What can Catholics learn from the Protestant Multisite Church Movement?

The multisite church movement is a significant and growing trend among Protestant (especially of the emergent, evangelical, or non-denominational type) congregations.

There’s lots of information out there (for example), but this infographic from unSeminary provides a nice summary of key points:

Okay, so as a Catholic Christian, what catches my attention?

1. 57% of multisite churches plan on launching another site in the next year. Wow. That’s a real confidence in the outreach aspect of evangelization that I don’t think all Catholic parishes, especially those that are recently clustered or merged, have. It’s also a real sense of movement, and vision that witness should necessarily mean an expanding of God’s family in a concrete way.

2. 37% of multisite churches started as a merger. That’s great news to hear, especially for Catholic parishes feeling down about being clustered or merged. It seems that in the this Protestant sphere, a merger is not a weak band-aid on an unaddressed problem, but something that can drive more witness and outreach. I see many Catholic parishes that are just plain dejected after mergers, but it looks like it can be a new fuel for vision and growth.

3.Churches typically launch their first new campus when they reach 1000 people, and new campuses start w/ 75-350 people. Hmm. Catholic parishes are much bigger [1100 families median size]. So, basically, if Catholic parishes were in on the multi-site trend, then pretty much every average sized Catholic parish would be launching new sites/campuses. Maybe this points us towards more collaboration, shared resources, etc. between parishes. Often clusters and mergers are a “last resort” for parishes with dwindling priestly vocations, worship attendance, and financial stability–but maybe we need to think more pro-actively and be a little less “parochial” 😉 about our parish boundaries.

4. 85% of multisite churches are growing. Attitude matters when it comes to evangelization. If you focus on the call to evangelize and add disciples, then it can happen. But, if a congregation is in mourning over becoming multisite/clustered/merged, then I doubt growth will happen on its own.

5. 1 out of 10 protestants in the U.S. attends a multisite church. I don’t have the stats on Catholics in America, but I’d guess we’re at a lower rate. Maybe then its just that we’re not as culturally used to the idea of a parish growing to multiple sites. Maybe time will show that the multisite trend is a negative one, that it’s not helping grow disciples in Protestant churches. I’m not sure. But, what I do know is that being a Catholic member of a multi-site/merged/clustered parish clearly isn’t the end of the world. The end of faith in Jesus Christ. Or the end of the essential purpose of the Church–evangelization.

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3 thoughts on “What can Catholics learn from the Protestant Multisite Church Movement?

  1. I have two main concerns about multi-site churches for the purposes of introducing them into the Catholic Church as well as a host of other thoughts. First, it seems that with multi-site churches, the focus of Sunday worship ends up being focused on the pastor. Protestants and Catholics don’t worship the same way. Protestants worship through prayer, song, and preaching while Catholics do these and have the sacrifice of the mass with the Holy Eucharist. How can we preserve the sacrifice of the mass, the sanctity of the Eucharist, and not raise one priest on a pedestal by having a multi-site catholic church? (Disclaimer: I know many say the Pope is that figure which we raise on a pedestal, but I sure do not listen to his Homilies each week and part of being Catholic is most definitely not hanging on the edge of my seat until the Pope tells me what to do ((or who to give money))).

    The second serious concern about multi-site churches is their concern with converting and proselytizing. Now of course we are all called to evangelize, but many of these churches ONLY do this. The purpose of every meeting, Bible study, and sermon is to discuss how better to evangelize. As a Catholic I have always felt called to evangelize, but more seriously to deeply study, learn about, and fight to discover Christ in the most profound way possible. By doing this, I believe evangelization is the natural result. However, making converts is not the ONLY thing we are supposed to do.

    Apart from these main things, I would worry about the breakdown of the patriarchal community. I have seen the contemporary communities that form at these churches, and while they are good, hard-working communities, they generally lack elder leadership which is stated as essential many times in the new testament. The word “presbyter” meaning leader of the church also is a synonym for elder.

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    • Really great, interesting thoughts, Chris. In many parts of the U.S. there’s not an introduction of “multi-site” churches waiting to happen in Catholic dioceses, but it’s actually already a reality with clustered, twinned, and merged parishes with multiple church buildings. I’ve only ever really seen studies on the on-going financial stability of these Catholic parishes, and not any data on the factors you raise such as becoming overly centered on one priest, losing elder leadership, etc.

      With regards to Evangelization, you’re absolutely right that evangelization is more than just initial proclamation and conversion, but truly the entire life-cycle and existence of the Church! 🙂 Here’s my attempt to visualize it here: https://practicalevangelization.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/visual-depiction-of-the-cycle-and-stages-of-evangelization/

      Again, I’m not sure how the many Catholic parishes that are already multi-site (by virtue of merger, cluster, twinning, etc.) fare in this area. From my experience here in Michigan, it seems like most do not swing overly towards a narrow focus on initial proclamation only, and instead continue to invest the bulk of resources in on-going formation or maintenance activities–which in my opinion does sometimes seem like a poor application of resources, if the reason for clustering/twinning/merging to begin with was declining participation/interest (which would seem to be a sign of lack of response to initial proclamation).

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  2. Chris, here’s some insights I pulled up from CARA on Catholic parishes that are clustered:

    “the NSCP estimates that 19% of parishes have started using multi-parish ministry in the last five years and 6% have been affected by a parish closure during that time. Multi-parish ministry has most often been adopted in the Midwest (33%) and parishes have been affected by closures most often in the Northeast (12%). Seven percent of pastors cited their biggest challenge is merging and/or the creation of “mega-parishes.” Representative comments from the Midwest and Northeast include:

    Developing a partnership between three parishes. Overcoming fear that a parish will be closed. Being open to a decision which parish will be the center parish. The challenge of making partnerships.
    Because of the priest shortage we were forced into clusters but it was up to each cluster to determine how to function. Too often the cluster is looked at as a merge and the small parishes are getting gobbled up by the larger who believe they are entitled to all the best Mass times, staffing, preferences, etc. Also, comfort parishioners who are afraid that we will be closed. Sadly some have said they will simply move next door to the Lutheran Church where they have friends rather than travel 20 miles to the next Catholic church.
    We are clustered with four other parishes. The challenges facing us are the shortage of priests which comes the clustering/linking of parishes or closure.
    The challenge facing our parish in the next five years is the possible merger with two other churches. The office for these churches has merged and the bulletin has merged. We are proceeding with a unified approach, in hopes to unite the people of each church.
    Currently in the middle of the consolidation of six parishes into two, and eventually one. That is enough of a challenge for anyone; e.g. worship schedule too many buildings, real estate.
    Merging four parishes into a new parish having two worship sites. The parish covers two cities with very different demographics and economies. We engage people in listening sessions striving to provide good liturgies and activities bringing people together.
    Clustered with three other parishes. One of them has been closed. The number of priests is still shrinking in the diocese. There is anxiety about future leadership and configuration as some rearrangement has been happening each year somewhere in the diocese. Mostly we are in denial.”

    Source: http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-your-pastor-is-really-worried.html

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