It goes without saying that not all multi-site churches have the same style of organization. Likewise for house churches that affiliate together. One of the interesting facets about multi-site churches and house churches is how some of them have chosen to affiliate together in network forms.
These networks seem to be less formal and more relational than denominations. This may be because of their relatively small size compared with denominations. Yet, they also appear to be much more relationally connected than churches in other types of networks, like the Willow Creek Association, or the Purpose-Driven network.
Here is a link to an article that talks about two churches that have merged together into one multi-site church. They operate as two separate 501c3 organizations, but they partner together as one church in separate locations. The network-type churches that I studied were likewise interested in connecting on a much more significant level than simply as “local” churches that voluntarily affiliate together. They each considered the network to be “church.”
For one house church network, this meant that “church” was the network of house churches spread out over a 6 square block area as well as each home church. For another house church network, this meant that “church” was both the individual home churches and small networks, as well as the larger network that encompassed a citywide area. For the large multi-site church I studied, the one church that met in many locations was literally a worldwide multi-site church. So “church” was the entire worldwide network, as well as each individual worship center.
I think these developments raise some interesting questions:
- What exactly should count as “church” and why?
- Why would churches want to be so closely bound together when they could instead be independent and autonomous?
- What happens as these networks grow larger and larger? Do they one day turn into a denomination of sorts? What exactly is a denomination?
And so on. I have a little bit more to say on denominations, but I’ll save that for another post.