In 2005, almost by accident, The Summit Church moved to a multi-site strategy. We made the move because our worship services were full, and we had already multiplied the number of services to the breaking point. It’s the sort of “problem” any church would love to have! We learned on the fly, and over the past decade, we’ve been adjusting how we approach the multi-site model. As I’ve said before (and we’ve written extensively), we believe the multi-site model can be evangelistically effective, pastorally helpful and biblically faithful. With nine campuses in Raleigh-Durham (10 if you count our budding campus in Wake Correctional), it seems to be working.
There are, to be sure, bad ways of leading a multi-site church—just as there are a host of bad ways to lead a single-site church. So we constantly repeat one of our plumb lines to remind us of one of the key reasons why we do multi-site: Stay where you are; serve where you live; be the church in your community.
Every now and then we will survey our congregation to find out, among other things, where people are driving from. It’s one of the key details we use in assessing areas for a potential new campus. When we see clusters of people driving from more than 20 minutes away (and past several other Summit campuses), we have two reactions: (1) we’re honored you love our church enough to make that drive; and (2) please stop it.
There are two key reasons we want people to attend church close to where they live—evangelism and community. Sure, you, as a mature disciple, might drive 45 minutes each weekend for a church you love. But let’s be real for a moment: That unbelieving neighbor in your cul de sac isn’t going to make the same trek. The stranger you struck up a conversation with at Starbucks won’t do it. Inviting people to church can be hard enough. Inviting them to a church 45 minutes from where they live? Don’t bet on it. You can criticize people for not being committed enough, but wouldn’t you rather eliminate obstacles for your guests?
It’s also hard to cultivate community when you live so far away from the place you attend church. Again, imagine yourself driving 45 minutes to the worship service. You love it, so you’ll do it…once a week. If there is a prayer meeting, or a student event, or anything else on the church calendar, you will be reluctant to climb back in the car.
But let’s assume, just for argument’s sake, that you are that committed. You’ll drive any distance at any time for your church! Even so, it still doesn’t foster community, because community goes well beyond the organized events of the church. At the Summit, for instance, our primary vehicle for community is the small group. But if you’re only seeing the people in your small group during the designated weekly meeting, that’s a far cry from true community. The best small group relationships are the ones where your friends bring you a meal when you’re sick, come to your kid’s birthday party or run into each other at the local grocery store. You may love every single person in your small group, but for real, organic community, those people have got to be near you. As Proverbs says, “Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away” (Proverbs 27:10).
At the Summit, we have often said that as we grow bigger, we also want to grow smaller. So instead of building a massive central facility and forcing people to drive there, we encourage people to stay where you are, serve where you live and be the church in your community.
This article originally appeared here.