A multi-site church is one church that meets at multiple locations. Churches began to use the multi-site church model in the mid-1980s. Today's approach ranges from transmitting a sermon by satellite to multiple locations, to creating a number of worship opportunities within the same congregation at multiple times and sites.
According to Todd Rhoades of Monday Morning Insight, an October 2005 US multi-site church conference released statistics regarding growth in the number of churches in the United States operating as multi-site:
- In 1990, there were 10 multi-site churches.
- In 1998, that number had expanded to about 100.
- In late 2005, there were more than 1,500 multi-site churches in the United States.
- In mid-2008, there are an estimated 2,000 multi-site churches across the US. Multi-site church pioneer Jim Tomberlin of Multi-Site Solutions predicts that every major city and large community in America will have many multi-campus churches by 2010.
- By August 2012, there are more than 5,000 multi-site churches in North America.2
Through trial and error, churches have found that attempting to broadcast video to campuses during the other portions of the church service, like worship and times of prayer, is largely unsuccessful. Instead, most multi-site churches produce music, worship, and prayer at each satellite campus to help solidify the sense of community and connection during those times as well as create an environment unique to that of the main campus, while remaining true to the brand and identity of the church.
In 1998, the "video venue" was born. It is widely accepted that North Coast Church of Vista, California was the first church to hold an additional service using video technology to reproduce the experience of the pastor's message in different areas of their campus. Within twenty-four months over 1,300 attendees were choosing one of the Video Venues instead of the original live service. One year later it was 2,300. By 2005 North Coast was offering 21 worship services in five locations and now hosts a multisite conference to assist other churches. Other churches, including Community Christian Church of Naperville, Illinois, have also been cited as launching a video venue the same year.
One of the most prominent examples of a church embracing the multi-site approach is Seacoast Church. In 2002, after several years of growth, the church hit a physical growth barrier with 3,000 attending Sunday services. The church submitted a number of requests to the local authorities requesting permission to expand their campus. The city rejected all requests, frustrating the leadership of the church. Under the careful guidance of Pastor Greg Surratt, Seacoast began experimenting with a satellite campus that produced a unique service at an alternate location, reducing the strain of traffic and staff on the main campus. The new campus was overwhelmingly successful, leading to the launch of other strategically placed campuses throughout the city.
Today, Seacoast operates thirteen campuses throughout South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia and has over 10,000 people attending Sunday services. Seacoast was featured in the Summer 2004 issue of Vision magazine, the first multi-site church to appear in Vision. (Fellowship Church became a multi-site church after their feature in Vision.) Mars Hill Church, developed a multi-site approach due to similar challenges with Seattle, Washington's planning and zoning regulations. Living Hope Church in Vancouver, Washington became the first Church to launch five campuses at once on Easter Sunday in 2006, after studying some of their predecessors.
The modern church has slowly begun to embrace the idea behind multi-site churches. However, not all church leaders agree with what is happening in the multi-site movement. Eddie Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, stressed some concern over multi-site churches in a September 2005 article in Christianity Today, arguing that the multi-site church movement "perpetuates the chronic problem that (the Church) have of undiscipled church members" through a lack of relationship between congregants and the teaching pastor.
Still, churches throughout the world are transferring their churches from single campuses with a ceiling of impact to multiple campuses with seemingly unlimited capabilities. This has created a brand for many churches, some overnight. Churches like Church of the Highlands, Shirelive Church, Mars Hill Church, Celebration Church, Lifechurch.tv, Fellowship Church, Second Baptist Church Houston, National Community Church, North Point Community Church, Calvary Chapel of Ft Lauderdale, The Chapel, Triumph Church, Hillsong Church, Substance Church, Bon Air Baptist Church, Southeast Christian Church (Louisville), and Willow Creek Community Church are continuing to expand their ministry base through the use of multiple campuses. Newark Church of the Nazarene in Newark Ohio was one of the first Nazarene churches to adopt a multi-site model. They currently meet in three locations including a restored 100 year old Firehouse. (www.newarknaz.org)
A new frontier for multi-site churches is to go into cyberspace with an Internet Campus. An Internet Campus typically enhances a live streaming video of a worship service with interactive elements for viewers to chat with each other, respond to polls, and/or submit prayer requests.
- "High-Tech Circuit Riders" Christianity Today, September 2005
- "Satellite link between churches could spread Gospel faster" Shreveport Times, August 9, 2005
- "Big Churches Use Technology to Branch Out" National Public Radio: All Things Considered, August 7, 2005
- "It worked for burgers, now churches try franchising." dailyitem.com, February 6, 2005
- "Mega-Ministers" Christianity Today, June 15, 2001
- "Mega,Schmega: The Boom in Multiple Venues" REV! Magazine, Mar/April 2008
- "Should My Church go MultiSite?" The XL Church Leader Magazine, Spring 2008
- "The Multi-Site Church Phenomenon" Willow Creek Association, Spring 2008