4 Reasons Rural Churches Should Consider Going Multisite

Guest Post: Brett Bixby

There are lots of multisite churches in America today, and they are predominately located in cities. I think smaller, rural churches need to consider going multisite as well. Thom Rainer recently wrote, “Multisite used to be something only large churches tried. Now, smaller churches are getting in on the strategy.” Here are four reasons why adding an additional campus needs to be on your radar as an option for your growth needs.

  1. There is a need for the people in the next community over to be reached with the gospel. Whether we like it or not, our church will only reach people in a certain proximity. Sure, we can point to that family that is driving from 45 minutes away to attend our services, but they are usually the exception. They are usually not the ones who are inviting their neighbors to make the drive and check out our ministry. I believe people who are far from God will not drive over 15-20 minutes to attend a church with any regularity (most of our regulars won’t drive that far either). With this in mind, there is a need to take the ministry of the Gospel to the surrounding communities where our people are driving from in order to help them invite their neighbors, friends and co-workers to church. If the community is large enough to have its own elementary school, then it is large enough to handle an effective ministry in the town. The elementary school shows there are enough young families with children to warrant a ministry geared to reach them.
  2. Launching a second campus doesn’t have to be costly. There are ministries out there that are dropping $8 million on each campus they launch. This does not have to be the case. Being creative in a small community can enable a ministry to start a campus with very little money invested. There are usually buildings around that can be used, and the start-up costs are mostly in the renovations. We have launched sites in a True Value Hardware store, an American Legion building, and a church building that had been closed down. For under $100,000, a new location can be launched, and this would include the additional staff expenses for the first year. Almost immediately, new people in the area will be invited and reached to begin financially supporting the ministry.
  3. Launching a second campus is just like starting an additional service, except the service is held in a location 25-30 minutes down the road. When 80% of the chairs in your auditorium are taken, you are perceived as full to any new person who walks in your doors. As you watch your seats fill up, you will want to begin talking about your next move. One of those options is to start a second service. If you are from a small town like I am (1,400 people and a stoplight), you begin to realize people are driving over 15-20 minutes to get to church. Learning where your people are coming from will help you identify where you could potentially start a second campus. We had around fifty people who were driving from a town about 25 minutes away called Hallstead. Hallstead does not have a stoplight but does have 1,100 people and an elementary school. We sent those fifty people to start a Bridgewater site inside an American Legion building in their town. We said that we were just starting a fourth service, and it was meeting in a different location. They preach the same sermon, sing the same song set, and are named Bridgewater just like we are. We are one church meeting in many locations. We now have done this four times and have five sites with ten services on a Sunday morning. We are committed to reaching communities for Jesus by starting additional services this way all over our geographic area, and many of your ministries could do this as well.
  4. Starting a second campus will offer twice as many of your people an opportunity to use their gifts and abilities in serving ministries. I realize this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there will be many ministry roles that need to be filled once you start a campus in the next town. The flip side of this is that there will be many opportunities for people who are currently standing on the sidelines of ministry to get involved! We have found that if people have a role or responsibility on Sunday, there is a greater chance they will attend regularly. We do not struggle with a surplus of people who desire to serve. I don’t know any ministry that has this problem. But, we have found that when ministry opportunities are available and when we ask people to step up and take on a larger responsibility, they will. When we ask some who are helpers in children’s ministry to become teachers or classroom leaders, we see them stepping up and taking on the responsibility. We ask each person in a ministry at Bridgewater, whether paid or unpaid, to be working to find their replacement even before they need one. This allows us to have someone available to serve when we launch another campus.

There are many reasons why I believe smaller, rural churches need to consider going multisite. It has been a growth engine at Bridgewater and has allowed us to see God reach far past our community and into several additional communities around us.

Brett Bixby is the Executive Pastor at Bridgewater Church. They have 5 campuses spread across Northeastern PA and the Southern Tier of NY. He has been a pastor for 20 years and has been at Bridgewater for the last 8 years. He is married to Nicole, and they have 5 children.

Ten Tips on Church Growth

Sometimes we make ministry harder than it should be. Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. We all know that’s not true. I’m just saying, it’s usually not as complicated as we make it out to be. I’m guessing that most small town churches could see substantial growth by just doing a few of the things on this list.

  1. Get Back to Prayer. You may not fall into this trap, but I do. Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking systems and strategies that I forget about the most important piece of the puzzle, Jesus. He’s the head of the Church for a reason. He’s a Iot smarter than all of us. Don’t forget to spend time with Him.
  2. Learn the Community. Think of your community as a mission field, because it is. You need to learn how they think, where they hang out, what they value. It’s hard to connect with the community if you don’t take time to learn about it. A friend of mine wrote a post going into a lot more detail here.
  3. Learn the Competition. I’m not talking about other churches in the area. I’m talking about activities. Are youth sports a big deal in your community? Are you near a lake or beach? What are people doing if they’re not showing up to church? You may not be able to compete with them, but can you find ways to get involved with them in order to develop relationships with the people where they are?
  4. Create a Culture of Serving. We talk about serving at the church I serve all the time. You want to know why? Because serving is the best way to keep people connected to your church, and it’s the best way to disciple those same people. If you want people to show up to your church more often, get them using their gifts.
  5. Exceed Expectations. You have a distinct advantage in this if you’re a pastor of a small town church. Here’s why. People’s expectations are usually pretty low because of what they’ve heard about church or what they’ve experienced in the past. If your church is just welcoming, it will exceed a lot of people’s expectations. However, keep in mind it’s just as easy to reinforce their own negative expectations through a bad experience. If you have a grumpy greeter, you’re losing people.
  6. Embrace Change. Remember that grumpy greeter we just talked about? It’s time to replace him or her. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been doing it for twenty years. There is no tenure in volunteerism. Right now, you know of some people who need to be replaced. You know of some ministries that need to be shut down. Don’t be afraid of change. It’s the only way you’ll ever grow.
  7. Focus on Relationships. Did you know that 98% of people will stay at a church if they have at least three friends there? What are some ways you can foster community? Is it through small groups? A meal after the service? Or a combination of things? Preaching and programs don’t keep people connected to your church, relationships do.
  8. Celebrate Every Step. If someone starts serving, celebrate it. If someone signs up to lead a group, send them a thank you card. If someone gets baptized, go nuts. Andy Stanley says, “What gets celebrated, gets replicated.” And he’s absolutely right.
  9. Encourage Evangelism. At the end of every service, you should invite the audience back next week and tell them to bring a friend. Then give them the tools to do that. This could be invite cards, or it could be a post they can share on social media. Evangelism is just getting a person one more step closer to Jesus.
  10. Genuinely Love People. What did Jesus say the greatest commandment was? Love God, and love people. If the church would just do those two things, the church would explode.

There’s a lot more I could add, but I’d love to hear your tips on church growth. What’s working for you? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.