The Trend of Churches Offering Multiple Services, Sites, and Venues

Map of City

Churches built by men are constantly changing. What a particular church or denomination believes and practices today may not be what they believe and practice by the time the next generation comes along. The reason why these churches change is because they are trying to expand their reach and attract more people. As society changes, these churches must adapt. Too often, these changes are not in harmony with the teachings of Scripture.

Sometimes changes occur among a small minority of churches/denominations. Other times, there are trends that affect a large number of churches regardless of denominational affiliation. One of these trends that I have been hearing about more in the last few years has to do with churches offering multiple services, sites, and venues.

Thom Rainer, former CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, in a blog post titled, Nine Rapid Changes in Church Worship Services (published May 7, 2014), wrote the following:

“‘Multi’ is normative. Most congregants twenty years ago attended a Sunday morning worship service where no other Sunday morning alternatives were available. Today, most congregants attend a service that is part of numerous alternatives: multi-services; multi-campuses; multi-sites; and multi-venues.”

In a more recent post in which he projected what “healthy churches” would look like in ten years, he wrote, “The majority of healthy churches will be multi-site, multi-venue, or multi-day.” He went on to say, “As long as we don’t compromise biblical truths, we need to reach people where they are.”

However, is it true that a church can adopt a multi-service, multi-site, multi-venue model without compromising biblical truth?

Obviously, before we can answer that question, we need to understand what these terms mean? We do not want to condemn everything just because it is a common practice among churches of men. Likewise, we should not embrace just anything that these churches practice.

Yet we understand that trends spread. What becomes common in the world often finds its way into the Lord’s church. This is a real trend that is happening among the religious world around us. Therefore, it is important that we examine these types of trends in light of what the New Testament teaches to see whether we can safely embrace these practices or if we should stand ready to oppose them as unscriptural innovations.

Multiple Services

This is not about the Sunday morning and evening worship services that are common among brethren. In that case, there are two distinct worship services with an expectation that those who were present at the morning service will also attend the evening service.

What are the multiple services like in this trend among churches of men? These consist of the same service repeated for different audiences. It is an effort to expand their reach numerically. The facility can only accommodate so many people, so they add services to provide people with different times when they can attend. This is not new, but it is becoming more common and for many religious people it now seems normal.

The reason why this practice of having multiple services is unscriptural is because it purposefully discourages the church from assembling together. Why should someone come to the 11:00 service if the songs, sermon, and everything else are the same as the 9:00 service? When this is done you can have people who are members of the same church but never worship together.

Instead of doing this, we should be encouraging everyone to assemble together. When Paul wrote to the brethren about the assembly, there was an expectation that they were to all assemble together: “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33). “Therefore if the whole church assembles together…” (1 Corinthians 14:23). The Hebrew writer said, “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). How can Christians encourage one another or partake of the Lord’s Supper together in their assemblies if they come together in separate groups in two or more different assemblies?

Multiple Sites

This is not about a congregation meeting together in different locations. For example, it is possible – especially when a local church does not own a meeting place – that a particular congregation will meet in one location for worship on Sunday, then assemble at another location (such as a member’s house) for a mid-week Bible study. In this situation, there is still an expectation for each member to attend the various assemblies at the different meeting places.

What are the multiple sites like in this trend among churches of men? With this model there is a main church with different satellite locations. It is an effort to expand their reach geographically – to go into new areas by operating a “branch” in another location.

The reason why this practice of having multiple sites is unscriptural is because it creates a “mini-denomination.” Though each location is said to be part of the original church, for all intents and purposes they are simply multiple churches under a common oversight. The New Testament model for church organization has elders who oversee the flock among them (1 Peter 5:2). The problem with the “multi-site” model is the same problem with the denominational organization of the church – local groups are governed by a body in another location.

It is possible for there to be several local churches in a given city or county. This was the case in Rome when Paul wrote his epistle to the brethren in that city. He addressed his letter to the “saints” (Romans 1:7). Yet when he closed the letter, he mentioned several different groups of “saints” or “brethren” in that city (Romans 16:3-15). The limited scope of the elders’ work would prevent these churches from being tied together as satellite locations of a larger overseeing church. Furthermore, to make a similar point to the one about having multiple services, the “multi-site” model is flawed because it requires members to be content with the “whole church” never assembling together or coming together to encourage one another (1 Corinthians 14:23; Hebrews 10:25).

Multiple Venues

This is not about the common practice among brethren to break up into Bible classes for various age groups. In this case, the whole church still comes together for worship.

