While advocates and critics have written much on the subject of the multisite church as it has risen in prominence over the past 20 years, Brad House and Gregg Allison believe that we are now able to see the intended and unintended consequences of the movement and thus evaluate it. As such, this book offers an overview of the movement and advances a model they label as “multichurch” that they feel addresses issues within the multisite movement. House and Allison appear to be well-qualified to write on the subject, as both serve at Sojourn Community Church (a church with four campuses around the Louisville, Kentucky area) and have other relevant areas of experience and expertise; House previously served at Mars Hill Church (Seattle, Washington), and Allison is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The frame of the book is Sojourn’s experience in becoming a multisite church, facing numerous challenges, which led to the church developing the model described in this work.
The book adopts a navigating metaphor, entitling the opening section “Scouting” as it gives the reader the “lay of the land” and what can be learned from past adventures. Chapter 2 offers a history of the multisite church movement, noting its roots in the NT, precursors found in the 1970s and 1980s, and then its proliferation in the 1990s and 2000s. The next chapter (“Landmarks”) enumerates, explains, and evaluates a spectrum of church models: pillar (one church with one service), gallery (a church with multiple services or venues), franchise (a church that clones itself in multiple sites), federation (a church contextualized in different locations), cooperative (one church with multiple interdependent churches), collective (a collection of churches collaborating with each other), and network (individual churches working together). The authors classify gallery, franchise, and federation as multisite churches while collective and cooperative are multichurch models. This chapter reminds readers that not all multisite churches are the same and that some common critiques of multisite church are really of one model (franchise). The fourth chapter, dubbed “Landmines,” examines criticisms of multisite church, with the authors agreeing with some of the arguments against video preaching (noting that it should be viewed as an “irregular” practice) but also showing that many of the critiques of multisite churches, such as a focus on one teacher or an inability to develop leaders, are also potential problems in other models. The final chapter of this opening section (“The Future”) argues that the multichurch model is the future of multisite as it reflects—and at times will reflect better than other models—biblical and theological principles about the church such as unity, collaboration, diversity, and multiplication.
The second section (Orienteering) describes in more detail what their model looks like in practice. They first discuss the undergirding principles (chapter 6) and then explain how polity (chapter 7), ministry structures (chapter 8), finances (chapter 9), and membership (chapter 10) work within the model. Their model focuses on helping ministry happen at the local level rather than supporting a central organization, offering freedom while also having clear boundaries and places of unity, with multiplication as its primary goal. The polity of the multichurch is a mixture of local (micropolity) and central (macropolity) leadership that features trust in local leadership while also having checks and balance through a central structure. Collaboration rather than control is the key principle of this model. Of note, however, is that the “macropolity” of the multichurch features more staff than lay people on the highest board (called Leadership Council), as it features the pastors of the local churches, “executive elders” (who are pastoral staff), and two non-staff elders. The multichurch model gives flexibility within a defined spectrum of ministry approach and delineates foundational ministries that every church must have, core ministries that all churches should have as they grow to certain levels, and particular ministries that reflect the unique context of the local church. The chapter on finances notes that multisite is not more efficient, as is often claimed, but that this is okay since God does not always use the most efficient means. The multichurch model does not centralize control of money but rather creates ownership and empowerment by pushing financial decisions to the local churches. Finally, the multichurch model has its members under the care of local leaders while also placing them within something bigger so they can use their unique gifts in a way less likely to happen in a single location church.
The book concludes (“Setting Out”) by noting how to transition to this model (chapter 11), describing Sojourn’s shift from a federation model to the cooperative model (chapter 12). The book also features appendices that contain Sojourn’s grievance policy and more details of Sojourn’s “micropolity.” There is no bibliography, but there are endnotes, which include citations of a several dissertations on the multisite movement, showing the subject is now being evaluated in the academy.
The authors present a thoughtful analysis of the movement and offer a theological justification for their model. They do not say that all churches need to be multisite churches, but rather that it is a model that can be used; just as there are a variety of church government structures drawn from various principles of polity found in Scripture, so there can be various models in terms of whether a church is a single site or multisite. Even if one does not adopt all elements of their model, a multisite church (or a church thinking of becoming multisite) can gain some clarity in terms of the choices it needs to make and potential options in structure through reading this book.
The biggest critique I would offer is that their model of “multichurch” does not seem as fully developed as readers might hope. For example, the authors repeatedly talk about being “interdependent” churches, but it is unclear exactly what is meant by interdependent. They discuss how collaboration happens, how unity is maintained, and how there are checks and balances within the system, but this reader was not able to detect what makes the churches truly interdependent. There are also practical issues that are not fully addressed, such as what happens when one of the churches is struggling financially—do the other churches “bail out” this church, and, if so, for how long and who decides? Are there limits in terms of the number of local churches or geographic proximity that can work well within this model? Of course, these may be issues that can only be addressed as churches enact this new model.
Advocates and critics of the multisite church movement would benefit from reading this volume to gain a greater understanding of the multifaceted nature of the movement, as well as considering its theological foundations. This book is an important one, but it is by no means the final work on the subject since it invites further reflection on the model House and Allison propose and notes that it will take time to see the effects of any new approach.