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Teaching Worship in Multi-site Churches

Whether you call them multi-site or satellites, more churches are launching new campuses. Going multi-site increases needs and opportunities for lay leadership, which spurs more evangelism. Intentionally studying worship helps multi-site congregations maintain unity in diversity.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how many churches are meeting for worship in multiple sites on the same property or in scattered satellite sites. The idea is that launching a new campus—rather than planting a new church—lets congregations make better use of resources as they spread the gospel.

Multi-site church momentum creates a constant need for new lay leaders gifted in evangelism, discipleship, or worship arts. But as congregations attract people unlike the founders or adapt worship to specific campuses, unity-within-diversity questions always surface.

The challenge within Chicago Church of Christ has been to honor tradition without disrespecting gifts that new members bring. The challenge within Vintage21 Church in North Carolina has been to contextualize local worship without ignoring what wise Christians have already discovered. Both congregations say that intentionally studying the purpose and processes of worship enriched their life together. Here’s how what they learned led to worship renewal.

Bridging cultural differences

The people who began the Chicago Church of Christ have roots in a 300-year history of singing only a cappella hymns in worship. Their four-part harmony, weekly communion, prayer partners, and small groups built deep friendships and a strong sense of family. Meanwhile, their eagerness to make disciples inspired them to invite friends from all over.

“As mature leadership teams developed, we split up our Sunday meetings so visitors wouldn’t have to drive so far,” says Dave Eastman, a minister and congregational worship leader. People from 40 countries and all ages now worship in rented space in seven ministry centers throughout metro Chicago.

Becoming diverse forced the congregation to name the gap between “the racial, cultural, or generational differences that at one time defined us and the blood that unites us,” he says.

Long-time members worried that adding instruments, new music, or other worship arts would change worshipers from participants to spectators. “Our goal is to help every worshiper enjoy God’s presence as a springboard to a week of continual worship and service. But what helps me connect with God might not help my African-American brother or my 70-year-old sister,” Eastman says.

Leaders from each Chicago Church of Christ ministry center studied worship together for a year. They shared their learning through sermons and teaching at local centers and congregation-wide Sunday evening concerts. “We designed the concerts to help people learn new songs and experiment with dance, spoken word, rap, and other expressions new to us. This helped us understand each other better and reach a more profound ethnic and generational unity in worship,” he says.

Ministry centers now blend a cappella, traditional, gospel, and contemporary music and make room for each person’s talents to be seen, heard, felt, and expressed in worship. Eastman says they share common worship convictions but are free to combine worship elements however seems most effective in their groups. “We want to engage all our senses through media, music, drama, dance, meditation, and the visual arts as we seek new levels of connection with the Almighty,” he adds.

Who’s calling who to worship?

Vintage21 Church, one church in three locations, seeks the redemption of the million-plus doubters and seekers in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle. This vision requires many leaders.

“We’ve seen that launching a new campus provides more leadership opportunities. We’ve moved from three specific bands leading the congregation in worship to eight bands over three campuses,” says worship pastor Matt Stevens. Vintage21 artists write most songs used in worship. The mix—bluegrass, classic hymns, contemporary Christian, country, Motown, and rock—reflects and appeals to the various campus demographics.

The congregation also wants to learn from the past and “bring each aspect of the church in line with the Christ-honoring kingdom of God,” Stevens says. He adds that the congregation’s year-long study of liturgy, Scripture, and church practice throughout history has been humbling.

North American evangelical worship often begins with a leader calling people to worship. “That’s well meaning, but ignorant, even rude, towards God. We often act as if we have gathered in hopes that God will show up. In reality, God calls us through his Scripture, by his Spirit, through a worship leader. God’s Spirit stirs our heart to respond. The picture of Trinitarian worship is that God is both the leader and recipient of our worship,” he explains.

Vintage21 worship leaders commit to properly respond to God in ways that fit their context. At the Raleigh West campus, Stevens often uses responsive Scripture readings for the call to worship. “The effect of 400 people responding in one voice is powerful,” he says. The Raleigh East campus is smaller, more casual, and in a working class neighborhood, so the call to worship there is still scriptural but uses more common language.

Learn More

See how the multi-site concept plays out at Vintage21 Church andChicago Church of Christ. Studying worship unified these congregations inNorth Carolina and Chicago. The latter is part of the International Churches of Christ, an affiliation of non-denominational churches (so not the same as the Church of Christ denomination).

Delve into the “Multisite is Multiplying” report. Lead researcher Warren Bird has co-authored two books on multi-site churches—books that will help single-campus churches produce leaders even if they have don’t plan to add venues or campuses.

A USA Today story on multi-site churches asks whether video sermons are effective. Watch this 12-minute video in two video preachers try to win over an in-person preacher. The comments afterwards are insightful, especially on what you gain or lose by not having an in-person face-to-face connection.

This ministry coordination council report explains why Bon Air Baptist Church is one church in multiple locations around Richmond, Virginia.

Start a Discussion

Feel free to print and distribute these stories at your staff, worship, education, or outreach committee meeting. These questions will help you explore your church’s place in the multisite church trend.

  • If your congregation worships in more than one venue or site, what unity-in-diversity issues have surfaced? How are you addressing them?
  • Which kinds of people might your church more successfully reach by going multisite?
  • How might a staff-wide or congregation-wide study of worship lead to more lay leadership in your church?