Pastor Perry Noble of NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC announced Sunday that they'll be the latest church to enter the multi-site church arena.
He said about 1200 people drive 30 minutes or more from Greenville and other surrounding towns to attend (around 8000 attend every Sunday.) I'm one of them. A few months ago I visited NewSpring on one of my "churching" trips (I enjoy visiting churches to see what they're doing) and fell in love with the place. They hope to have the new Greenville campus ready to launch around Easter 2008.
Last summer I visited worship media guru Greg Atkinson in Dallas. He shares my enjoyment of church-visiting and took me to several Dallas megachurches, as well as LifeChurch in Oklahoma City.
Churches out there are of a different breed - we have nothing like them in South Carolina. Things seem to be done on a grand, professional and quality level. The closest thing I've found around here is NewSpring.
Many of these churches are starting to do the multi-site thing, and LifeChurch has been doing it very successfully for a few years.
I'm seeing two trends in the multi-site world. Churches like Seacoast and Andy Stanley's North Point do things less expensively - usually meeting in rented facilities instead of building buildings. The North Point plant here in Greenville, Catalyst Church, as well as Seacoast Greenville are healthy, averaging a few hundred (I think Seacoast had around 325 the last Sunday Chris Sligh led worship before he went on the American Idol tour.) Catalyst meets in a rented theater, Seacoast meets in a rented middle school.
On the other hand, churches like LifeChurch spend big bucks on their plants. They try to make the plant nicer than the mother church - the theory being that they don't want people at the plant to feel like they're missing out. I visited both the "mother" LifeChurch and a plant and I actually liked the plant's facilities a little better.
You'll hear good men on both sides of the fence tout their philosophy - to build or not to build. Sure, it's cool to not spend money on buildings - Saddleback met in elaborate tents for years. But take it from someone who's been there - it gets real old real quick when you don't have a permanent home and have to set up from scratch every Sunday. A church where I worked met for a few years in a public school and it was all we could do every Sunday to make sure everything was plugged in and worked, let alone worry about music quality and worship flow. If you're not in a permanent home you're always in danger of being kicked out.
Big, beautiful buildings can draw the crowds. What mother can resist sending her child to a children's program that looks like something from Disneyworld? Look at my LifeChurch pics at Flickr. I used to be a fan of the cheap route but after my trip to Dallas I'm not so sure. It's only money, after all. If a nice, new building attracts the masses, great. More to hear the good news.
NewSpring staff visited LifeChurch a few months ago and I assume they're following that model. NewSpring is hoping to lease an old grocery store in a prime location (seen from a major highway near downtown) and renovate it with a state-of-the-art 1000 seat auditorium, complete with children's and youth facilities. Like most multi-site churches, everything will be "live" - a campus pastor and band - except for the teaching, which will be a real-time satellite link of Perry's preaching.
Since Greenville hasn't really seen anything like this (there is a WillowCreekish megachurch in town, but they don't seem to hold the same high standards as NewSpring) I'm eager to watch what will happen. Will it flop or fly? I've already heard grumblings from the church crowd, but they're not NewSpring's target, anyway (over 800 people professed Christ at NewSpring in August - that's their target!)
I suspect NewSpring Greenville will be a hit - great visibility plus an instant large congregation made up of a good majority of those 1200 Greenvillians who trek to Anderson every week. InstaChurch - it will appear like it's been going for years.
Perry's fantastic preaching doesn't hurt, either (I took my dad to NewSpring one week and he said Perry's sermon is the only sermon he hasn't slept through.)
Greenville churches: if you're bickering over music style, carpet color or other nonsense, you'll soon have much more to worry about.