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Our church has been doing multisite (MS) ministry for a little over three years and we now have five campuses. Because we are the MS church with the most number of campuses in our denomination, we field a lot of questions from other churches and leaders. In my discussions with others I’ve realized that people have a lot of misconceptions about doing MS church. In this blog I want to correct ten common myths about doing MS church.

Myth #1: Most multisite churches use video technology every week for the Sunday sermons at their newer campuses. It’s true that a lot of MS churches rely on video technology, but Leadership Network’s research shows that only 20% of MS churches use almost all video messages. 46% use almost all in-person preaching at their campuses. And the remaining 34% use a combination of video and in-person methods.

Myth #2: Multisite lowers the quality of a church’s life. Actually, the opposite is true. Our church’s experience reflects the reports of other churches. All indicators of church quality have gone up in our church — the percentage of people serving in ministries, the percentage of people in small groups, the percentage of people coming from unchurch backgrounds, the reported levels of satisfaction with worship, children’s and youth ministry, and people’s feeling of connection. We track these things very carefully in our church and have seen improvement in all the measures that we look at.

Myth #3: Starting a new campus is cheaper than starting a new church. The amount of money that churches spend to start a new campus varies widely, but almost every church reports that they spend more to start a new campus than they do to send out a church planting team. For example, our church typically invests $50,000 to send out a church planting team, but it runs us about $75,000 to launch a new campus.

Myth #4: Multisite only works in large towns. Some of the most popular MS churches are in large towns, leading some to think that this is a big city model. That is not true. MS is working in a wide variety of settings, and Leadership Network’s research indicates that MS campuses actually report greater growth rates in rural areas than in urban settings. Our church has launched two campuses in small towns of under 5,000 people. Those two young campuses are averaging 390 and 230 in attendance. Their rapid growth has surprised us.

Myth #5: Multisite churches are personality-driven and led by famous pastors. It’s true that a few famous pastors lead multisite churches. But most are led by “ordinary” pastors. There are now over 3,000 MS churches in the US. My guess is you haven’t heard of most of their senior pastors!

Myth #6: The quality of life at a new campus is inferior to the sending campus. I can’t speak for other churches on this one, but I have very clear data from our five campuses that shows that this misconception is very wrong. The surveys of our members at our different campuses clearly indicate that people experience a higher quality of church life at our newer campuses. What do I mean by that? At the newer campuses people report feeling more connected, and they rate everything higher — small groups, sermons, worship, youth and children’s ministry — than people at our original campus. They are also considerably more likely to be serving in a ministry and participating in a small group at the newer campuses than members at our original campus. Besides the stats that we track, you can also feel a stronger excitement or “vibe” at our newer campuses. I think it’s the result of more new Christians.

Myth #7: Multisite disempowers people. Our church’s experience mirrors other churches’ experiences on this. MS does not disempower people; in fact, it moves many more people into ministry who were previously not doing much as we mobilize new people to launch small groups, lead worship and start ministries in new locales. And 79% of churches doing MS report an increase in lay leadership.

Myth #8: Multisite diminishes vision for church planting. The research shows just the opposite of this. MS churches are far more likely to be planting new churches than other churches. For example, our own church has sent out two church plants in the last two years. In the year ahead we are planning to launch a new campus and send out a church planting team. MS and church planting do not compete with one another. There are two different ways of multiplying churches to enable us to reach more people. If someone likes to prepare and preach their own messages and has a unique vision for church, we send them out as a church planter. If someone else likes the way our church does things and wants to be in sync with our weekend messages, we prepare them to be a campus pastor.

Myth #9: Only large churches start new campuses. Again, the most visible MS churches are large churches, but actually most churches starting new campuses have under 1,000 members. There’s a church of 300 in my hometown starting a new campus 15 miles away in another mid-sized town. Although a small church probably can’t do MS ministry, many medium-sized churches can and are doing it.

