I like to think of myself as creative and innovative. The truth is I'm often just a first adopter in our community. Leading a church in a suburb of a mid-sized American city in the south it isn't hard to look creative. A one-eyed man in the land of the blind is king. So several years we were one of the first to open a satellite church a few miles from our main campus. We weren't the first to do this in our city, but there weren't many others. So it was exciting and new for many of our people. Just like any church, however, we had a few who were against it from the start.
Too make a painfully long story surprisingly short; it didn't work out. Today it is in the hands of a commercial realtor waiting for the right buyer. Just because others were doing it didn't make it right for us. We had some great things happen there. There were people saved and baptized. We ministered to the homeless. I know of even one couple who met there and today they are married. The Lord knows I hate to fail at anything but the experience, for the most part, just didn't work.
Randy Pope had bigger dreams for church expansion than I did. Randy is the pastor of Perimeter Church in North Atlanta. He had plans to plant hundreds of campuses in Atlanta. After successfully starting 4 in the city he invited an expert to speak to his staff. This expert gave an overall plan that would help them begin more than a hundred new sites in Atlanta. While the staff became energized by the vision Randy had a check in his spirit. Speaking to the advisor after the presentation he said: "Carl, what you have described is way ahead of its time. I predict it will be widely used one day. But not at Perimeter." The pastor went on to say: "I could see where this vision would lead us, and I came to a sudden realization: we couldn't let that happen to our church."
Here are a couple of reasons Pastor Pope chose not to continue the multisite approach.
1. We are called pastor-teachers because we pastor in a significant way through our teaching. If the leader isn't preaching, and the preacher isn't leading, there's a serious disconnect.
2. God calls each congregation in each specific location to engage the gates of hell in specific ways. When the message doesn't address the specific needs of the local congregation a lot of the impact of the spoken word is lost. As a pastor of a multi-campus ministry, dispensing a message from a distance to outlying congregations that need to engage their specific gates of hell, I am absent. My leadership is not available as needed in each local site.
Randy doesn't criticize those who have chosen this model, but warns of the dangers stated above. He advises : I certainly wouldn't ask pastors of multi-campus churches to dismantle their structures. Instead, I'd ask them to consider why they're using that model and what is being produced."
I have come to conclude that our objective isn't to increase the numbers of our congregations, but to enlarge the number of inductees into the kingdom of heaven. We should encourage kingdom growth whether it swells the membership of our local churches or not. Soon I will be introducing a strategy at Dallas Bay to grow the kingdom through the formation of house churches in Chattanooga. Attendees at these gatherings may never grace the campus of our church. They may never grow larger than someone's home can contain. The make-up of these churches will probably be different than the homogenous look of the church I attend and serve. They may reflect people from Asia, Europe, South America and beyond. My prayer is that the result will be groups of believers that will reflect more the way we will spend eternity than the brief time we have here to be His witnesses.
I'll let you know as soon as I have a clearer vision of what God is laying on my heart. Until then pray with me that God will lay this burden on the hearts of others and the the Lord of the harvest will send forth workers. Talk to you soon!