One Church, Multiple Communities

“What does it mean that we are one church and multiple communities?”“Why wouldn’t Andover be its own church since they are 8 miles away from our downtown campus?”“Can we really be one church when we don’t all see each other regularly?”

If you have been around 1st UMC for long, you’ve probably had some of these questions. I think we all have. Our church is doing something unique, so it’s no surprise that we have all had some questions and confusion along the way.

In the coming months, I’m planning to write a few articles about our structure that might help all of us get a better understanding of how 1st UMC is organized. More importantly, I hope to show the mission behind why we are organized the way we are.

We are a multi-site church. That’s a relatively new concept. In 1990, there were only 10 multi-site churches in the US. By 1998, there were only 100. By 2005, shortly before we opened our Andover campus, there were 1,500 multi-site churches.

Why multi-site? You may have heard Pastor Mike talk about 1st UMC’s mission: to make disciples across the street and around the world. That value of making disciples “across the street” takes seriously the importance of being where people are. The Methodist Church has always been serious about that. Until the year 2000, the UMC had a church in every county of the US!

To make more disciples, to reach more people for Christ, we believe it’s important to be across more streets. In the history of the Church, the best way to reach new people has consistently been to open new places of worship. We’ve seen the great value in that at Andover. Our church is reaching people in that community that we never would have reached if we had remained only downtown. I hope you’ve heard Todd tell some of the stories about families who have come back to the Church and people who have been baptized into the faith because of the new Andover congregation.

We’ve also learned that we can do some things better together than we can apart. Why hasn’t Andover become its own, independent church? Because we believe we’re better together. Mike, Todd, and I spend time together weekly to offer each other support, encouragement, and direction in the way each of our communities is going. We have a financial team that is able to handle the church’s finances much better and with less cost than if Andover, Downtown and Offerings each tried to handle finances separately. On high days of worship like Pentecost, we are able to draw on the gifts of people from all of our communities. And should we consider starting a fourth worshiping community – getting across another street to reach more new people – we believe that we can do that better together, too.

We are a very different multi-site church. Yes, there are over 1,500 multi-site churches in the US, but as far as we know, there is only one multi-site church doing what we’re doing! The typical multi-site church beams in a video of one pastor preaching to all of the sites. Or if not, all of the preachers preach the same sermon in their own setting. They have the same announcements at each site. They essentially offer worship site alternatives and keep everything else together. That’s very different from what we’re doing.

Each of 1st UMC’s worshiping communities has quite a bit of freedom in its worship, its preaching, its discipleship, and its outreach. That has been a very intentional, much-discussed decision. We have decided to be one church with multiple expressions. 

We believe there are a number of good ways to worship and become disciples, and we want to allow each community to embrace the forms that are best for them. We all have the same Wesleyan theology. We all believe in the importance of worship, growth in small group community, and service in the world. We all believe in making disciples. But we each embody those values differently.

Why are we one church? Because we believe we are better together. Because we all share the mission of making disciples. Because we want to maintain a connection of encouragement and ideas, even if we aren’t in the same building on a regular basis.

Why are we many communities? Because we believe we can make more disciples by being across more streets. Because we believe we reach more people through multiple expressions. Because we believe we can become stronger disciples when each community has the freedom to handle worship, discipleship, and outreach just a bit differently.

We have created a structure very different from most you may have seen. That inevitably creates questions and confusion. It has been a learning process for all of us. But I have a great excitement about the possibilities for 1st UMC’s future. I truly believe our willingness to try new things is preparing us to do great new things in Lexington and around the world. All of this only by the grace and power of God. To God be the Glory!