Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Beginning

-- Rev. Dr. Ken Brown

It is time for Unitarian Universalist to move beyond the usual methods of growing congregations to explore new options available to us now and in the near future. We can learn from others in North America who are experimenting with new models of church. One of the most interesting models is the creation of multi-site congregations. Jim Tomberlin, a church consultant specializing in multi-site congregations, says, “In the future multi-site will be a primary church planting tool.” The authors of the recently published book, The Multi-Site Church Revolution, “predict that 30,000 American churches will be multi-site within the next few years.” An article in Leadership by Dave Ferguson in 2003 began,

The multi-site church is a phenomenon that you will no doubt be hearing about in the future. An estimated 100-200 churches nationwide are experimenting with this concept: one church (meaning one staff, one board, one budget) meeting in multiple locations, usually with various sites developing unique personalities yet sharing the same “brand identity” and DNA. (p. 81)

The numbers involved with this model have grown to over fifteen hundred in North America. A couple of dozen or more Unitarian Universalist congregations across the continent are exploring the model. I believe there is no reason why we could not or should not add this model to our experiments in spreading the Unitarian Universalist message. In fact our understanding of the interdependent web calls us to find ways in which we can work to grow our faith. Since the article in Leadership, not only have the numbers of congregations involved with multi-sites grown, but the styles and forms have also evolved. In a recent article, Warren Bird of the Leadership Network’s multi-site church project writes: “No two multi-site churches look alike. Across the United States and Canada more than 1,000 churches hold services in more than one location. Each does it differently from other churches – some only slightly so, and others dramatically so.” In fact many of the congregations that have moved into this model have moved to create three, four or more sites. There is no one model but there are some specific things to be learned from the congregations involved with creating these additional venues.

The first question most congregational leaders ask is what prompts a congregation to use this model? There are many reasons for using this particular model. One of the key factors is that it is one way to deal with overcrowding. By creating another site you do not have the expense of duplicate staffing and program development as you would if a spin-off congregation was created. It is also a way for landlocked congregations to expand when they cannot do so on their current site. For many Unitarian Universalist congregations with old downtown or town square buildings this may be a particularly attractive model. Another key factor is that it allows a congregation to reach another area in their community or to reach a target demographic. The multi-site model helps congregations create niche ministries that serve a particular neighborhood or group. It is also a model that might in fact help in greeting more diverse Unitarian Universalist communities. One other factor is that this model, at its core, would help to spread Unitarian Universalism in differing ways, that in my opinion, have a greater chance of succeeding than other models we have followed in the past. In fact the varieties of implementing this model seem to be limited only by our imagination.

So how do we begin? Everyone who has gone the route of creating a multi-site congregation states that it begins with a shared vision, mission, or purpose for moving in this direction. Developing such a mission/vision includes being clear about whom you want to reach. This is not about a quick decision to try the latest fad in building a congregation but must be based on a clear shared mission, vision, or purpose with an understanding of the direction it will take the congregation.

The authors of The Multi-Site Church Revolution ask three crucial questions about beginning this model. 1) How healthy is your church? 2) Is there a driving impetus behind your desire to go multi-site? 3) Are the key leaders behind the decision? Expanding on these questions I would ask if your congregation is already growing and if so how? This is not a model that will help you grow if you have not already shown growth in numbers, programs, and outreach in your congregation. Does your congregation have a strong evangelical drive to spread Unitarian Universalism? A congregation that does not see one of its roles as helping to expand Unitarian Universalism is probably not a good candidate to create another site. Is your leadership willing to take risks? Creating another site involves taking risks and exploring a different way of doing ministry. A congregation where leaders want firm guarantees about anything they support is not ready to create another site.

Another vital factor that most of the multi-site congregations developing multiple venue locations share is that they have a small group ministry program. From the beginning of the new site small groups are created for those who attend the new site. Thus to begin another site it is important for the congregation to already have a structure and support system for small group ministry.

Well done worship is a factor that congregations involved with this model hold up as being absolutely vital to its success. This involves being intentional in planning for worship at the new site. Using worship associates or a worship team to plan and develop worship is key to developing this model. If you decide the new venue is to offer a differing style worship than you currently employ, it must be done well and impart a similar message to your original site.

There are three basic models of how congregations approach worship at multi-site venues. Some congregations have a minister preach at each service at each site, some use video taped sermons at one or more sites, and others have a mix of both live and video sermons at all sites. One thing they all share is that the music and worship leadership is live at each venue. This means that you must develop able worship leaders for each site and have a variety of possibilities for music, for both accompaniment and presentation.

