Growing and staying personal: Making worship work in a multi-unit ministry

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Worship services at the Layton Christian Life Center Church are colorful, passionate and dynamic, reflecting the nature and personality of their pastor, Myke Crowder.

Provided by Layton Christian Life Center

Sundays are not exactly a day of rest for Paul Robie, lead pastor of the South Mountain Community Church.

Because the church has campuses in both Draper and the Daybreak development in South Jordan (not to mention a third campus in St. George), Robie has set the times for weekly worship services to allow him to preach at both northern Utah campuses: a 9:30 a.m. service in Draper, followed by a 10:30 service at Daybreak, then back to the Draper campus for an 11:15 service.

Oh, and in Draper there’s a 6 p.m. service on Saturday, as well.

“It’s all scheduled so I can be there,” he said during a recent interview in his office in the year-old Draper church. “We’re eventually going to add another campus in Utah County. We may have to adjust the schedule then. I don’t know. But for now this works for us.”

Making worship work in a multi-unit ministry is part of a growing trend in the United States Christian community, as pastors and their respective congregations consider what pastor/author/motivational speaker Ed Stetzer calls “a shift in ministry methodology.”

“The megachurch has been a topic of interest for years,” Stetzer wrote in a blog posted recently at Christianity Today. “There are more every year and their growth rate is increasing. In other words, it’s not just that there are more, their rate of increase is growing.”

Throughout the country there are dozens of churches that have grown so large they no longer qualify as mere megachurches — they are called gigachurches. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, for example, draws an estimated weekly congregation of more than 43,500 followers. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research lists 92 churches from all around the country with an average weekly attendance of more than 10,000 people.

But rather than continue to build more and larger facilities for mega- and gigachurch populations, Stetzer observes that “many of the largest churches have begun to favor multisite expansion or church planting partnerships.”

“While the large, larger and largest churches continue to grow ever larger,” he said, “they do not require larger spaces in the process — just more spaces.”

Utah doesn’t have any gigasize churches — although there are some who think The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 20,000-seat Conference Center qualifies during LDS general conferences in April and October — but it does have a number of large churches, including thriving examples of all three types of megchurches Stetzer noted: the traditional large one-site church, the multisite expansion church and the church that focuses on planting new church partnerships.

‘The big guy’

“This is really just a philosophical decision,” said veteran Pastor Myke Crowder of the Layton Christian Life Center, one of the largest single-site churches in Utah, with an average weekly attendance of up to 1,100 people (which Crowder refers to as being “comfortably full”).

“Whether or not you want to limit to the one-location format, or to be more geographically relevant, it’s simply a philosophical decision that you have to make,” he said, adding that it is a complex decision because “you have to have the right people in place to make any one of the operational options work.”

He recalled attending church during a recent visit to his hometown of Joplin, Mo. “It was one of those churches where the small church was tied in to a bigger church,” he said. “So you had the local pastor there, and then you had the big guy on TV.”

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