One church, many sites


Multi-campus model uses success to expand ministry

by Myra Holmes

“If it ain’t broke,” the saying goes, “don’t fix it.” Apply that to church growth and it looks something like this: If a church is healthy and growing, it must be doing something right. So don’t fix it. Rather, keep what’s working well and infuse those strengths into another location.

That’s the basic argument behind one fast-growing ministry model—multi-site churches, in which one church has multiple locations linked by common budget, vision and leadership. The idea took off about a decade ago as churches searched for creative solutions to space and zoning limitations and gained national momentum with the 2006 publication of The Multi-Site Church Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations.

Two Mennonite Brethren congregations are among those using the multi-site model: South Mountain Community Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Shadow Lake Community Church, in Omaha, Neb.

South Mountain Community Church (SMCC) in Draper, Utah, was the first Mennonite Brethren church in the Salt Lake City area, founded by Paul Robie in 1998. That Draper congregation is now the largest of three SMCC campuses: SMCC @ Daybreak and SMCC @ The Springs. SMCC has also planted a church under a more traditional “daughter church” model—Shadow Mountain Community Church in West Jordan, Utah.

The Daybreak campus opened in March 2006 in a planned community about 10 miles from the Draper campus. Rod Jost serves as campus pastor. The Springs was an established congregation in need of new resources to move forward. SMCC came alongside, adopting the St. George, Utah, congregation as a satellite campus in January 2009. Tom Mertz serves as campus pastor and Phil Wiebe as associate campus pastor. Mission USA, the church planting and renewal arm of the national MB church, was a key player in establishing the Daybreak campus and is currently helping to subsidize staff at The Springs campus.

Like other multi-site congregations, SMCC strives to remain “one church” in their three campuses. Jost says unified vision is key to maintaining that sense of oneness, so all campuses share a common vision statement. Common infrastructure and cooperative planning also help create unity.

At the same time, each campus has its own personality, influenced by their unique community and gifts of leaders. For example, the Daybreak campus is shaped in part by Jost’s passion for music, so the congregation uses backyard concert series as outreach and has become known for excellence in worship.

In Nebraska, Shadow Lake is newer to the multi-site model, having begun their satellite campus just this year. They tested the model with services in December, then went “live” in January 2009. Senior pastor Brian Classen says their “grand opening launch” for the satellite campus will come this fall, following a summer of community outreach.

Shadow Lake’s move to a multi-site model was motivated primarily by a space crunch at their Papillion, Neb., facility. The congregation considered other options, but decided that a satellite campus provided the most immediate way to reproduce the congregation’s strengths.

It just so happened that Shadow Lake’s mother church, Millard Bible Church in a nearby Omaha neighborhood, ceased meeting last fall, leaving a facility in need of a congregation. So, with financial support from the Central District Conference, Shadow Lake began using the Millard facility for its satellite. “The district was very happy to work with Shadow Lake in order that ministry at that location could go forth,” says district minister Roger Engbrecht.

Classen says the multi-site model allows Shadow Lake to keep doing the things that are working well while reaching a new part of town. “There are people coming to Millard now that will never make the trip to Papillion,” he says.

One key to keeping a sense of unity at any multi-site church is consistent teaching. So how to handle the sermon? At Daybreak, lead pastor Paul Robie preaches at Draper, then drives over to Daybreak for a live sermon. At The Springs, campus pastor Tom Mertz preaches live, using themes and outlines coordinated with Robie. And at Shadow Lake, Classen’s Papillion sermon is videotaped one week, then used at Millard the next.

Because the campus pastor is not necessarily the preaching pastor, leaders at multi-site churches can use their gifts to best advantage. Because Classen preaches at Millard, the Millard campus pastor can focus on shepherding and community outreach. Currently, Dave Kersting serves as the Millard campus pastor on a part-time basis, but Shadow Lake hopes to soon move to a full-time campus pastor who would focus on community outreach. Classen says, “I think we’ll see great dividends not weighing him down with all the responsibility and sometimes the politics of running a church.”

Similarly, because Jost is not Daybreak’s preaching pastor, he is free to focus on his areas of giftedness and passion, like leading small groups and music. Although he has an office in his home and the Daybreak people consider him their pastor, he says he’s often out and about in the community, building relationships and handling administrative details.

If there’s a disadvantage to the multi-site model, it might be somewhere in those administrative details. Jost says that sometimes there’s a “translation factor” in applying an idea that works well for the large Draper campus to a much smaller campus. Classen says, “The weight on your staff grows,” especially the weight of responsibility on the teaching pastor.

So far, advantages outweigh disadvantages for both SMCC and Shadow Lake. Both congregations envision using the multi-site model for future expansion. Jost says that with this model, “You’ve got these great resources so you don’t have to start from scratch.”

Satellite service expands space, option

Ebenfeld MB Church in rural Hillsboro, Kan., uses a modified form of the multi-site model—with two “sites” on the same campus, made possible through the magic of technology. The congregation uses a live video feed to make its simultaneous services possible.

The “Sanctuary” service meets, appropriately, in Ebenfeld’s sanctuary, while “The Branch” meets in the fellowship hall. Singing and prayer times are kept separate, and an informal greeting time fills any time gaps until both groups are ready for the sermon. Then pastor Gaylord Goertzen preaches in the sanctuary, and the sermon is transmitted via video to The Branch. Children are dismissed simultaneously for children’s church.

The congregation began using this format in 2003. “It’s routine now,” says Goertzen, although “sometimes we have a loose wire, literally, from someone moving the sound equipment.” He notes that volunteers with technical expertise are a must to make the format work smoothly.

Goertzen says that the satellite service arrangement allows for two distinct worship styles, like some congregations accomplish with two separate services, but the two groups are more closely linked by hearing the same sermon simultaneously and by interaction before and after the service. In addition, concurrent services means the congregation doesn’t duplicate personnel for children’s church and nursery.

“I’m positive about the arrangement,” Goertzen says. —MH


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