The leader in the use of video venues is the North Coast Church in Vista, California. This congregation has 21 services at ten different sites. Six of the sites are actually on the main campus; the other four are in differing sites several miles away. Their sites on the main campus offer a varying degree of music and styles of leadership. These sites include a Video café that is in a casual setting with Starbucks coffee and snacks; the Edge which includes loader and edgier youth bands; Traditions which has nostalgic music with a piano; Country Gospel which offers country music; and the Family Room for families that wish to worship together. Now, I understand that having this many video venues is probably not the cup of tea for most Unitarian Universalist congregations but we can learn from North Coast. The move to using video happened after the lead minister, dreading the move to their fifth service, asked a staff member to explore options for the future. The recommendation was to produce videos of his sermons for other venues. Reluctant in part because they were not sure how such sermons would be received, their ministry team planned for a video venue. To their surprise it worked, in fact those attending video presentations of the sermon out number their live presentations. One study suggests that a big screen of at least 110% larger than the live presentation allows people a better opportunity to concentrate on the presentation.

There are two ways in which congregations use video. Some congregations set up live simulcast of the sermons, but the majority of congregations, video one presentation of the sermon and use a DVD copy at the other services. This latter process is less costly and also has less chance of technical difficulties. No matter how you provide worship at your new site, I again want to emphasize the importance of quality worship as being key to its success.

One of the assumptions involved in moving to create other sites is the strong leadership of the lead minister. Yet, it is also a model that requires a team approach to leadership. The lead minister must work closely with the paid and volunteer staff to plan for the worship and programming at all sites. In bringing on more staff it is crucial that those you bring on have an ability to work well in a team. It is easier to teach skills to a team player than the other way around. It clearly involves ongoing leadership training for people who would be involved in the new site; ideally done alongside the training for leaders at the original site. This would include worship leaders or associates, greeters, people who do follow-up with visitors, as well as religious education. Adult education is handled in differing ways, but in most cases there are classes or socials at the new site with everyone also invited to events at the original site.

The majority of the additional sites of multi-site congregations use non-church buildings. The primary reason non-church sites are used is that they are less costly than new buildings and many are rented locations. Linda S. McCoy, a minister at a multi-site venue writes, “One of the reasons I believe The Garden has become the spiritual home for such a diverse group of people is that it is not housed in a church building.” Thus for some leaders using non-church buildings is an added outreach feature.

As the Leadership article mentioned it is important to infuse the new site with the DNA of the congregation creating it. This of course suggests that the congregation understands it own DNA. The DNA involves a congregation’s traditions, heritage, styles of leadership and worship, and commitment to the larger faith. It also includes the practical side of governance, organization, generosity, and congregational demographics. In order to insure that the new site is not just an add-on, the leadership must see it as part of whole, not just a back up location.

In starting a new site, another area to which the congregations involved paid attention was outreach. It seems that the two main methods of outreach were postcards to selected areas near the venue and invitations to friends by members of the congregation. Some congregations took out advertisements in local papers but well written press releases about a new venue were as useful.

While the majority of the congregations involved with creating multi-site venues are large, the range in size for those following this model begins around 250 in attendance at all weekend services. This model obviously requires detailed planning; enough finances to support the startup for months or years; and enough staff, both paid and volunteer, to carry out the plan. Yet for a strong mid-size congregation it is a viable option.

It seems that most of the multi-site venues do not have an office at the additional site. While the majority approach budgeting with one budget for all sites, some have separate budgets for each site. In nearly all of the programs there is religious education for children. Many of the congregations have a combined youth group. While the majority I talked with, read about, or e-mailed seem to be Evangelical Christian, there are many congregations involved with multi-site who belong to mainstream denominations and the majority belong to a denomination rather than being independent.

The Leadership Network website has an article on “Avoiding Detours” that is also included as Chapter 13 in The Multi-Site Church Revolution. This list of ten pitfalls is worth reading and keeping near-by as you develop your plan for another site for your congregation. The book also includes resources for planning in the as do the websites of the Leadership Network and the North Coast Church in Vista. Further information about these resources is included at the end of this paper.

The cost of starting another site is always an issue. There is no doubt that following this model involves an outlay of money. Yet the congregations involved have found that the new sites are self supporting within one to two years. The expense of adding another site will vary according to what model one follows. I have developed a couple of assumptions in studying the multi-site style in relation to Unitarian Universalist congregations. Besides the previously mentioned commitments, a congregation probably needs to have two ministers, particularly if you are not going to use video. The staff should include a paid or volunteer coordinator for the second site. Using video means a financial commitment, at the minimum it involves $15,000 to $30,000 for equipment according to congregations involved with this model. Some congregations may already have some of the basic equipment, like sound, lighting and even cameras that can be used in this project. The First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque is exploring the use of a video venue on their campus and they believe they can keep the costs under $5.000 for their start-up. The North Coast church has resource ideas online that outline some of the basics for video.

