Baptist History, Multiple Services, and Multiple Campuses

Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity (Beginnings in Britain), recounts a debate between the early Baptist Hanserd Knollys and one of his Presbyterian contemporaries, John Bastwick:

Bastwick argued that the Jerusalem church had only one body of elders over several assemblies or congregations. Believers meeting at the Temple in Acts 2:44, 46 and at Solomon’s Porch in Acts 5:12 proves for Bastwick that different groups of believers met in various places under the authority of the one group of elders. Knollys did not argue against the existence of one body of elders. Instead, he used the very verses backing Bastwick’s argument against him. In Acts 2:44, Scripture states, ‘All that believed were together.’ Verse 46 states that they were at the temple. Acts 5:12 reads, ‘And they were all with on accord in Solomon’s Porch.’ These are but one congregation (note the use of ‘all’) meeting in different areas, not many congregations in different areas (Nettles, 158).

We have seen multiple services in Baptist churches for a long time, and I wonder if churches that do multiple servises—where essentially a different congregation gathers for worship at each different service—have ever paused to consider whether there is any biblical warrant for having one group of pastors serve more than one congregation?

We are now seeing a sort of movement among large Baptist churches where churches have not only multiplied services/congregations, they have multiplied campuses.

Let me be quick to say that I am all for multiplication. Praise God for the growth of the church. But if we multiply services/congregations/campuses and do not ALSO match these services/congregations/campuses with their own pastors, have we maintained a cherished Baptist distinctive: the autonomy of the local church? Have we implicitly taken a step in the direction of Roman Catholic polity—where a Bishop presides over a group of churches? Have we even stopped to consider whether a new service/congregation/campus should be matched by a new set of pastors for that local church? Have we thought about what our Baptist forbears have done with these kinds of issues? Have we considered what the Bible has to say on this?

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  1. I have often wondered about the wisdom of multiple services/campuses. I would agree that this leads to multiple congregations within one body of believers. However, I think the root of the issue is found in the size of many churches. I attend a church that has three services to accommodate 3000-4000 people. I barely know anyone in the sevice I attend, much less those in the other services. It is hard to be a unified body under these circumstances. Obviously, the local church can find unity in other activities besides the worship service, but corporate worship should be just that, corporate.
    I was originally opposed to multiple campuses, but since I find myself watching the preacher on the big screen anyway, I am beginning to wonder if it would make a difference for him to be at another location. That being said I wonder if it is healthy for a pastor to never know the vast majority of the people in the pews?

  2. Jim,
    Thanks for bringing this up as I have tossed it around in my mind a bit as well. Frankly, with multi-site (yes, I’m for the Great Commission), it looks a whole lot like a Bishop.

  3. Paul,

    In response to the issues you rais I would simply say that we all make choices about what kinds of ministries we want to be involved in and what kind of ministries we want to cultivate. It seems to me that pastoral ministry, true pastoral ministry, requires life on life kinds of interactions. This may require smaller settings to pull off. I’m not sure what it looks like in each setting, but I’m not for one group of pastors (or one pastor alone) shepherding multiple congregations.


  4. JB,

    I think we have a responsibility to be reproducing ourselves in the lives of faithful men who will be able to teach others also. The model that I think would be ideal would be to plant churches out of a church when the people attending become too numerous for the building. . . It may be idealistic, but it’s an idealistic arrangement I hope to have to confront!


  5. Jim,
    I agree with the point that when you have multiple services and multiple campuses you end up having multiple churches. A local church is a group of Christians who assemble together, partake of communion together, exhort, encourage, rebuke, pray for one another, and contributes in many more ways. If you do not congregate together, one cannot effectively fulfill Scriptural responsibilities to brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Furthermore, how do the elders shepherd the flock of congregations with thousands of members. In order to effectively shepherd do we not need to know those who we lead?

    While I disagree with these types of models for local church life, I believe the draw for many people are the many visual ministries which the large local church can undertake. Another draw for people can be a faithful biblical preacher. Who can deny the beauty of worship through music when it is accompanied by a live orchestra? Who can deny the draw on a teen or a teen’s parents of a healthy youth group with many teenagers?

    Do you know of any churches who have, as a ministry strategy, some kind of cap for membership and when it is reached, they have in place an effective church planting plan, where elders are in place for the new church?


    By the way, I believe I sat under your teaching at Southern Seminary when Dr. Seifred missed some class for Greek Exegesis for Galatians (Spring 2002), was that you?

