Why is the Summit multi-site? Is multi-site biblical?

Pastor J.D. discusses how the Summit approaches multisite and what the Bible has to say about it.

A glimpse inside this episode and some bonus material:

I continue to get questions about the “multi-site” strategy on a regular basis. It’s not nearly as bizarre as it was when we began, but is still controversial for a lot of people. In light of that, I’ve revisited and expanded a post from a few years ago about our decision to go multi-site.

In 2005 we at The Summit Church moved to a multi-site strategy for spatial necessity. God was graciously bringing to our doors more people than we could handle. We were doing as many morning services as we could in our rented school facility, and were having to turn people away. So we opened another campus 3 miles down the road, where I preached between our other services at the main campus.

Since that time, we’ve stuck with the multi-site model for the church because we believe it’s both biblically sound and practically helpful, and we have embraced multi-site as a strategy for growing our church and reaching our city, not merely as a temporary way to deal with a space problem. We currently are a church of about 12,000 attenders, meeting on 10 campuses and 12 venues throughout Raleigh-Durham, NC. 

First, let’s cover whether or not multi-site is biblical.

The essence of a local church is a covenant, not a manner of assembly.

Some argue that since a local church is by definition an assembly, a multi-site strategy fundamentally skews the nature of a local church. The essence of a New Testament local church, however, is not “assembly” but “covenant body” and one of the functions is assembly. 

The New Testament nowhere demands that a local church meet all together each week. Nor is a single-service assembly the only model given in Acts. While it is certainly true that we see evidences of local churches assembling all together (1 Corinthians 11), we also see evidence of single local churches which met in multiple locations. The new congregation in Jerusalem is frequently referred to in the singular, one “church” (Acts 8:1; 11:22; 15:4). However, they obviously had to meet in different times and locations. Historians tell us there was no space in Jerusalem available to the disciples in which three thousand or more people could have met on a weekly basis. 

Quite simply, the New Testament neither demands nor uniformly models that all members of one local church are to assemble weekly in the same place.

General rule: The New Testament gives guidelines, but not specific details, on how to best organize a congregation for pastoral care and effective ministry.

John Piper has written, “Neither here [in Acts 2] nor elsewhere in the New Testament do we get detailed instructions on how to organize the church for pastoral care and worship and teaching and mobilization for ministry. There were elders in the churches (they show up very soon in the Jerusalem church) and there were deacons, and there were goals of teaching and caring and maturing and praying and evangelizing and missions. But as far as details of how to structure the church in a city or in an area or even one local church with several thousand saints – there are very few particulars.”

Why is The Summit Multi-Site?

1. We believe it’s the most effective way to reach people, especially in our city

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 660 of our members in the last ten years to plant 54 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.

Multi-site is not an alternative to church planting; it’s an alternative to building one big, gargantuan building.

3. A Better Pastoral Alternative to Building “Six Flags over Jesus”

At one point, we considered building one central building for all of the people of the Summit to attend for worship. Fortunately, logistical reasons kept us from making this decision, because we now see that no central building could possibly be expanded fast enough to account for the growth at our church. Building megachurch buildings is time-consuming and resource-exhausting. We’d rather use our time and resources to multiply campuses throughout the Triangle than erecting some kind of mammoth “Six Flags over Jesus” facility.

The longer we’ve done this, the more we’ve found that multiplying people into smaller campuses is more effective at pastoring and shepherding than having them all together in one large gathering. The multi-site strategy has provided us a way to effectively pastor a congregation of 12,000. It takes a problem (too many people for “the pastor” to shepherd) and makes the solution more obvious (diversify and expand your pastoral team).

The hardest ecclesiological shift for me happened when we grew to a size where I realized I couldn’t know every member in a meaningful way. I think that happened when we went to about 500 weekly. Most research shows that pastors can’t personally pastor a congregation of more than about 150. If you are willing to grow above 150, you’re going to have to adopt a “multiple elder” model, where everyone is known and pastored by an elder, though not necessarily the “lead” elder.

Things we wrestle with:

–We believe the “one body” needs to assemble ever so often, but how often?

What is the best way to organize budgeting and staff structures so that each campus has freedom to organize its ministries effectively while at the same time ensuring that each campus retains the DNA of the whole church?

–How do we best do membership and discipline in the multi-site model? How much can a subset of the congregation represent the entire congregation?

–How can congregations vote on issues when gathering everyone takes a good bit of planning? Can online gathering techniques be used for voting?

–We believe local churches should be local, and thus won’t plant campuses in other cities. But how far is too far when planting a new campus in our own cities? Even if we never went farther than 15 minutes in planting a campus, eventually you could span the state of NC. How far out does our “city” extend?

–If people rotate which campuses they attend, will that make it difficult for elders and other leaders effectively to watch over them?

–How exactly will we know when a campus would function better as an independent church?

Learn more about North American church planting at The Summit Church at summitcollaborative.org.

Other Sermons