Multi-site church, localized ministry

multisiteAt First UMC of Lexington, KY, where I’m executive pastor, we’re doing something that is becoming quite common in the North American Church — we’ve gone to multiple sites and multiple worshiping communities.

At the same time, we’re doing something very unique, at least from what I have seen as I survey the landscape — we are localizing nearly all of our ministry and mission. This is not a hub-and-spoke sort of model, where one site is the “mother church” with several “daughters.” That’s different from the typical central planning we usually see in multi-site churches, and it’s a very intentional difference.

We’ve begun to see the great opportunities this structure provides. I’m posting below an article that I recently wrote for our church community. I hope you’ll see some of my excitement for what this structure allows. We currently have three communities: Andover, Downtown, and Offerings. I’ve made it no secret that I hope we have at least two more in the next five years.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. There’s plenty more behind all of this, and I hope to share more of it soon.

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One Church, Multiple Communities

“What does it mean that we are one church and multiple communities?”

“Why wouldn’t Andover be its own church since they are 8 miles away from our downtown campus?”

“Can we really be one church when we don’t all see each other regularly?”

If you have been around First UMC for long, you’ve probably had some of these questions. I think we all have. Our church is doing something unique, so it’s no surprise that we have all had some questions and confusion along the way.

In the coming months, I’m planning to write a few articles about our structure that might help all of us get a better understanding of how First UMC is organized. More importantly, I hope to show the mission behind why we are organized the way we are.

We are a multi-site church. That’s a relatively new concept. In 1990, there were only 10 multi-site churches in the US. By 1998, there were only 100. By 2005, shortly before we opened our Andover campus, there were 1,500 multi-site churches.

Why multi-site? You may have heard Pastor Mike talk about First UMC’s mission: to make disciples across the street and around the world. That value of making disciples “across the street” takes seriously the importance of being where people are. The Methodist Church has always been serious about that. Until the year 2000, the UMC had a church in every county of the US!

To make more disciples, to reach more people for Christ, we believe it’s important to be across more streets. In the history of the Church, the best way to reach new people has consistently been to open new places of worship. We’ve seen the great value in that at Andover. Our church is reaching people in that community that we never would have reached if we had remained only downtown. I hope you’ve heard Todd tell some of the stories about families who have come back to the Church and people who have been baptized into the faith because of the new Andover congregation.

We’ve also learned that we can do some things better together than we can apart. Why hasn’t Andover become its own, independent church? Because we believe we’re better together. Mike, Todd, and I spend time together weekly to offer each other support, encouragement, and direction in the way each of our communities is going. We have a financial team that is able to handle the church’s finances much better and with less cost than if Andover, Downtown and Offerings each tried to handle finances separately. On high days of worship like Pentecost, we are able to draw on the gifts of people from all of our communities. And should we consider starting a fourth worshiping community – getting across another street to reach more new people – we believe that we can do that better together, too.

We are a very different multi-site church. Yes, there are over 1,500 multi-site churches in the US, but as far as we know, there is only one multi-site church doing what we’re doing! The typical multi-site church beams in a video of one pastor preaching to all of the sites. Or if not, all of the preachers preach the same sermon in their own setting. They have the same announcements at each site. They essentially offer worship site alternatives and keep everything else together. That’s very different from what we’re doing.

Each of First UMC’s worshiping communities has quite a bit of freedom in its worship, its preaching, its discipleship, and its outreach. That has been a very intentional, much-discussed decision. We have decided to be one church with multiple expressions. 

We believe there are a number of good ways to worship and become disciples, and we want to allow each community to embrace the forms that are best for them. We all have the same Wesleyan theology. We all believe in the importance of worship, growth in small group community, and service in the world. We all believe in making disciples. But we each embody those values differently.

Why are we one church? Because we believe we are better together. Because we all share the mission of making disciples. Because we want to maintain a connection of encouragement and ideas, even if we aren’t in the same building on a regular basis.

Why are we many communities? Because we believe we can make more disciples by being across more streets. Because we believe we reach more people through multiple expressions. Because we believe we can become stronger disciples when each community has the freedom to handle worship, discipleship, and outreach just a bit differently.

