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Growing church adopts 'multi-site' approach

More than 10,000 families attend Bayside Church in Granite Bay
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Ruth Finsthwait spent Sunday morning watching her favorite local pastor deliver a sermon. But she never set foot in church. Instead, she sat inside a video café on the campus of Bayside Church in Granite Bay, along with about 300 other parishioners, listening to the biblical words of Senior Pastor Ray Johnston. The Granite Bay resident has attended the local church for seven years but this marked the first time she didn’t sit with 2,500 other Christians in the main auditorium. Instead, she sat with others sipping coffee in the video café, which Bayside recently launched to accommodate the rapid growth they’ve experienced since informally beginning nearly 16 years ago. In 2004, the church moved to a permanent 94,500-square-foot complex on Sierra College Boulevard. “I really love (the video café) because it’s like being in a small church in the midst of having all the benefits of a big church,” Finsthwait said. “You really get to know the people walking through the door. It’s 300 or 400 people versus 2,500 people.” God has been maybe a little too good to Bayside Church, which now boasts a congregation of roughly 10,000 families who attend one of five weekend services in the main auditorium, said Mark Miller, who handles community relations. Some 30,000 people attended Christmas services. The church now faces the challenge of accommodating that expansion. One idea they’ve developed: a “multi-site” approach, which means establishing video cafés around the area that will feature a pastor on site, live music and will be equipped to receive a televised broadcast of Johnston’s sermon from the main church. Proponents call this an economically prudent, and environmentally sensitive, way to expand instead of creating more-costly church plants. Bayside already has 11 church plants. “We began to look at our property and expansion,” said Executive Pastor Dr. John Jackson, who heads up the multi-site project. “The economy is in difficult straits and we’ve been able to weather that storm but it didn’t make sense to spend tens of millions of dollars for a new facility here.” While they could build a larger box on campus — which they may do at some point — church leadership realized Bayside already has a resource elsewhere: People. Bayside Church launched the video café in September, offering two services a week, which bring in about 600 people. He said more than half of the parishioners who have attended call the video café their preferred experience because of the relatively intimate setting. “We’ve been so encouraged by that success,” Jackson said. The multi-site approach is a national phenomenon, he said, with churches across the United States utilizing commercial space, movie theaters and schools to host these cafés. Bayside will host a pre-launch video café Jan. 30 at Folsom Middle School and expects regular services to begin Feb. 27. About 2,000 households from Folsom already travel to Granite Bay each Sunday for church, Miller said. The school will loan the space and in return the church will help perform maintenance and upkeep. Bayside is also looking at Rocklin and Carmichael and expects four or five of these video cafés to spring up in the next few years. Jackson attended a video café and said when Pastor Johnston asks people to raise their hands during a sermon, people in the café automatically participate. “They’re not passively watching a video,” he said. “It’s neat for me to see this as a guy born and raised in traditional churches. Sometimes, when churches do overflow, it feels like punishment for being late. This is not a punishment, but a genuine, alternative worship experience.” That’s how it’s been for Finsthwait, who serves on the video café’s leadership committee. She said some people have expressed concerns about watching the sermon on a television screen. “It’s a non-issue for me because it’s on a massive screen so you feel up close and personal,” Finsthwait said. “The whole reason (for the video café) is trying to reach out to the community. If you want a place to belong, this is a great place to come and feel connected.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.