Our heart to pursue the multisite method is rooted in our heart to be a church planting church. The Austin Stone Community Church is itself a church plant and we believe that God has planted us to be a church that is on mission and that one way this looks is to plant other churches. In 2001, right before we started the Austin Stone, the cultural air that churches were breathing at that time was to build a really big building and achieve as much numerical growth as possible. Many churches at that time were falling into the trap of growing mostly for the sake of growth itself, not really having a vision that moved beyond that to connect growth with the Gospel work of God in a particular place. Now, numerical growth is not a bad thing, in fact it is absolutely biblical. When the Holy Spirit showed up and pointed people to Jesus, the Church of God always grew… people were always called into the Kingdom. [See “Multisite and The Bible” section 1 “Because of Growth” for more on this.] But we believed God was planting our church to be a church that didn’t pursue growth simply within the walls of our church, but also growth outside the walls of our church. We believed that God was calling us to be a church that pursued the maximization of His Glory. A church that not only created a centripetal force of attracting people inside the ‘walls’ of a church, but also a church that created a centrifugal force of sending people outside those walls as missionaries and to plant more churches of God and therefore bring Him glory where His worship was lacking. [See “Multisite and The Bible” section 2 “Because of Mission” for more on this.] We wanted to be a church that not only had 2,000 people coming on Sundays, but we wanted to be a church that planted 200 churches, and sent out 2,000 missionaries.
And the LORD has been doing exactly that. There are now over 5,000 people attending our church to worship together and be equipped for the mission of His calling. He has allowed us to participate in numerous church planting efforts not only here in Austin but also among numerous people groups throughout the nations. In addition, God has been using our church to send out countless missionaries not only to those people groups on the outer edges of this world but also within this very city of Austin.
And as we continue to pursue making Jesus known in every place and among every people we believe that God is leading us pursue having multiple sites as a biblical method of church planting. While more traditionally, church planting has been pursued through planting brick and mortar churches (larger gatherings that meet in a building) and home churches (smaller gatherings that meet in a home), the multisite design has emerged as of late amongst many churches to be a third expression of church planting.
What is a Multisite? Multisite is a replication of the principles, DNA and leadership of a local church expression in different contexts and locations throughout a region. What that means is that we will start additional Austin Stone campus in places like San Marcos … or Round Rock, or Cedar Park … They will essentially be “Missionary” outposts where people who feel called to be on mission to a particular context, need, or region can worship together and go forth from that place. When and where groups come together around these we will pursue starting an Austin Stone campus there for you to minister from. We believe this is not only Biblical but advantageous in accomplishing the mission that God has given the Church. So, how did God bring us to this point?
Over the last couple of years, God has increasingly challenged our leadership with being open to the idea of going multisite as another effective church planting method. At first it was just being aware of what other churches are doing around the nation to creatively accommodate growth when space becomes a limitation. Though the Bible uses the word for “Church” in a wide range of contexts, it is clear that it is the people who are known as the church, and not the assembly or gathering place. [See question 1 in “Multisite and The Bible” section 3 “Other Biblical Questions … ” for more on this.] This means that the form of the gathering place is open to more than the setting in which we currently meet. There is much biblical evidence of early Christians meeting together in multiple locations, but being considered a single church. [See question 2 in “Multisite and The Bible” section 3 “Other Biblical Questions … ” for more on this.] Further, more recently we began to see that being a church that meets in multiple locations could go much farther than merely accommodating more growth. It could also enable a greater ability for mission to be pursued in different contexts around the city. What if Christ-followers could gather together in different places around a common vision of renewing and redeeming a city, but who are called to pursue a particular community, culture, need, cause, or even geography—and then be sent out together to take the Gospel to those to whom they are called? This became a very interesting question as we sought God for how to pursue being A Church for the City.
