MINERS OR MISSIONARIES? A Different Spin on the Multisite Debate

I’m admittedly a biased observer in the multisite debate.

But two recent posts by Bob Hyatt and Tony Jones caused me to wonder if a lot (not all) of the angst about a few churches becoming monster franchises isn’t based on what I’d call a Parish Mentality.

A Parish Mentality is what you find in the Roman Catholic Church, traditional denominations, and interestingly enough in the secular franchising model that says once one of our tribe has staked out a claim to a neighborhood, city or region, everyone else in the same tribe must stay out.

A parish mentality writes off the people an existing church can’t (and won’t) reach as essentially unreachable because it sees anyone else who tries to come in with a similar denominational brand or theological mindset as an illegitimate claim jumper.

A parish mentality also tends to put protecting one particular local expression of the church above the larger mission of the church.

Contrast a parish mentality with the mindset and strategy of Starbucks. As we all know, they don’t seem to worry about cannibalizing one store to increase the total number of customers in all stores.

Now if they can be that passionate about selling the maximum amount of coffee, can’t we be as passionate about reaching as many people as possible – even if that means some of our “stores” (read that as churches) increase and others decrease?

Rather than a parish mentality, I think a “Sunday School Mentality” might be a more helpful way to think about the church – and a better metaphor in the debate over multisite churches.

I look at all the genuine expressions of the body of Christ in my local community as elective Sunday school classes in the Lord’s great Church Universal.

Imagine a traditional church with an outstanding adult Sunday school program built around electives classes. The pastors and leaders wouldn’t worry if one class grew super-sized and some stayed small but relationally tight.

They wouldn’t allow the large to criticize the small and the small to rip on the large.

They wouldn’t allow the class with an evangelism emphasis to disparage the class with the deeper life emphasis – or the in-depth Bible Survey class to vilify the class with a strong social activist bent.

And they certainly wouldn’t worry if some people changed classes now and then to better meet their personal spiritual or relational needs.

That’s why the anxiety over a few national superstars potentially cannibalizing the smaller outposts in the body of Christ seems to me to be misplaced. While every ministry strategy (including multisite ministry) has potentially dangerous unintended consequences, this is not one of them.

Anyway, that’s how I see it. What about you?