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The Distinctions of Networked, Family, and Multisite Churches


By Drew Hyun: One of the common questions I’m asked is how we’re structured as a family of churches, so I thought it’d be helpful to clarify the differences between a networked church, a family of churches, and a multisite church in terms of structure.

Ultimately, the structure all relates to (1) authority and (2) assets.

If there’s a continuum of how a church functions related to authority and assets, it usually looks something like this:

Centralized ————————————————————————— Decentralized

Multisite                                     Family of Churches                                    Networked Church

A Multi-Site Church

As seen from the table above, multisite churches centralize authority and assets, while also sharing everything from name, branding, central services, culture, and so forth. In other words, whatever the number of campuses or churches, there is one central leadership team that is ultimately making the decisions for each local campus. Now, this central team might empower local leaders to make decisions, but it’s still clear that the central team is in charge. This centralized manner lends itself toward higher quality control and alignment across all churches and locations.

A Networked Church

A networked church is autonomous, often carrying a different name while being in a completely different context than the other churches. As a result of sheer distance, accountability and alignment are far less present, and each church makes largely autonomous decisions when it comes to how to function as a church community. Authority and assets, then, clearly lie with the local congregation, and the network exists to support. There is, however, a shared theological, cultural, and/or missional vision for operating in a larger network.

A Family of Churches

A family of churches, or our family of churches, I should say, is somewhere in the middle. Now, it’s virtually impossible to be exactly in the middle, because the key question of authority and assets always makes or breaks a church organization with multiple churches/campuses. The tension of centralized vs. decentralized will exist anywhere in the continuum, because local congregations will continue to want more autonomy, while a central leadership team will often want more control.

At Hope, we have decentralized our authority and assets so that each church functions as a local congregation with local leaders and elders who have full authority and control of their own assets. It took awhile to get to this clarity, but once we achieved it, it’s helped us clarify some big potential roadblocks.

With this said, we’re actually closer to multisite than a typical networked church because we do quite a bit of relationship and sharing together. Our pastors are constantly in communication with one another, sharing resources, encouraging one another, and helping serve the other churches and pastors when needed. We have multiple events that multiple churches voluntarily choose to partner together.

Our pastors meet once a month for six hours and attend a monthly two-hour lunch hosted by a network in which we’re a part. We go on trips together, we have a retreat together once a year, and we’re all dreaming about how to build our family together.

Each church contributes to a central fund in our family, and each church signs off on that central fund as we hope to start and empower healthy, urban churches together.

How to Choose the Best Model for You

I really don’t think one model is better than the other. There are positives and negatives in each model. Ultimately, I think it really depends on the charism (unique grace) of the leader(s). Of course, context matters a lot too, but I think the charism is harder to discern due to various factors.

It takes prayerful consideration then, for each leader and leadership team, to discern what is their church’s unique charism. Once this charism is found, I think the leader(s) of the church should lead with humility and boldness, because there is criticism on either side. Some will tell the leader(s) that they must be more controlling. Some will tell the leaders that they must be less so. Ultimately, I think it depends on the charism.

For instance, when I see a large church movement like Hillsong, there is a lot of alignment that’s leveraged for their kingdom impact in global cities. This is beautiful to see. I see other movements that are less aligned but more connected by relationship and heart. This is where we lie on the spectrum and I’m clearly a fan. Otherwise, I’d be doing something different.

What’s most helpful in the end is clarity about authority and assets, and ironically, this clarity must also account for flexibility due to the many organizational tensions that come with trying to do mission together.

Source: The Distinctions of Networked, Family, and Multisite Churches