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The 15-Minute Rule: Why All Ministry Is Local Ministry

(This post is excerpted from Church Locality: New Rules for Church Buildings in a Multisite-Planting and Giga-Church World)

“All politics is local.” In Chicago where I lived for five years, a politician’s career can be determined by how quickly snow and garbage is removed from the streets. Politicians live and die by a simple mantra, “All politics is local.” At the end of the day, what concerns most people isn’t what’s happening across the nation or around the world but what is going on in their own backyard, neighborhood or town. In a similar way, all church ministry, like all politics, is local.

One of the most amazing and consistent facts about church attendance is that the majority of churchgoers live within a 15-minute drive of their church building. The rest live within 30 minutes. If you don’t believe this, just ask the next time you are with a group of churchgoers how many live within 15 minutes of their church, then 30 minutes. Only a very few, if any, will drive more than 30 minutes to church. Though most churches have national and international initiatives—the majority of their time, money and energy is spent on people who live within 15 minutes driving time. Why? All ministry (or at least most of it) is local. 

This is not a bad thing; local churches are meant to be local. This is why the vast majority of multisite campuses are within 10 to 30 minutes of the birthing campus. Those well-known multisite churches with campuses all over the country only represent 2 percent of all the multisite churches in North America. Multisite is all about putting the local back into the local church by taking church to the people!

All churches, even healthy ones, will plateau in attendance over time because of their stage in the church life cycle and/or ministry saturation. Instead of relocating and abandoning its current location, churches can multiply themselves into the next community while continuing to serve their current one. This is one of the most compelling reasons for churches to consider multisiting.

When a church begins to think about going multisite, I recommend map-pointing their church database to determine where their church attenders are coming from. Anyone who has completed a guest card, dropped a child off in the children’s program, joined or contributed to your church should be in your church data base and is a candidate to help launch a multisite campus in their community. Once you have pinpointed the households that attend your church on a map, draw a ring around the 15-minute driving time around your church. Launch your multisite campuses wherever there are large pockets of households near the 15-minute perimeter.

I call it the Henry Blackaby method of launching campuses. In his bestselling book Experiencing God, Blackaby describes how to experience God by asking God to show you where He is working. When He shows where He is working, that becomes the invitation to join Him in His work. When it comes to multisiting, ask God to show you where He is bringing people to your church from. Once He shows you, that’s the invitation to join Him there by taking your church to that community. This is the primary reason multisite campuses have such a high success rate because they are not going to a new community, they are already there with a significant base of equipped people with their church DNA.

Whenever the church is described in the New Testament in a non-theological way, it is described geographically—the church of Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Colossae Antioch or Rome. Why? All ministry is local (mostly). 

Go take your church to the people!

How close are your multisite campuses to each other? Fifteen minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes or beyond?  

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Jim Tomberlin is founder and senior strategist of MultiSite Solutions, a company dedicated to assisting churches in multiplying their impact. Over three decades of diverse ministry, Jim has pastored a church in Germany, grown a megachurch in Colorado and pioneered the multisite strategy for Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Jim is the author of “125 Tips for MultiSite Churches” and co-author of “Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work.” Jim is based in Scottsdale, AZ. You can email him directly at jim@multisitesolutions.com, subscribe to his MultiSightings blog or follow him on Twitter at @MultiSiteGuy or @MergerGuru.