Recently Redeemer was featured prominently in a USA Today article about multi-site churches. Outside of the fact that Redeemer doesn’t ‘do video,’ the differences between our approach and others were not referred to. And in much discussion on line after the article, it was clear that all multi-site churches were being Lumped Together. Just for the sake of clarity, it might be helpful to know these facts about why and how Redeemer does the multi-site.
1. First, we did not go to multi-site because it was more economical or efficient for us. When we began meeting at multiple sites ten years ago, we were already holding a morning and an evening service at a single site that was quite large. It would have been much more cost-effective to multiply to four or five services in that single location. Moving to other sites meant greatly increased costs for rent, for children’s ministries, for music and many other things.
2. Second, we did not go to multi-site to quickly reach more people. The auditorium where we began meeting 10 years ago seats over 2,000 people, and other spaces that size are not available. The spaces we have rented in other parts of the city are far smaller. If we had stayed in that space and multiplied services there, we would have reached greater numbers more swiftly.
So what were the reasons that we adopted the multi-site model?
1. First, we sent our services out into different locations so that people could worship closer to where they lived. People can become more deeply involved in the community and can more easily bring friends if they attend services in their neighborhood. This was an ‘anti-mega-church’ move, since huge churches create a large body of commuters who travel long distances to attend church. We wanted to resist this tendency and root people more in their locales.
2. Second, the multi-site model is a transition design for us. Redeemer has a timetable for turning each site into a congregation in its own neighborhood, with its own pastoral leadership. I was the main preacher at all sites, but two years ago we went from four to five services at three sites, which is too many for me to preach in a Sunday. Rather than beaming me in by video, we determined that other pastors on the staff would always preach at least that fifth service. When we get to six and seven services, about two years from now, each site will have its own Lead Pastor who will share the preaching with me.
We will then transition from a ‘multi-site’ to a ‘collegiate’ model. Though still under one unified board of elders, each church will have its own pastoral team, elder team, and set of lay leaders. Other collegiate models in our PCA denomination include Harbor Presbyterian in San Diego and Brooklyn Presbyterian here in New York City.
I was careful in my interaction with the USA Today journalists not to criticize other multi-site churches. I do not know what motives other churches have for using the multi-site model, but those are ours.