Jim Tomberlin states, “Multi-site multiplies ministry exponentially because it maximizes seats at optimal attendance hours, and its return on investment in money and people is far greater.” This multiplication will work for the Unitarian Universalist congregations that have a commitment to spreading our faith. It is a cost effective way in the 21st century to build on healthy, strong congregations looking to grow. While I have talked with a number of Unitarian Universalist congregational leaders about the multi-site approach, two groups seem to be moving toward implementing some form next year. The First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque is moving toward creating a video café on their campus and is seriously exploring using video to either start another group or to support a couple of Fellowships in New Mexico. In California, the Riverside Universalist Unitarian Church and the Chalice Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Escondido are considering creation of a site in Temecula, a town between the two congregations that would be supported by the staff in both congregations. This means evolving even another model of how to create multi-site ministries regionally.

The conversation has begun among Unitarian Universalists and in some cases we are moving beyond just talking. I believe this model is one that Unitarian Universalists serious about spreading our faith need to explore in the near future. This model takes seriously our interdependence while offering us the opportunity to fulfill our commitment to greater diversity. The future possibilities in developing multi-site congregations are truly limited only by our imaginations.

Resources on Multi-Site

Dave Ferguson, “The Multi-Site Church,” Leadership (Spring 2003, Vol. XXIV,
No. 2, page 81) http://www.ctlibrary.com/le/2003/spring/21.81.html

Linda S. McCoy, Planting a Garden: Growing the Church Beyond Traditional
Models (Abingdon Press) 2005

Larry Osborne, The Video Venue Starter Kit (Owl’s Nest) 2003

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon & Warren Bird, The Multi-Site Church Revolution
(Zondervan) 2006

www.leadnet.org/LC_MultiSiteChurches.asp Leadership Network

www.multisitechurchrevolution.com Multi-Site Toolkit

www.northcoastchurch.com North Coast Church, Vista, CA

www.communitychristian.org Community Christian Church, Naperville, IL

www.seacoast.org/ Seacoast Church, Mount Pleasant, SC

www.merkertbrown.com Website for Ken Brown and Angela Merkert with
materials from workshops, etc.


Rev. Dr. Ken Brown June, 2007

I first encountered the Emergent Church movement in March 2004 when I attended the National Pastors and Emergent Church Conference in San Diego. I had read a bit about this emergent movement that seemed to have developed as a response to the mega-church movement that had dominated the church growth scene since the late 1960s in the United States. Yet in the United Kingdom where the Emergent Churches were having great success of attracting younger generations the growth of this movement was clearly a reaction to a stagnant religious situation. In North America as well as the UK, people were looking for a community where they could live out their values in a postmodern world, in part because they had found the existing congregations wanting. At the conference in San Diego I met Dan Kimball and Brian McLaren, recognized as leaders in the emergent church in the United States. Dan, a Gen Xer, is a pastor at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA; he has been a prolific writer on the subject as well as practitioner. Brian, a Baby Boomer, is founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in MD. He has written philosophical books, some have been best sellers, about Christianity in a postmodern world. He is recognized as a leading spokesperson for the emergent culture.

