First Church, Champaign is a multi-site church. In a nut shell that means we are one church made up of two campuses. I am an associate pastor at First Church and the lead pastor of our Southwest Campus, called "the Launch". If you are new to the whole concept of multi-site churches, you can explore it further here: http://multisitechurch.typepad.com/
So, why in the world did we do this? For me, the heart of this whole MISSIONAL movement is that the core of our identity (as individual followers of Christ and as the body of Christ) is our “sent-ness”. And a multi-site strategy became, for us, an opportunity to flesh that identity out. We are pursuing a multi-site strategy because we are realizing that our "sent-ness" is more important than being together.
In Life Together, Bonhoeffer quotes Luther: “we love to be among friends, and to sit among the roses and the lilies, but our calling is always to go and live among the thorns.” That's our tension!
Truth be told, we started down this road for sheerly practical reasons. We didn’t have enough parking. We were land locked. There was a wee bit of tension between the traditional worship service and the contemporary service. We were a very old downtown church, but all the growth in our city was out in the suburbs. We didn’t want to abandon the heart of the city. But we felt strongly compelled to more effectively love our neighbors out in the burbs who were not remotely likely to find their way into our downtown sanctuary.
So we did both. We stayed in the heart of the city and we expanded into the suburbs. We recruited 22 families (75 people) to be the heart of our new campus and we worked out an agreement with the new elementary school out on the edge of town. And we opened our second campus. A year and a half in and we’re averaging 250 attendance.
There are tons of challenges within this model.
But here’s a couple of benefits. (And a couple of reasons you might want to think about trying it)
1. It turned our eyes outward. It pushed us to think about ministry in terms of our neighbor and our coworker and our peers instead of just the person we sat beside in worship. It is pushing us into a Great Commission kind of mindset. Without a doubt, it would “feel” better and maybe even “look” better to all be together in one place, but instead of focusing on internal measures of success, we are focusing outwardly on our ability to love and serve our neighbors.
2. It gave us an "incarnational". We meet in a school cafeteria. Instead of stained glass windows, we have posters of pop stars drinking milk on the walls. Traditional models of church have (inadvertently) communicated to our members that you come to church to practice your faith. But this multi-site model has reinforced for us that we can “do church” anywhere and everywhere. We practice our faith in the places we go every day. My son goes to school at the school where our campus meets. He’s in that building 6 days a week. There will never be any question for him that God is with him when he’s going through his day at school. Not only is God present with us in those “secular” places, but we are present as the body of Christ in those places: in the schools, in the places we work, in our neighborhoods.
3. Mission vs Program. At our new campus, space and time limitations mean that we can only really do the programs that we have to do. We've been forced into a Simple Church model. We really only have a few committees. So instead of burning up our volunteer's time and energy with committee meetings, we are releasing them to pour their time and energy into chasing after the Mission of God. Instead of putting so much time and energy into maintaining a host of programs inside the church, we are freeing them to pour their time and energy into being the hands and feet of Jesus to their neighbor, their peers, their co-workers, the school where we meet, the poor in our city, etc.
4. Turning “sacred cows into hamburger”. One of the biggest challenges of shifting a church culture can be the steadfast hold that certain programs have. It’s the “we’ve always done it that way” syndrome. Going to a multi-site model has basically forced us to stretch beyond what we’ve always done and instead do what will be most effective. At our new campus, we don’t have a building that’s our own so we are forced to be innovative. Anything’s possible. It has to be.
In short, a multi-site strategy has given us a great framework for being a missional church. We’ve made a bunch of mistakes along the way. And we’ve got a long way to go. We have to be very intentional to not let ourselves slip back into our deeply engrained habits of the attractional, program driven church. But we’re making progress and learning as we go!
What do you think?
Teaching Pastor @ the Launch