What are the multiple venues like in this trend among the churches of men? In this case, a church has separate “mini-assemblies” in the same facility. It is an effort to expand their reach demographically based upon age, ethnicity, language, culture, etc. Instead of everyone coming together in one assembly, there may be separate worship services conducted in a classroom, fellowship hall, chapel, etc. In these separate worship services, the music, language, and traditions may be different from what the majority have in the main assembly (or main assemblies in the case of multiple services). Because of this, churches can have groups separated from one another as they assemble in multiple venues concurrently.

The reason why this practice of having multiple venues is unscriptural is because, like multiple services, it purposefully discourages the church from assembling together. More than that, it intentionally divides the church based upon demographics (age, ethnicity, etc.). The church never comes together because they are deliberately segregated from one another.

The Scriptures teach that the barriers that divide us have been broken down in Christ. Paul explained to the Ephesians: “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-16). The apostle told the brethren in Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). If Jesus came to remove the barriers that divided us, why would we want to rebuild those barriers and segregate our churches?

What Is Behind These Trends?

For each of these, the changes have been implemented by those who have a desire to reach more people. This desire could be sincere – they may truly believe they are just reaching as many people as possible for the Lord. However, their motives could also be corrupt like the ones Paul warned about who were “peddling the word of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17) in order to build up or enrich themselves.

In either case, whether their motives are sincere or not, the authority of Christ is not being respected. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). There is no authority for these types of arrangements in His word.

God expects the members of a local church to assemble together. Paul wrote, “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33). Elders are to oversee the flock among them (1 Peter 5:2) – not among other churches or separate assemblies that have been segregated from one another by time, location, or demographics.

In everything we do, we must act according to what has been authorized: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures equip us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Rather than following current trends, we need to follow what has been revealed and authorized in God’s word.

  • Instead of multiple services, let churches expand their facilities so that all the members of that congregation can assemble together as the Scriptures indicate that they should (1 Corinthians 11:33; 14:23). Or, encourage some to leave in order to plant a new autonomous congregation (not a new “site” overseen by the original church’s elders) that can help reach people in another location.
  • Instead of multiple sites, let Christians plant new churches in communities where the people need to be reached with the gospel but are not near a sound congregation. Since this is an issue of convenience, one solution may be as simple as members offering rides to the ones they invite who are not close to the meeting place of the congregation where they received the invitation to attend.
  • Instead of multiple venues and providing different worship experiences in different areas of the same facility based upon attendees preferences or demographics, let us “become all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22) and come together rather than be content to have segregated groups claiming to be part of the same local church.

When a local church is growing, that is a wonderful “problem” to have. It is a blessing for the building to be filled to capacity, to be reaching people beyond our immediate area, and to have a diverse group of people who want to be part of the church. Yet none of these things change our responsibility to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Let us make sure we are following what has been authorized in God’s word rather than following the trends in the religious world around us.

Conclusion

It is tempting to look to the world for ideas about how to reach people with the gospel, but we must be careful. We need to be content to do things God’s way. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Let us do what we can and faithfully serve Him, then let Him give the increase.


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Comments

  1. Frank Melton says

    You might also write about different days. There is a denomination besides Catholics that is a new mega church that meets on Thursdays for those who can’t meet on that
    can’t meet on Sunday.

  2. Dan Hughes says

    Andy, these are issues that had not occurred to me. Thanks for the article.

    Our congregation has a Spanish ministry, with an employed Hispanic preacher, but all overseen by the elders of the one location.
    About once a quarter there is a combined service, to encourage fellowship throughout the congregation.

    In Texas, this is particularly trending due to demographic changes.

  3. Very good article! Praise God!!!

  4. Thanks, Andy, for this article. Denominations have been having two services at their buildings for what they call “traditional service” and for “modern service.”

    The Lord’s church started having the Lord’s supper served at two different times each Sunday for those who “couldn’t make it” to the morning service. For many years now I have been opposed to this arrangement. I believe it can be traced to the World War ll period when many Christians worked on Sunday morning and couldn’t be at worship to partake, so an opportunity was given to them to do so Sunday night. I find no scripture for this practice. Have you studied this issue?

  5. Hi Wayne, the Scriptures teach that the Lord’s Supper is to be observed in the assembly of the local church on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 11:33; Acts 20:7). Therefore, we have no authority to observe it in a different place or on a different day. However, I don’t see how these Scriptures demand the Lord’s Supper be limited to one particular assembly on the first day of the week.