As of 2019, over 5,000 multisite churches existed in America, each an individual congregation with multiple locations. Churches establish satellite churches for many reasons, including encouraging growth outside of their building, reaching a greater group of people and sharing resources with other believers. Yet others find this model unappealing because of the congregation’s potential detachment from the pastor and other believers.
Like many church leaders noticing the growing popularity of satellite churches, you may consider what the implications of establishing a satellite campus would be for your megachurch. Starting a satellite church requires serious planning, focused leadership and an investment of money and effort, yet it can yield incredible growth. Take a look at the pros and cons of satellite megachurches.
What Is a Satellite Church?
A satellite church is a small congregation either planted or supported by a larger one. Often the primary church is a megachurch since these congregations have greater access to resources that can help the growth of a new gathering of believers. The megachurches that start satellite congregations are often called multisite churches.
Many times, satellite churches are a strategy for maximizing a church’s outreach to underserved communities. For example, a multisite church may start a satellite congregation in a different part of their city or in a prison. For the original assembly, bringing their ministry and worship style to another group of believers is a way to share resources and spread their faith.
Satellite churches are also a way to continue one congregation’s growth. If a megachurch outgrows its building, parking lot or activity center, its membership may stall. Instead of investing millions of dollars into building larger spaces, which may alter a church’s atmosphere, a congregation could start a satellite church for some of their members’ worship while staying connected with the main campus.
How Do Satellite Churches Work?
Satellite churches partner with the primary church in several ways. Perhaps the most significant way a megachurch supports a satellite campus is by sharing regular sermons. The pastor from the original church often livestreams or records sermons for the satellite campus to watch during worship services. The preaching pastor may rarely visit the satellite congregation. Instead, a campus pastor performs other pastoral duties like counseling and organizing activities.
The satellite church usually bears the name of the original church. Besides a campus pastor, the satellite church may have leadership like worship leaders and children’s program organizers. Worship leaders perform services live, and announcements are unique to the congregation. The original church shares its funds and provides service opportunities to the satellite church that would not otherwise have been available to them.
How Do You Start a Satellite Church?
The steps most megachurches take to start a satellite congregation include:
- Planning: Effective planning is crucial to launching a vibrant and robust satellite church. The leadership of the primary congregation determines their motivation for beginning the ministry, the needed funds and how to serve the target community best.
- Volunteers and staffing: Every church needs people committed to serving and running outreach programs. When planning a satellite church, leaders must consider staffing at the new congregation. New leadership could be transplanted from the primary church or hired in. Most satellite campuses will need a full-time campus minister and other volunteers to be fully functioning.
- Launch: A strong launch for a new congregation requires a crystal-clear vision. Before launch, the megachurch will establish its financial commitment, acquire and train staff and ensure adequate volunteers.
- Delivery: Worship and ministry services should be sustainably delivered. While most multisite churches broadcast a single sermon to all their campuses, some choose to record sermons or have small classes on-site. Usually, the goal is to replicate the experience of being at the original church while delivering an authentic church experience.
When Should You Consider Starting a Satellite Church?
If you feel your megachurch should engage in outreach through a satellite congregation, you may still have several things to consider. Many factors go into the decision to start a satellite church. The work requires a significant time and resource commitment, both from primary church leadership and members.
Before establishing a satellite congregation from your megachurch, taking the following measures can help you make the best decisions:
- Calculate distance: Many satellite churches reside in the same city or region as the primary church, and, sometimes, the distance is much greater. Individual congregations may also be drastically different in leadership style, worship preferences, religious convictions and cultural character. Factors like culture or physical distance could hinder the transplant of the primary church’s ministry style.
- Define authenticity: Multisite churches often revolve around the primary church’s style and personality. This method may work well for some satellite churches. However, others could become lost in satellite church leadership and lose their authenticity. The host church may need to redefine its focus for some congregations to help them worship and live authentically in a transplanted environment. An authentic satellite church will naturally fit the brand of the original congregation or embrace missional living to reach the community.
- Examine motivation: Motivation is vital for new ministries. As a pastor, you should consistently ask yourself — and other church leadership — why you want to start a satellite congregation. Is it in response to your megachurch’s outstanding growth? Is it to seek unreached groups in your community or even beyond it? Is it to partner with a smaller, struggling congregation and bring them new growth? Your motivation will determine your approach to ministry in this role.
- Determine demand: Whether large or small, satellite churches place extra demands on leadership and resources. If you decide to hire a designated campus minister and other leaders for ministry at the satellite campus, you could relieve the burden on primary church leadership. Otherwise, the leadership may have to handle ministry and services at both sites by themselves. Plan to help the satellite church reach greater financial independence and fill leadership gaps with volunteers.
