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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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McChurches: Franchising faith

It worked for burgers. Now churches are trying it — franchising. Like other people, Scott and Michelle Knollenberg know what's offered at McDonalds, Target or Starbucks, wherever they might be. Now the Plainfield, Ill., couple also know what they'll get at church via satellite and projection screens: the same music, sermon, videos and skits that people at 10 other church locations are experiencing.

Featured in the Jan. 16 Chicago Tribune, the Knollenbergs are members of Community Christian Church, which has several satellites in the Chicago area, and also in Detroit, Denver, New York and California.

The growing phenomenon is called the multisite church. Six years ago about 10 existed; today more than 1,000, said Dave Ferguson, co-founder of the Community Christian Church. Other churches doing the same thing bear such names as Willow Creek, Harvest Bible and New Life.

While the draw may be a charismatic preacher, it must be accompanied by person-to-person ministry if it is to flourish, said Joe Stowell, a pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, which features radio preacher James MacDonald. For many such churches, that also means having a local pastor and small groups in which churchgoers can experience community and make use of church programs.

Tex Sample, coordinator of the Network for the Study of U.S. Lifestyles, calls the church-franchising trend dangerous because it treats faith like a commodity, thereby changing the nature of the Christian story by placing it in the marketplace story. Lutherans, and others, are already linked by their liturgy, after all.

"The church has plenty of resources for developing worship in terms of its own tradition, the Christian year, the lectionary and the sacraments," he said. "We don't need the metaphors of the latest capitalist fad."


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