What Is a Microsite Church?

The multisite model of church has begun to mature, and one thing has become clear: Not every location has the resources for a campus. Rural communities and small towns in particular can be bypassed in favor of cities, college communities, and high-density residential areas. That’s not a bad thing, just the reality of the multisite model. We go where God is at work changing the most lives.

But as high-speed Internet spreads to more and more areas, people in rural communities and small towns have begun streaming services from larger urban and suburban churches. They’re looking for vibrant worship and gifted communicators. And they look online to find it. For many people, this stream has become their Sunday experience—whether as a single family or as a group that meets together.

This provides a huge opportunity for growing churches. In areas where a campus isn’t feasible, other expressions of church are possible. People are already streaming. People already call distant churches their “home church” and the pastor “my pastor.” That means we can step into what God’s doing there.

People are already streaming. People already call distant churches their “home church” and the pastor “my pastor.” That means we can step into what God’s doing there.

That’s the point of a microsite. A microsite is a community of connected and invested believers in an area where there is no physical campus for the sponsoring church. The community shares in the life of the church on Sundays and beyond through live-streams, discipleship materials, leadership training, and small groups. But they usually meet in homes or community centers, rather than a dedicated building, and they usually stream the service on a TV.

The key here is “connected and invested.” A true microsite has a leader (or leaders) who has been trained and released by the sponsoring church to build on the vision and mission of the church in a given community. The title of this person isn’t as important as the role they play in aligning the microsite community with what God is doing in the church as a whole.

In the days ahead, we’ll cover some of the big questions in microsite, such as how biblical microsite is, keys to success, and how to train leaders. But just keep in mind that this is more than just someone streaming a service. A microsite is about relational connection and spiritual growth. And it truly is possible to see that happen—even from hundreds of miles away.

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Why You Should Launch a Microsite

It’s no surprise that I’m a huge proponent of microsites. (I mean, I started a whole website to talk about them.) And I’d love to see every multisite church at least consider them as a part of their strategic planning. Microsites have enormous potential to reach areas that have long been on the outer margins of the multisite movement. And I’ve seen God at work in these smaller settings to bring about real life transformation.

They work.

And, really, any vibrant church can tap into the microsite movement regardless of the number of campuses they have. There’s a much lower cost of entry than many other growth models.

Here’s why you should consider launching a microsite.

You Already Have People Live-Streaming or Driving

If you have a live-stream featuring powerful worship and a gifted communicator, you’ll have people watching. You’ll have people who think of you as “my church.” Some of them will even drive an hour to reach you.

In other words, God is already at work in that community.

The problem is that you also have a disconnect. Few people who live-stream on Sundays or chew up the interstate to get to you each week will invite people to join them. Few of them will be going through your discipleship program or jumping into your small groups.

They need something much more intentional to close the gap. Microsites can do that.

You Already Have Groups Meeting in Smaller Communities

Recently, we tested the idea of hosting a small group event outside of our traditional area. We saw from our stats that hundreds of people were driving in from this smaller community, and we’d heard from them—many of them—about “starting a campus” there.

Our groups event turned out to be a huge hit. Dozens of people came, and they were pumped. We didn’t spend massive money on a building; we spent time investing in relationships. And since then, we’ve begun launching similar events in other communities throughout our state.

What that showed us is there’s a growing potential to gather people in smaller communities who already have an investment in our church. Those groups give us a foundation to build on for microsites.

You Want to Keep Costs Down

To be honest, starting a new campus in some areas just doesn’t make financial sense. The building and staff costs would be unsustainable. Maybe your church can kick in the difference, but that often creates an unhealthy dependency. You end up with a campus that feels like they don’t have any part in what God’s building in their own community. (Not to mention the risk of having to pull back funding at some point.)

Or perhaps you’re seeing a growing number of people coming from a distant community, but you’re not in a financial position to invest in a new campus. Maybe you’re already in a building project, for example.

Either way, microsites allow you to launch sooner rather than later—and for much cheaper. In many cases, the costs can be as low as an AppleTV and whatever church-based resources you need, such as discipleship materials.

You’re Targeting a Location Where a Campus Isn’t Possible

The Rock Church in San Diego rocks the microsite concept (couldn’t resist the pun). And they do so in some unusual places where a normal campus would never work. For instance, they have “closed to the public” microsites that operate in prisons. Other churches have similar models in military communities, inner cities, and apartment complexes. In all these locations, a regular campus just wouldn’t work.

So, if you’re thinking about trying something nontraditional, the microsite model may fit your needs. You can develop faith communities in places that may have seemed out of reach before.

You’re Testing a Location for a Campus

Call it “market research,” if you will, but microsites offer a solid way to test the interest in an area before you commit to a full campus launch. Say you’ve been seeing a number of people coming to a campus from a strategic location. You can tell God is at work there, and you’d like to build on that momentum.

Then, do it. A small investment allows you to build a core, find leaders, and uncover future staff. You’re no longer the church “over there” or “down there.” You’re the church that has a presence in the community.

Actually, what’s amazing about this type of microsite launch is that you’ll begin to see people on the margins who move to the center. They used to feel disconnected because of distance, but planting something local changes the dynamic for them.


Is a Microsite Church Biblical?

Microsite is the new hotness. So, we really should stop to think through the implications and carefully weigh out the biblical merit of the movement. Never jump headlong into any trend without considering that.

But, honestly, I’ve found that when people ask if microsite is biblical, what they’re really wondering about is spiritual formation. Are people truly growing in Christ when they’re watching church on couches? Can they mature as disciples around dining room tables?

The answer is this: It depends. It’s the same issue you have with small groups, for example. You can run the gamut of everything from true biblical community to something closer to a TV-watching, snack-chomping party. The biblical bonafides of calling microsites a church aren’t in the container as much as they are in the intentionality.

Acts points out that early believers met from home to home, but they weren’t there just to hang. They were there to eat together, to learn together, to pray together. The Twelve were set aside to focus on studying and teaching, but the nitty gritty of that teaching played out in smaller communities.

Let’s just be blunt here. Microsites are not church buildings. For some people, that’s a non-starter. And so, if they’re the type who thinks “having church” requires a steeple and a pulpit in a building down the street, then microsites aren’t for them. But the Bible never defined the early church by a type of building. The Bible defines the church by people—specifically, disciples making disciples making disciples.

On the other hand, just having a live-stream on a Sunday doesn’t automatically mean you have a church gathering. If there’s no vital connection to a body of believers, no life change, then you have a spectator sport. Microsite churches—if they truly are churches—depend on intentionality toward discipleship. This shows up in many ways, such as people using their gifts, a focus on studying the Word together, worship, prayerfulness, serving each other, evangelism, and everything you’d expect in a vibrant, life-giving church.

Not every microsite will be killing it in all these areas, but you should see an intentional effort in that direction. A church is supposed to be a living thing, no matter where that church meets.

So, is microsite biblical? It depends. But that’s true for any community that calls itself a church.

How can you ensure your microsites will be biblical? You have to think strategically. You prayerfully watch where God’s at work, and then you go in with a plan.