Can Multi-Site Churches Work in a Rural Context? By Jon Sanders

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When people find out that I pastor a church in rural South Dakota that has four multi-site locations (in South Dakota, Illinois, and Jamaica) as well as an online, iCampus, they are often quite surprised.

I have a feeling if I told them our church was in Dallas or Atlanta, they wouldn’t think that much of it. But the thought of a small church reaching a rural context with a multi-site strategy is somewhat of an unusual concept, although that’s beginning to change).

Over the last decade or so, we have seen many churches embrace a multi-site strategy with a lot of success. But often, we see that playing out in larger churches in urban and suburban areas. We assume that for multi-site to work, it needs to come from a large congregation with numerous staff, lots of money, expensive technology, and skilled people to operate that technology.

Essentially, the thinking is that because of the challenge of limited resources almost all small-town and rural churches face, utilizing multi-site to reach a region beyond their small town is simply out of the question.

I’m here to tell you that multi-site can and does work in a rural context.

So what does your rural church need in order to go multi-site? While the following is probably not an exhaustive list, I’ll offer up six essentials to get you started:

You need a call from God.

While I could offer many reasons for why a church should consider going multi-site, I could also come up with a list of reasons for why not. At the top of that list would simply be this: If God has not called you to multi-site, tell him thank you and keep doing church in a single location to the best of your ability.

Multi-site should not be entered into just because it’s trendy, or because the church down the street is doing it, or because you dream of looking into a video camera and welcoming all of your campuses to a service. Yes, multi-site offers many benefits and awesome opportunities, but it also brings a whole host of specific problems and challenges. Before jumping into the fray of multi-site, make sure you’re hearing clearly from the Lord.

You need vision.

One way you will know that God is inviting you to embrace multi-site is if you have a vision that reaches beyond your single-site location. Often, God will give you the vision before you have the resources to accomplish that vision and you will find yourself with more questions than answers. I can remember standing in front of my church (about 60 people at the time) back in 2009 and boldly declaring that God was going to use our church to reach thousands of people for his kingdom in rural communities through a multi-site strategy.

This vision has been the fuel that has propelled our church from one location to four campuses, an online campus, and a healthy church plant as we recently transitioned what was a fifth campus to an independent church. If you’re going to embrace multi-site to reach rural communities for Christ, you’ll need to ask God for a huge vision and the boldness to step out to pursue that vision.

You need the right leadership structure.

I will tread lightly on this one as I recognize that this can be a hot button issue with some people in the church. But simply put, if your leadership structure is such that it requires continual committee meetings that lead to business meetings where many people get to cast votes on the direction and decisions of the church and where Roberts Rules of Order trumps biblical spiritual authority, multi-site will most likely end in a train wreck!

I believe in order for a multi-site church to operate effectively, it will require a leadership structure where God-called leaders have the authority to do what God has called them to do: lead! It will not be possible for everyone to get to have a say on every decision that is made in every location. The church will need its leaders to make good decisions that are in the best interest of the entire church as it pursues its God-given vision.

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Source: Christianity Today