When people started to flock to Willow Creek Community Church, they noticed a trend: people who lived more than 30 miles away didn’t fit in well. They just weren’t local. They needed something closer to home... something like Willow Creek.
The solution? A ‘multi-site’ model. They started a church miles from Willow Creek which shared the teaching programme, leadership and ‘DNA’ of its ‘mother-ship’.
As we saw last month, many American churches are now adopting this model; one even has a ‘campus’ in Peru! But would it work in Britain?
Veteran English church growth thinker Eddie Gibbs has fears. “It removes the preacher from the community… Ministry requires an ongoing dialogue with the community.” Sermons targeted to specific audiences become generic vague messages for everyone - which can result in poor discipleship. “We grow in Christ not just by hearing good stuff but through relationships,” argues Gibbs. “The ministry of the teaching pastor flows out of those relationships.”
Others worry that the central pastor may turn into a superstar. “Isn’t a satellite church a little self-centered?” asks Phil Steiger, launching a lively weblog debate. “Isn’t it a bit too much of an extension of a pastor’s or pastoral staff’s ego?” Why must powerful churches ‘franchise’ themselves? The pastor of Willow Creek’s satellite stresses, “We do the same things the same way you would do at Starbucks or a McDonald’s or a brand name that works.”
And when everyone is learning from video screens, could they be “making the Sunday worship event so central to ecclesiology that they miss becoming a transformative kingdom community” as Bill Robinson suggests? A Colorado multi-site leader warns: “You can easily create as many problems as you solve when you go multi-campus.”
Yet it isn’t intrinsically unbiblical, argues Third Millennium. “There is nothing wrong with churches uniting with one another rather than remaining independent — unity is preferable to independency.”
So - would it work here? Internet eavesdropping gives us a pretty clear guide to the pros and cons. Maybe some British church leaders should start clicking around. Begin looking here: www.thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/99723.qna/category/pt/page/questions/site/iiim www.steigerblog.blogspot.com/2005/09/satellite-church-campuses-nextgreat.html www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/september/24.60.html www.churchmarketingsucks.com/archives/2006/05/the_multi-site.html#more