  6. Good post jim. As some of the comments state we lose not only specific curch autonomy, but also any real sense of community. Sadly there is very little real talk it seems to me abotu the absolutely essential nature of the development of real fellowship/community within a church. Knowing one another deeply is simply not a goal these days though it is a biblical requirement. I question whether real pastoral ministry (overseeing souls) can properly been done in these situations and whether biblical church can be carried out. Baxter said no church should be larger than can be properly overseen by the pastors.
    Good post.

  7. Hey Dr. H, good post and this provokes some good thought. Here are some things that I am still munching on…

    Do multiple services really mean different congregations? For instance, if I miss the 9am service and catch the 10:30am did I switch congregations?? I personally don’t think so, I feel that I am worshipping with different people than I am “used” to.

    Also, it makes me think about the apostle Paul. He was a church planter, but also a pastor. He pastored several churches and still came back to preach on different journies. He even wrote letters to his former members. Because of my insecurities, that would probably really tick me off today if a former pastor started writing us a bunch of letters about stuff going on in the church. My point is this, Paul preached at several different locations and had several different congregations. Does this make him some sort of pope? I am sure that there is a resounding “no.” I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is (not WWJD if that is what you are thinking), but with our technology today, what would the apostles do? Would they allow sermons to be preached in many different areas to spread the Gospel? I would probably venture a “yes” because of their passion to spread the Word.

    I also agree that communiy is found in both corporate worship as well as small groups. I personally do not feel the size of a church matters at this point. We must be making disciples and reaching the lost. If you are doing that as a church, more power to you whatever the size.

    However, I am still thinking and these are some thoughts in process. I can post more, but this is long enough! I appreciate your thoughts though Dr. H!

  8. Deeply provoking and quite a challenge to our community and local brothers in Christ. As others have commented, I also have thought of these concerns. Do we have several different churchs worshiping under one roof each Sunday? Is the main concern here theologically the leadership or the identity or the lack of concern or something else?
    Is is a problem when the numbers in the service are so large that I know less than 10% of my fellow worshippers, and I rely on my smaller Bible study group more as my local church body?

    Your have referenced some church history. Has the church ever discussed when the head of a large church becomes more like a bishop and less like a shepherd?

    Thanks for being bold enough to dialogue.

  9. David,

    Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the slow response. I’m not sure that there are concrete answers to these things. The Jerusalem church was faced with a membership of 3000 on the day of Pentecost! It had 12 apostles, which we can’t replicate, but it also had “elders” (see Acts 11:30 and 15:2, for example), and we can have these. I think we need a plurality of elders in bigger churches more than we need them in smaller ones.

    Hope this helps a little. . .


  10. Jason,

    Yep, that was me at SBTS subbing for Dr. Seifrid. Good to hear from you!

    As I noted in the previous comment, the Jerusalem church was faced with thousands and I trust that between the apostles and elders they shepherded everyone well.

    As in the original post, though, they were “all together” in one congregation. . . I hope to post more on bigger churches soon.

    I’m pretty sure that Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington D. C. plans to keep their number at the maximum capacity of their current building. I don’t know all the details, but I hope to go to a weekender this September.



  11. Paul,

    I appreciate your comments about the multiple congregation thing. By their practice, many evangelical churches show that they agree with you! I think this is an area where we have to exercise a lot of charity and go with our own convictions.

    Your comments on the Apostle Paul, however, warrant the observation that as an Apostle, Paul exercises a level of authority that no one in the church has today. This is why he starts off all his letters by identifying himself as an Apostle–he is telling these churches that he is in a position of authority over them and they must listen to what he says. Further, they must read his letters aloud to the congregation, which I think is a recognition that what his writing is Scripture!

    Paul is not a “Pope”, however, nor was Peter a Pope. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and nothing in the NT or in Apostolic practice indicates that any pastor (which is a synonym for both “elder” and “bishop”) had authority over more than the congregation in which he served. So when Peter writes 1 Peter he writes as a “fellow elder,” but he’s also an Apostle of Christ Jesus. I don’t think there are any “Apostles of Christ Jesus” in the church today, since the qualifications are to have seen the risen Lord and been commissioned by him (1 Cor 9:1–if anybody claims to have experienced that I’m going to be very skeptical!). Note that Paul does not identify himself as the “Bishop of a particular church” but as an “Apostle of Christ Jesus.”

