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Why Multisite Congregations are Growing Faster than Megachurches

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.

The U.S. and Canada have 1,500 Protestant megachurches that draw 2,000 or more weekend worshipers—and 3,000 multisite churches that meet in two or more locations. More than 400 such churches participated in the 2010 Leadership Network survey “Multisite Is Multiplying,” by Warren Bird and Kristin Walters. Their findings (in bold) may surprise you.

Multisite churches often begin onsite. Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers a Basic English Service that appeals to new refugees and immigrants. It meets in the fellowship space while another service meets in the sanctuary. After succeeding with onsite venues, many churches launch new campuses by renting space in schools, churches, or hotels.

Ninety percent of multisite churches succeed. You don’t need to buy, build, ask for zoning changes, or increase parking. You share a vision, budget, leadership, and board of directors so can channel resources as needed. The main upfront campus costs are technology, facility, and advertising. Adding sites is an affordable way to reach new groups, cultures, or languages. Fifteen percent of respondents describe their church as “other than white” or “multi-ethnic.”

Four-fifths of churches say going multisite increased lay leadership. People step up to lead in evangelism, discipleship, worship, and community service. When a church goes multisite, its original campus usually increases attendance and adds leaders in student ministry. Most new campus pastors and leaders come from the original campus.

Two-thirds of multisite churches belong to denominations. Stillwater United Methodist Church, in Dayton, Ohio, describes itself as “one church in three locations. We have one vision, budget, leadership, and board. We share resources, ideas, and passion. We can do more together than we ever could apart. Having multiple sites allows us to take the message of Jesus Christ to where people are.”

More multisite churches use in-person teaching than video teaching. Chicago Church of Christ ministry centers have their own preachers who choose their own sermon texts. They gather regularly for congregational worship. In New York City, Redeemer Presbyterian’s Tim Keller used to dash from service to service. Now five pastors preach from the same passage each week and rotate through locations—but never reveal who will be where. Churches often combine video sermons with in-person preaching as overall attendance rises. Vintage21’s lead pastor, Tyler Jones, preaches live at two campuses that are ten blocks apart. His sermon appears on video at a farther campus.

Satellite campuses spur growth. The survey found that a fifth of satellite sites have “birthed a ‘grandchild’” of the original campus. Many multisite churches plant new churches.

You don’t have to be big or new to add a location. Though median (most common) total attendance is 1,300, a quarter of churches have less than 1,000 total attendees. Attendance per satellite site averages 361 people. Churches say they need at least 100 attenders per site to function well and cover costs. The multisite trend began last decade, but the original churches began anywhere from 1744 to 2009. A third of churches went multisite by merging with an existing or recently closed church.