Assessing the biblical position of multisite
In trying to assess the biblical position on multi-sites, we have to first acknowledge that at best the concept of multi-sites appears to be “a-biblical” (as opposed to a non-biblical or a biblical concept) in the word of God. Our theological assessment of multi-sites is probably better handled by breaking down various components of what a multi-site church model accomplishes and assessing these individual characteristics to evaluate if in such a model there is biblical fruitfulness and relevance in these areas. Here are just a few characteristics which can be (in my opinion) useful in assessing the biblical position of multi-sites and is by no means comprehensive.
Much of the New Testament emphasises love, unity, co-operation, and interdependence. Scriptures such as Romans 12 highlight this truth which should be evident in our personal capacities, and as individual churches. Surely these truths should be evident and extend beyond the local church level to churches in a particular locality. Examples such as the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) and the raising of money from the churches of Macedonia for the relief of the Jerusalem church (2 Cor. 8-9) developed on the basis of such love, unity, co-operation, and interdependence. When we come to the multi-site church, then, are we that far removed from this theological ground? This notion appears among proponents of the multi-site approach. For example, Drew Goodmanson of Kaleo Church in San Diego says, “with multi-site strategies you give the city witness to kingdom expression as seen in the unity of multiple sites working together.”
Minimising Comparison within the body
Secondly the one thing at NCF that we are constantly needing to be aware of, work at and distance ourselves from is comparison between sites which can result in the “works of the flesh” that Paul lists in Galatians 5:19-21, and eight of them can be seen to focus on disunity and division and comparison within the church: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.” He addresses these sins with dire seriousness: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21). We see that these sins can be entrenched within churches today. It seems that the multi-site nature of our church has made us particularly aware of the pitfalls of comparison as it is very easy to fall into these when thinking of activities that happen in the life of the sites – such as worship etc. if not guarded against.
Multisite church structure can aid responsible church growth. At NCF we are not interested in numeric growth for the sake of numbers or church prestige. Rather, what must be considered is that we cannot add to the church but rather growth comes from God and the part we play is how we embrace such growth and adapt ourselves to accommodate it.
We have a Theological conviction that growth is a biblical value. This conviction comes from seeing scriptural examples of amazing growth such as recorded in the Gospels:-
- The public ministry of Jesus to large crowds (Matt. 14:14 & 21; 15:38; Mark 4:1; 6:34; Luke 12:1).
- The book of Acts records the amazing growth of the church both in Jerusalem and in Antioch (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7; 11:21; 24-26).
- Furthermore, the New Testament emphasizes that the gospel is good news to be spread in all places (2 Thess. 3:1; Acts 9:31; Matt. 29:18-20; Acts 1:8; Luke 14:21-22).
As we evaluate our multi-site meetings, do we see the North growing and people being added? Do we see unbelievers being saved? The answer has to be an emphatic “yes”, so we see that the fruit of adapting to a multi-site approach has aided in handling growth and this is in accordance with this theological conviction that growth is a biblical value.
Sharing of resources
The believers in the early church as seen in Acts 2:42-47, amongst other things were together (speaks of unity) and had everything in common. There seemed to be a sharing of resources as they saw need. Could it be that this same value could be applied on a slightly more macro scale, that of a multi-site church? One of the major benefits that we are seeing in a multi-site church dynamic at NCF is that the sharing of resources across sites has indeed eliminated many problems and needs which would have slowed down the effectiveness of the church in reaching into a community. Resources of people, finances and equipment can all be included in this.
It’s interesting just on the side that this passage in Acts describes the believers as being together and having everything in common yet meeting in temple courts (Plural) not court!
We see through Paul’s letters that he addressed to different churches in different areas, that he addressed different issues that seemed to be pertinent to specific regions.
- The book of Romans – Paul writes to the church at Rome amongst other things addressing God’s plan for salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike.
- 1 & 2 Corinthians – Paul writes to the Corinthian church and addresses the issue of immorality and the moral irregularities within the church in Corinth and also the infiltration of false teachers into the church.
- Galatians – Paul writes to churches either in north-central Asia Minor or churches in the southern area of the Roman Province of Galatia and addresses the issue of Judaizers trying to enforce the practice of the OT as binding on the NT church.
In looking at this, we can clearly see that these different subjects were addressing crowds far apart geographically and therefore the issues between churches were far removed. However in our large cities of today and even in Pietermaritzburg you can cross from one side of the city to the other and because of the demographics of the people, you can encounter huge disparities in issues people are dealing with because of culture and ethnic groups. It’s as though they were as far apart as the Corinthian church was from the church in Ephesus!
How does a single church then speak into these settings contextually and with relevance for a particular people group? It seems that a multi-site approach can be one vehicle in which specific instruction can be brought and specific issues dealt with in that community without bringing irrelevant teaching and ineffective teaching in a context that is far removed from where the real issues are. This I believe will become a greater reality to NCF when we go West. Does this go against the word of God? Definitely not, rather it opens up a greater and more real net for people to encounter Jesus.
Conclusion and questions
The testimony from our short encounter with the multi-site approach to church so far, seems to have been a God inspired and Holy Spirit ordained venture. We still have much to learn in the days to come but have experienced and seen the value of multiple venues being able to offer multiple time slots for services in different locations serving and reaching out to the community for the sole purpose of seeing the lost saved and seeing the believers cared for.
We can and should however keep challenging ourselves with questions that will help us adapt into the future, as and when God directs, and be prepared for God to change things as He so directs as He is known to be a God of change.
Some of the questions below which we may need to put some thought into are as follows:
- How do we safeguard against becoming denominational in our thinking and approach to multi-sites?
- There are already people that identify with the North as their church but not the South, how do we handle that?
- Part of the thought process was to bring the church closer to the people for the reason that it means that people who might not be able to or do not want to come across town now don’t have to for a morning service. However if many of our important meetings such as prayer meetings are still in the South, the same reasons still apply so we could end up with congregations which assemble for Sunday mornings, but don’t participate in midweek South activities or Sunday evening meetings. Is this ok and how do we address this?
- We have elders that have not been through the North this year at all, this could mean that there are folk in the church that don’t even know who all the elders are. How can we address this or is it not an area of concern?
- As we go into a new site (in our case the West) is there a driving impetus from the leaders of NCF church to start this new site? If we don’t see this as leaders as part of the vision God has given us and run with compelling drive into it, it could be like trying to give birth without being pregnant!
- In the North, one of the major areas of concern seems to be lack of leaders to lead cell groups. How can we rectify this nice problem?
- How has our multi-site move to the North up-held our traditional values; values such as:-
- The whole eldership govern the church
- Church within a church
- Base church as opposed to a mega church.