How to Share the Gospel Consistently in a Multisite Church
Exploring the ways that churches with multiple locations achieve unity
A multisite church, as you may guess, has multiple locations under the same leadership, budget and message. In practice, however, that definition becomes more complex.
Some churches have one primary pastor who is beamed to several locations via satellite or the internet. Others have different pastors preaching at different sites. Still others have a pastor who travels between locations. Within the murky definition of what makes a church “multisite,” one thing must be consistent in the Evangelical Free Church of America: the gospel message. Multisite churches must strive to define the gospel, follow a method for dissemination, and hire or train for consistency in order to be successful.
Defining a unified message
Properly defining the gospel message is essential for consistency in a multisite context.
North Coast Church, in San Diego, defines the gospel message by looking at 1 Corinthians 15, which encompasses the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Dr. Larry Osborne, one of the church’s teaching pastors, focuses on this chapter, saying, “I figured that what the apostle Paul describes as his gospel is good enough for me as a working description.” Operating out of this framework, North Coast Church has the ability to present the same gospel message to approximately 12,000 individuals in five different church communities.
Jay Foulk, North Coast’s site pastor at San Marcos/Escondido, unpacks the 1 Corinthians 15 focus as “the good news that through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we can be saved from our sins through faith in Him.”
That central gospel message plays out in various ways for Jay and his local staff. He describes it by saying that “those of us at the sites walk through life with our local congregation, which includes jobs such as marital counseling and training for volunteers,” among other things.
Several hundred miles away, Nathan Miller, the first site pastor at Christ Community Church in Kansas City and the senior pastor for congregational development, defines the gospel as “a message from God about Jesus in light of His life, death and resurrection that demands repentance and promises forgiveness.” In practice, Miller says, “No matter what we’re preaching, we ask, ‘How do we get to Jesus?’” Miller now oversees the five site pastors that make up Christ Community’s preaching team.
Providing a working definition of the gospel to staff members and volunteers builds a solid foundation for the entire team at a multisite church.
For churches in the EFCA like North Coast and Christ Community, believing that the gospel is the good news for sinners is key to everything they do. Just as visitors need to know the culture they are joining, they also need to know that the gospel is of the utmost importance. Setting that tone for the entire multisite network is therefore vital to long-term success.
North Coast Church uses a fairly straightforward model for ensuring a consistent gospel across multiple campuses: A teaching team with one of the pastors preaching via video feed to the 12,000-member congregation.
“We only have about 850 [people] at a live service,” says Osborne of his congregation. The rest of the congregation watches the messages through a video feed, although worship music happens live at each location.
In this setting, Foulk recognizes that his work at the San Marcos/Escondido campus is to “maintain the North Coast DNA while building a church that I would want to attend.” As to how much innovation he is allowed to pursue at the San Marcos/Escondido campus, Foulk says, “We create North Stars and boundaries that allow us to know the general direction we are going while creating the freedom for innovation.”
One such “North Star” is how Dr. Osborne delivers his sermons across each site. With video-delivered sermons, the team is able to “paint a picture of where we want people to go,” says Foulk. While the video-delivered sermons provide the foundational message for worshippers each week, 94 percent of all attendees dive deeper through small groups. This focus on small groups is one of the main ways church leadership helps bring focused discipleship to the congregation.
A second North Star is the intent behind the style of each site pastor. Jay Foulk states that each site pastor attempts to “build a church we’d want to attend.” Each site has one or more worship styles for attendees to choose from. “Someone coming to a North Coast site can get the vibe of the local community, but it’s always North Coast.”
While the method for presenting a consistent gospel is slightly different for Christ Community Church, the goal is the same. “We don’t have a ‘main’ campus at Christ Community,” explains Miller. In this model, Miller oversees five campus pastors who deliver weekly sermons to their respective congregations. Miller states emphatically that Christ Community Church is “centered on mission, not personality.” While there is no main campus, Dr. Tom Nelson, the lead pastor, preaches about 25 times a year at the Leawood, Kansas, campus.
“Campus pastors meet together for about 90 minutes each Monday to walk through the text together with Tom [Nelson],” Miller says. “This ensures a consistent message personalized to each campus through the local teaching of each site pastor.”
Hiring for consistency
Osborne developed his North Coast Church core team of three teaching pastors, to include himself, as the church grew. This ensured that, as additional staff were brought on the team, they first had a calling to the gospel and community and then could be trained in the specifics of North Coast’s culture. Jay Foulk was hired to oversee the San Marcos/Escondido campus out of Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, California. While they strive to hire from within, North Coast Church has had to look outside as the church grows. Foulk has been with the church for five years.
A pastoral residency program at Christ Community Church in Kansas City helps achieve consistency. Through the program, Nelson has helped mentor and develop nearly 30 pastors, now serving in places all over the country. Four of five current Christ Community campus pastors are graduates of the residency, including Miller.
Naturally, most churches don’t have the sort of residency or training programs that North Coast and Christ Community have. For those churches, the process of hiring an additional site pastor, or even starting their first additional site, should be even more determined. Says Miller, “If we didn't have a residency, I think we'd still at least look first internally. Is there someone with the gifts and DNA that we deeply trust?”
Dr. Osborne at North Coast Church concurs, stating that “most often the hire will come from within or through a network of previous relationships.” However, Dr. Osborne also warns against overthinking it: “Any church that is going multisite is large enough that it has multiple staff members. And hiring someone who understands the DNA of the church, or can fit with it, is no different for a multisite than it is for a church with two or three services on Sunday.”
With faithfulness to the gospel, congregations spread out among different geographical locations find unity through careful planning and a focus on consistency. Regardless of methods, worship styles or hiring practices, churches within the EFCA have one main mission: Preaching the good news to a world in need.