Book Review (Multi-Site Churches)

McConnell, Scott. Multi-Site Churches: Guidance for the Movement’s Next Generation. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2009.

It seems that every sphere of life has certain hot button issues, those issues that ignite one’s passions, and are often the center of intense debate. Today, in contemporary evangelicalism, one such issue is the multi-site church movement. Today’s most conservative estimates approximate some 3000 plus multi-site churches in the United States alone. The growth of this movement of churches led Scott McConnell (2009) to write Multi-Site Churches: Guidance for the Movement’s Next Generation. McConnell is Vice President and Director of LifeWay Research and has worked at LifeWay for over 15 years.

In this book, McConnell sets out “to provide practical advice” to churches considering using the multi-site model (3). It is certainly an area worthy of McConnell’s energies since according to a December 2008 LifeWay survey 15% of Protestant pastors were considering multi-site in the near future. In order to accomplish the book’s goal, McConnell and the LifeWay research team conducted in-depth interviews with 40 multi-site church leaders primarily from the United States.

The book is divided into twelve chapters and an epilogue that “combines firsthand advice from nine multi-site experts, stories from forty multi-site churches, and many insights along with practical guidance to help you consider your multi-site journey” (4). If one is still unfamiliar with the term multi-site, McConnell provides a brief definition, “multi-site involves starting a site somewhere other than your current campus” (17). The term “site” is not to be confused with the word “church.” A site is not a church, but part of a local church. Multi-site churches often speak of themselves as one church in different locations.

It may be helpful to provide a quick rundown of the books content. Chapter one provides principles for when multi-site makes sense and does not make sense for a local church to pursue. Chapter two lists several questions with regard to testing the possibility of a church going multi-site, such as ‘Is there unanimity among the church’s leaders?’ Chapter three focuses on the need to take an honest assessment of one’s church, for the purposes of duplicating a church’s DNA at a new location. Chapter four includes seven important questions a church needs to answer before venturing into multi-site, and four decisions that “serve as building blocks … to shape the rest of [a church’s] plan” (75). Chapter five looks at defining what a “campus pastor” is, what his role is, and what characteristics make an effective campus pastor. Chapter six looks at what is necessary for building a core team for the multi-site, and empowering core leaders to make the venture successful. Chapter seven provides direction concerning where the new site will be located geographically. Chapter eight focuses on how church leadership communicates the vision for a multi-site to the church as a whole. Chapter nine addresses how multi-site affects a church’s existing staff. Chapter ten looks at leadership development, particularly developing leaders for the multi-site. Chapter eleven addresses how to keep the sites connected as one church. Finally, chapter twelve lists and describes different types of sites (i.e., multi-ethnic) that have been started, and how some of these sites are started (i.e., acquisition of a declining local church’s property).

Is McConnell successful in providing practical advice and guidance to those interested in becoming a multi-site church? That answer depends on the reader and the outcome of one attempting to put the principles outlined in this book into actual practice.

On the whole, McConnell provides a helpful cursory look into the world of multi-site churches. He also seems to offer something of an apologetic for multi-site. The inclusion of “firsthand advice” from several multi-site pastors provides credibility for McConnell’s overall discussion on the merits of multi-site. He also gives a needed correction to the misconception that multi-site necessarily means watching a video preacher. Some multi-site use a mix of live on site preaching and video preaching, while others rely solely on a pastor to preach physically at the multi-site. McConnell is also careful not to alienate other methods of reaching the lost and making disciples noting that multi-site does not replace other methods for participating in kingdom growth, such as church planting. Multi-site is just one tool that the Lord may use to reach people for the kingdom of God.

However, there are several concerns about the research and book in general. Nowhere does McConnell include his criteria for selecting which multi-site churches would participate in his study. Were the 40 churches those who actually agreed to be studied, or was there some sort of process for choosing these 40 churches? Why was the one church from Canada included in the study, while the rest of the churches were from the United States? One also wonders why more multi-site churches were not included in the study. The study and subsequent book may have been more objective if churches that are not in favor of the multi-site model were given a voice. For instance, the study could have been limited to multi-site churches and churches that place an emphasis on church planting as a strategy to participate in kingdom growth. Another question that comes to mind is what makes multi-site such an appealing method to use? Is it numbers alone? Is it because it is the more economic choice compared to planting a church? Is pragmatism the main force driving this movement? McConnell provides little evidence to not answer these questions in the affirmative.

In his book, McConnell also fails to provide a biblical foundation for the use of multi-site. One area that stands out is chapter five on the characteristics of a campus pastor. The effective campus pastor is described as someone with leadership skills, someone able to build a team to support the ministry, a salesperson for the organization, and a champion of the senior pastor’s vision. However, when one turns to the pages of Scripture, the only biblical quality multi-site church leaders were looking for in a successful campus pastor that appears in the Bible is the ability to lead, and even the specific quality is the ability to lead one’s household well (1 Timothy 3:4). The one glaring omission on the list McDonnell provides is the qualification “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2, NIV). However, if the campus pastor is not responsible for publically teaching the Word of God week in and week out, the omission makes sense. Maybe the biblical foundation was left out of the book because it was not one of the author’s objectives. Perhaps it was not included because it did not come up during the interview process. Or maybe it is lacking because the biblical foundation for multi-site is not very strong, and as this book was more or less an apologetic for the multi-site method the inclusion of what Scripture has to say with regard to the local church would only weaken the overall aim of the book.

If you are new to the idea of multi-site and want to understand what it is all about, then Multi-site Churches is a good place to start. If you are someone who is not sold on biblical foundation for this model, this book will not change your mind, but will likely affirm any hesitations you have about multi-site as a viable church model.

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