Church Views

more multi-site church questions

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the multi-site strategy as franchise church, and noted that Rick Warren’s Saddleback added a site in the same area as 3-4 existing local mega-churches. A commenter pointed out that Mars Hill Church of Seattle will soon be joining them all. Pastor Mark Driscoll on Twitter: “Planning @MarsHillOC campus launch. Need facility in Costa Mesa, Irvine, Tustin, or Orange. If your church needs a pastor let me know”.

FYI, the following “mega-churches” (3,000-8,000 attenders) that are already here were birthed and grew up in this area, and continue a thriving ministry – all within about a ten-mile radius:
The Crossing
Rock Harbor
Mariners Church
Newsong Church

So you see the imminent need for a Saddleback and a Mars Hill to minister to the lost in this particular locale. (Please review yesterday’s coffee franchise analogy and see if it doesn’t make even more sense now.)

Sure, there are plenty of people who still need Jesus in southern California. In Orange County. Also in Hollywood. And downtown Los Angeles. And inner-city largely Hispanic Santa Ana just across the street from Irvine/Tustin. And a lot more.

FYI, here’s what I can tell you about the Irvine/Costa Mesa/Tustin area of Orange County, CA:
Orange County in general is pretty affluent (think Newport Beach, Newport Coast).
Politically, it tends toward conservative.
Irvine is considered one of the safest cities in America to live in.
Irvine has some of the best schools.

I don’t know how a Saddleback Church (about 18 miles away) and a Mars Hill Church (about 1200 miles away) would manage to select Irvine/Costa Mesa/Tustin with its existing healthy churches – out of all southern California cities (and for Mars Hill, 49 other states) – as a location strategic to spreading the Gospel. I have to think there are still more people in Lake Forest and Seattle that need Jesus too. What about them?

So… why exactly is the multi-site strategy also multi-city? What need does Irvine have that only Mars Hill can fill? Saddleback is a known entity in Lake Forest, and Mars Hill in Seattle – why not invade every neighborhood and community there? Imagine being able to say – “we’ve reached 70% of our city with the Gospel” and in fact the whole city is worn out with “those Christians from Saddleback.” Instead, they seem intent on franchising in competitive locations, where the only real relationship they have is with already-Christians who know their name.

10 thoughts on “more multi-site church questions

  1. I’m not sure if the desired outcome of these discussions is to turn into a Pro and Con for “franchising the church” or worse, a defending of a specific church. I have no personal interest (not staff or member) in Mars Hill but have been recently asking myself about the philosophy of “asking God to bless what I’m doing” or “Getting involved with what God is blessing”. Based on the converts, the growth of the ministry and the impact on the Seattle area (they are reaching the local community with 8 campuses in the Seattle Metro Plex), He appears to blessing their ministry.

    Wouldn’t it be a natural outgrowth of that ministry to journey into areas where there is an affinity of people groups? Where the missional objective would be one step easier to communicate with the local population? This seems relatively natural, possibly organic, like the church is meant to be…???

    Keep sparking the discussion 🙂

    Jim Hill


    1. My hope is that these discussions would be able to challenge people in both pro and con positions, and bring additional information and knowledge about the topic. I agree that Mars Hill is having an impact in Seattle, and their growing outreach/influence makes sense there. It’s where they live – they understand the culture there. My question is about the thought-process that takes them into an entirely different culture, and one already being impacted by local community churches. That doesn’t seem like a natural outgrowth. It seems like a decision to take one step more complicated and less organic to me…


  2. I think you hit on a big question that I am having: how is a multi-site strategy actually fulfilling the call to multiplication, especially if you are “planting” in saturated areas? (Not to mention more affluent locations…)

    I might be able to accept multi-site/video venue as more legitimate if it didn’t seem to be more about “my church is bigger/better/more popular than that church 8 miles down the road…

    ” Instead, they seem intent on franchising in competitive locations, where the only real relationship they have is with already-Christians who know their name.”- profound insight in this statement here.


  3. So, just to be contrarian to the view I’ve already stated, let me throw in a retroactive caveat, of sorts. I attended a faith community for a long time where people commuted over an hour one-way for a Sunday morning. A large enough group of people did this that the elders considered placing a satellite campus in the area in which most of those people lived. Turns out they didn’t, but if they had, would they have been falling victim to the franchising mentality we’re discussing here? Seems like a similar action for a completely different motive.

    I have a friend who’s Anglican, and finds the idea of “shopping” for a church that “fits you” to be a serious turn-off. His take is that you attend the local community/congregation/parish that is in your area. Perhaps part of the motivational issue behind the multi-site movement is American consumerism.


