One Church in Two Locations: For Ministry or Ego?

By now, you’ve probably seen a few. Perhaps you’ve even attended one or are the member of one. It’s the new fad in churches, especially Black, independent, charismatic churches. You know, the one church/two locations (or as one church in Alabama does it: one church/five locations).

I will just be upfront and tell you that I’m not a huge fan of the one church/two locations thing. I’ve seen one or two pastors do it well, like Bishop Jonathan Alvarado of Total Grace Christian Center in Decatur, Georgia and Chris Hodges of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama. But other than a few exceptions, I’m really not impressed. Don’t get me wrong, I do see the purpose and benefit when it’s done well, but more often than not, I think it’s done hastily and for the wrong reason(s).

I know of a pastor who started a second location. This was after he had already tried having an 8:00 a.m. service in addition to the sparsely attended 11:00 a.m. service. This was also after he tried having a Sabbath service… in addition to the regular Sunday services. The second location didn’t work and neither did the other efforts. He never asked me for my two cents, but if he had, this is what I would have told him:

Before You Break Ground, Ask Yourself:

  1. Have we outgrown our current location, or are we growing at a pace that dictates a second location will be needed soon? With all due respect, if you barely have 25 members at your current location, what is the point of opening another location elsewhere, sir or ma’am?? You can’t just go opening churches all willy nilly like that!! Are you sure there are people out there who need what your church has to offer? And if so, why aren’t they coming to the first location? Why divide the few people you have? Consider this: if you have empty seats every week, and you pay to occupy another facility which will inevitably have empty seats, are you being a good steward of your resources?
  2. Do we have a stable membership, leadership, and income at our current location? If you haven’t yet achieved stability among your leadership and members, a consistent routine, an established set of procedures, and a steady and unwavering stream of income from tithes and offerings, this is not a good time for you to start a second location. Invest in training, equipping and building up your members before you open another location. Perfect the first work before starting another work. Can you afford to invest time into a new work or does your current church need your time?
  3. Is there a need (not a want, but a need) for another location? If so, am I able to articulate that need? Specifically answer this question: who will benefit from this second location? How will they benefit? What will happen if we don’t open this second location? Why do we NEED this location? Are we sure we’re not just trying to boost that ego, increase that income, quit that day job, or keep up with Pastor Jones who’s opening his third location?
  4. Have we completed any part of our assignment in our first location? I mean, really. I heard someone say recently that some pastors are “calling themselves international and they haven’t even made a difference on their own street!” It’s true. Why branch out to another neighborhood, community, town, or state when you haven’t even made progress in your first assignment? wHo DoEs ThAt???
  5. Do we have a solid plan? I know that’s such a dumb question, but you’d be surprised by how many pastors and churches don’t work from a plan. Many just get a bright idea (or mimic someone else’s vision) and run with it, without ever seeking the Lord for direction (Proverbs 3:6), without seeking accomplished peers for counsel (Proverbs 11:14), or without counting the cost (Luke 14:28). There’s a reason God told Habakkuk to write the vision and make it plain so that he who reads it can run with it. You need a timeline (Ecclesiastes 3:1). You need a budget (Luke 14:28 again). You need a plan.
  6. Do we have the buy-in of the people? It happens every Sunday in pulpits across America. The pastor announces to the people he’s opening a church in another location. He tells them that until that location gets “up and running on its own” he’s going to need everyone to help out. That means the ushers will pull double-duty, serving in both locations… so will the praise team and choir, ministers, offering counters, etc. Everyone obliges, willing to sacrifice for a few months until the new location is “up and running.”  Before they know it, everyone is burned out (including the pastor if he wasn’t really assigned to this in the first place), disgruntled, resentful, and just plain mad.

When you’re really ready, you’ll have enough staff to send one praise team to the new location and keep one at home. You won’t have to beg all your members to do double-duty at the new location because there will be a need. The people in the new neighborhood will be knocking the doors down waiting to get in and fill the pews. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. In fact, that’s an admirable trait, in my opinion. But when you act on self-driven ambition in the name of the Lord, your work will probably come to nought (Acts 5:39).

What’s your take?