    I’m all for spreading the Word through technology. I love to listen to my favorite preachers on CD or ipod (mainly John Piper, John MacArthur, Tom Schreiner, R. C. Sproul, and Michael Haykin’s lectures on church history), but listening to preaching or worship music through modern technology must NEVER be substituted for gathering together for worship with the people of God as a church. We can’t watch a service on TV and think that counts for church attendance, because we haven’t been with the church. Nor, in my view, is it healthy to do videos or recordings of music or preaching with the gathered congregation–unless you just don’t have any musicians or qualified preachers. But if you have musicians and qualified preachers, even if they’re not as good as Chris Tomlin and John Piper, better to go with the live worship than the technology in my opinion.

    Thanks for your comments!


  12. Kudos to everyone on some excellent reflection– it has been quite edifying to me.

    When I hear of churches making moves like the “multiple campus” move, I get leery. Is the goal “the gospel,” REALLY? In a cultural climate that loves the mega-church I wonder if this is just the latest evolution of a veiled stab at becoming simply a bigger church. Are we not aiding and abetting the “christian superstar” mentality to our congregations? Are we not simply refabricating a personality-based church where the central character is the preacher?

    I doubt advocates of “multiple campus” church growth would admit this– I am not suggesting that they all are. But I do wonder about the motives because the means of ministry are as much a ministry as the act itself. HOW I preach or HOW I serve a local congregation is a ministry as much as the act of preaching or serving. I question whether this methodology is edifying because it seems to gravitate around the popularity of a particular ministry or minister moreso than around the gospel. That may not always be the case, but I fear it is more normative than we care to admit.

    testing the spirits,

  13. About two years ago I preached in a church which had been one of the arms of the old Sandy Creek Baptist Church. An arm in those days would be the equivalent of one of the campuses of our multicampus churches today. The arms grew out of preaching points, and they brought the church close to where the people lived. Eventually those arms became churches in their own right. These multicampus ventures will, very likely, follow the same pattern. That church that I preached in was originally established as one of the arms of Sandy Creek which had many arms. all of them established by a man who had been converted during the First Great Awakening under George Whitefield himself. I refer to Shubal Stearns. That arm in which I preached became the Rock Springs Baptist Church, a small congregation between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, NC on 15-501, It became a church some years later and then experienced the Second Great Awakening according to legends (the records are gone) in 1801. In one Sunday Morning Service the church was supposed to have had 500 conversions. We are not sure, but we do know this: Out of that church came the man who would suggest and who would lead Southern Baptists to establish the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Basil Manly, Sr. Basil would be the clerk of the Sandy Creek Assn. in 1816, when Luther Rice led the Assn. to launch the Great Century of Missions and to adopt a Sovereign Grace Confession of Faith. One of the sister churches of Rock Springs Baptist Church, the Mt. Pisgah Church would send forth the first Southern Baptist Missionary to China, Matthew Tyson Yates.

  14. If you find the remarks I made previously fascinating, you would be utterly enthralled to find as I did that the First and Second Great Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions which effected Baptists so much involved the theology of Sovereign Grace and that theology is so constructed that, if one gets it right, it will as it is did to those predecessors of ours long ago make believers balanced, flexible, creative, magnetic, and enduring. Your lead scriptural motif on this blog, “That the glory of the Lord might cover the dry land as the waters cover the sea,” is sone of the texts cited in Jonathan Edwards, Humble Attempt, which same included not only that reference (vide Isa.11:(; Hab.2:14 and the hymn that is based upon them), but others, almost a 100 promises to be pleaded in prayer for the propagation of the Gospel among the nations. That tract of Edwards inspired Andrew Fuller and William Carey to begin praying for such a visitation, and that led to Carey, backed by Fuller, to launch the Great Century of Missions – along with Luther Rice in America, doing the same.

    Since 1973, when I spoke to the Pastors; Prayer Meeting of the Sandy Creek Baptist Assn., I have been praying for such a visitation. When I came to North Carolina, there were afew Sovereign Grace believers on the scene. Now they are beginning to amount to something, and now we have believers in the theology of those awakenings and the Missions Movement beginning to pastor and to teach in our schools. If God grants the blessing sought, a Third Great Awakening beginning in this century and winning every soul on earth in this generation and continuing for a 1000 generations (I Chron.16:15) and reaching to a thousand thousand worlds. we might just have enough to fulfil the promise in Rev.7:9 of a number of redeemed in Heaven which no one can number (Divine humor?). The theology of Sovereign Grace and every one of the doctrines of grace along with Predestination and Reprobation is one of therapeutic paradox, a paradoxical intervention designed to accomplish its very opposite in effect.

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