What Is Multisite?

A few years ago, one of the leaders on my team told me of a time when he was walking with his father, who is an apple farmer, along a path through one of his orchards. The orchard was divided into two sections. In one section there were lots of very large apple trees, between fifteen and twenty feet tall with a twenty-four-foot span, and my friend noticed that because the trees were so big, they had to be spaced quite far apart.

On the other side of the path were smaller apple trees, about a third of the size of the larger ones, but there were many more of them. My friend became curious and wanted to know why there was such a difference between the two sections of the orchard. He was told that in the past, the general consensus in the apple farming industry had been that the best way to get more apples was to plant big trees far apart, because big trees produce more fruit than small trees. However, in the 1990s this thinking changed as apple farmers began to realise that the best way to get the most apples was not to plant a few big trees far apart but instead to plant lots of smaller trees close together. Each tree on its own produced less fruit than a large one could, but in the space that was required for one large tree, up to eight small trees could grow, and together they produced way more fruit than a single large tree.

Not only was the total apple yield larger, the apples from the smaller trees were of a far higher quality than those grown on the big trees, and apples became easier to harvest as ladders were no longer needed. Hundreds more trees could be planted, and they could be planted right to the edge of the field and in all the awkward corners that were impossible for the big trees to reach.

A time has now come when many church leaders are having a similar mindset shift to the one experienced by those apple farmers. It is no longer as given that the most effective way to fruitful kingdom ministry is by growing a large church in a single location, and maybe this big church dream is actually inhibiting us from seeing the quantity and quality of impact that we long for.

The alternative, just like for the apple farmers, is planting smaller but more - seeing a network of inter-connected congregations throughout the city that operate together as one church. Strong enough together for each survive and thrive, and yet small and dispersed enough to have a kind of reach that we could never have if we stay in one place and grow big. This is the heart behind multisite church.

In practice, there are as many ways of doing this as there are multisite churches - and there is a wide spectrum of how tightly managed the sites are from the centre, and how they relate to each other. And yet there is a commonality, a shared belief that the best way to reach their context is through multiple congregations working together as one. 

Broadcast was birthed out of a multisite movement in Manchester, that has been doing multisite since before it was even a thing. Our hope is that we can help others who are on the same journey as we are.