Is CBC Bluffton a church plant?
Some say that when a church reaches capacity or wants to expand into other neighborhoods, it should just plant a new church. This is certainly a good option, and one that we have pursued in the past and one I am sure we will continue to pursue along with our campus-multiplying strategy. However, finding the people willing to leave their church to plant a new one, as well as finding the leader who can do it, is a real challenge in our day. One of the reasons we have people who drive 40-60 minutes each way to come to church in Beaufort is because there are so few pastors in America who will simply open up the Bible and just teach it. And believe me, as we have planted new churches in Ocala, FL; Aiken, SC; and Savannah, GA, I have personally sorted through hundreds of resumes and sermon CDs. It is very difficult to find pastoral candidates who are committed to teaching the Scriptures. But planting a new church is not our goal in Bluffton...our CBC-Bluffton site is an additional meeting place and part of the Community Bible Church of Beaufort County family.
Why is Community Bible Church starting another campus location?
By God’s grace, in June we are planning to open our first multi-site campus in Bluffton with other possible campuses to follow in years to come in places like Hilton Head and Hardeeville. We believe that Christ, the Lord of the Church, has called us at the core of our mission, to seek and save the lost. Central to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, both by biblical command and example, is the presence of a local body of believers in every community. God has always chosen to use the local church as His greatest evangelistic tool. For many of you reading this, the concept of one church with many sites is a new concept, so let me encourage you to think biblically. As a pastor who is deeply committed to the Bible as the sole source of our authority, I believe that a faithful ecclesiology (the term ecclesiology refers to the study and doctrine of the church) must supersede any kind of pragmatic strategy. The means that God uses to fulfill His Great Commission is just as important as the end in accomplishing His mandate. Now, I understand that many churches using a multi-site approach have done so simply for convenience and/or consumerism and not from a biblically based ecclesiology. With that said, I also believe that a multi-site strategy can be biblically sound, practically wise, pastorally caring, and very strategic in bringing many new disciples into God’s kingdom.
What is meant by a multi-church site?
A multi-site church is one church that meets in more than one location. The earliest examples in our country of multi-site churches were seen in the Methodist circuit riders. The pastor would travel on horseback to several locations in a given county to minister to the flock who were not all able to assemble in one place. This multi-site church model was revived in the mid-1980s. Today’s approaches range from transmitting a sermon by satellite to multiple locations, to creating a number of worship opportunities within the same congregation at multiple times and sites.
Practically, how will a one-church multi-site congregation function?
Since we are one church, we will continue with one name (Community Bible Church), one budget, one membership role and one set of elders. But there will be special times during the year when we will meet as one single congregation. However, on most Sunday mornings the congregation will meet in both Beaufort and Bluffton. While I will continue teaching from the Beaufort pulpit, I will do our evangelistic/membership meetings (called Meet The Pastor) on Tuesday nights in Bluffton. And I am sure we will add additional pastoral staff that will help me to care for our growing congregation, just as we have now.
Can a church remain unified and meet in different places?
When we think of the “one church, many locations” strategy, it is important to understand a biblical definition of a local church. The essence of a local church is not simply an assembly of believers, but a group of believers who have covenanted together. It is true that some will contend that a local church is by definition an assembly, and therefore having more than one service in a local church (we currently have two), or implementing a multi-site strategy, fundamentally skews the definition of what constitutes a local church. For this reason, some churches are opposed to having more than one worship service on Sundays and would never ever consider a multi-site assembly. However, a New Testament local church, as illustrated in the Book of Acts, is not simply an assembly, but a body of believers who have covenanted together. Think about that for just a moment - - if the local church is simply an assembly, then a local church only exists when the people are gathered and the members are present. Certainly the idea of assembling together is critical to the function of a local church (Hebrews 10:24-25), but a covenant commitment is the essence of a local church. You only have to read the Book of Acts to see this truth illustrated.
Maybe a better question to ask is how do we remain unified today under our current church structure? Some would say we already have a one church multi-meeting model in that we have two services (before we entered our new building we had three). Maybe a better question to ask is ‘how do we remain unified today under our current church structure?’ The truth is that many people in the first service do not know those individuals in the second service. In fact, most surveys show the average active member of a local church will only know between 55-60 individuals by name. That’s true whether the church has 300 or 3,000 members. Yet, CBC is one family because God unifies us through the Holy Spirit who indwells us and by the Word of God that molds us. Meeting as we do today in two service times in no way diminishes the unity and mission of our assembly. Neither will adding some additional meeting locations hurt us, it will only help us to more strategically fulfill the Great Commission. Under our current structure of two worship services, there are times when we all come together as one church for special events, concerts, anniversaries and at other times as God leads. We will do the same as we add additional campuses.
Are there examples of one church, multiple locations in the Bible?
The Church that was born on the Day of Pentecost rapidly grew to thousands of new believers. It is clear that the congregation of saints found in Jerusalem is frequently referred to as one single ‘church’ (the singular is used in the Greek New Testament as reflected in every English translation - - see Acts 5:11; 8:1,3; 9:3; 11:22,26; 12:1,5). While local churches would often assemble together as one body, even the casual reader of Scripture will soon discover that some single local churches also met in multiple locations. The church in Jerusalem obviously had to meet in multiple places. On the birthday of the church, three thousand people were saved and a short time later 5,000 heads of households (excluding women and children) came to faith in Christ. Church historians tell us there was no single space in Jerusalem available for the Jerusalem Church to meet under one roof. The size of the early church in that city forced the Jerusalem believers and many other New Testament fellowships to meet in multiple locations. Nonetheless, churches that met in multiple locations also met together from time to time to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as one ‘citywide church’ (e.g. Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 11:17-20).
