Can Multi-Site Lead to Multiplication?

A new crossroads of the multi-site church movement

December 3, 2015


Most multi-site campuses are adding rather than multiplying. Movement-making churches reproduce and multiply.

When I started down the multi-site path as a senior pastor in Colorado in the 1990s, “multi-site” was a radical idea. In the first decade of the 21st century, multi-site then became a cool idea among large, cutting-edge churches challenged with expanding their church to accommodate new growth. Now, in the second decade of this century, I think you’ll agree that multi-site has become a mainstream idea among healthy, growing churches of all sizes.

What began as a radical idea 20-some years ago has now spawned a movement of more than 5 million people attending one of the 5,000+ multi-site churches across North America.

And the multi-site movement is not slowing down, reaching farther than it ever has before. Today, this movement is comprised of both non-denominational and denominational churches gathering in multiple contexts, including urban, suburban and rural communities.

Along the way, the multi-site movement has changed the Church across America in positive ways by:

  • stimulating a new energy for local church ministry
  • refocusing the “local” in local church
  • accommodating and accelerating growing churches
  • reinvigorating stable but stuck churches with fresh vision and strategy
  • offering an alternative to abandoning or relocating church facilities
  • allowing churches to change without blowing up the church
  • stimulating innovation and outside-the-box thinking
  • saving churches from extinction by effective church mergers
  • re-purposing many antiquated church facilities
  • creating a new staff role of campus pastor
  • diminishing the need for mega-campuses and mega-dollar campaigns
  • bringing the church back to rural and urban communities
  • stimulating more community awareness and collaboration between churches
  • igniting a new energy for church planting among local church leaders

In the video below, Jim Tomberlin sparks a candid discussion on how Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church has changed his perception of multi-site.

Though the multi-site movement has been a game changer for the church in America, we are again standing at an important crossroads.

Multi-site churches have been very effective in adding worship services, worship venues, programs and campuses. No one could argue that. However, multi-site churches have largely struggled to move beyond this kind of addition to maximize the multiplication potential inherent in the prevailing model.

In short, most multi-site campuses are adding campuses rather than multiplying them.

Let me try to explain the difference. When a man and woman reproduce a child and add to their family, that’s growth by addition. Reproduction is not the same as multiplication, but it is the first step toward multiplication. When that child matures and gives birth to a child, that’s multiplication. Local churches grow by addition, but movement-making churches grow by multiplication. That’s why multi-site churches have the potential of becoming movement-making churches, but they must reproduce congregations that reproduce congregations. Only then are we looking at multiplication.

Movement-making churches see every disciple as the seed of a new congregation.

They embed multiplication into everything they do and measure success not just by adding disciples, campuses, or church plants, but by multiplying them. They make disciples that make disciples. They birth campuses that birth campuses. They plant churches that plant churches.

Movement-making churches reproduce and multiply. They are the kind of churches that Exponential co-founders Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson describe as a Level 5 church in their game-changing book Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church.

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I truly believe that multi-site churches have the potential to lead the way in multiplying congregations—if they can shift from an addition to a multiplication mindset.

If you’re leading a multi-site church or aspire to lead one—and you also believe your church should be part of a church multiplication movement that makes disciples—you will need to navigate the shift from an addition culture of “gathering and accumulating” to a multiplication culture of “releasing and sending.”

Only then will you birth congregations that birth congregations that birth congregations. Only then will we see true movement.

With the multi-site movement now at another crossroads, we have some hard questions to ask ourselves and our leadership teams. We have some difficult challenges to pose to our churches, and we have some heartfelt praying to do on our own knees.

Will you lead a multi-site church that continues to add and accumulate people?

Or will you lead a multi-site church that becomes a Level 5 multiplying church, making and releasing biblical disciples who make disciples?

Jim Tomberlin is founder and senior consultant of MultiSite Solutions, a company dedicated to churches in maximizing their redemptive potential through intensive and insightful multi-site and church merger consultation. Over three decades of diverse ministry, Jim has pastored a church in Germany, grown a megachurch in Colorado and pioneered the multi-site strategy for Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Since 2005 he has been consulting and coaching churches in developing and implementing multi-campus strategies. Jim resides in Scottsdale, AZ and holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Georgia State University in Atlanta and a Masters of Theology (Th.M) from Dallas Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Deryl, have three grown children and nine grandchildren.


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