Multi-site churches. Part 4 – An honest appraisal

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Steve Boon, executive pastor of Emmanuel Church in Brighton, and I continue to talk about multi-site church

Nigel:     So far we have talked about some of the benefits of multi-site as being geography and reduced travel, and also the identification with the local cultural scene. What would you say are the disadvantages of going multi-site rather than building a big centralised church?

Steve:    Yes, there are obviously disadvantages as well as advantages. One of the disadvantages is that with a church of our size there is always a turnover of people who leave for all kinds of reasons. Over one year it doesn’t seem to impact us much but over, say, five years you will have a number of people who may not have strong relationships or know key people in another site. Therefore, to balance that we hold all-church gatherings through the year to help communicate and work hard at playing to the ‘small’ as well as the ‘big’. Both are equally valued. That would be the main disadvantage for me when you are split apart geographically by 6 miles.

Nigel:     I remember from when I was with you up to three years ago I occasionally heard people talking about their site as the ‘XXX church’. Are you happy for people to identify with that community as the church rather than with the bigger church?

Steve:    We recently changed our name to Emmanuel. We encourage people to know first they are a part of Emmanuel Church, not Emmanuel ‘Brighton’, ‘Shoreham’, ‘East Brighton’ or ‘Hove’. It’s ‘Emmanuel’ followed by where they meet such as ‘Emmanuel at the Centre’ or ‘Emmanuel at the Racecourse’. This allows the venue to move around a lot.

Incidentally, not having to own the venues allows you to move around. This was bought home to me when I had the privilege to visit California with Joel Virgo (Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Church) and meet with Rick Warren (Saddleback Church in California) where he said – and I think I am right in quoting this – they had moved 71 times before they actually landed on their main church building. He saw that as a positive. That’s true for multi-site. You don’t have to land on a venue forever but you can move around. The flip side of that is that you can be always looking for venues. Church planters know that experience very well, and those that don’t have their own venue sometimes clamour and save up money to have one. So there are positives and negatives. Two of the biggest positives are you don’t have huge overheads and you have flexibility to move on as you grow.

Next time, in concluding our discussion, Steve will offer specific advice to those who are thinking of exploring multi-site church.