Over three years ago I stumbled upon a blogpost on The Gospel Coalition by Thabiti Anyabwile titled, “Multi-Site Churches Are from the Devil”. I’ll be honest, I was offended at the title alone, but I was also curious enough to read it. While sitting on a panel at a 9Marks conference, a moderator asked Thabiti what he thought about multi-site churches. The moderator’s question was something like, “Thabiti, what arguments for multi-site have you found persuasive?” Thabiti’s response: “Uh, none.”
Now at this point I was intrigued. From my perspective, multi-site was an incredible way to reach more people. If your preaching was compelling enough to be live-streamed to another campus, even more people would hear the gospel. If you want to be about winning souls, you would do multi-site.
Then I read Thabiti’s six reasons against multi-site churches (read the full post here):
- Idolatry: “video multi-site tends to idolatry, pride, and self-promotion–even where the ambition of spreading the gospel is genuine”.
- Competition and Pride: “the main argument for multi-site [is often] our best preacher should do all the preaching because the other guys are gifted differently or aren’t as good”.
- Removes “Local” from “Local Churches”: Multi-site “reduce[s] the family, body, and flock to an anonymous assembly.”
- Idolatry… Again: “Our hearts easily gravitate toward entertainment and celebrity when the preaching event gets broadcast on screen rather than shared in flesh and blood.”
- Pragmatism: “Too many other things we’re called to be faithful in doing are simply left undone in this approach.”
- Cultural Captivity: “It promotes image and fantasy and make-believe over the glories of reality with all its warts and beauties.”
Now all six arguments are compelling (you really should read the full post here), but one stood out above them all. After reading the argument above how multi-site removes “local” from “local churches,” for the first time I asked myself the question, “what is a church?” What makes a church a church? Is it the band + preacher + offering? Is it the building we gather in? Is it my friends and I + studying the Bible together? Is my small group a church? When I watch the sermon online, is that me joining with the church?
I was in my last year of seminary, I was working at a church, I had been a Christian for years, but I had never even thought to ask that one simple question. Three years later, I’m grateful to the Lord for that blogpost. And while I’ve never met Thabiti Anyabwile, I owe him many thanks also. He took a few moments out of his day at the Miami airport to write quick blog post, and that one post forced me to slow down and think. Thabiti’s post generated one simple question for me, “what is a church?” It’s one of the most important questions a Christian can ask today.