Gary Lamb brought up an interesting question on his blog about what is considered a church plant? Our church, Seacoast, has been on the frontlines of the multi-campus movement the last couple of years. We now have 9 campuses across South Carolina and Georgia. I am not going to make a case for why that is the future of the church or whether your church should make the leap. You can find some great stuff on that subject at Geoff Surratt's blog. I can just tell you about our experience in planting Seacoast Church Greenville.
First of all, I do think that most off-site campuses/video-venues fall into the 'church-plant' category. I think that Terry & Tony made a pretty good case for that by putting Buckhead Church on their "10 Most Innovative Churches" list, and not Northpoint - the church that planted them. However, the process and structure is different for almost every church that has venues.
Every Seacoast campus has its own Campus Pastor who oversees the care of the people and the day-to-day operations of the church. They oversee their own budget, and every campus is expected to be self-supporting by a certain amount of time. Our campuses are started on a shoe-string budget and staff, so that we can minimize the overhead and start more campuses quickly.
Our campus in Greenville is also a part of the Association Of Related Churches - a church planting arm of Seacoast Church. They helped fund our launch and a percentage of our budget goes toward planting other autonomous churches across the nation.
My family and I moved from Charleston to Greenville 14 months ago to put together a core team to hopefully launch the church. At the time, we knew two people that lived in Greenville. We sent out letters to everyone in Seacoast's database and ended up with 14 people to start meeting as a home group. From there we were basically on our own.
We built a core group of around 60 people over the summer and launched the church in August of 2004 with 315 people coming to the first service. Seacoast provides all of our graphics for bulletins and web content. They also provide video support and occasional special elements for stage design. I do speak on weekends and every campus pastor teaches at their midweek services. Every campus is tailored to fit the area that it is in. If you managed to attend all 9 campuses on the same Sunday, you would probably experience 9 different styles of worship! There are certain Seacoast 'DNA' elements present at every campus, but they are not carbon copies.
The coolest thing is that every campus has a great teacher every weekend! If the speaker is on video, they pull the audience into the video and you forget that it is not live. We discovered at the Long Point Campus (where the message is taped) that most people in the audience watch the screens during the message instead of the person on stage! It is definitely a medium-driven culture.
Having a 'mega-church' as a covering and backing for us, has been invaluable. People in the community know that we are not going to be gone tomorrow. We will develop our own elders here eventually. I think that it is important to have people that know and love the congregation to fill the Biblical role of an elder. (At Seacoast, the elders do not make the day-to-day decisions for the church.)
Well, that's our story. Are we a true church plant? I don't know that it really matters - as long as we are adding people to His Kingdom and changing people's destinies. That's what a church is about to me.