- Recognize personality: The decision to start a satellite church may rely on the pastor’s personality. If you merge with or adopt a smaller congregation as your satellite, they may have an established culture and habits that clash with those you want to transplant. You may want to build a satellite congregation around an individual leader or hire someone new who fits your mission for a smooth transition.
9 Pros of Satellite Megachurches
With 47% of megachurches having opened a branch or satellite location in the past five years, it’s clear that expanding a church’s borders is a popular method for growth and engagement. Why are so many megachurches going the multisite route? Here are the nine biggest pros of satellite megachurches.
1. Better Teaching and Resources
Smaller congregations may have poorer access to high-quality religious lesson plans, teaching and youth program activities. Underprivileged communities may also have difficulty funding church outreach. A satellite church can solve these issues by connecting unreached groups with a megachurch’s resources and talent.
When a megachurch becomes multisite, they create accessible outreach programs and youth mentorship opportunities that may not have been possible otherwise. A larger congregation inevitably has more resources to help satellite churches with marketing, technology and activities. Megachurches also have gifted and trained pastors and teachers whose sermons can spiritually benefit the satellite church.
2. A Larger Community
In a satellite church, members are confident that their faith community extends beyond the walls of one building. Because a megachurch connects with its satellite congregations, members may engage in mission efforts, activities and community outreach programs together. Most of all, every member hears the same message on Sunday morning. These congregations are connected and impacted by the same sermons and resources, if not the same house of worship.
3. Mobile Church
Even before the pandemic began, 84% of megachurches livestreamed services online. Increasing technological quality has opened more options for video sermons and online worship services, and satellite churches benefit substantially. As part of a satellite church, members can watch the sermon live from anywhere in the country, as long as they have Wi-Fi. Many satellite campus websites have backlogged videos of sermons, as well.
Satellite churches understand that digital connection is a significant opportunity to engage members inside and outside worship services. On top of sermon videos, satellite congregations may also have discussion boards or chat rooms on their websites or social media pages. These forums allow members to discuss the sermon and engage with other believers after worship hours.
4. Strong Staff Members
The benefit of a megachurch’s leadership over a satellite congregation continues beyond the pastor. A megachurch will oversee new staff and volunteers at their campuses and usually invest in well-trained and devoted ministers. From the campus pastor leading the duties at a satellite church to staff members at other locations, members can be sure to have a helpful support network of God-filled mentors and leaders. A church satellite also provides a broader support network for fellow believers to trust in difficult times.
5. Well-Funded Worship
Many church members and people in the community are looking for an engaging worship service as part of their church attendance. A church with fewer resources may be unable to afford certain technologies that can enhance the worship experience and attract more congregants.
However, having access to a megachurch’s financial resources can solve the issue of uninspired worship services. A megachurch can find and hire talented musicians, vocalists and sound techs to help run the service at a satellite church. Satellite churches may experience higher interest in their services with the addition of higher-quality worship music.
6. Activities at the Main Campus
Main churches often host spiritual growth conferences and camps that provide adults and children with greater access to the activities that unite them as a church. A megachurch may hold a family camp, summer camp for teens or marriage conference to strengthen members. Satellite churches have access to these faith-building activities. More than just small-church revivals or vacation Bible schools, activities that engage satellite and primary campuses alike can encourage all believers.
7. More Opportunities for Mission Trips
When a megachurch establishes another campus, they also expand the potential for service projects and mission trips. Small churches may struggle to reach the attendance requirements for mission trips and have difficulty raising sufficient funds. By pooling resources, main campus churches can share their resources for mission trips. A megachurch also has more members to start and attend trips and may even sponsor members from satellite locations so more people can serve together.
8. Wider Impact
Megachurches often start a satellite campus because of a desire to impact a larger community. A ministry at a single site is logistically limited to the people they can reach by foot or car. With another campus comes a broader geographic footprint, providing opportunities for more guests to hear the message and experience what the church can offer.
Multisite churches certainly have greater reach across a wider area. One study found that members at a new multisite campus were 52% more likely to reach friends and family with the gospel than at any other time. The excitement and enthusiasm for a new ministry can generate essential growth for a satellite church.
9. Operational Refresh
Starting a satellite church can create a smaller-church feel that some members may prefer. Adding another environment can keep leaders agile and encourage versatility. A multisite church also empowers more church members to become leaders. Without the established leadership of the primary church, more people may volunteer to lead and become involved in church activities. The untapped potential at a satellite church can step into new ministry roles.
Small churches might also see a revival when a megachurch adopts or sponsors them. Becoming part of a campus church can inject a much-needed dose of motivation, inspiration and leadership talent.
