Multi-site churches. Part 2 – Different options

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Steve Boon, the executive pastor in Emmanuel Church, Brighton, and I are continuing to discuss the multi-site philosophy of church.

Nigel:    Finance inevitably has a bearing on how you operate. How does that work in Brighton?

Steve:    As well as regular giving we have a Gift Day twice a year (some may refer to it as a capital campaign). This will be for our ministries helping disadvantaged people get up-skilled through our Pathways ministry and the other for planting churches. As a church-planting church we have the privilege of training up church planters at site level before sending them on. This has applied for Amsterdam, Ottawa and Berlin where all the current leaders first led sites or meetings in Emmanuel, Brighton. So our model intentionally provides a good training ground.

Nigel:     In 1985, when I was an elder in the church, we created five congregations, which rapidly emerged into five separate churches. This had not been our vision so two years later we pulled them all together again. Is multi-site the same or different from that model?

Steve:    Apart from a couple of the strengths and characteristics I mentioned earlier, multi-site is a tool and not a thing that you can’t change. We have a strap line that ‘everything changes but the gospel’. What was right two years ago is not necessarily what we are going to do forever. Taking an entire church week by week through the same biblical exposition is a big strength and I don’t think that was in play 30 years ago. Then the entire church can follow up in small groups through the week. Some people who talk about multi-site would suggest that perhaps the end result of a multi-site model would be many churches. I do not know what the end for our story is. We just want to be able to hand something on and I am sure the thing will keep evolving.

Nigel:     What would you say are the benefits of multi-site compared to just letting the church grow centrally ad infinitum?

Steve:    I think some of it is geographic and pragmatic, whilst also prophetic. For example in our context for Brighton, UK, if you’ve been there you would have noted that to the south is the sea, to the north are the South Downs (which are hills!), and so the only way we could go is left or right, but there is a limit to how far we could go left or right because there are other brilliant churches around.

One of the unwritten rules of multi-site is ‘don’t plant a site where your people are not, plant them where they are’, and so the first site was true of that – in fact all our sites are true of that kind of principle. That helps our local attenders easily invite their neighbours, friends, work colleagues, coffee friends, whatever it is, to a local venue rather than travelling in the car to one large venue for 30 minutes and pay city centre rates to park. Trying to reduce hurdles for some people to come to us is always in our thinking.

Also physical space is expensive in cities or towns or villages, so unless you are given something, or you have a big footprint then that will also be restrictive in terms of how big you can grow. There are always different options, buildings you can look at and try and expand to get bigger and bigger. But because we knew we were going to plant churches, multi-site being an evolving great tool gives us a vehicle of being able to multiply leadership in every single area to the degree that we couldn’t do with one venue, even with three or four services. There’s real strength to that. Having one major venue is not a wrong model. However for our vision, circumstances and leading, the multi-site model really serves us at the moment in helping deliver that vision.

Nigel:     If you had a bigger meeting with 1500 people I guess it would have to be that much more organised, slick and polished than if you had 150?

Steve:    (Laughs) I think the slick, polished thing would be the perception of a big gathering, but I don’t know whether that would be the goal. The more human we can make it and have the grace for when the powerpoint doesn’t work, or the PA speakers blow then that’s healthy from my point of view. Always keen we do not veer off of the grace led leadership whilst always doing the best we can for both the new visitor and the longest serving member.

Next time we will look at some of the cultural issues related to multi-site.