I am more appreciative of multi-site churches that send out pastors who will teach at the satellite campus, though this is quickly becoming the rare instance. Even the shining examples of multi-site who once did this exclusively have been seduced into using more of the video-venue style. There are some things to like about multi-site that raises up real leaders to actually teach and preach at the satellite venue. At least in that scenario they are still developing leaders, empowering them and sending them out. Such churches have a sense of unity and diversity at the same time and that can be cool (though I would still have some questions about it). It is the video-venue approach that bothers me most.
The video-venue model communicates several things that are not healthy in my opinion.
First, it communicates that church is a worship service with small groups attached. While most churches in the west already are in this scenario, the new multi-site model further exacerbates the problem. Once you have a location, a worship team, a campus pastor (manager) and the technology…you’ve started a new venue. That is a far distance from what Luke and Paul describe as a church in the New Testament.
Second, it seems to elevate the preaching of a sermon to the height of what church is about. Everything a church can do is seemingly reproduced in a campus church with the lone exception of the sermon. A campus pastor will care for needs and local leadership. A new worship band can be recruited. Small groups will be formed. Children’s workers are developed for each site. But the sermon is not something that can be done by another person. Why listen to someone else when you can see (Fill in the Name) on the big screen, larger than life? There is usually one other thing that connects the satellite back to the mothership--the money trail. No comment about that.
Third, it elevates one personality to the status of church leader in the only role that is not reproducible. This of course seems to communicate to all that this one person is the most important person in the entire church. This one man’s messages (it is usually a man, though not exclusively) are considered so profound and necessary that no one else will do. This in turn makes the style, intelligence and personality of the preacher more central and effective than the message of the Gospel itself. One man is the conduit from which God's message and vision for the body comes through to the people. God's perspective, personality and even preferences are filtered through this one person's point of view. With this sort of mentality, releasing the true power of the Gospel into disciples is cut off, and now we just bring our friends to hear Dr. So-N-So speak. Reproduction in the disciples, leaders and churches is stifled. I realize this is a problem in many churches, not just the video-venue ones, but the medium accentuates that problem and does nothing to help fight it. It is a sad truth that many Christians only receive God's word through the predigested sermons of their pastors. This model feeds such a scenario.
Fourth, it places a brand on the churches that are all connected to the network making a name for itself much like a business. Churches begin to carry a brand name more like a business than becoming a connected body of Christ. This connection is limited to the churches own satellites rather than the whole body of Christ in an area. We build a reputation in the community as a church that has the same leadership in campuses all over the region, rather than lifting the whole body of Christ. Why are we so intent on lifting ourselves (leadership, brand, systems) up, often at the expense of other churches where our new people are coming from? We do this under the name of unity and I can't help but think something is wrong with that.
Fifthly, it fosters a consumeristic mentality among Christians who can only be attracted by the bigger names and more entertaining speakers. Add to that the dynamic of being able to pick and choose which worship music you particularly like and you can see how consumerism drives this thing and competition among churches is the actual result. Since when is worship about what you enjoy anyway? This once again is an indication of our own selfish and individualistic view of church in the West. When we judge worship by how well it suits our own preferences and fuels out own enjoyment rather than simply offering God our lives in service we have seriously lost the plot several steps ago. Church has become a vendor of religious goods and services presented for the consumers. The video-venue approach takes that mistake to a whole new level in my opinion.
Finally, it is sometimes an attempt to own the churches in a given area. I have to ask, “Why is it more preferable to have multiple campuses as part of the same church, rather than simply starting self-sufficient churches that can do the same?” When I probe this further I find some not-so-pretty motives behind all the language of unity and mission. Basically, there really is a desire to have more followers, and keep the money in one account. More people and more money. I know that this sounds mean to say, but when you strip it all down you are left with these two things, because starting autonomous churches with relational connections can fulfill all the same ideas of unity and mission without the need to keep everyone tied to one headquarters with one growing budget. In fact, from God's point of view I would imagine He counts every follower in a given region as His church, so then why do we want to claim some of them under one church brand and leadership? I'm just asking.
I do not want to sound cynical or jaded. I am actually not accusing those doing this form of church of intentional evil motives. Many of my own friends around the country are doing multi-site churches with the video-venue approach. I understand how they got there; I just don’t think they asked the right questions before they did.
Church growth has a way of becoming so important to us that we really do think this is the way to reach the world. But church growth that is all about the numbers attending our worship service is way out of balance. Reaching people with the gospel is not the same as growing the numbers that attend a worship service. Perhaps we should focus on those who need to be transformed by the gospel rather than on getting the unchurched to attend our church worship services. The Gospel is what saves us, not our wonderful music and entertaining sermons. The Bible doesn't say, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten church."
When one is a preacher he or she wants to communicate the Good News to as many souls as is possible. This can easily lead one into this multi-site, video-venue approach. The problem is that these leaders see their role as simply preaching to the masses rather than mentoring others to do the same. The typical consumer-minded parishioner doesn’t want to hear the apprentice speak when they can hear the master! These are some of the ways that good leaders end up proliferating a bad idea.
I can imagine that after a pastor has died, he will continue preaching to his congregations through the years, why bother finding a new one? This adds a whole new twist to the idea of leadership succession. I still have many volumes of C.H. Spurgeon’s sermons on my bookshelves. Imagine being able to advertise that he is your pastor 117 years after he was buried!