Here is a link to a blog post that asks the question: “would the apostles endorse multi-site churches?” The real value to this post is in the discussion which follows the post, in which lots of issues that are germane to what I’m trying to talk about on this site are brought up. The actual post critiques multi-site churches because of ambiguity regarding elder/overseer roles, the place of the Lord’s Supper, uncertainty about being able to adequately be there for one another while existing in multiple locations, and because multi-site would seem to preclude congregationalism.
I think those are fair questions to ask of multi-site churches, but I think they come from inadequate assumptions regarding what church is. If one begins with something called a “local” church, that looks like current Baptist churches today, and then tries to extrapolate theologically to a multi-site church, then the two won’t fit together very well. I think it’s better to instead imagine the early church as a multi-site church and then see how that influences the way one reads scripture and understands churches today.
The modifier “local” is not found in the New Testament with regard to churches. “Local” is a later accretion that is actually used in various ways in different theological traditions. Here’s how Dave Browning (Lead Pastor of Christ the King Community Church) explained his take on the earliest churches:
I think the original model was organic, cellular, decentralized. Like, all through Acts, every time the church in Jerusalem is spoken of, it’s spoken of in the singular—church. Yet, we know that in the first week, you know, there were 10,000 people possibly involved in that story. And they were meeting house to house and in the temple courts and it says they were adhering to the apostles doctrine. So, it’s: apostles—plural, church—singular, locations—plural. That’s to me what the Jerusalem church was. And so, the whole business of, you know, the idea that there were multiple churches—plural, independent, autonomous from each other in Jerusalem. . . at least in Jerusalem that doesn’t make any sense at all, and the language doesn’t bear that out at all.
I think he’s brilliant to have come up with this. No doubt it was influenced in part from his experiences with his own multi-site congregation and how that changed the way he understood scripture. He needs to write the book on that stuff! Why do we think of the earliest Christians as inhabiting multiple, independent, autonomous churches? I think we read that back on the text. No doubt questions regarding fulfilling one another commands, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and serving as elders/overseers in multi-site churches were faced early in Christian history just as they are today in multi-site churches, and the answers are there to be found.