There is no one description of the emergent movement, no one style of worship, nor one style of congregation. Bob Whitesel’s book, Inside the Organic Church shares the stories of twelve emerging congregations from the US, UK, and Canada. The congregations range from 25 to10,000, attendees with five being what we would consider small congregations (under 200) and only two mega-church size (over 1500). Whitesel writes that emergent “is a self applied label, [it] connotes perceived parallels with the so-called emerging postmodern philosophy…emerging churches are a branch of Christian expression created and led by young people.” Some of these congregations meet in warehouses, one moved to the center city for its social witness, others do outreach in coffee shops and clubs. Many of these congregations have small groups that meet regularly, they also do social justice work in the community together.
In Dan Kimball’s 2003 book, The Emerging Church, Rick Warren wrote in the Foreword: “never attach your church to a single style, you’ll soon be passé and outdated.” This seems to fit with the findings in regard to worship in the Faith Communities Today survey where it was reported that congregations that had changed the style of worship were the ones that were growing. In 2004 Michael Moynagh wrote emergentchurch.intro, early in the book he stated, “Experiments are one of the defining features of emerging church.” The congregations described by the various authors on the emergent movement (see the bibliography at the end of this paper) and those I have visited vary greatly in form. In the majority of congregations even the style of service varies from week to week. Dan Kimball declared in his introduction, “While many of us have been preparing sermons and keeping busy with internal affairs of our churches, something alarming has been happening outside.” He goes on to describe a post-Christian world that no longer accepts the standard creeds and forms of the traditional Christian church.
Kimball’s most recent book is They Like Jesus But Not The Church. In it he discusses his experience in reaching out to young adults and college students. In surveys he conducted he found that young people felt that Jesus wasn’t into organized religion, judgmental and negative, into male dominated religion, homophobic, disrespectful of people of other faiths or a fundamentalist who took the whole Bible literally. Such findings should not be a surprise since the younger generations (those born since 1970) have grown up in a more openly pluralistic and diverse society than their parents or grandparents. The younger generations are more likely to accept gay marriage, have close friends of a different ethnicity or race, and not see abortion as major faith issue. (Although recent Gallup and Barna Polls do show when asked about abortion their views are the same as their parents, they are against it.) They are more likely to care about the environment, health care, and be open to drawing on non-Christian traditions for their spiritual journey. In other words the emergent culture has moved away from the black and white culture we have heard from the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Kennedy. A recent Gallup Poll found that among the 40% of people in the U.S who do not attend church or synagogue regularly the main reasons were that they don’t agree with organized religion and don’t believe in going to church, this fits with the emergent cultures suspicion of traditional congregations.
In his article in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Brian McLaren wrote that “we see ourselves as the church emerging, meaning a growing edge of the church at large in all its forms, stretching from the margins into new territory beyond modern, Western Christianity.” In the following paragraph he expanded on this thought: “That means we are emerging into a postcolonial faith, a post-Western faith – not a faith that wants to forget and deny the many blessings of Christian faith…but a faith that no longer wants to be in denial about the dark side of our history.” McLaren has faced a stream of criticism because of his push for Christians to follow Jesus’ teachings and help the poor, to be open to the stranger, and question the powerful. He works with a wide range of evangelicals and mainstream congregations in an attempt to redefine the Kingdom of God for a postmodern world. In fact the majority of emergent congregations are creating new connections around community and worldwide issues. In Gibbs and Bolger’s book, Emerging Churches, they quote Holly Rankin Zaher of the Three Nails congregation in Pittsburgh as saying, ‘”We partner with others who seem to embody kingdom values and are doing kingdom work, even if they are not `orthodox’ Christians. We collect cans with Unitarians…”
Robert Webber has an introduction, a conclusion and several appendixes in a recent book he edited, Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches. In the book five pastors of emergent congregations share their perspectives on theology of the emergent movement. I actually find Webber’s pieces to be the most useful. In the conclusion he discusses the five contributors from a number of angles. He talks about the culture from which they emerged, summarizes the core of their message and suggests what the reader needs to listen to from these pastors. Webber suggests these emergent leaders are “reminding us we are living in a new world;” that pastors “have not been trained to minister in this world;” and that they suggest “theology and practice must be brought back together again.” Webber goes on to state that these “emergent movement is marked by diversity” and that the leaders are doing theology “out of practice, not out of abstraction.” The leaders of the emergent movement are also creating a theology that is not tied together by reason and logic but open to mystery. Lastly Webber suggests that the emergent culture is one that is striving to speak to today’s culture, not the world of yesterday. This is all the more important since we live in a time that he says “is no longer secular, but at the horizon now shaped by an incredible appetite for worship and spirituality.” Once more I find these challenges to be precisely the same areas we Unitarian Universalists are grappling with in our theological schools and our congregations. It is also interesting that I found the theological discussions of most of these pastors to be very close to Liberation Theology but rarely, if ever, have I found a reference to Liberation Theology in the work of the emergent leaders.
The emergent congregations have diverse ways of connecting to their communities and different ways of coming together. They do use music that speaks to their generation including hip-hop, heavy metal, rap but some also hold Taize services and meditative services or parts of services with djembe style drumming. Often their services include time for participants to share or for participants to visit various stations that offer opportunities to create art that speaks to the theme of the service or to journal, pray or meditate. To get a sense of some of the diversity in these congregations I have pulled some quotes from web sites of three congregations.
The St. Thomas Church of Sheffield, UK describes their gatherings (notice they are not called worship services) on their web site:
Our Sunday gatherings are when many of our smaller communities/clusters gather together each week in the Conference Centre. They're our opportunity to meet with God in a larger gathering and to listen to what he is saying, both through people speaking from the front and through learning how to hear him for ourselves. It's where we bring all our personal responses/relationships with Jesus and mingle them together to hear the big picture - to raise a louder shout of praise, to pray for our world and to learn how to relate our faith-life with our work-life, community-life and home-life. Whatever stage of life you're at, whatever stage of faith - even if you don't know God in any way - you're welcome. There's chances to get prayer for healing and we always end with coffee and opportunities to chat.
The Bridge community in Phoenix, AZ declares their mission as engaging the movement of God. Their mission page states: “you are welcome and encouraged to be a part of our inner-city community center where we distribute food boxes and clothing 5 days a week, feel free to stop by any morning to join in the cause!”
The web page from the Vintage Faith congregation that Dan Kimball serves declares that there is a
rising feeling among emerging church leaders and followers of Jesus, that in many modern contemporary churches, something has subtly gone astray in what we call “church” and what we call “Christianity”. Through time, church has become a place that you go to have your needs met, instead of being a called local community of God on a mission together. Through time, much of contemporary Christianity subtly has become more about inviting others into the subcultures of Christian music, language and church programs than about passionately inviting others into a radically alternative community and way of life as disciples of Jesus and Kingdom living.
These examples from the web pages o f these emergent congregations speak to the desire of younger generations to connect to their culture, to be change agents in today’s world and at the same time connect to their spiritual yearnings. Yet they are distrustful of the organized religious institutions or at least unable to find what they want within the structures of the existing religious world.
The importance of understanding the emergent culture and the emergent congregations within the Christian ranks for Unitarian Universalists is that we live in the same world and the same communities. We have similar concerns about reaching out to younger generations to share our saving story just as these emergent Christian congregations are doing with their story. The emergent congregations are attracting people who want authentic and open spiritual experiences that will also help connect them to engagement with social concerns in their communities and the world, certainly a UU commitment. Interestingly these desires are not far off from the 60% of people that the Gallup poll identified as going to regular religious worship mainly for spiritual growth and guidance and because it keeps them grounded. Yet those attracted to emergent congregations are looking for a different way to come together in community. The standard worship experience does not appeal to many young people. They are looking for something that helps them relate the fast paced digital world in which they live, to their deep concerns of the spirit and the world they will inherit from older generations. They see themselves as actually going back to the true message of Jesus. Thus some emergent authors have written about the ancient/future church, discussing a return to the core message from Jesus while speaking to current culture. People in the emergent movement believe they are not changing the core Christian message, they are just finding a way to get the story to people in the 21st century.
The challenge we Unitarian Universalists face is how to get our story out because it seems to me that those in the emergent culture are open to our diverse and pluralistic tradition. Can we create outreach ministries that build on the understanding of the emergent culture? It may be that by our existing congregations creating multi-site locations we can serve the emergent culture more directly. Maybe this is where the discussion of internet congregations, like comes into play as well. At the very least we need to be in conversation about how we can move into the postmodern world reaching the emerging culture, many of whom I am convinced are looking for what we offer or can offer.

