It’s Often a Situational Need
The next reason for our decision is one that, granted, is not a factor for many churches. But the dynamic behind it may be relevant to enough churches to warrant its inclusion in this list.
When we began our approach, our lone campus was on an 80-acre tract of land that was purchased in light of the pending completion of an outerbelt around the city of Charlotte that would have a destination exit about a mile from that campus. We knew that with 80 acres, the “shoe” would never tell the “foot” how big it could get.
Yet the completion of that outerbelt took years longer to complete than anyone forecasted, with the final leg—the one that would serve our campus—not completed until just a few years ago in 2015. It has only been within the last several months that the secondary road infrastructure serving that exit to our campus has been completed.
This forced us into a multi-site approach to serve the regional nature of our church community as major areas of Charlotte were a 45-minute or more drive away. Even suburbs considered in our immediate area involved lengthy drives. But now that the outerbelt has been completed and secondary roads have filled in, there are few places in Charlotte that are more than a 25-minute drive to our original campus. My oldest daughter and her husband recently bought a house that five years ago would have taken at least 25 minutes to drive to our original church campus.
It now takes her less than 10.
In the final stages of our evaluation of the multi-site approach, and it has been heavily under our microscope for months, we surveyed nearly a thousand of our attendees and found several confirming realities: 1) they were bypassing inviting friends to our newer sites, and instead were inviting them to the original campus (no matter where they lived); 2) if they weren’t inviting them to attend the founding campus, they were intentionally inviting them to online experiences such as our Internet campus, or to listen to a weekend message on our app; 3) no matter where they lived in Charlotte, they didn’t feel sites near them were needed for reaching their unchurched friends; and 4) they were most comfortable inviting them to non-video venue events and services (like most multi-site churches, our sites were “live” in regard to worship, but used video for the message).
In essence, we were putting a tool in their hands they didn’t ask for, didn’t feel was needed and, as a result, didn’t use. At least for the mission. They may have attended one of the sites out of convenience or a sense of duty, but they didn’t use it for their unchurched friends.
Oh, the Places We Can Go
There are other reasons churches might consider following our course, not the least of which are those outlined in a recent article you can read HERE on the challenges the multi-site approach presents for leadership, pastoral oversight, moral train wrecks and more.
But for us, it was a missional decision many months in the making, and made from a position of health. As I said at the beginning, the biggest reason for ending the multi-site approach is what we could do in its place with those resources and energies. Meaning, the clear sense that there is a better investment. It’s a digital world, and we dream of expanding our digital footprint, making our website so much more than it now is (particularly making it work seamlessly with mobile technology), using social media to reach out in unprecedented ways, staffing our Internet campus as if it were a physical campus, exploring the cutting-edge of physical engagement through “pop-up” events, and so much more.
So might we one day return to some form of a multi-site approach if our cultural context shifts again? Of course. And we wouldn’t be awkward or embarrassed about it. I would return to door-to-door visitation, Sunday School, revivals and a bus ministry if I felt they were most effective. Methods change; only the message, vision and values remain sacrosanct.
But for now?
We are officially no longer “one church in multiple locations.” Instead, we will be trying to be one church in a digital world. Which hopefully means one church steadfastly intent on staying on the front lines of reaching our unchurched, far-from-God community that we so dearly care about.
This article originally appeared here.
Thomas Friedman, Thank You for Being Late.
Leonardo Blair, “Why Many Multisite Churches are Now Moving Toward Autonomous Congregations,” The Christian Post, May 12, 2019, read online.