We have created a structure very different from most you may have seen. That inevitably creates questions and confusion. It has been a learning process for all of us. But I have a great excitement about the possibilities for First UMC’s future. I truly believe our willingness to try new things is preparing us to do great new things in Lexington and around the world. All of this only by the grace and power of God. To God be the Glory!

Grace to you and peace,
Teddy Ray
Executive Pastor

More to come. Why don’t you subscribe for e-mail updates?

10 thoughts on “Multi-site church, localized ministry

  1. I would ask how you see this structure differing from that of the Catholic Church?…One united Catholic Church around the world with Parishes in each community…(I do see great value in this struture you propose as opposed to the structure you are turning from. I also understand that God can use division within the church (ie. Christian denominations) to spread the gospel as he did with Paul, Barnabas and Mark…I just wonder how you see these ideas as new or unique, if you do.)

    1. Hi Lauren,

      Good question. This is similar to how the RC (and the UMC) is already structured, but also significantly different. As I understand the RC – and please let me know if I’m wrong – each parish still handles most of its administration independently. There’s no necessary strong connection between one parish and the next in terms of leaders’ relationships, administrative structures, or cooperative efforts to start new parishes.

      This is a similar structure to the RC and the UMC, but I think it’s a much closer connection. There’s a greater efficiency in the shared administrative back-end, and most importantly to me, there’s a greater cooperative effort to start new communities.

      1. Will do a little digging on this (particularly on the cooperative effort to start new parishes)…initially it seems that the shared administrative back-end already exists and has for many years…Thom and I just had our marriage sanated recently and my experience there revealed a strong connection (administratively and relationally) between the church in which I was baptized in Michigan, the church we attend in Lexington, the Bishop of the local Diocese, priests and deacons, the tribunal, etc. It was beautiful to see all these things at work in harmony! Regardless of my own experience and findings, I find your evangelical spirit a testimony of God’s greatness!

  2. Do you share the same budget?

    And if so, how does that work, given the fact that one of your sites has a different ‘across the street’ value and the other has a totally different one? The different ‘across the street’ needs create different budgetary needs. And if one campus is ‘younger’ and another ‘older’ that creates giving (and therefore budget) discrepancies, as well.

    1. Great question, Tom. We share the same budget, but we are about to move to a model that more intentionally divides that budget out to the three sites. Want to know how a church (or any org) is really structured, and who really makes decisions? Follow the money. I think the budgeting structure we’re moving to is the key to all of this.

      It will require a full post for me to explain. I’ll probably do that next week.

  3. Great. That would be wonderful.

    Also wondering, one of the things we’ve been warned against is the possibilities of disunity between the campus staff.

    What do you do to maintain unity? I read where even Andy Stanley and his dad had a bit of a falling out for a while when they were running two campuses of the same church. That says that this unity thing is really hard, especially since they were close before that.

    In other words, you seem to be saying that your church is unified without being uniform. Great idea. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you intentionally maintain unity and discourage some of the frustrations with each other that come from the challenges of being separate campuses (communication frustrations, values frustrations, etc.)

    1. Great questions, Tom. The more I think about this, the more areas I realize need to be addressed. Keep throwing them at me, and I’ll keep queuing them up for longer future posts.

      For now, your use of “unified without being uniform” is great! We haven’t used that language yet, but I just sent it to our other 2 lead pastors and plan to start using it.

  4. Teddy,

    In those follow-up posts, I’d love to get a sense of what exactly you do together. It sounds like there is all kinds of centrifugal force pulling your three communities apart. What is the glue?

  5. I was just wondering, do you have a special arrangement with the DS as to who would be appointed there when a pastoral change is needed. What would you say is your theological stand on the UMC spectrum, conservative, middle, liberal? Wouldn’t you have to be close in theology or would diversity improve the creativity? I live in a small town with 5 UMCs but every time we get close to doing things together, a new pastor is assigned with no commitment to work together, so we have to start all over.

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