Multi-Site Churches as Futuristic Bus Ministries

Multi-site churches are all the rage in evangelical Christianity right now.

A multi-site church is one corporate body of believers that meets in more than one location. Over the last 30 years the movement has gone from 10 churches in the United States to over 5,000 churches who have multiple campuses.

There’s a lot to say about multi-site churches, and I hope to pull together a series of posts on them. For the record, the church where I serve has a second campus that is part of our ministry. But recently I was talking with another pastor about this movement and some of the similarities it has across church history. Multi-site isn’t so much a new concept as it is more a new way of seeing a historical concept.

One of the things that my fellow minister said, that really got me thinking, was that this movement really isn’t that much different in terms of scope than the Bus Ministries of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. 

Essentially, during this era the churches that “really got it” and were seeing growth were also doing some kind of bus ministry. If you’re unfamiliar, a bus ministry is where a local church purchases surplus (or recently retired) school buses and sends them into neighborhoods and apartment communities to pick up kids and teens, and some adults, to bring them to church. For churches that really utilized this ministry during this period they would send bus teams (driving the school buses) into those communities on Saturdays to connect with the kids and teens.

Bus ministries exploded and some of the largest churches in America had vibrant bus ministries. Annual Bus Ministry Conventions would draw in many leaders and volunteers to talk about strategy, planning, and even how to finance this ministry. Consultants would go out to churches to talk it up. Churches all across America used bus ministries and lots of growth came out of it. Now, the buses sit idle in some parking lots or are used for overflow parking (unless they’ve been moved to a new place of worship…in the junkyard.)

As my ministry friend talked about I noticed some common features with the multi-site movement. I don’t think these are bad things, but I think it offers perspective.

The multi-site movement is here to stay…for a while. The movement is growing rather fast and many large churches are pushing it as the model for their growth. For the record, I think there is a lot of upside to multi-site church growth. So my point isn’t to denigrate the movement.

It is, though, to point out that church growth movements have come and gone over the last several hundred years. Before the bus ministries of the 60s, 70s, and 80s there was the Sunday School and revivalist movements. Just a frame of reference as we continue to move forward.

What should provoke us is the constant question of whether we’re seeing this ministry movement bring true spiritual growth through lives being changed and people coming to Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate measure of any movement.

So what do you think? Is this a fair characterization?

Aug 2013



Professional Conferences and Networking

Recently I attended my annual Metro Young Adult Minister’s Conference in Colorado Springs. This conference is for, generally, larger churches who have specific ministers or programs to reach young adults. There are a number of similar professional meetings like this for various levels of church programming (children’s, executive pastors, worship, communications, etc.) One of the purposes of these conferences allows ministers who are reaching a similar age segment, and who normally might not cross paths, to have some focused time of interaction, networking, and professional development.

Metro ConferenceDuring these meetings there is usually a focused topic with a presenter and then some follow up. For our meeting we have David Simpson from the Table Group (Patrick Lencioni’s Consulting Firm) come and lead a conversation about some of the central tenants of The Advantage and how we can apply them within our ministry framework. Simpson provided an excellent interaction where he took the business focused concepts within the text, drew them into a ministry environment, and drilled down on their implementation. Obviously for all the people in the room we each had different takeaways. Overall, I thought the conversation and topic went very well.

More to the point I am attempting to make here: these kinds of conferences are important for ministers (or ministry leaders) to attend. The best parts of the conferences are often the interaction and networking which occur off-site or outside the normal venues. For my involvement in these groups, this is really one of the two things I look forward to the most (the main topic being the other.)

Another point of the conference is how it allows ministers and ministry leaders to spend focused time discussing, thinking, and hearing about approaches and models for their specific ministry area. Too often we all have a tendency to sit in our offices, read a cloistered group of influencers, and attempt to do ministry in a specific paradigm. It isn’t that effective ministry can exist in this environment, but how much better is to hear where others are coming from. Usually, by the end of the meeting I’ll have a dozen or so ideas that I can take back to my church and think about implementing.

While I am a bit skeptical to the value of unguided groupthink, these kinds of events plunge into a different means of talking as a group to grow ourselves and ministries. It is also vital to be reminded that there are plenty of others out there doing ministry, like me, in a similar context who also face similar challenges. (Because ministry is challenging.)

Therefore, I would certainly recommend for anyone to seek out or attend these kinds of events. Perhaps even engaging with a regional group of leaders in a semi-annual or annual dialogue that will aid you as a leader.

Sharpening our skill set is hard to do in a vacuum. However, when you are placed alongside already sharp leaders there is a natural honing process that will leave you more ready and refreshed to confront the ins and outs of regular ministry life.

So, what kind of events like this do you participate in? How are you finding dialogue and networking with other similar minded leaders in your area?