I’ve stayed away from speaking much into the world of multisite or the macro-elements of church trends. I’m one voice amongst many, many men—and all of them have rehashed the same things. However, as I’ve watched church life over the years (at least from my limited vantage point), one area of church life can be both wonderful and dangerous: when churches expand their ministry offerings (multiple services, multiple locations, multiple ministries, etc.).
Now, before I go any further, I pastor at a multisite church (a church with two or more campuses), with multiple services happening throughout a Sunday. The Oaks (where I pastor) has two Sunday AM services (with different children’s and youth programming), and the Campus location has three (the same two we have and a tinier service before that). We also have a college service Sunday evenings. People are scattered everywhere on a Sunday. Folks like those at 9Marks (a ministry I admire) would say, “Never do that.”
However, I was recently talking with a buddy who is about to go from one service to two. Pretty simple shift. You have one group of people meeting at one place, you outgrow it, and you go to two services of people meeting at the same place. One of the benefits of that would be that people could go to any service they wanted, whenever they wanted. Kids awake early? Go to the earlier service. A little slower on a Sunday? Go to the later service. Seems like a good solution, except that I encouraged him not to communicate it like that.
Rather, I encouraged him to take a different approach in how he communicated it and set up the move to more services . . .
The moment you give people the freedom to untether, they take it (at least, they’re more tempted to). So the “go to whichever service you want” approach actually hinders growth and discipleship. Simply put, it becomes easier to hide as you add to the “lineup,” so to speak. That’s a significant danger, in my opinion.
I think we (and I include myself in this) make a big mistake when we encourage ‘bouncing around’ from service to service or location to location as a way to maintain unity. In fact, I think it encourages the opposite: disconnection and isolation. (Note: I’m not trying to speak to whether or not churches should make those decisions, but I am saying the way they execute those decisions has significant implications for the way their churches grow.)
So, a few concerns about the “go to whatever works for you” mentality. Because this is a blog post, I’ll just give two:
You can’t actually maintain that many relationships: The idea that you’ll be able to get to know more people is a farce. Don’t believe it. The friendliest person in the world can’t bounce between services and congregations and expect to know everyone. If you read Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, he encourages leaders to “Keep it Manageable” (112ff). Using Dunbar’s Number, he argued that you simply cannot keep well-connected with a group that is larger than about 150 people.
Many people thought that with the introduction of the Internet Dunbar’s Number would be rendered obsolete. The ability to communicate with large numbers of people would become more efficient, giving us the capacity to maintain more relationships. It turns out not to be the case. (114)
Thus, the idea we promote that one can bounce around in church life might actually hinder our ability to commit to one another. It hurts more than it helps. Is the solution to limit ourselves to one service (like our 9Marks friends)? Not necessarily. I doubt in a room of 200-300, you know all of those people, either. It is simply to say this: you cannot float between services and/or locations and expect to still know people as well as you’d like. Nor can you do that and expect to be known as well as you’d like.
It could push you toward consumerism: Another concern that I have about the bouncing around is what it produces in our heart: a desire to go to the service or location because of what we get out of it. We like the preaching at one service so we attend there. We like the community at another so we go there. Can this be beneficial? Perhaps, but I haven’t often seen it play out like that. I’ve seen people decide where they attend (or stop attending) based upon the preaching, the music, the ministries offered, the proximity, etc. I can’t imagine that this is a long-term way to grow in the Lord for the long haul.
Now, I’m not a baby-with-the-bathwater guy on this. I think the bouncing around hurts more than helps, but I also believe there is something we can do to help it.
Pick your place and stay there.
If your church has multiple services, I’d encourage you to attend the same one for an entire year. Commit to those people in that time and place. Get to know them. Hear their stories. Learn about their families. Invite them to your house. When it gets annoying/obnoxious/lonely—stick it out. Pray for those people and love them like your family—because they are just that.
But this goes for my multisite friends, too. Pick your location and your service. Make it yours. Don’t feel the ridiculous (and unnecessary) compulsion to see “how it’s going over there.”
And for my pastor friends who lead multiple sites or multiple services: don’t put an unnecessary burden on your people to know everyone. Encourage them to commit to a specific group of people and slug it out with them. My guess is it will be better for all of us if we take that approach.