  4. Does the answer have to be “either or”? Having met with some of the leaders and additionally listening to the podcasts of their weekly sermons I personally feel uneasy making broad judgements about the WHOLE STRATEGY being wrong. Yes! there are some pastors that their hubris gets the best of them, their are some that have wrong motives. My “Tribe” has seen the devestation of that over the years that doesn’t mean the strategy is not good for some.

    When we discuss the early church we have to be careful not to sterilize the scriptures into a pretty “black and white” presentation. They did deal with personality driven issues (1 Cor. 3 – Appolos), they were incestuous, they gossiped and got drunk – they were full of problems. By 40 to 60 AD The Apostle John in 1 John is having to strongly remind them that they have to love people (both Christian and non Christian) if they want to show their love to God. The early church was no panacea of perfection, unfortunately it was like today’s church – full of people and their problems.

    In my opinion we need to examine the principles of the New Testament church and strive to apply those – Love God – worship, build community – relationships (with Christians and non – Christians) which is loving people. We need to pool our resources to accomplish the expression of this love because we can do more TOGETHER than apart. This can look different for each “tribe”.

    “Together” at this point in history for me would mean allowing “missionaries” from the Seattle area (they have participated in making a difference – Seattle is no longer considered the least churched city in the US, the Seattle area also has the most “mega churches” per capita of any city in the nation) to help if that’s what they feel God is calling them to do. With a population of over 22 million in the Southern California area I think there are enough people to populate many churches. Although, I understand Aaron’s previous explanation about the diversity of the cities the early church inhabited I can’t get by the fact of population explosion and saturation. Jerusalem, as diverse as it may have been only had a population between 60,000 and 100,000 people (30 AD). Even Ephesus, one of the most populated cities in the world, truly a cosmopolitan city only had 400,000 to 500,000 people. We have that many people in some of the “suburbs’ we are talking about. Our density is so thick in some places we could have a mega church every few miles and still would not be impacting a huge percentage of the population. (Say the mega churches Jan mentioned equals 45,000 Christians, Saddleback another 20,000 – that’s only 65,000 out of the over 3 million in Orange county, a drop in the bucket)

    My last thought (at least for the moment :-)) is that if 80% of all churches aren’t seeing converstion growth then how can we throw stones at the ones that are. Fortunately we ARE seeing conversion growth in the “franchises” the church “plants”, these new fangled approaches and way too many of the “local” churches are not growing, not ministering to the unsaved. Just as the early church went through it’s problems, I think many of these large churches making moves like they are, are constantly analysing and trying to accomplish the goal of the church. I know from personal conversations that Saddleback and Mariners have in the last year modified their strategies and continually do so. They do this for the GREATEST purpose of spreading the gospel (at least that’s my humble opinion).

    There are enough who haven’t been reached to be much more “both and”. When every person has heard a clear presentation of the Gospel (here in SOCAL), then we can debate WHICH methods were best… I’m just glad that God has blessed these organizations with the resources and people to allow them to make the effort. That says a whole lot to me…

    Thanks for allowing this lengthy dialogue, I too am passionate about the growth and success of the local church.


  5. We don’t make the Church grow, God does. That’s the fallacy of the church growth movement. I have difficulty seeing anything that the American church does as not being business-motivated. Then again, I’m biased from horribe experiences.


    1. Dave – I truly regret your horrible experiences. As a pastor (and one who has specialized in the “business” of the church) I may have even been responsible for yours or other individuals horrible experiences, for which I truly apologize.

      At the same time God, in His bizarre sense of humor and unique perspective, has chosen to use us broken, damaged, insulting, selfish, egotistical humans as the tool, the resource and the means of growing His Church, for sharing His love. For this I have no real understanding, but an acceptance to His WILL. AND a commitment to try to be the best “tool” I can for Him, to be the best human representative of Christ and if by doing this His Church grows then WE have success. I don’t read in scripture that God has a plan B for us humans. It’s us working together or…


      1. Jim,

        As a former pastor, I understand what you’re saying. I’ve just learned that the church “growing” is a concept we do poorly at defining. What I mean by that is that we try to quantify it with numbers, which we can’t. You or I or Jan or any other Beleiver may have impacted someone in ways we don’t know, and may never know the person, because they heard something we said or read something we wrote. We can’t quanify that, and it never caused our “church” to “grow” because that person, hypothetically, went elsewhere and stayed off the radar. We, then, were still “tools” for God to use (although that’s a hopelessly de-humanizing term), even though that person didn’t contribute to that particular local manifestation of the church.

        What we do for Christ in our daily lives, in the blogosphere, or anywhere else away from the organized church is just as, and possibly more, valid than anything we do in the church walls. The multi-site movement is a specific example of a business model that focuses too intensely on the little c instead of the big C. Our trying to be as useful for the Kingdom as we can is something we join in, worldwide, as the big C. It’s not the soteriology I’m taking issue with, it’s the ecclesiology.


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