Jim Tomberlin began his multi-site church journey in the mid-1990s when he was the senior pastor of Woodman Valley Chapel. In 2000 he went on to pioneer the multi-site model at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Since 2005 he has been consulting and coaching churches in developing and implementing multi-campus strategies.
TONY: What’s a current multi-site trend that you’re seeing churches across the country begin to embrace?
JIM: The last decade of the 20th century saw the rise of the multi-site innovator-pioneers. The first decade of the 21st century saw the wave of the multi-site early adopters with over 3,000 multi-site venues and campuses launched across North America. Now as we enter the second decade of the 21st century the middle adopters will mainstream the movement as it spreads around the world.
The multi-site movement began as a band-aid for megachurches that were out of room or limited by zoning restrictions. It quickly evolved into a growth strategy for healthy churches of all sizes and will become a revitalization strategy for stuck or struggling churches. Many of these aging churches are solid, but stuck in non-growing situations because of the inevitable social-demographic changes occurring around them and/or their inability to embrace contemporary worship styles and culturally-relevant ministry practices. Multi-siting allows stuck churches to reinvent themselves by extending in new ways and to new locations without abandoning their base. Revitalization mergers also allow smaller struggling churches to have a new beginning by being adopted by a stronger vibrant church.
The other significant development will be the rise of the collegiate model of church reproduction. This is the hybrid of multi-siting and church-planting. Church-planting churches will incorporate multi-site campuses and multi-site churches will launch church plants. Church leaders will focus less on growing their church and more on reaching an area for Christ through externally-focused multi-site campuses and “missional communities” (small groups).
TONY: How do you see this trend impacting the future of churches?
JIM: The multi-site movement is transforming church mergers from a failed church strategy to a revitalizing church success. Already one-third of all multi-site campuses are the result of a merger. This component of multi-siting will produce a surge of church mergers across the church landscape. These mission-driven, multisite-oriented church mergers will transform thousands of plateaued and dying churches and will be embraced by denominational leaders as a way of revitalizing their struggling congregations.
Small groups will move beyond being just a place for Bible-study, fellowship and pastoral care, but will become a more intentional and integral part of the overall strategy to reach a community for Christ. These “missional communities” will be geographically-based, externally-focused, and precede the launch of multi-site campuses in a targeted community.
The collegiate model of church reproduction will be the new tribes or mini-denominations of the future. Many of these reproducing church networks will be fully supported and encouraged by their parent denomination. Denominations increasingly will take their lead from their growing churches rather than the other way around.