Is the multisite church movement good, bad or something in between?
This question is being pressed upon pastors and small churches with increasing frequency and greater urgency than ever before.
It’s hard to miss all the cheerleading in the press, on the bookshelves and at popular conferences.
But there’s not much comfort for small church pastors who feel the monster bearing down on them. A lot of the rah rah lacks careful theological analysis that challenges the unquestioned assumptions underlying the multi-site movement. (Check this catalog of articles for and against the movement)
So, the pastor who’s been approached by a mega-franchise executive team with an offer of takeover, or who catches wind that a big box franchise is opening down the street has no where to turn for an adequate, careful and irenic response.
Into the breach step Thomas White and John Mark Yeats with their 2009 volume, Franchising McChurch: Feeding Our Obsession with Easy Christianity.
According to the publisher’s note:
Franchising McChurch takes an honest look at the rise of consumer-minded ministries. Candid and compelling, it calls us back to the heart of Christ’s church and shares the Biblical design for delivering meaningful, life-changing ministry in a fast-food world.
I’d say it does a lot more than “takes an honest look.”
It offers an irenic, cogent and occasionally trenchant critique of the multi-site movement. Let’s consider the content, the critique and the conclusions of the book.
Contents of the book
The light-hearted, engaging chapter titles draw you in with the promise of gentle evaluation. And they deliver.
- Over One Billion Served: Effective vs. Efficient Churches
- Do I get Fries With That?: Predictability in the Pew
- Supersized for the Kingdom: Counting the Numbers
- Have It My Way: Control and the Church
- Chicken McWhat?: The By-Products of McChurch
- Another Milkshake, but Where’s the Beef?: Sugar or Sustenance in the Teaching of the Church?
- Happy Meals for All?: Theotainment in the Church
- The Multisite Movement: Feeding Consumerism
- Expanding the Franchise: Extending Your Brand or the Kingdom?
- The Coming of McDenominations: How Multisite Strategies May Bring the End of Church Autonomy
- Quitting McChurch
Critique of multi-site church in the book
The book begins its critique of the multi-site church movement by focusing on the nature of consumerism, whence it has arisen, and how it has produced the multisite church movement. They identify three aspects of a consumer driven economy that, when imported into the church, merit serious criticism. These are the foundations of an excellent business model, but they lead to serious problems when they become the model for “doing church”:
By adopting the consumer model as the basis for producing Church Growth, the authors believe that the multisite church movement makes a serious mistake. It trains believers to experience and consume religious offerings in the gathering of the church rather than to come, sacrifice and serve.
They also point out that this movement rests on a serious error in thinking about the nature of discipleship. The multisite model imagines that crowds of marginal believers and non-believers can be drawn in by a spectacular buffet line of programs and ministries focused on narrow target groups. Then, when people partake of the board of fare, they will automatically begin the journey toward spiritual maturity.
There is a significant, forward looking element to their critique of this movement as well. They ask questions about what happens when the Fearless Leader passes from the scene? What happens when the Mother Ship calls a preaching pastor whom the satellite campuses don’t particularly like? Will this eventually lead to lawsuits over property ownership?
There are many more substantive criticisms of and questions for the multisite church movement, but you get the general drift. Dive into the book for more.
Conclusions about multi-site church
The book ends with a surprising conclusion: the multi-site church movement will bring an end to church autonomy for many.
Their thinking goes something like this:
- The Mother Ship is control central, from which all hiring, firing and administration occurs.
- Local campuses have no “say” or vote in who their “campus pastor” (who is supposed to be doing counseling, visitation, hospital calls, discipleship training, etc) will be.
- Money collected at the local campuses are remitted to the Mother Ship and disbursed from there at the discretion and direction of the Lead Pastor and/or Senior staff. The local congregation (“campus”) has little or no say in how money they’ve given will be spent.
So, the irony is that this multisite movement, which is largely a phenomenon in the free churches, will effectively terminate church autonomy in these formerly free churches. Once a church agrees to be absorbed or taken over by a multisite monster (my term, not theirs) the game is over for that local congregation!
Each chapter ends with a “To Go” section that nicely reprises the contents of the chapter in bullet form, followed by a series of diagnostic questions that pastors should ask themselves. This is a valuable resource for pastors and congregations wrestling with the question of whether or not to accept the proposal of a “merger.”
This is a must read!
- 4 responses to the new megachurch next door
- 4 things Jesus never said about church
- 4 things the Bible doesn’t say about pastors
How would you respond if a multisite church approached you to discuss a merger?