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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Multi-Site Churches

I have blogged before about multi-site churches. It’s a disturbing trend in Christianity in America. (Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to be happening in other countries.) My own pastor recently announced his intention to plant another church – which at first I applauded. But then it became clear that the new church would also be about him. I wondered if that could really be God’s will.

As I’ve pondered this, I recently read an explanation about branding and churches. The writer used coffee as an example. He explained that if I open Larry’s Coffee Shop, it could take months or years for the community to find out about my great coffee. In fact, they may never, ever taste my great lattes because they already get their coffee at Starbucks. On the other hand, if Starbucks opens a new shop, almost immediately hundreds (or thousands) will become regulars because they already know the Starbucks brands.

This writer argued that it works the same way for churches. A church plant could take years to really get a footing (and some even fail). But an “extension” of an established church will grow immediately. They may even open the doors with great numbers. He pointed to examples like Andy Stanley or Ed Young, Jr. When Andy Stanley started the Browns Bridge Campus of his North Point church, thousands showed up the first day.

Okay, this makes sense. Leverage the church brand. Still, I’m skeptical. What is the purpose of church? What is a church plant supposed to look like? Is leveraging the brand what Jesus would do? No really, would Jesus do it? Would the Apostle Paul do it? Let’s look at what the pastoral responsibilities are in a church. What is the shepherd supposed to do for his flock?

James 5:14 – pray for the sick; 1 Peter 5:1 – watch over those in your care; 1 Corinthians 5 – discipline them, Acts 2:42 – break bread and do community with them. Of course these duties are in addition to saving the lost, discipling the found and sending them out to bring the good news to the rest of the world. Can the campus pastor really do all that, when people are laser-focused on video teaching by Ed Young, Jr.? Will the sheep follow a shepherd whom they never hear?

An even greater concern is the idea that these “one church – multiple sites” organizations could be lacking severely in their duty to raise up new shepherds. Can you reproduce good teachers when it is all about one teacher? Does or other brands really lend themselves to reproducing new teachers? I’ve long been concerned about the preachers who brand themselves. Even television personalities like Joyce Meyer tend to name their ministries after themselves. What kind of branding is accomplished here? Is it for the cause of Christ?

If leveraging the brand is really what it’s all about, it seems like we’re creating a world full of McChurch locations where people can always get the exact same experience no matter where they go. Like I said, I’m not convinced this is God’s will for the modern church. But it doesn’t look like McChurch and its branding experts are going to listen to me. So maybe I’m just old fashioned and will have to accept this new world. If so, I still have some challenges for these guys.

Ed Young, Jr. Andy Stanley. Both of your fathers are mega church pastors. What might have happened if little Eddie or Andy had been relegated to hitting the play button for Daddy’s DVD sermons? Would you have identified, developed and pursued your speaking gifts? What you have is a cool church growth and innovation strategy here. And it’s clear to most of us that you both have powerful brands.

Now, can you show me how you’re satisfying the Great Commission with a strategy that includes reproducing more biblical communicators for generations to come – like your fathers did?

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