Publisher's Note by Mark Dever
In my early thirties, I pastored a multi-site congregation, back before they were cool.
It was the early 1990's. I was the associate pastor. We had a thriving congregation in the middle of the city, but our building was full, packed with hundreds of college students. At the same time, we had concentrations of members both in the north and the south of our city. So we came up with an innovative idea. We would have three congregations, but one church.
How did we remain one church? We maintained one name, one budget, one membership role, one set of elders, one evening service, and united members meetings. On Sunday mornings, however, the north and south congregations would meet at 9:30 while the main central congregation would meet at 10:30. This allowed the preacher at either the North or South congregation to preach, and then to sprint across town to the central congregation, arriving just after the singing and in time for the sermon. Whew!
I remember one time when I was leading the service at the central congregation and Don Carson was supposed to preach, but there was this race, see, and…well, it could get interesting.
Are multi-site congregations good ideas? This special extra long, year-in-the-planning issue is meant to help you think through that question. And to help us, we've got professor Gregg Allison and multi-site pastor J. D. Greear explaining and defending multiple congregations as one church. (J. D. is a force of nature, even in print!)
Have we seen multi-site churches before? Good question. So we try to gain some historical perspective with the help of Greg Gilbert, Bobby Jamieson, professor John Hammett, and pastor Jeff Riddle.
Any problems with multi-site? Yes, says multi-site pastor Matt Chandler. But are these problems so bad that we shouldn't do it? No, says the same Matt Chandler. Don't miss Matt's provocative out-loud wondering what evangelical churches may look like in twenty years.
Okay, so go ahead and go multi-site? No, says Southwestern professor Thomas White. The Bible rules it out, says pastor Grant Gaines. Dead Baptists wouldn't approve, says Bobby Jamieson. And Jonathan Leeman, the untiring editor of this journal, raids his own doctoral work on membership to provide the most substantial concerns yet I've seen raised about multi-site congregations. Don't be put off by the length of Jonathan's piece—you want to read it, all of it.
Pray for wisdom in this important conversation between friends.
—Mark "I was a multi-site pastor" Dever