One Church, Two Locations

When my consulting firm, the Rainer Group, conducts its annual client survey, we attempt to discern trends and patterns that may indicate the future direction of the American Church. Recently, we compared our 2004 survey with the 2002 survey. While much remains the same, one issue jumped off the pages.

In 2002, 5% of the churches responded that they had moved, or were considering moving, to the multi-campus model. Just two years later, 31% noted that they had moved or probably would be moving in this direction.

In the 17 years we’ve been researching churches, our team could not recall ever seeing such a dramatic attitudinal change in just two years. What’s taking place in this new American Church trend?

The Highview Baptist Story

This past Easter Sunday, my family and I attended our home church, Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. We actually had the choice of attending Saturday night or one of three Sunday morning services at the South campus. Or we could attend the Sunday morning service at the East campus. Our home is near the East campus, so that location is our primary choice.

Nearly 1,500 people were at the relatively new East campus in a beautiful new building, while almost twice that many went to the earlier-established South campus. Pastor Kevin Ezell preaches all five weekend services at both campuses.

Highview’s story is an incredible example of God’s work in a great church with a non-traditional approach. But Highview is one of hundreds of churches moving in this direction. Why is this trend accelerating?

More Campuses, More Opportunities

We asked the church leaders we surveyed why they had created or were considering creating one or more new campuses. Though we heard unique responses, we discovered several common themes:

• A new campus has a better oppor-tunity to reach new people because relationship patterns, fellowship groups and cliques have not developed.

• A new campus gives people more choices. And more choices provide more opportunities to reach people.

• The multi-campus approach allows the “DNA” of a great church to be reproduced in another campus. Often, that DNA is lost in church start-ups with an autonomous congregation.

• The multi-campus approach offers a good model of stewardship. A church can employ one administrative team and lower overhead. No matter how many campuses a church may have, the fellowship needs only one set of financial records, one accountant, one computer system and one small-group structure. It’s not unusual to see staff ministers serving more than one campus, thus providing significant personnel savings.

• Many churches today cannot expand. The current space may be saturated with no adjacent land available to purchase. Or zoning authorities may prohibit a church from expanding. An additional campus may be the only means of future growth.

• A church may have better opportunities to reach another demographic group with a new campus.

Gaining Acceptance

Multi-campus churches are not monolithic. Some have one pastor preaching all services at every site. Others may use another preaching/teaching pastor for the new site. And still others may rotate different preachers between the various sites.

Another variation of the multi-campus model uses a video feed, live or recorded earlier, instead of the physical presence of a pastor during the service.

We believe that the multi-campus approach will continue to gain acceptance in the American Church as the growth of this model accelerates. Early indicators show that multi-site churches are more evangelistic than those with one site. Our team will continue to gather data to see if this becomes a widespread reality.

My home church permeates its literature and marketing with the words “One Church, Two Locations.” When the church first started using the slogan, I saw very few churches with such models. Today, the approach is becoming more and more common. It is a present reality and future trend worth watching.  

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and, Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches

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