Doing multisite effectively is a tall task for churches. Skeptics might even call it a big mess.
Not only are there logistical and technological nightmares to operating multiple sites, but everything related to ministry gets a bit more complicated. Also, many believers and seekers are simply put off by their own preconceived idea of what multisite ministry actually looks like. Detractors insist that multisite churches promote consumerism and allow individuals to exist anonymously throughout congregations rather than actually becoming part of the church.
For Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, however, multisite ministry is a "beautiful mess." Jason Douglas, executive pastor of weekend ministries for Summit, colorfully defines it as such because he says that the church thrives in spite of the logistical concerns.
"It’s a beautiful tool because of the leaders that are developed, because of the ministry that happens and because of the lives that are changed," Douglas said. "One of my favorite things to do on the weekends is to drive around to our different campuses and see our congregation at the Summit singing and worshipping and learning and praying together. We are definitely one church that just happens to meet in many locations."
J.D. Greear, senior pastor of Summit, has been doing multisite ministry for nearly a decade. Summit has thrived under the multisite model, boasting a church attendance of nearly 8,000 people throughout its seven campuses and 10 venues that are spread between Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and many towns and cities in the surrounding areas of central North Carolina. Even with his church's success with multiple sites, Greear readily admits that many criticisms of multisite strategy are well-founded.
"Many multi-site environmentsare built on a cult of personality, and depend more on man's wisdom rather than God's wisdom," Greear said.
Despite the potential roadblocks of running multiple facilities, Greear says that Summit Church is all in with its multisite strategy. He says that the church believes that the strategy is not only practically wise, but also helpful to pastoral ministry and most importantly it is biblically sound.
"We have concluded that the multi-site strategy is the best way for us to both reach our community and practice faithful ecclesiology," Greear said. "We also believe that planting churches in strategic cities around the world is the New Testament's most effective evangelistic strategy.
To that end, Summit has a vision to plant 1000 churches in the Raleigh-Durham area and throughout the world by the year 2050. Needless to say, a majority of these plants are planned to be multisite facilities. Greear says that around the area of Raleigh-Durham Summit uses the multisite format, but for church plants across the nation and the world traditional church planting is the preferred vehicle for the church.
"Because multiplying campuses is primarily a solution to our space needs, we only plant campuses in our local city, not cities around the nation. Driving to our primary location is not an option for people in cities around the country, so there is no reason why we should put a campus there instead of planting an altogether new church under a new leader," Greear said. "Furthermore, we believe there is something about a local church that should be local."
Remaining local gives the entire church family at Summit a massive support system where individuals can find employment connections, get help with odd jobs and even all join together in worship every so often. The church last met as one body this past summer at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where over 10,000 members and guests joined together in worship.
In the end, Greear freely agrees with multisite detractors that the model is messy, but he says that it is worth it.
"Growth creates problems, however you facilitate it," he said. "The multi-site model is messy. But our church will gladly deal with the headaches of the multi-site model if it means reaching more people for Jesus."