How Digital Will Change Multisite
by Nathan Artt, on October 2021
Multisite has been an effective model of reaching people in church for years.
It’s simply a model built on the idea of creating ministry capacity in areas where there is a group of people who need a place to invite their family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to church. For most churches, multisite was not a means of creating demand (adding seats hoping people come), but rather supplying ministry space to meet an existing demand (supplying seats for people who already attend to invite their circle of influence).
There is a key word above that drives the majority of what makes multisite successful, but also what will likely be the biggest influence on the new model of multisite: the invitation.
What does that mean? We’ve coached churches for years that multisite locations are not for the people who already drive 20-30 minutes to come to church. They’ve proven that distance isn’t an issue—at least temporarily it’s not. The purpose of multisite is to give those people the most effective opportunity to invite their circle, who are likely not as willing to drive past 20 churches to get to a building to meet people they don’t know in a context that feels unfamiliar. We add campuses to equip our existing people who are farther away to invite, foster community, and make a local impact.
So what has changed? The invitation has changed, and that changes everything.
People are no longer inviting their friends to a church building as much as they are inviting them to a church website ... or even more specifically, to a church sermon they feel is most relevant to that person. The single biggest change, then, is this: the invite is no longer based on whether or not someone can drive to the nearest location, which means that the footprint of people who are “attending” is more spread out than ever before. So how do we engage these people?
Thankfully, we don’t have to figure this out ourselves. This has been happening in the retail space for years. The pre-digital business model of retail was very similar to our pre-Covid model of multisite: put large retail centers into areas that have as many rooftops (housing units) as possible within a 15-20 minute radius, and then build as many of those retail outlets as possible. This model was predictable and successful for both retail and for church, until the digital platform grew to legitimate significance in people’s daily lives.
Everything we are suggesting within this resource points to the change that digital made on retail, but we also have to realize that our building models will either adapt and change like Target, or remain and die like Sears, JCPenney, Pier 1, Guitar Center, or any of the other major retailers who filed bankruptcy in 2021.
We believe that change will come in three forms:
- House Church models (not the same as microsite)
- Larger number of smaller campuses
- Buildings that are as relevant as they are reverent (multi-purpose)
In the future, we anticipate seeing campuses, or house churches, even more spread out than ever before.
If this is true, two things will have to happen:
- Our campuses must become more efficient.
- The use of our buildings as a Sunday morning sermon distribution channel will have to adapt to becoming something more.
In other words, our buildings will need to shift towards the church’s version of a hub. When buildings have relevance to people outside of a Sunday morning (merely a sermon-based experience that people can consume online) we believe that attendees will be much more inclined to invite others to the church building.
What would it look like for our ministry if our buildings become “hubs” versus stand-alone buildings that get used once per week?
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