Myth #10: There is only one way to do multisite. There is an amazing variety of ways that churches do MS ministry. Some use in-person messages, others use video. Some spend almost nothing to launch a new campus, others spend six or seven figures. There is incredible creativity in how it’s being done in different settings. The one consistent thing I’ve seen from church to church is a passion to make Jesus’ love, power and truth real to new people in new settings.

Is your church doing or considering a MS strategy? What questions do you have?

(Data from Leadership Network referenced in this entry comes from two of their reports: Multisite Movement Gaining New Momentum in New Places, by Greg Ligon, 2011, and Multisite is Multiplying, by Warren Bird and Kristin Walters, 2010.)

Jim Egli is the Leadership Pastor at the Vineyard Church (Urbana, IL). Jim works to multiply leaders, small groups, and churches for the Kingdom. 

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Zachary Bartels

commented on Jan 8, 2013

Where is the "research" the author appeals to multiple times? This article is just a series of, "People think Multi-site churches are bad. Nuh-UH! They're great!" type assertions. My experience is that most of the above "myths" are not myths at all. Oh, and "research shows" that I'm right. ;)

Dan Nold

commented on Jan 8, 2013

Actually I think many of his appeals are to his own experience of multi-site ministry. In addition Leadership Network has done a significant study of the landscape of multi-site churches. Our experience is very similar to Egli's.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jan 8, 2013

If "myth" no. 1 is truly a myth, then why start a multisite church?

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 9, 2013

@Zachary, the following appears after the article: "Data from Leadership Network referenced in this entry comes from two of their reports: Multisite Movement Gaining New Momentum in New Places, by Greg Ligon, 2011, and Multisite is Multiplying, by Warren Bird and Kristin Walters, 2010." For some reason it appears in very light type on my screen, perhaps it does on yours as well. I can see how it would be very easy to miss! I imagine one could google these reports to examine the research for oneself. At the end of the day, a lot of this does come down to experience; even the research is based on the experience of the ones being surveyed. Research, however, does broaden the experiential base so that our conclusions are, ideally, more accurate to the reality. From my experience, stars are very small. But when I examine the experience of others who are more knowledgeable in this area, I discover that stars are much bigger than my personal experience initially led me to believe.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 9, 2013

@Dennis, I thought the same thing about myth No. 3: if it's more expensive to start a new campus than to plant a new church, why start a new campus? The author's explanation under myth No. 8 cleared it up for me a bit. I guess the argument is that a new campus is appropriate in a situation where the congregation wants to have a stronger affiliation with the host church than a new church plant would have. I can see where the two approaches would both work depending on the context. As to myth No. 1, I do hope the 46 percent using all in-person preaching on the campus is, in fact, accurate. I hope to see that number getting higher in the near future.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jan 9, 2013

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the purpose of a multisite church to have the pastor's message piped in? James McDonald's Harvest Churches have several mutisite churches and he is the one who they see and hear preach. If another pastor preaches, then don't you in fact have a church plant?

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 11, 2013

@Dennis, I don't really know too much about MS churches, but from my understanding, and this article tends to confirm it, the different campuses on a MS church function as one church, so that they have the same governing board, shared resources, the same preaching topics, the same mission and philosophy, etc. A church plant, on the other hand, would eventually become independent of the mother church. So, I think it has more to do than simply whether the preaching is "piped in" or done in-person. Most of the well-known MS churches seem to do video preaching, but apparently research shows that that is not always so, and I'm encouraged by that statistic. In fact, if the preaching is done in person, I can see many advantages to the MS church approach.

Sandy Wadlow

commented on Oct 29, 2013

I live in a small town in Wickenburg, AZ. My husband and I drive between 45 and 60 minutes every Sunday, we attend two different churches, to be "fed". My husband and I recently asked one of the churches to start a satellite here, but were rejected based on some of the myths stated here. Any ideas how to get a larger church to consider a small town for a multisite?

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