August 5, 2008
Multi-site the Low-tech Way
Why video venues should be a last resort.
Evergreen, our small church here in Portland, Oregon, has just gone multi-site. But not video venue.
We started in a pub in southwest Portland, outgrew that space, and moved to another pub across town. Outgrowing that one, we moved up to yet another pub in northwest Portland. Yes, we are the church on a pub crawl. When things got crowded there, we knew we had some decisions to make.
Our goal has always been multi-faceted. First and foremost, we want to see people come to and come back to Jesus. That implies growth. Second, our worship gatherings are highly interactive. We never want to lose the dialogical vibe in our teaching. Third, knowing that, according to statistics, people are reached best by newer (under 10 years old) and smaller congregations (as they grow from 100 to 200), our ultimate goal has been planting.
For various reasons, we're not quite ready to plant another separate community. So what to do? Consistent with the greatest number of our values, we invited some Evergreeners to start another worship gathering in one of our previous pub spaces. We're now one church in two locations. One or two more gatherings like that, and I think we'll have reached a size at which we'll have the people and resources to start planting churches around Portland.
So why didn't we do what many growing, multi-site communities are doing and pipe my teaching all around town and beyond? Here are a few reasons:
1. We believe good things happen when worship is kept small and interactive. We want people to be able to talk to one another and to the one who is teaching them. We also want things kept at a size where people can know one another and be known by those teaching them.
Some say that video venues are no different from a large service where parishioner number 3254 has to sit in the 50th row and watch the whole thing on the big screen anyway. It's not like she can raise her hand and ask a question. It's not like the one teaching knows who she is anyway... Exactly. To me, video venues simply magnify what's already a problem of megachurches.
2. Many advocates of video venues say there simply aren't enough church planters and talented teachers to go around. And my response is that in a video venue world, there never will be. Pursued as a large scale strategy, video venues will inevitably lead to fewer and fewer gifted and experienced lay and vocational preachers. The gift of preaching - already suffering from over-professionalization - will become ever more the work of the celebrity.
At Evergreen, our seven elders rotate teaching responsibilities at both sites, though there's a primary teaching elder at each. As a result, the church isn't driven by a single personality, and several people are developing preaching experience at once.
3. Though many video venue churches also do traditional church planting, I worry for congregants who may see a campus pastor but are lead in large part by elders who live miles, and sometimes even towns, away.
Ultimately, I believe what's best is not to come up with new and creative ways to put space between the people teaching and those being taught. What's best is to shrink that space as much as is humanly possible. If the problem is a lack of qualified teachers, do whatever you can to find, call, equip, and send teachers. Don't install a screen and beam teaching from 200 miles away. If you must install that video venue, call it what it is - a necessary and temporary compromise until your prayers for more workers are answered.
Some churches grow faster than they can find, train, and send church planters who have the same teaching talent as the "main guy." But what if instead of asking "Can he preach as well as me?" you ask, "Can he or she, with a team of others, lead a Christ-centered community that starts small and grows, reproducing itself before becoming unmanageable and outgrowing the gifting of its leadership?" You might find more gifted/qualified people than you dreamed.
I know, a lot of people love your preaching and want to hear it. Let them get saved and discipled at your community, or spend a season there, and then point them to your pod/vodcast, sending them as missionaries to reach their local communities. But don't say, "Well, people just want to hear me, so we must make a way for everyone to either sit in one room and watch me or my video representation." That simply makes no sense when we're talking about maturing Christ followers who will live self-sacrificially in communities centered on Jesus, not a preaching personality.
One of the main justifications for video venues is that upwards of 70 percent of church plants fail. Giving people a "brand name," proven communicator makes more sense. But do church plants fail because of the planter? Or is it because of unreasonable expectations, unsustainable "big launch" methods in which thousands of dollars are pumped into new churches in an effort to make them big, fast... because of the consumer mindset of many who look at the big churches down the street with not a small amount of envy?
Ultimately, video venues strike me as a poor compromise. They may be necessary at times, but are certainly not a strategy to be pursued, even alongside traditional church plants. They focus entirely too much on the preaching gifts of one person, a trend even we small "emerging" types need to counter.
The celebrity church must die. And doing anything - like video venues - that prolongs its life, even in the name of the lost, runs counter to the best interests of the Church in all its expressions, big and small, and its mandate to see more people not only reached, but gifted, trained, and sent.