10 Years of Multi-Site

Joe Leach | June 2023

On more than one occasion, a leader from a different church has told me that they were considering becoming a multi-site church. I think they generally expect me to wax lyrical about why I think a multi-site church model is the best thing ever and exactly what their church needs. But that is not how I have responded.

I do think there are a lot of benefits to being one church that meets in multiple sites (do read on!) but ultimately, Grace Church is a multi-site church for one reason only: God called us to it. So when other church leaders talk to me about it, the main thing I would want to emphasise to them is to not just think about whether it is the right ‘strategy’ for them but whether God is calling them to it or not.

Grace Church was planted by Steve and Jo Petch in Chichester in 2006, long before anyone on this side of the Atlantic had heard of ‘multi-site’. But right from the start, Steve had a God-given vision to reach beyond Chichester ‘from the city to the sea’ and in the sovereignty of God, people were coming to Chichester from all around to meet together as Grace Church. Fast forward to 2013 and it then made total sense (and was fully in keeping with what God had been doing up to that point) to start another congregation in Bognor Regis; becoming one church that was meeting, visible and active in more than one location.

We’ve had a lot of fun in the decade since. Following Bognor, we became three sites when we launched into Midhurst in 2016 and then by opening at Havant in 2018 took us to four sites. After the covid lockdowns we felt it right to bring Midhurst into the Chichester congregation (and we’re still seeking God on that one). This means, for now, we remain one church in three locations. Lots of fun. Lots of work. And by God’s grace, lots of fruit. So, we thought we should have a party to celebrate and honour all those things.

A summer Grace Church event basically means BBQ, bouncy castles, worship and a bunch of other random things which, on this occasion, had to happen in Bognor, where our multi-site story all began. A genuine thank you to everyone who helped to make it happen. It was such a great and laughter-filled day!

But more than that, a huge thank you to everyone who has, and continues to put in so much into enabling multi-site church a possibility for us. As those people know well, it has not, is not, and will not always be easy but it has proven fruitful and ultimately is what God has called us to.

People and scenes from the Multisite Celebration

Where do we go from here?

We are multi-site because God has called us to be and the underlying reason he has called us to it is mission. We do it so that we can be more visible and more active in more communities, and this will continue to be the case. I am in faith that God will continue to work through all of our locations to make an impact in all the communities where we meet and to see gospel-fruit.

Beyond the underlying reasons for our being multi-site, we have discovered a number of other tangible benefits. We are a relatively big church and meeting in multiple locations enables us to keep focussed relationally in real ways so that no one is lost in the crowd. It also means all sites can benefit from central support whether pastorally, evangelistically, or administratively.

Another key benefit, often overlooked, is that while our children and teenagers are growing up in a tough world, for them to be connected to something bigger than their own site can provide huge encouragement for them. They have access to extra support and can interact with more church-going peers as they grow up; and it also enables us to pool our efforts and serve them better. This isn’t just good for them but is good for the whole family and helps us in our mission.

We don’t know exactly what the next 10 years will hold but I am excited for it. One thing that we do know is that God is at work among us. What a privilege! And we are confident that the local church is the hope for the world. We actually believe that. What this world needs is more of the local church because God is with us and because he has given us his message of hope and grace. This grace is for us to enjoy deeply and then for us to declare it and demonstrate it to the world; and especially to the little corner of the world where God has called us to be a multi-site church.