Bibliography for Emergent Worship/Emergent Culture

Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006
Commission on Appraisal of UUA, Engaging Our Theological Diversity, UUA, 2005
Crystal L. Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, InterVarsity Press,
Faith Communities Today, UU responses at http://archive.uua.org/cde/education/ fact/ – national responses at http://fact.hartsem.edu/ Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches, Baker Academic, 2005
Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church, Zondervan, 2003
Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New
Generations, Zondervan and:emergentYS, 2004
Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but Not The Church, Zondervan, 2007.
Marcia McFee, The Worship Workshop, Abingdon, 2002Michael Moynagh, emergingchurch.intro, Monarch Books, 2004
Brian D. McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, Zondervan, 2000
Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, Jossey-Bass, 2001
Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, Zondervan, 2004
M. Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix, Jossey-Bass, 2004
Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones, ed., An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Baker Books,
Leonard Sweet, ed., The Church in the Emerging Culture, Zondervan, 2003
Paul Rasor, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century, Skinner
House, 2004
Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evngelicalim for a Postmodern
World, Baker Press, 1999
Robert Webber, gen. ed., Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five
Perspectives, Zondervan, 2007.
Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church, Abingdon, 2006
Mike Yaconelli, ed., Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic,
Zondervan, 2003

http://www.precipicemagazine.com/brian-mclaren-interview.htm Interview with
Brian McLaren
www.emergentvilliage.org website dedicated to emergent church
http://www.secondlife.com/ location of the 1st UU Church of Second Life, go to site
and in the search instrument type in Unitarian
http://www.emergingworship.org/ website from mainstream Protestant
denominations dealing with a joint emerging worship project
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/ 20 something written magazine on culture and
religionhttp://uucyf.org/ UU site of the Church of the Younger Fellowship
www.submergence.org Karen Ward’s blog