Most Sunday mornings someone will announce, “Grace Church is a multi-site church, with people meeting this morning in Chichester, Bognor Regis, Midhurst and Havant.” If you have followed Grace Church on our journey over the last 4-5 years, then the term ‘multi-site’ has probably long since been engraved in your inner dictionary of church jargon. But if you are new, you may be wondering what this talk of multi-site is all about. Here, David Thompson gives his essential guide to multi-site in Grace Church.
What even is a multi-site church?
A multi-site church is, by definition, a church that meets in more than one location but has one vision, one leadership and one budget.
For us it means that we meet every Sunday morning in four locations. Chichester is our largest site, which meets in the Chichester High School. Our Bognor Regis site is our next largest. It has been up-and-running since 2013. Midhurst is our next site, which began in 2015 and so far has grown to around 50 people (and counting!). Our newest site meets in Havant, started in March 2018 and has around 60 people at each meeting.
Each of our sites is as much Grace Church as any of the others. They are not departments or projects. To be in any of our sites is to be fully a part of Grace Church, and when we bring people into membership (which I love doing, by the way!), you become a member of the whole of Grace Church.
- One vision: Week-by-week you may see less of people who are in the other sites. So what stops us simply becoming four different churches doing four different things? Well mostly it is because we have one vision that encompasses all of our sites. That single vision is to serve all our communities “from the South Downs to the sea”.
- One leadership: We also have a single team of elders whom God has appointed over the whole church and are passionate for the whole church. Imagine if any of our elders only cared for one of our sites. They would come with their own vision for that site only, and the result would be division! We work together as a team to see God’s promises fulfilled right across the church.
- One budget: Having one eldership team with one vision also means that we can allocate church resources in the most efficient way across the whole church. That’s what we mean by “one budget”. But there are other resources that can be shared as well. It is great to help each other out with community events and to be praying into situations in other sites.
But why did Grace Church follow this model?
Before any church becomes a multi-site church there are two practical things that must be in place and one other thing that is even more important.
Firstly, there had to be a group of people who lived in a similar location who could form the core of the new site as it launched. More importantly, these people had to be passionate about seeing their community reached for Jesus. This is exactly what we had before we started our first multi-site in Bognor, and we had it again in Midhurst and Havant!
Secondly, there had to be gifted leaders in place. As well as elders who oversee the whole church, we also have site teams made up of wonderful men and women who oversee every aspect of our meetings and make sure that mission and pastoral care are delivered effectively in each site.
However, more important than all of that was the sense that God was leading us this way prophetically. God speaks in many different ways. He spoke through gifted ‘Ephesians 4’ prophets, who put a multi-site approach in our DNA at an early stage. He spoke through local events. We could see his hand in the timing of us having to vacate our temporary home in Terminus Road. And he spoke through other leaders who brought prophetic words that confirmed God’s timing to us and gave us the nudge to get going.
Does it work?
For me the overwhelming benefit of multi-site is that it places us right at the heart of local communities. We are both visible and at the same time accessible. If we were in one central location, it would be harder to be visible. Not impossible – big venues like the Cathedral or the Festival Theatre manage to be visible – but definitely harder.
However, it would be almost impossible to be accessible to local people. I visited Little Bears in Bognor Regis recently (one of our outstanding toddler groups) and thought, this is exactly what multi-site is about – showing the love of Jesus to people in meaningful ways, and then engaging them with a church community right where they live.
Be honest now, what’s the downside?
Probably the biggest challenge is that so much in church is multiplied up by the number of sites. Instead of one meeting we have four. Instead of one worship team we have four. Instead of one welcome team we have four. And so on! That’s a lot to organise and it takes a small army to make it all happen. There is plenty of opportunity for you to serve. We need everyone to play a part.
There is also the risk that we might lose touch with people in other sites. We try to counter this by communicating well and also by making the most of opportunities we have to come together, such as prayer meetings, baptisms and times of celebration.
What does the future hold?
I am sure that there is still more that God wants to do with us in the area of multisite. It is exciting to have launched our fourth site in Havant to the west of Chichester. I would love to see us reaching eastwards towards Arundel, but that is just a twinkle in my eye! Whatever the future holds, it is God who holds the future.