instead of video campuses for growing churches...

I am part of a growing church. Expansion on site might not result in much expansion after all. So the leaders are kicking around ideas on how to accommodate the growth. One idea that is in use with some mega churches is a multi-site model in which the sermon from the parent church is video recorded and either broadcast live or shown after a week's delay. It seems to work well for those big churches using it. My own experience is that of a regular attender to the overflow room where I watch a live video feed. Because I'm only a few footsteps away from the live venue, I don't feel disconnected from the main body, especially during the between service coffee and mingling time. But the overflow room is not too full, which is something I like. I also like I can get out of my seat without offending the speaker. So it works for me, but mostly because I enjoy less density and more freedom to move around, not really spiritual reasons.

A friend shared an article at the blog, the Gospel-Driven Church that was critical of the video-venue concept. The last point does nag at me. "Video venues assist the idolization of and over-reliance on preachers." The sub-points really drive it home for me (you'll have to go there to read them). The opposing ideas are made more strongly at this blog, Multi-site churches are from the devil, an intentionally provocative title. Another point made is that video, by definition, cannot be incarnational (in the flesh). I did the typical annoying parishioner thing and forwarded these blogs to my pastor. In response to the last point he noted that Paul asked his letters to be read in the churches, Colossians 4:16, also not incarnational. Again, wisdom is proved right by her children.

I didn't know how to progress from there. But then Bradley Wright, whose books I've reviewed here and here, contrasted the expectations on him as an academic lecturer vs. that of a preacher and wondered why the preacher has to do it the hard way? His blog post is also intentionally provocative, Why pastors should plagiarize in their sermons. One commenter noted his positive experience with a church that taught through Chuck Swindoll's commentary on Nehemiah. That one rolled around in my head for a while and gelled into a proposal for the video campus churches while I biked home yesterday.

Why not have people in the pulpit of each satellite campus preach through the same outlines from the same source? Whether they be the parent church's pastor's notes, or an external commentary writer, someone contemporary like Swindoll or Warren Wiersbe, or someone recently passed, J. Vernon McGee or Tozer, or someone from a "better" time, Spurgeon or Edwards, or someone ancient, a church father like John Chrysostom. Ultimately, the church could go back to reading Paul's letters aloud, but a good teacher wants to explain the difficult parts and show the relevancy to today's culture. In this proposal, I envision the pastors getting together every week to discuss the passage and the commentary which is the basis for their sermon. They strip out what doesn't work, keep what works, and supplement based on their congregation and current events. After a few years of doing this, a satellite preacher would be ready to take the campus to independence and become a true church plant. The preacher has saved time, but learned to preach well, has left time for pastoral care, and might even be keeping the day job until the church plant has grown enough to support a full time worker. Of course, everything is acknowledged, unacknowledged would be plagiarism, there is nothing to be ashamed of, and, if the sermons are based on a book, the source material could be made available to the congregation for deeper reflection.

I don't think this is original. but I'm thinking of how to apply it to new situations in our culture. I wonder if it sticks to the wall or not. It does seem icarnational to me.

update: Thanks to commenter Joe R. who goes to a multi-site church, which he attends, that has live preachers at every site instead of a video, preaching from the same text each week, New Life Church in Arkansas.
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Joe R. said…
I have gone to several churches over my life so far, ranging from very small (10-20 people) to somewhat large (750-1000 people). I now go to a church that is part of a network of churches. Our campus is one of about half a dozen, ours being the 2nd newest. The main campuses are much larger (several thousand regular attenders/members), with ours currently around the 200-400 mark and growing rapidly. All of the campuses have a pastor that delivers the sermons each week, but all of the campuses will preach the same series. Such that if your church is preaching through the book of Luke, and you miss a week at your regular church but visit one of the other campuses, you will still be learning from the same part of Luke with the same principles being taught. Each of the pastors inserts their own method of preaching and their own stories, anecdotes, and makes the sermon their own, but the basic content is the same.

To me, if you are going to have a system of church campuses all under the same umbrella, that this would be the way to do it as opposed to simply having video transmissions. There are some disadvantages to the setup my church uses to be certain, but it still has a personal feel to it. You can still have an opportunity to get to know your pastor personally. Simple video transmissions lack that ability, and in my feeling, that is probably the biggest objection I would have.
John Umland said…
Thanks for sharing Joe. I wonder if the pastors get together to study the passage each week. It sounds like a great system. If you don't mind, I'd love to hear the name of your church network.
God is good
Joe R. said…
I don't mind at all. I attend New Life Church in Arkansas. I'm not sure how the pastors determine the sermond series or prepare for them. I haven't asked. I don't think they get together every week though since the campuses are spread across the state. We have campuses in Cabot, Conway (the main campus), Fort Smith (where my wife and I attend), Little Rock, Heber Springs, and Hot Springs (the newest campus). I know they are also in the initial planning stages for another campus. It is possible you may have heard of the church before. If you are an American Idol fan, Kris Allen was from the Conway campus. Also, I'm not sure about this year, but two or three years ago, New Life Church was the fastest growing church in America.

Like I said, I can see some disadvantages to the system we use. There is less autonomy and direct control over the sermon material by individual pastors, although this is not necessarily a detriment. And sometimes the smaller campuses can be overlooked, although at the same time, they receive help from the larger campuses such that the full burden of funding is not on a small upstart church. To me, none of the disadvatages really outweighs the advantages, nor are they things that I see as big problems.

There also is some interaction amongst the campuses. The pastors will occasionally preach at campuses other than their own, and while my wife and I weren't able to go, all of the campuses got together at the Verizon Arena for the 10th anniversary this year. New Life Church is kind of like going to a megachurch and a small church at the same time. You kind of get the best of both worlds. The Fort Smith campus where I go is one of the smaller ones because we are one of the newest, but collectively, I think we are the largest church in Arkansas.

That's just a bit about my church though. We've been going for a year next month, and it has been a great church family to us thus far.

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