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?


  1. John Darnell on February 19, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Whole heartedly agree with you. I actually believe that the presence of larger, “franchise” type locations enhances the appeal of the smaller, “Mom and Pop” type locations. The dynamic differences between the two should serve to highlight the unique positive qualities. Unfortunately, we allow ourselves to compare the two which leads to an undo focus on the negative.

  2. Chris on February 19, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Larry, thanks for the tweets earlier. I tend to agree with you. But I am not sure the fear for these churches is that a multi-site will reach out to the same people the established church wants to reach but rather they will attract people already in the pews. This may be unstated but you can bet many think this might happen. I also think these same critics just don’t like mega churches period. But that is another issue. While I am sure Driscoll, yourself and others are not aiming for transfer growth it is going to happen. Does it? What are the numbers for Msites after launch. How many new believers? How much transfer growth.

    And to those on the outside it looks like the multi-site is growing simply by providing a better product (better production, better music, better preaching, better coffee etc…) not by actually accomplishing the great commission (ministry to the poor, long term relationships, commitment to the community).

    Also, I wonder if the leaders of the mult-site sit down with the local pastors to talk about their concerns? Community needs? Strengths and weaknesses of the community? When this does not happen it is a put off. Perhaps their is an already established coalition of churches in the area. They don’t have the resources are skills to pull what a mega church can so they partner together. But a mega church does not need those relationships and strikes off on their own. Could that be a problem?

    I serve at a large church 3000+ and have a large multi-site satellite down the street. I love that church, and its staff and I know many attenders. I don’t think I have an ax to grind, but I do believe these are issues that should be wrestled with. And I think there are others. But that is for a later time.

  3. Larry Osborne on February 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Chris –
    The fear that others may leave my church for the new church is town is precisely the Perish Mentality I’m concerned about. As I said in my post, Starbucks doesn’t care if the new Starbucks’ outlet in the grocery store cannibalizes a few customers from the old one on the corner. Their goal is a net increase in total coffee drinkers.

    That’s why I like the Sunday School Elective metaphor. Granted, a few egos are bruised when people move from one ministry to another because it works best for their spiritual growth. But isn’t this what it’s all about – their growth not my church’s growth?

    And believe it or not, I wrestled with these thoughts and came to this conclusion years ago when North Coast Church was the little church losing all “my” people to the hot new ministry in town.

    For a while I was jealous and angry. But as I asked the Lord to rebuke them, he rebuked me. I realized that I was putting my church’s organizational security (and my financial security as a young pastor) above the overall net growth of the kingdom. I even wrote an article title on the hidden dangers of a Parish Mentality for our denominational magazine.

    So that means that my perspective was developed as the guy next door in the shadow of a fast growing megachurch – which makes it rather ironic that I’m now cast in the role of a multisite megachurch pastor defending a movement I once would have abhorred (both philosophically and personally).

  4. Bob Hyatt on February 19, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Hey Larry- thanks for the shout out. I guess we’re getting the debate going a little early, eh? 🙂

    I think the test of whether I am speaking out of a parish mentality would be whether I applaud and help with other church plants here in PDX or see them all as competition.

    And to answer that question I’ll just say I’m engaged in coaching and mentoring other pastors and church planters right here in town. I’m not against church plants on my “home turf” in the least. I’d even welcome other Acts 29 churches here in town- you are right- they reach different (though similar) people to us and are needed.

    What I am against is the franchise mentality that seeks to leverage the celebrity and giftedness of superstar pastors in an extra-local context. I’m all for the Church Universal mindset you are talking about- and my contention is that my position captures it MUCH more closely than the video venue franchise plan that seems to value the preaching gifts of celebrity pastors over what God can do in and through the men and women already on the scene, and in the long run leads to more people preaching the Gospel, not less.

    I’m going to be writing more about this- I hope you’ll continue to interact…

  5. Larry Osborne on February 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm


    I don’t doubt that you have a Church Universal paradigm. And I would be the last one to claim that all those who dislike the multi-site model do so because of turf protection issues. But you have to admit, turf protection is an issue – especially once a Big Box Church actually moves in down the street.

    Perhaps our differing viewpoints can be traced to our differing assumptions.

    When it comes to deciding if distant multi-sites are good or bad, I want to go right to the bottom line and measure the total number of disciples in a given city. I don’t care what box – or how many boxes they gather in. And I don’t mind seeing some healthy competition between churches as long as there’s no corresponding trash talking – thus my Sunday School Elective metaphor.

    I assume that people will choose where they grow the most – and I don’t care if that means a few of the previously existing “Sunday school classes” cease to exist.

    I also can’t imagine a scenario in which any “Celebrity” ministry or communicator will kill off any but the weakest churches. There will always be a huge market for churches that offer the high touch ministry of a smaller church – especially if people are growing and relationally connected [Remember, I wrote Sticky Church]

    On the other hand, I think perhaps you value maintaining as many meeting places and local-based teaching platforms as possible on the assumption that more local-based teaching ministries will ultimately produce more total believers, leaders, and disciples than a combination of a “celebrity” teacher and the “surviving” less-gifted teachers who were already in town.

    Time will tell.

    I have no doubt that I am right.

    But something tells me you have no doubt that you are right.

    It’s pretty cool that throughout eternity one of us will be able to say to the other, “I told you so!”

  6. Bob Hyatt on February 19, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    “When it comes to deciding if distant multi-sites are good or bad, I want to go right to the bottom line and measure the total number of disciples in a given city. ”

    And my measurement is a bit more nuanced.

    On what do you base the raises/bonuses of your worship Pastor?

    Remember what you told us?

    I think Teaching Pastors should be held to the same measure 🙂

  7. Larry Osborne on February 19, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I agree – the ability to raise up other teachers is something I’m happy to be judged by over the years. And yes, I’d be more than willing to have my “raises & bonuses” based on it.

    We have quite a few teachers in our ministry and circle of influence. Remember, I didn’t even preach on Easter.

    And in defense of Driscoll – Seems to me he’s helped raise up tons of other Bible teachers. And last I talked to him, every one of his multi-sites has a campus pastor who teaches when Mark is out of the pulpit.

    Take care, I’ve got to get back to my own sermon prep or I will end up using one of your videos instead.

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