While megachurches may have pioneered the one church in two or more locations model, smaller churches have recently made their foray into multisites.
"Multisite is mainstreaming," says Warren Bird, director of research at Leadership Network.
Leadership Network released on Thursday what it claims is the largest and most comprehensive survey of multisite churches. Among the estimated 3,000 multisite churches in the United States – which is double the number of megachurches – the network has a database of almost half of such churches and recently invited many of them to be a part of the survey.
According to the survey, the average size range of churches doing multisite keeps getting smaller. One in four of those surveyed were in churches whose total worship attendance is less than 1,000. The median size today for a multisite church is 1,300 attendees.
Among the surveyed churches, 43 percent said they experienced a growth of over 50 percent in attendance in the first year. Sixteen percent experienced the same growth in the second year.
Forty-five percent said they experienced faster growth on their newer campus(es) while just over a quarter said they saw faster growth on their original campus.
Currently, average attendance at satellite sites across all the surveyed churches is 361 people.
The majority of surveyed churches were found to have gone multisite with on-campus venues first. They offered different venues in such places as a gym or fellowship hall on the original campus. Meanwhile, over a third launched off-sites, or new campus locations, first.
The majority (85 percent) were also found to have three or fewer geographic campuses and seven services total.
In-person teaching was found to be more widespread than video. Forty-six percent said the teaching/preaching across all their campuses is "almost all in-person." Thirty-four percent use a combination of in-person and video methods and 20 percent use almost all video methods. Smaller churches are more likely to have in-person teaching while larger churches are more likely to use both in-person and video.
Interestingly, multisite churches are not largely independent or nondenominational. Only 34 percent are unaffiliated with a denomination. The other two-thirds belong to mainline and other denominations. More specifically, the most represented denominational identifiers used in multisite church names are, in descending order: Baptist, United Methodist, Christian Church and Lutheran, the survey found. Christian and Missionary Alliance, Vineyard Fellowship, and Assemblies of God are also well represented.
For Bird, the most surprising finding is that one in four multisite churches has at least one campus in another language. Notably, six percent have expanded into other countries.
Another big surprise: one in three multisites added a campus through a merger or acquisition with an existing or recently closed congregation.
The adoption of the multisite strategy has not gone without criticism.
According to Bird, the biggest objection to multisites is the long-term unknowns, such as whether it will help or hurt lay mobilization and church planting. The Leadership Network found "some answers to people's very legitimate concerns," he said.
Most multisite churches (79 percent) reported an increase in lay leadership development since becoming multisite. Only 2 percent reported decreased lay leadership and 19 percent said it remained about the same.
Regarding church planting, the survey found an increase of seven percent in the level of involvement in church planting after becoming multisite. Also, eight percent of satellite campuses have planted a new church.
Multisites also showed a healthy commitment to replication. While most of the multisite campuses are less than 10 years old, one in five of them have already birthed a "grandchild" campus. Eight percent of that group has launched two to nine campuses. Bird highlighted that "multisite as a strategy seems to be succeeding according to those on its front lines."
Nine in 10 churches with multisite campuses are still pressing forward. And only 10 percent indicated that they've closed a campus – largely due to location problems or the campus pastor.
On the Web: leadnet.org/multisiteresources