Over the past couple of years, I've been a part of something that is brand-spanking new, something a bit different from the norm, something that stretches what it means to be a "church" in today's cultural landscape. As a member and leader within Seacoast Church — in Irmo, South Carolina, instead of at the main campus that's still thriving in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina — I've seen some of the possibilities for bringing people together under a common theme, direction, and vision.
In The Multi-Site Church Revolution, Geoff Surratt (one of the pastors with Seacoast), Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird have put together a story of what's happened and a primer for what can happen given the same kind of circumstances and vision in other locations. What makes this "way to do church" stand out is that it's "the best of both worlds" in many regards. When planting a new church, there's so much the feeling of kicking the baby birds out of the nest, but with this option, there's the feeling that a new church is starting, but it's still a major part of the existing foundational congregation. There's more of a family feeling, like we're in this together still, able to stick with each other through hard times and support each other in the ups and downs of ministry in this century.
Reading it in the place we find ourselves today, it feels like the story of Seacoast, even though other church bodies are represented by Geoff's and Greg's different leadership paths. The first section deals with the history and "Birth of the Multi-Site Movement." The "one church many locations" model is more prevalent than most folks might think, and it's allowing congregations to grow beyond geographic boundaries to become a new collection of like-minded and like-hearted believers in their communities.
In the "How to Become" section, Part II, the options and possibilities are laid out as "this might work where you are if this is what you're going to do and what God is calling you toward" instead of having a cookie-cutter bland A-B-C directive. I like that. The book reads more as a collection of possibilities and examples that can be implemented and re-dreamed in individual demographic experiences. Part III deals with "What Makes It Work," and the stories again help to make this book accessible for others to re-imagine in their own locales, while giving prospective pastors and churches the challenge and encouragement to try "and now for something completely different" while still holding onto the dreams for growing the kingdom, reaching people, and meeting needs.
Which brings the reader to "Why Extend Further and Reach More People?" Part IV asks the questions: Why do we want church growth? Why do we press on towards replication and reaching our cities for the Lord? In some denominations, it's not as important to reach people; for some, this might sound like it's unnecessary or at least unwieldy in trying to grow and plant a church. But I agree with the authors that there is more to this movement than simply growing mega-churches:
Multi-site is more than a strategy to get big. Many churches are becoming smaller as the open micro-campuses. Churches are going into firehouses, jails, and senior centers and offering through video, to five, ten, twenty people at a time, the same level of excellence that is found in the large primary campus. House churches are leveraging the power of multi-site churches to provide effective teaching for their congregations… The possibilities for spreading the gospel and impacting communities through multi-site ministry are endless.
My few complaints include putting the word "Revolution" in the title. I think this is an attempt to give this a weightiness that maybe it already had on its own. If it's that much of an impact, then having to call it a "revolution" might not be needed, while putting it in the title tells the cynic that maybe it's not "all that" in the first place so we had to spice it up a bit. Another is that at times it seems to be more of a pep rally for the movement than a story of how this has worked and how it can work again. Not that this is a bad thing – It's never a boring read — but sometimes I was looking for more story, and other times I was looking for more hands-on practicality. Since I'm a part of a campus that's "gone through it," maybe I'm reading it with a different eye than the intended audience.
Anyway, I can recommend this book to the folks who are looking for a way to jumpstart a church plant, or to breathe life into churches that might be stagnant and land-locked in ministry to the community. It hits the target on what's becoming a valid way of growing and connecting together in ministry, and I'm hoping it'll catch on even more as the church continues to reach out to people as God intended, making disciples of all nations and neighborhood subdivisions.