On Monday I wrote a post critiquing a comparison of the modern-day local church with the beginning of the early Church. The comparison is often used to justify multi-site campuses as the new growth strategy for mega-churches.
Aren’t multi-site campuses really just a super-mega-church dressed up in small-local-church clothing? And if so, is there anything wrong with that? Many would say they’re more effective for a list of reasons: better stewardship – a huge auditorium doesn’t sit empty during the week, more cost-effective, more localized outreach, smaller-size congregation means people can better know each other. And those things are all absolutely true. And they do in fact reflect aspects of the early Church.
The difference is, there’s no record of the Church at Corinth planting “Church at Corinth” churches in Ephesus, Philippi and Jerusalem. You see the difference. That’s because there was only one (Big-C) Church, and it was the people who became followers of The Way, later known as “Christians” who gathered in cities like Corinth and Ephesus and Jerusalem.
I live in Southern California, which is like the Mecca of mega-churches. In the Irvine/Costa Mesa area, you’ll find three churches of 5,000 or more, each with more than one campus. Saddleback, about 18 miles away, planted a Saddleback campus in Irvine.
Now it may be just me, but that’s not looking so much like the early Church as it is a coffee franchise. You know, if there’s a Starbuck’s, there’s bound to be a Peete’s or Seattle’s Best or local organic shop all in a one-mile radius. It becomes about what people prefer. Or what’s most convenient. And it’s competitive.
In today’s consumer culture, that’s known as brand-building. The real question then, is: What brand are we building? Dave, commenting on Monday’s post said, “Individual faith communities in the U.S. are operated as small businesses…an organization instead of an organism. That’s how I see the multi-site movement: a pastor functioning as a CEO and attempting to franchise his business… America tries to run everything as a business, and the Church is an excellent example of something that was never designed to operate that way.”