Dr. Tim Keller is founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. The church was launched in 1989 and it went multi-site in 2000. Its long-range vision is “to have three strong congregations serving a total of 9,000-10,000 people, worshipping at 7-9 locations and 12 or more services around the city, drawing many more un-churched people into a relationship with God, and with a reputation for serving and loving those in the city who don’t share our beliefs as well as loving those who do.”
Redeemer recently renamed its church planting center Redeemer City to City. One of the the re-launched website’s first posts was from Tim Keller on reasons the church went multi-site: why – and why not. The full article is here. Excerpts are below.
Recently Redeemer was featured prominently in a USA Today article about multi-site churches. Outside of the fact that Redeemer doesn’t ‘do video,’ the differences between our approach and others were not referred to. . . . In much discussion online after the article, it was clear that all multi-site churches were being lumped together. . . . For the sake of clarity, it might be helpful to know these facts about why and how Redeemer does the multi-site.
1. First, we did not go to multi-site because it was more economical or efficient for us. When we began meeting at multiple sites ten years ago, we were already holding a morning and an evening service at a single site that was quite large. It would have been much more cost-effective to multiply to four or five services in that single location. Moving to other sites meant greatly increased costs for rent, for children’s ministries, for music and many other things.
2. Second, we did not go to multi-site to quickly reach more people. The auditorium where we began meeting 10 years ago seats over 2,000 people, and other spaces that size are not available. The spaces we have rented in other parts of the city are far smaller. If we had stayed in that space and multiplied services there, we would have reached greater numbers more swiftly.
So what were the reasons that we adopted the multi-site model?
1. First, we sent our services out into different locations so that people could worship closer to where they lived. People can become more deeply involved in the community and can more easily bring friends if they attend services in their neighborhood. This was an ‘anti-megachurch’ move, since huge churches create a large body of commuters who travel long distances to attend church. We wanted to resist this tendency and root people more in their locales.
2. Second, the multi-site model is a transition design for us. Redeemer has a timetable for turning each site into a congregation in its own neighborhood, with its own pastoral leadership. . . . We will then transition from a ‘multi-site’ to a ‘collegiate’ model. Though still under one unified board of elders, each church will have its own pastoral team, elder team, and set of lay leaders.
One of the original reasons for going to multi-site was so Redeemer would not be so dependent on the rental of one single building. So we saw the multi-site as a way of becoming less building-centric.
Thanks for all the comments! Replies:
* We do not really have the resources to build something of our own in Manhattan. The costs of facilities are enormous here–we could not afford to go out and buy or build enough facilities for all our people to meet in. I think that for urban congregations like ours it is best to have a ‘mixed’ portfolio–some owned or long-term leases, and some rented.
* The collegiate model is attractive to leaders who like team ministry and collegiality, and yet who want to be entrepreneurial as well. The collegiate model means the ‘lead pastors’ of each congregation will have to work closer together than they otherwise would. It means taking much more counsel before making moves.
* ‘Why not move right from multi-site to particularize’? The first answer is that the collegiate stage helps keep the congregations more on the same page in ministry vision for a longer time. While the churches will eventually particularize, by that time they will have had a number of years in which they have had to work together. This will make it more likely that the churches’ ‘DNA’ likeness to one another will last for generations. It makes long-term unity more likely. The second answer is that the collegiate model enables the pastors and leaders of each congregation to get much more help from me and from other senior leaders. They will be in a formal mentoring relationship with us for several years. It makes it more certain that the ministry wisdom of the founding generation of leaders is passed on.
* As I said above, the multi-site approach is definitely draining. It is not as ‘efficient’ as staying in one location. It requires more money, staff, and (most crucially) more volunteer lay leaders. Each time we moved to a new stage in our multi-site we did a campaign to raise the money (and the awareness and the commitment) to do it. You need to ‘stockpile’ the resources and be sure you have enough before you go in that direction.
* Up until now in our multi-site model we have kept everything very centralized. All the ministries are largely run ‘from the center.’ While we have some staff that are assigned to certain sites, the director of each ministry (music, children’s, small groups, artists) is over all sites. This is the reason why up until now it has not been difficult to manage all the sites through one Session [our governance structure]. In the future, when we move to a collegiate model, the elders will have to be divided into what would formally be called Session-commissions for each local site. A commission is authorized by the full Session to (in some issues, like discipline and membership) act for the entire body, with routine reports about its actions going into the minutes of the larger body.