Radical Multisiting

Can the current multisite model be a strategy for actually multiplying churches?

Jim Tomberlin

Every week, nearly 5 million people attend one of the 5,000+ multisite churches across North America. The multisite strategy has proven to be an effective vehicle for outreach, volunteer mobilization, leadership development and regional impact. Truly, multisite has become the “new normal” for healthy, growing, outreach-oriented churches of all sizes, although the clear pattern is the larger the church, the more likely it is to be multisite.

When I proposed the multisite idea to my Colorado Springs church elders in 1995, they responded skeptically, “Who would go to a multisite church?” Today nearly 10 percent of all Protestant churchgoers attend a church with multiple venues or campuses. According to Leadership Network, if multisite churches were a Protestant denomination, they would be the fourth largest denomination in America. Most of the largest and fastest- growing churches in America are already multisiting, planning to multisite or thinking about it.

The multisite movement first surfaced as a Band-Aid strategy for megachurches that were out of room or limited by zoning restrictions. But it quickly evolved into a growth strategy for healthy churches of all sizes, which has rapidly outpaced the growth of the megachurch movement. It has also become a revitalization strategy for stable but stuck churches. Increasingly, it is becoming a rebirth strategy for struggling churches that merge with a multisite church. Clearly, the multisite model—one church in multiple locations under one leadership and budget—has become an established strategy to grow a church.

But can multisite be a strategy for multiplying a church?

Tweet: “The multisite model … has become an established strategy to grow a church,

but can it be a strategy to multiply a church?”

Today, most of the 5,000+ multisite churches are stuck at one or two additional campuses. Very few multisite churches get beyond three campuses. Though succeeding in a multisite strategy, most multisite churches are not maximizing the reproductive potential of the multisite model. They are adding campuses rather than multiplying them.

Tweet: “Most multisite churches are adding campuses rather than multiplying them.”

Todd Wilson’s eBook, Spark: Igniting a Culture of Multiplication, is very helpful in making this distinction. Todd posits that churches operate out of one of three mathematical milieus:

  1. Subtraction: The majority of churches today have a subtraction culture of scarcity and surviving;
  2. Addition: Some churches are growing with an addition culture of gathering and accumulating;
  3. Multiplication: Very few churches have a multiplication culture of releasing and sending.

While addition is better than subtraction, multiplication has the greatest kingdom impact. My observation is that most multisite churches are operating out of an addition culture.

The multisite movement is standing at the frontier of another paradigm shift. A very small but growing number of radical multisite churches are going beyond adding one or two campuses to multiplying exponentially in fulfilling Jesus’ call to make new disciples. These radical multisite churches are operating out of a multiplication culture that is reproducing disciples and campuses at an accelerating rate. Some have the potential to become a movement-making multisite church. These radical churches are led by leaders with an apostolic impulse who birth multisite campuses, plant churches and keep a multiplication scorecard.

So my question to you, church planter or pastor, is this? Will your church be a radical, movement-making congregation that moves beyond adding campuses to multiplying them? Or will you stay status quo?

’Jim Tomberlin is founder and senior strategist of MultiSite Solutions, a company dedicated to assisting churches in maximizing their redemptive potential through intensive and insightful multisite consultation. Over three decades of diverse ministry, Jim has pastored a church in Germany, grown a megachurch in Colorado and pioneered the multisite strategy for Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. 

He is the author of 125 Tips for MultiSite Churches, Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work, and Church Locality: New Rules for Church Buildings in a Multisite, Church Planting and Giga-Church World. Jim and his wife, Deryl, have three grown children and seven grandchildren.