Changers Church, based in the suburbs of Atlanta, has spun off four satellite locations in New York City.

Even local satellite churches have their pitfalls. Multi-sites can splinter congregations, skew a sense of community and foster a culture that idolizes one preacher, said Scott Thumma of Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

"Anytime you have congregations worshipping either at multiple times or multiple locations, you run the risk of not having a robust, rich sense of who the congregation is," Thumma said. "It’s disjointed pieces and therefore allows for little cliques or niches within the congregation."

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March 27, 2006 in Multi-Site Churches | Permalink

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I can see video venues and multisites being a useful tool for the gospel in urban and sub-urban cultures.

I don't see the average rural American going somewhere to watch a screen for a sermon. They'ls just as soon stay home and watch TBN.

Posted by: Jeff | Mar 27, 2006 10:59:23 PM


I think I agree with you, but I am in a relatively small town in Western PA, and about 2.5 years ago, we moved about 5 miles to a new facility, and some folks who used to walk to church in our old "downtown" (rented storefront) facility no longer come, and we are pretty sure some of those no longer go to church at all! So... would it make sense to rent a small space near that old facility and bring a live worship team and a DVD down? Maybe? (We don't know... we're thinking and praying about it...)

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Mar 28, 2006 6:39:22 AM

Give me my small church plant which was essentially a home church for the last year or so while facilities, etc. were arranged. I like to be able to look people in the eye, and shake hands with everyone who attends. We often invite everyone over for a little grilling (barbecue) after church, and I'm not about to try and cook for several thousand. If we get big enought to need a satelite location, I'll probably be going to the satelite.

Posted by: DanielR | Mar 28, 2006 3:20:53 PM

I think it's a great idea.

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Mar 28, 2006 4:26:25 PM

I am just trying to understand the reticence to put a church planter or pastor in those locations and let them preach. I understand a satellite church, and even like it in some regards.

I am just asking why are so many hesitant to let that satellite becomes its own church with its own pastor?

Posted by: eric | Mar 28, 2006 5:01:56 PM

Actually, Eric, many would tell you that these multi-sites do have a campus pastor. That pastor is involved in the day-to-day operations, spiritual care, visitation, administration and staffing of the local satellite campus. Each one is set up a little differently; but there is a campus main pastor, just like in a church plant or regular church... the difference is, he is not the main speaker.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 28, 2006 5:06:29 PM

Todd (or anyone else who is more familiar with multi-site "theory" and practice) - do you know the reasoning behind the campus pastor not being the preaching pastor? That is the one sticking point for me, and the only reason I can think of is the cost of paying another pastor. But since the "satellite" location typically has a pastor anyway, it doesn't seem that this would be a big deal.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 28, 2006 5:20:25 PM

I am sorry. I know that they have a pastor on sight. I know of a church that attempted to do a satellite church without a local pastor, they will not do that again. There must be a pastoral leader on site.

But is that pastor free to move the church in a different direction than the main church? Probably not.

I see value in this movement. I even considered it in the church plant I was pastoring. We have some small towns around us that do not have sufficient resources for a church. Though they would not like a video message, we could do a church on site. I think it is simply the Methodist Circuit rider mentality.

So I guess my question is really just an internal wrestling. Why would the senior leader not turn over the congregation to another preacher? My thought would be use the influence built from a large church, have invested in a leader to assume the church, and after helping it get started allow it to go its own course.

I am not trying to question their motives or even disagree with the concept. It is just that for some reason this feels more like ego. I am just trying to ask the question why?

I hope this is coming off as humbly as I mean it to.

Posted by: eric | Mar 28, 2006 5:22:00 PM

That may be true but the one thing I see is this. I would be willing to be a pastor like this... Because I would be willing to say that they realize that the church is Gods not their's. Next they would see that the pulpit is God's not their's..
This is no different than me being a fill in pastor or intrim.. This in it's self is a rewarding work. Because the way I see it is God is working all things to His good...
He growing the church, he is preparing the pastor who he wants there and last he is growing and improving my faith as well.

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Mar 28, 2006 5:34:46 PM


Ask around what a pastor is/does and you're likely to get a myrid of answers. One might just include all that Todd mentioned in his response to Eric, but not even mention preaching.

We all know many great pastors who are not great preachers (or speakers even) and the opposite is true as well.

(Of course, there are those who can preach and do those other things listed as well equally as good.)

In my understanding.. a lot of times the campus pastor has been called to be a pastor.. not to be a preacher. This is one way he can be so without having to do some thing he wasn't meant to do.

Hopefully there was SOME THING in this response helpful to you in regards to this subject.

You've been prayed for!


Posted by: Camey | Mar 28, 2006 7:00:42 PM


I think, realistically, there are two main reasons for using a 'video venue' over a local 'preaching pastor'

1. Consistent Message. Let's face it... many churches are growing because of the main communicator of the Word. The venue format allows this to be duplicated, while being consistent. Believe it or not; many people dont' mind watching a screen to hear the message... it's not nearly as impersonal as it seems. (You really have to attend some venue services to get this). The message with satellite churches is consistent, compelling, and easy to monitor.

2. Economy of Scale. Honestly, starting a new church requires a whole different set of skills than being a preaching pastor does. The church planter needs an entirely different skill set. I think that's one of the reasons that these multi-sites are taking off... you are able to hire a campus pastor who can put all his time into the 'church plant'/spiritual care/entrepreneurial areas of starting a new church, without the worry of pulling off a 'killer sermon' every week. You really get the best of both worlds... a great communicator giving the Word along with a campus pastor who is totally dedicated to making the new plant work. Truth be told, most people have as much interaction with the "preaching pastor" at a venue than they do at any larger church.

Just a couple thoughts... hopefully it helps some in the 'rationale' area.



Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 29, 2006 10:08:29 AM

Would we have this conversation if we were talking about the New Testament church? Paul exhibited the ability to maximize technology when he used letters to be in more than one place at one time. Would we say,"Why do we have to listen to this guy read us a letter from Paul? Why can't he just tell us what we need to hear?"

I believe the crux of the question lies in your calling. Some may be called to pioneer a work while others may be called to serve in building a larger corporate vision. It's not a matter of right or wrong. It's a matter of right or wrong for you.

Posted by: John | Mar 29, 2006 3:22:28 PM

This is in response to why a church wouldn't just plant a new church with it's own preaching pastor. Our church has experienced very rapid growth and have more than outgrown our building. Many of our members come from throughout the metroplex. We planted two churches, one to our east, and one to our west where we had a lot of members coming from. Bottom line, they are growing, which is wonderful, but it didn't alleviate the space issues at the main church. We were hoping that our members would go to the church plant, but they drive right past it to come to the home church. All three churches have fantastic preachers, but there is something about the environment at the main church that is not as easy to duplicate. People do follow the man preaching. A video venue is not our first choice, but it may be our next choice to alleviate space issues at the home church.

Posted by: Jacob | Jun 17, 2006 1:25:41 PM

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