Before I talk about an advantage of churches launching a new venue/site over church planting, I want to say that I’m all for church planting! However, we have discovered that within a close geographical distance there are some very real advantages to the multi-site strategy over church planting.
When we started Community Christian Church (CCC) in 1989, we had a big first Sunday with 465 attendees. We were thrilled! Then, like any church plant that uses a lot of marketing, we began to freefall for the next four to eight weeks. The good news was that four out of every five people that were a part of CCC were previously unchurched. The fact that we were reaching that percentage of unchurched was awesome. But the tough news was that three months later our attendance leveled off at 180, giving us a retention rate of only 39%.
Eight years later, we went multi-site. The first Sunday at our new South Campus was another thrilling day with the majority of the 552 people being unchurched. However, the fall after the first weekend was much less; we leveled off at 360, a 65% retention rate. This was a 26% increase in our retention rate and significantly better than our launch as a church plant. We found it wasn’t a fluke when we started our West Campus. On the first weekend at our West Campus we had 606 people attend, and the average attendance leveled off at 350 for a 58% retention rate.
When we originally discussed our plans to go multi-site with consultant Lyle Schaller, he said, “The most important thing that you offer this new work is the Community Christian Church culture.” At first, I was not sure what he was talking about. In retrospect, I think Schaller was referring to two different aspects of our church culture: high expectations and quality experiences. In the eight years between starting a church and adding new campuses, we developed a culture of high expectations and quality experiences. So when we started these new locations, the first time attendee came on opening day to a place with high expectations and a church that understood how to create quality experiences. The bottom line: a new site within close geographical proximity can offer a higher level of quality than a new church, thereby retaining a much higher percentage of new attendees.