“Our mission field,” says Alison Murray, “is no longer primarily about getting on a plane — it really is about going out your own front door to your own neighborhood.”
Murray is staff leader for what has become the multi-site First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Five years ago, the church participated in a ministry master plan that included a vision for reaching out to the city of Colorado Springs through a variety of alternative locations.
“Since then it has been a matter of figuring out — now how do we actually do that?” Murray says.
The first step in the process was to begin streaming the church’s traditional worship service over the Internet.
“Once we realized the potential of that, it began to feed a multi-venue strategy,” Murray says.
The church began holding two services at the same time on Sundays — one traditional and one contemporary — but in different rooms in the building. The services had different music, but worshippers heard the same sermon, which was broadcast from the sanctuary to the room with the contemporary service.
When that seemed to work, the vision began to expand. Members realized that many in their congregation are in nursing homes or otherwise can’t always get to church, so First Church now makes a DVD of its early service to be played at a nursing home.
“When you start to think about multi-venue from the context of a missional church where you are seeking to deepen your faith and share it, it starts to bring up all sorts of possibilities,” Murray says.
Possibilities such as hosting a coffee shop and music venue in a converted funeral home, for instance.
“We really intend for it to be a missional outpost — a place where people can come in and get coffee or listen to unplugged music, a place to relax, but in the midst of community,” says Murray. “If folks want to hear about the gospel we obviously want to talk about that, but it is an open space where we are trying to live out the Christian life and be in mission to our city.”
The church also hosts a site about 22 miles north of its downtown campus, in a rapidly growing area of Colorado Springs. The First Pres North satellite is located in a high school auditorium with its own local worship and live preaching three out of five weeks, with the other two being streamed from the main campus.
Murray uses the term ‘satellite’ rather than ‘church plant’ intentionally.
“What a satellite can do is to take the DNA of the original church and pass that along, in addition to being able to share its resources.”
But more than a question of resources, the satellites are also a key piece in the mission vision for the congregation itself.
“Part of the idea is that this is our outreach, a way to be in mission to our local culture and the reminder that our mission is to our own neighborhoods,” Murray says.
She admits it’s not always easy.
“As in all places, you have limited resources that need to be shared,” she says. “But the other issue is that people are willing to go on short-term mission trips to lots of places — but this long-term, day by day, in your own city — that can be a challenge.”
Murray notes is that this idea of ‘multi-site’, though perhaps implemented in new ways, is not a new one for FPC Colorado Springs.
“I think churches have been doing multi-site for generations — we just haven’t called it that,” she says. “Every time a small group from your church choir goes to a nursing home and sings hymns, or somebody goes into a school and coaches basketball, reaching out to the parents — that is multi-site.”
The technology of streaming worship services online is this generation’s way of carrying on the traditions of previous generations, Murray says. At FPC Colorado Springs, those previous generations go back to its founding in the late 1800s.
“In the early 1900’s we had four sites — a Sunday school, Bible studies and worship services, in addition to what was going on in the main building,” Murray says. “It might look new today because we have new tools, but it is really in our DNA to be doing this sort of activity.”
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.