The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently held a panel discussion on the use of multi-site churches. I think the discussion that takes place is good and helpful to get us thinking about this issue and the larger issues of doctrine and practice of the church. I think what was presented basically came down to two views on multi-site. The guys for it—Ezell, Montgomery, and Allison—basically said, ‘the Bible does not forbid us to do so we are good with it. It helps us reach more people.’ On the other hand, Gilbert’s approach was a little more nuanced. I took him to be saying that more than ‘not disallowed’ we need to ask, ‘Is this the example we see? Just because we can take this approach, is the model given in the New Testament for us to follow?’
I had some general thoughts as I was listening. Montgomery said that Allison (who is pro multi-site) was the theological adviser to his church, Sojourn, when they were considering this. I wonder if they had a multi-site detractor who also advised them? I also wondered sometimes if Gilbert’s assumptions and understandings were being fully understood/thought through by the others. Sometimes their responses did quite sync with the point I thought he was trying to make. Furthermore, I think the definitions of Church and church were not made clear. Yes, there was a “church in Jerusalem.” But does that mean it was inherently multi-site? In other words, was Luke saying there was the Church in Jerusalem (as we would say today the Church in China), or was he saying the church in Jerusalem (as we would say Mars Hill Church which meets in multiple locations)? Answering that question might go a long way in furthering the discussion of multi-site churches.
In the end, I think two important things came to mind. First, despite what Allison seemed to be saying at the end, I think it is possible to plant churches that look more multi-site (i.e. sharing spiritual/directional DNA) while still being individual congregations. The example would be a small association of churches that share resources and enjoy close fellowship, while still remaining autonomous. Then, secondly, I think the question that has to be asked is, ‘Just because we can do this, should we do this?’ What are the immediate and long-term consequences of this approach? Yes, it may be harder to find elders, teacher, etc., but is it worth it in the end?