Multi-site churches are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. As of 2019, there are more than 5,000 multi-site churches across the country. That’s an increase from the 10 multi-site churches in the United States in 1990. Studies show that this trend is only growing, compared to the number of mega-churches, which is relatively flat.
A multi-site church is any ministry congregation with multiple locations in separate geographic areas. Although they cover multiple campuses, these churches share the same name, leadership, and often share the same weekly sermon—usually simultaneously live-streamed.
Some of the most well-known multi-site churches are Northpoint Community Church based in the Atlanta metropolitan area and Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC.
There are certainly pros and cons to consider when making the decision at your church. Some even question how biblically relevant the concept of multi-site churches are. Multiple campuses is not always the right decision for every church, and it can actually be a detriment for some churches.
But there are a handful of benefits to expanding to multi-site in the right situation. And these advantages likely explain the growing number of this kind of church.
1. Increased Growth Potential
Being bigger and having more members isn’t the most important focus for a church. But with about 4,500 churches closing their doors each year, pastors are increasingly preoccupied by weekly attendance (or lack thereof). That’s why a boost in membership size is one of the most obvious benefits of going multi-site.
According to the 2014 Leadership Network/Generis Multi-site Church Scorecard, the vast majority (85%) of multi-site churches report growth since launching a new campus. The average growth for these congregations is about 28% in the first year and only slightly less (25%) in the second year following an expansion.
However, it’s worth noting that nearly all churches are already expanding before making the decision to expand. Adding additional campuses is an unreasonable expectation for a church that’s already struggling to stay afloat. So this is often a proactive measure to continue thriving, rather than a last-ditch effort to revitalize a dwindling congregation.
2. Wider Reach
It’s obvious that churches with multiple locations have the opportunity to reach more people than single-site ministries. More campuses means a larger geographic footprint, more worship space, and more chances for new guests to visit a church building.
New church campuses have an increased chance of being able to reach unchurched people. This is because nearly half (47%) of multi-site church campuses are in a small town or rural area. With megachurches primarily focusing on urban and suburban areas, these outlying areas are usually overlooked and underserved.
3. Casting a Larger Vision
Many churches make the decision to add campuses not only to grow in size or reach more people. If those were the only goals, planting new and unique churches could be a better option. Instead, multi-site pastors view this as an opportunity to spread their church’s DNA with a larger network.
Some church-goers enjoy attending and supporting a multi-site church precisely because they want to be a part of something bigger. They understand and appreciate being a smaller piece of an umbrella church with the impact on multiple towns and cities. This makes people feel connected to a larger whole with a shared vision and mission.
4. Shared Resources
An advantage to multiple-campuses connected together is the ability to share and grow resources. This doesn’t just mean financial resources, either—this applies to talent, technology, and knowledge as well. Each location is able to support each other with a larger shared pool of assets.
Marketing is one example of shared resources. Multi-location churches don’t need individual websites for each individual campus—they can combine forces to create a better single website. Not only that, but brand awareness for one campus improves the overall name recognition for the entire church as a whole.
Technology usage across campuses is another place where these churches can thrive. There’s no need for each location to research software or vendors to address ministry needs. The larger church benefits from a single giving solution, ministry curriculum, and one presentation software tool.
5. More Active Volunteers
Nearly all (88%) of multi-site churches said that they saw an increase in volunteerism and lay participation after expanding to multiple locations.
That makes sense because more campuses means a greater need for leadership without immediately having the resources to hire for more staff. This leaves openings for volunteer leaders to step into those roles and find a greater purpose within the ministry.
6. More Empowered Leaders
Similarly to more active volunteers, multiple church locations also gives younger internal staff members the opportunity to lead. Studies show that 87% of campus pastors are trained and promoted from within the existing church’s staff.
These are people in the ministry who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to be a pastor that early in their career. Meanwhile, they’re still connected to the larger ministry for support and encouragement from other trusted leaders.
Campus pastors typically have more leeway to focus on ministering to their congregation. This is because they’re not always expected to preach every weekend, and can rely on the central campus’ staff to help with some of the administrative tasks.
7. Keeps You Agile
If your church is growing and facing the decision to split into multiple locations, you might rightfully ask yourself: are we better off remaining as one large congregation? Is it better to keep pouring into our existing location to become as big as possible?
The answer to that question depends on your unique situation. However, one massive church is not always the right way to go. That’s because multiple, smaller locations can allow your church to be more agile and relevant to different communities.
Smaller individual congregations can feel more intimate and relevant for the people attending that campus, rather than getting lost in the shuffle at one mega-church. A dedicated campus staff can make quicker decisions related to their specific location, rather than one leadership team attempting to juggle decisions that could impact multiple communities.
8. Easier Church Planting
While multi-site churches are a growing trend, there’s another pattern happening at the same time. Some ministries are spinning off their campuses into their own autonomous congregations. Just as there is a time to expand to multiple locations, there is also a time to let those locations be free to stand on their own.
This strategy expands on the advantages found in the previous point regarding agility and relevance. However, it trades the support network and name recognition of a larger church with the independance to make decisions and avoid some of the baggage of the central campus.
This is in effect another way of planting a separate church, with an extended period of growth and stability. Eventually spinning off a plant church from an external campus doesn’t even have to be the original intention. Sometimes it’s a decision that happens years down the road.
9. Expanding Digitally
When most ministry leaders think about multi-site churches, they envision multiple buildings in different physical locations. However, more churches are envisioning their online reach—including live streaming worship—as a sort-of digital campus.
This idea has all of the advantages of increased growth, reaching more people, and the chance to empower more volunteers and leaders. In this way, more churches than we realize are multi-site—they’re just expanding digitally rather than with bricks and mortar. Don’t overlook the internet as a place to invest time and attention.
Is your church considering going multi-site? Why or why not?