One of the benefits of being connected to other churches around the country is that we get to learn from each other. Sometimes that “learning” is a little more one-sided, where (for instance) I glean all of Tim Keller’s wisdom and he occasionally peeks over at what I’m up to. Most of the time, though, the Summit ends up being enriched by our friendships with other churches.
When our church adopted a multi-site strategy a few years ago, even then the strategy was old enough for us to see how different people were doing it. Asking our friends and looking into the ways that others have practiced multi-site helped us think through how we could do it in ways that were consistent with our theological and philosophical convictions. I once heard John Piper say that it was unwise to make confident, dogmatic assertions about the future of multi-site because it was so new that none of us could see exactly where it would end up.
We remain committed to our multi-site approach for a number of strategic and biblical reasons; however, we are grateful for those who have taken different approaches than ours because we get to learn from their approach, even when we don’t come to the same conclusion.
Last fall, one of our good friends, The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, announced a plan to transition their remaining campuses to autonomous churches. They actually began this process back in 2014, but their recent announcement outlined a more robust timeline for the transition over the next five years. In addition to transitioning their campuses, they also stated they will no longer launch new campuses. In effect, The Village Church is moving away from multi-site and returning to a single-site strategy. Here is their official statement:
We feel led by the Holy Spirit to transition our five campuses into autonomous churches by 2022. It will be risky and take courage, but we believe this move gives The Village Church the best opportunity to reach DFW [Dallas-Fort Worth] and beyond with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Village is a church for which we have great respect and affection. Their multi-site strategy has in many ways mirrored our own, and we hold many of the same core values. Naturally, their shift has raised the question: Does this make us rethink our multi-site strategy?
As I mentioned above: No, it doesn’t. In this season, we remain committed to our multi-site approach for a number of strategic and biblical reasons. I’ll get to those in a moment.
I do want to make clear, however, that in their explanation of this decision, The Village has not made any statements against the general philosophy or ecclesiology undergirding a multi-site strategy. They have communicated to us that this is simply a strategic decision for them, one they feel the Spirit is leading their church to make at this time.
Additionally, The Village will continue to utilize multiple services. This may seem like an obvious fact, but it’s an important distinction. Some of the more fervent opponents to the multi-site model insist that the true “gathering” of the church necessitates not merely a single site but a single service. The Village is not taking this approach.
For us at the Summit, we continue to sense that the Holy Spirit is leading us in our current multi-site strategy. We recognize that the multi-site strategy presents both pragmatic challenges and raises biblical questions. We have wrestled with those questions for many years, and will continue to do so. As we often say, we are eager to hear from anyone who comes to us with an open Bible and an open mind.
But, we also believe, despite its difficulties, that the multi-site strategy is biblically faithful and strategically advantageous:
1. A Greater and More Effective Way to Reach People
The multi-site strategy has allowed us to have a greater reach in the Triangle and surrounding communities by enabling members to worship and serve in communities closer to their homes. We have always and only launched campuses where members of the Summit already live. These are people God has called to be a part of this church to reach their community. We believe that the multi-site strategy platforms them to fulfill this call.
2. The Best Way to Keep Pace With Growth
Statistically, we can’t plant churches fast enough to deal with the growth God is giving to our church.
We are very committed to church planting, having sent out over 457 of our members in the last 10 years to plant 42 churches in the United States, including several right here in the Triangle. When we plant a new church, we are typically able to send a core group of about 25 to 30 people. By God’s grace, we replace those 25-30 people in just a week or two. When we plant campuses, however, the core group we send out averages several hundred, sometimes as large as 1,000. Church planting is one of our most important missional assignments, but it will not by itself deal with the growth God has brought to our church.