What is clear from the Bible is that there is nothing in the epistles that dictates or demands that all the members of one local church must assemble in the same place every week at the same time. It is also clear, as most Bible scholars recognize, that in the early days of the church, the same group of elders in a given city actually oversaw one assembly that met in multiple locales. While this was not the case in every city, clearly there are places in the New Testament where a single local church met in multiple locations
(cf. Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15).
What constitutes a local church?
Certainly, God gives us some overall guidelines as to what constitutes a local church. This is why a Bible study or a para-church ministry does not meet the criteria of a New Testament local church, either by command or model. By definition a local church is a group of organized born-again believers, covenanted together to serve and worship Christ, while practicing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table, under the leadership of elders and deacons, with a view towards fulfilling the Great Commission (this definition can be studied in detail from the course I taught on the ecclesiology). However, while God’s Word gives us some very clear guidelines as to what constitutes a local church, it does not give specific mandates as to various structures a church might take. We will continue to meet the criteria God gives in His Word for a local church as we expand to new locations.
Why open this new campus now?
As we have grown as a church, God has allowed us to reach people for Christ not only in Beaufort where we began, but also in Bluffton and Hilton Head where we have expanded. Right now, we have families who drive 50 minutes from the far side of Hilton Head Island to come to church. But it is very difficult for someone living in Hilton Head to ask their next door neighbors to drive an hour to come to church or some other special even in Beaufort. I am grateful for churches in our county that are trying to win the lost and feed the saved, but the stark reality is that 80% of our county is still unchurched.
As you look around America today, it is apparent that we are becoming more and more secularized. Recent studies done by both Southern Baptists and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reveal that 20% of Americans now say they have no religious affiliation. In addition, approximately 80% of Americans now attend church only once a month or less. We are fast becoming like Europe where only 5% of the people are in church on any given Sunday (the low is Italy with 2% and the high is the United Kingdom at 10%). What I find most alarming, however, are the statistics on the religious beliefs of young Americans ages 25 and under (that needs to be another article).
I don’t think we can expect Americans to embrace the Judeo-Christian values that have permeated our culture apart from a revival among God’s people and an awakening among the lost. Even when I look at our own state of South Carolina, clearly a state more conservative than most of the others in America, the fact remains that on any given Sunday, the vast majority of South Carolinians do not attend any church, much less a Bible-believing church. Nonetheless, America’s apathy towards God does not change the fact that we are under orders from the King of Kings to “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). This challenge begins for us with the 164,684 individuals now residing in Beaufort County (as of July 2011 according to the U.S. Census Bureau). I believe God will use our one church multi-location strategy to reach even more.
What if I want to continue going to CBC-Beaufort?
We expect that many of our people from Bluffton will continue to come to our Beaufort campus. Some even from Hilton Head have told me they enjoy the drive and plan to continue to worship at the Beaufort location. You should do what God leads you to do. God has already begun to raise up volunteer ushers, greeters and deacons who are planning to serve on the Bluffton campus.
What will the music be like?
Whenever I think of a new outreach or ministry, I often think of the word ‘pioneer.’ When I came to pastor the Community Bible Church 23 years ago, I saw so many things that needed to change. Our children ages six through the sixth grade were in a program called “Kid’s Camp” when they needed to be worshipping with their parents. There was one nursery for those newborn to five years old. In addition, we had very little to offer in terms of specialized ministry. A visitor came and asked, “Do you have children’s choirs?” I would respond, “Not yet, but come help us pioneer this young church and some day we will!” We need to have that same spirit as we launch a new campus. So to start off there will not be “live music” other than the music that is broadcast from Beaufort. We will sing together as one congregation. In time, as God raises them up, I suspect we will have a live worship leader and musicians to support him.
What kinds of activities will you be offering for children and youth?
To start, everything that is available in Beaufort will be able to be utilized by those on our Bluffton Campus. So for instance, this year we will have one Vacation Bible School on our main campus; though in years to come, we may offer other locations. I am sure the same will be true of other ministries that will follow.
Do you think the Apostles would have implemented a one church multi-site strategy?
The truth is, the Apostles under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, were the originators of this approach. It is clear in Acts 2 through 8 that the twenty-five thousand-plus church members were not gathering weekly in one place to hear one teaching pastor give a message. I suspect that the Apostles were a teaching team who rotated between the houses. Perhaps groups within the church gathered with particular Apostles in small assembly places (campuses). Yet they were one church. Had the technology been available, there probably would have been weeks when the Apostle Peter or perhaps John or James might have preached to all the house churches at the same time.
Is a live satellite broadcast impersonal?
Some might argue that a live piped-in broadcast removes the “personal, up-close, flesh and blood incarnational” nature of Bible teaching. But if that were the case, then you could say the same for those who watch the service on close circuit TV when utilizing our rooms for nursing mothers, crying babies and child-training. One would also have to question the use of microphones, reasoning that God did not intend churches to ever be bigger than what would allow an unamplified voice to be heard by all.