I was interested to read Terry Mattingly’s review of Jon Mark Yeats and Thomas White’s book Franchising McChurch. Mattingly states,

Today’s megachurches offer members new options.

Grandmother may attend a service with hymns or—as baby boomers turn 60-something—folk music or soft rock. Pre-teens will bop to Hanna Montana-esque praise songs in their services, while other young people get harder rock. Over in the “video cafe,” evangelical moms and dads can sip their lattes while musicians build the right mood until it’s time for the sermon. That’s when the super-skilled preacher’s face appears on video monitors in all of the niche services at the same time.

This trend—multiple, niche services on one campus—requires changing the traditional meaning of words such as “worship,” “church” and “pastor.”

But it is one thing for a single megachurch to offer its members a “have it your way” approach to church life at one location, said Yeats. The next step is for the “McChurch” model to evolve into “McDenomination,” with the birth of national and even global chains of church franchises united, not by centuries of history and doctrine, but by the voice, face, beliefs and talents of a single preacher, backed by a team of multimedia professionals.

This trend is “very free market” and “also very American,” he said.

“In these franchise operations, you don’t say you’re a Southern Baptist or a Methodist or a Presbyterian or whatever,” Yeats explained. “No, you say you attend the local branch of so-and-so’s church. The whole thing is held together by one man. That’s the brand name, right there. . . .

“If your church joins one of these operations you get the video feed, you get the media, you get the music and, ultimately, you get to listen to the dynamic man himself, instead of your own sub-standard preacher. It’s a whole new way of doing church.”

This review caught my attention because it was just recently that Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., announced Mars Hill’s plan to expand from its current seven campuses in the greater Seattle area with 8,000 attendees to 100 campuses with 50,000 attendees. These additional campuses would not be limited to the greater Seattle area. In fact, Mars Hill just launched its newest campus in Albuquerque, N.M., 1,500 miles away.

Their document “Mars Hill Global: 50,000 for Jesus” states the following:

Mars Hill Church is a single church that meets in various campuses. Our multi-campus approach began as an effort to accommodate growth, and has since become a unique form of church planting in its own right.

In some ways, a local campus functions much like an independent church, with its own staff, elder team, and programs. A campus pastor leads the effort as the visible presence from the pulpit (preaching roughly ten Sundays every year) and as the authority for all campus matters.

The campus model allows people to participate in the ministry of Mars Hill Church and benefit from Pastor Mark’s teaching and other resources, while at the same time experiencing many of the benefits of a smaller church, such as intimate community, neighborhood ties, and proximity.

Also, the campus model allows pastors and local leaders to do ministry and spread the gospel without having to deal with the many administrative tasks—managing HR and budgets, building websites and databases—that hinder many churches. It also provides a way for smaller, dying churches to reinvigorate their local ministry by joining the mission of Mars Hill.

In his video explaining the church’s uses of video technology and multi-campus church polity, Driscoll says,

There are men like Paul who do have influence over many churches. He holds the office of apostle. We believe in addition to that there is a lesser gift of apostle where someone has influence as a movement leader and church planting overseer over many churches scattered geographically.

It seems that Driscoll views himself in this way, as possessing this “lesser gift of apostle.”

What do you think? How does this jive with your understanding of Biblical church polity?

  • For more on this topic, please read Ken Field’s well-written article “The Multisite Church” in the latest edition of the Baptist Bulletin.