Meanwhile, we also felt a particular conviction to start with a focus on the St. John community in Austin, one of the most overlooked and underdeveloped neighborhoods in our city. In the early fall of 2008, we announced plans to purchase just over 14 acres in the western half of the neighborhood with plans to build a facility that will help us move forward in the pursuit of city renewal through the Gospel. These plans included redeveloping the entire site to build a 2,000-seat worship center, children’s building, and a third building to serve as the hub of our church’s cooperation with other non‐profit efforts with space for several cooperating organizations to office and serve the community.
At the time this project was cast in light of a broader vision for our church that still stays in focus today and will endure for the foreseeable future. This vision that God is calling to us by His power is “To build a great city, renewed and redeemed by a gospel movement, by being a church for the city of Austin that labors to advance the gospel throughout the nations.”
The Austin Stone Community Church is a New Testament Church existing for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate purpose of why we are here, and also what should be the essence of what every body of believers in Jesus Christ should be about. But God also gives each local church a specific time, a community, a people, and a vision of what this existence looks like for them. Over the last few years in our young church, God has progressively focused for us the lens of vision. At this point in the life of our church it is exceedingly clear what work we are here to do. God has opened up the passage of Jeremiah 29 to show it to us. Jeremiah speaks to God’s people who are exiled in Babylon, calling them to, ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare’ (Jer. 29:7). Just as He did then, God is also now calling us to—by His power—build a great city, renewed and redeemed by a gospel movement, by being A CHURCH FOR THE CITY of Austin that labors to advance the gospel throughout the nations.
This means doing much more than we are right now. We must learn to love and know God more. We must move further forward in equipping and mobilizing disciples to transform the city and then the world both in word and in deed. We must catalyze and cooperate with other churches and organizations who labor for this same goal of transformation. God has illuminated the first of perhaps many next steps for us to get there. These are our vision goals.
The purpose of the St. John building project is simply to provide a much-needed tool in the toolbox to help us accomplish particularly the first two of the four vision goals. The response from our congregation to support this project in giving and in deed was great; nothing short of the work of God as at the same time our nation began to enter our most recessed economic time since the Great Depression.
Over the following months the economic outlook began to make its weight felt more heavily in our city, and in our church partnership. This, as recession always does, it proved to be a great catalyst for God to use to challenge our assumptions. Being no longer in a ‘high-resource environment’, each one of us in our families began more than ever to think about to be better managers of God’s resources. Just like this, our leaders were brought to a point of pause to ask again questions like, “How can we maximize our use of God’s resources for His glory?” then leading to the key question for this project: “How can we accomplish moving toward the same vision of being A Church for the City, but in a way that doesn’t requires additional funds or debt.
This became a great example of the good news of recession [listen to The Austin Stone sermon series of the same title starting April 26, 2009 at http://bit.ly/ascc‐recession], to loosen our affections from a particular script in order to strengthen them for the story’s author, Himself. God called us to a vision of the way things should be, through the power of the Gospel and NOT of the way a particular building should look.
So the two developing questions of how to pursue multisite and how best to develop the St. John property recently came to an amazing confluence. Just when a less costly alternative to accomplish the purposes of renewal and redemption in St. John was needed, a more effective alternative to see city transformation accomplished came to light in multisite. The obvious answer is to revise the original three-building main campus plan to a fully-functional, fully-missional multisite campus of The Austin Stone, where even more space and attention can be devoted to the city-renewing efforts of like-minded non-profit organizations. This is what it means for our physical presence St John, but it doesn’t stop here.
So, for the sake of the Gospel, we will boldly pursue the planting of churches of all kinds. We will continue to support and launch new brick-and-mortar (or high-school!) churches, we will continue to support and launch a growing movement of house-churches, and yes, we will plant multisite churches all across our region. The St. John campus will be our first multisite location, and with God’s grace many others will follow.
We are thankful that God has chosen our church and planned every step of how our church will grow since before time. As Paul writes to the Ephesians, “In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:11-12). God’s orchestration in the path of our church to bring us to a point of pause, only to point us to yet another exciting starting point is not one that we could have even dreamed in our wildest imaginations, but is “…far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” (Eph. 3:20). For this we can give Him alone praise for His creativity, purposes, and glory. “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:21).