In part 1, I gave you the reasons why we decided to go forward with the multi-site church model over building one large building. In this part, I would like to give you some more detail.
One of the primary criticisms of a multi-site church is that you create disparate groups of people who will never know each other—perhaps never see each other. While this is certainly a possibility, it also happens at any larger multi-service church. For that matter, it happens at any church above say 400 people. Years ago, long before Northstar was the size it is today, I realized that I couldn’t know every member in a meaningful way and they wouldn’t all know each other, either. I would bet that any large church, regardless of denomination, has members who do not know each other, and not every pastor knows every member.
Here is where it gets interesting. The multi-site church, in fact, most effectively addresses that problem. Since the venues are smaller, it is easier for campus pastors to keep up with those that come. East Bay is a perfect example. There is no anonymity at East Bay because Ray knows the people who attend more than he would if those folks continued to attend at the main campus.
But, at the same time, the multi-site model allows its members the advantages of a larger church. Churches often grow large because many people find the gifts of one pastor-teacher edifying, and the multi-site model allows for the stewardship of that gift. Andy Stanley and Northpoint Church in Atlanta is a prime example. In addition, larger churches are able to offer many ministries that smaller churches cannot and each location benefits regardless of size. Resources in the same way can be shared. So, while satellites benefit from smallness, they also benefit from being part of a larger whole.
Another seldom mentioned benefit is developing and maximizing leadership. This is the opposite of what most people think of large multi-site churches: “Megachurches are built around one dynamic personality and when that personality is no longer there, either will be the masses.” Others would be more specific about the area. “Are there no other good preachers or good environments in Panama City?” And finally, someone will ask the pivotal question:”Why are we not developing other leaders and teachers and then plant other churches?”
That is a fair question. But, before I give you the general answer, let me answer the more specific question. Yes, we are developing leaders at Northstar. I remember a quote from a fortune 500 CEO who said that to be a good CEO, you must be good and you must be CEO. In other words, you can’t be a good CEO unless you are CEO. Northstar has one CEO, or lead pastor if you will and that is me. So, until God calls me to do something else, I am blocking upward mobility. But that does not mean we are not developing people. And the people that we are developing will be the people that will be the campus pastors for the sites we will be opening in the future. God has a succession plan. We don’t know what it is, but we will continue developing future leaders until he reveals it to us.
Now the more general answer. Practically speaking, a multi-site church is better at developing leaders than a single-location large church. I have a feeling that in the future I will not be seeing some of the staff members I count on today. Why? Because they will be serving at one of the campuses I won’t be able to get to on Sunday. They will have the opportunity to lead in ways they didn’t when we were all at one place. And, in their wake, new leaders will emerge at the original campus. And our members will be exposed, weekly, to other Spirit-filled pastors in our church to whom they can look for leadership and ministry. In the end, I believe we will have more and better leaders as a multi-site church than we did as a single-campus church.
There are still questions we are dealing with as we begin this journey. For example, based on the United as One Sunday, do we all need to assemble periodically in one place? If so, how often? We are also discussing what is the best way to organize budgeting and staff structures so that each campus has freedom to organize it’s ministries effectively while at the same time ensuring that each campus retains the DNA of the whole church? Then, we have to figure out how best to do membership and other logistics issues at the various campuses? How far is too far when planning additional locations? And finally, what is the criteria we should use to determine when a campus would function better as an independent church?
The multi-site model is challenging. Growth creates problems, however you facilitate it. Our church will gladly deal with the logistics headaches of the multi-site model if it means reaching more people for Jesus. It is our prayer that God will allow us to put campuses within 20 minutes of everyone in Panama City, with the exception of where a Northstar campus might hinder the work of another local church. For us, the argument comes down not on whether you do multi-site, but how it is done.
Part 3 – Update on East Bay