9 Cons of Satellite Megachurches
For many megachurches, establishing one — or more — satellite campuses is a clear win. Others, though, have seen some downsides that make running a satellite church challenging.
1. Potential Disconnect
One disadvantage of a satellite congregation is the opportunity for a disconnect to arise between the pastor and congregation. Since the pastor at the main church doesn’t attend the satellite campus, they may not address the congregation’s unique needs. The pastor’s physical absence could result in a lack of specificity in their sermons.
Pastors of multisite churches must consider how to preach to a congregation when they are out of touch with their culture, weaknesses and concerns. A lack of local congregational control may also create a disconnect between the members and their neighborhoods. Listening to a sermon from a preacher miles away every Sunday could shift the satellites’ focus from their local community to the main church’s community, lessening their impact in their location.
2. Fragmented Congregants
If congregants from the primary church form the founding members of a satellite congregation, the leadership risks a fragmented group of believers. A multisite church plan could be an opportunity for members to separate along dividing lines like their interests, age groups or other characteristics. Ideologically different congregations could result, wearing away the unity between the two.
A satellite church is also an opportunity for members to attend somewhere else with little forethought. Without an organized method for building the membership at a satellite church, there is little risk in leaving one congregation to worship with one more your speed. This situation discourages unity and keeps members from working together to solve problems they can avoid by worshiping elsewhere.
3. Elevation of One Pastor
Many believers think that transplanting the sermons of a single preacher across cities and states may provide an opportunity for pride. Pastors could become too elevated when multiple congregations engage with and depend on their sermons for spiritual guidance. Other church leaders and donors could experience the same ego boost if they support multiple congregations from their tithing or volunteer work.
Some believers even disapprove of the language describing satellite churches. The terms “main church” and “satellite church” denote a sense of status to these believers. This language pictures the primary congregation as the sun around which smaller churches orbit. For many in a faith community, an unhealthy power dynamic results when one church is the source of authority and authentic ministry for several smaller ones.
4. Reliance on Brand Loyalty
The personality and charisma of the primary church’s pastor is the glue holding a multisite church together. The sermons of one pastor can be the only thing linking multiple congregations within a satellite of campuses. When unity between members depends on a shared budget and leadership, the strength of the satellite church could be tenuous.
All sorts of issues could put the satellite church at risk of fading. The preaching pastor could leave the congregation or retire. If the pastor is prevented from preaching, the brand tying the satellite congregations together can dissolve.
5. Consumer Christianity
For some, the challenging issues of faith can’t be dealt with between sites or across the country. True community demands proximity and routine interaction. It requires regular communion among believers. Unity is difficult to create between believers who rarely see one another.
Some skeptics of the satellite church model think multisite churches result from an acceptance of market-based consumerism. They claim that satellite churches are built on a franchise mentality that depends on marketing, social media engagement and branding to attract believers. If a church relies heavily on brand identity to reach nonbelievers, they risk tying their brand to their faith and distorting the message.
6. Monetary Investment
Since satellite churches have fewer resources, they are a considerable financial commitment for the primary congregation. For example, smaller churches may not have access to the technology necessary for livestreaming a sermon video each Sunday. If the satellite church starts from scratch, these purchases could be expensive.
A primary church will also have to invest in a worship team and staff to set the satellite up for success. An influx of monetary aid can be exactly the help a satellite congregation needs, yet the primary church should consider every cost involved and what kinds of work they can support.
7. Incomplete View of Church
Opponents of satellite churches argue that the phrase “multisite church” is a misnomer since the congregations are not physically connected. Under one definition of “church” — an assembly of believers worshiping together — each campus is an individual church responding to the same governing body. The satellite church model also involves exercising religious authority over people the pastor rarely or never gathers with.
Many detractors also point out that the satellite system is the perfect opportunity for church-hopping. Although online worship services are a convenient solution to issues in attendance, they may not effectively increase engagement. Members can bounce between congregations or even worship from their homes because of the broadcasted sermon without experiencing genuine connection.
A study found that 96% of pastors livestreamed services during 2020, yet 32% of regular attendees — people who attend in-person services at least once a month — reported that they had not streamed a service in the last month. In a church where members are expected to still come to the building yet watch a video sermon on a screen, the appeal of staying home is strong.
9. Changing Congregations
Over time, a megachurch may need to tweak the structures and procedures it put in place when it established a satellite campus. Each congregation should be willing to do what is best for its members, which may require re-evaluating their methods of worship and leadership.
Changes in cash flow can be especially challenging. Some satellites may become more financially independent over time, while others intended to be mission efforts may never become self-supporting. These changes bring up questions of motivation that church leaders may need to revisit.
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