November 5, 2009
Video Venues and Multi-Sites: Can We Please Move On?
We've got more important matters to discuss.
May I vent for a moment? If I stumble onto another blog, article, or conference advertisement for anything having to do with video venues or multi-site models of church growth, I just might lose it. Everywhere I look within our odd little subculture these days I’m barraged by debates and diatribes about the glorious merits or awful shortcomings of venues and sites. On one side are proponents who seem to believe that only really good sliced bread can compete with their innovative ministry models for the title of “greatest thing ever.” Opposing these trendsetters are Marshall McLuhan’s disciples, those who fear the Good News message has been distorted by an unholy medium.
To be clear, I understand the nuanced distinctions between multiple sites and multiple video screens. I get that there are theological concerns embedded within this conversation that bring out the passionate sides of characteristically composed people. To be honest, I’ve followed this debate with some interest and could earnestly argue my own position about these ministry models. But I don’t want to. In fact, at this point I’d rather talk about almost anything else. Here’s why:
1. It simply doesn’t matter to most of us. A well known pastor and early adopter of video venues and the multi-site model recently wrote on his blog that, “What was initially considered a wacky idea has become the new normal…” Really? The norm for American churches is multiple campuses with preaching beamed in from the mother ship? I doubt this pastor or other multi-site proponents mean to overlook the vast majority of small and medium-sized churches for whom multi sites and video venues make no sense. But the message some of these smaller churches are hearing is about significance and effectiveness. Want to make a difference for Jesus in 2009? You’d better launch a new campus, or at least broadcast the sermon to the fellowship hall for those who want doughnuts and coffee with their preaching.
2. It’s embarrassing. Have we stopped to think about what this debate sounds like to those who don’t share our Christian faith and Evangelical zeal? The conversation is no longer a private one among family members when “multi-site church” has its own Wikipedia entry. Those who don’t share our commitments are nonetheless privy to our silly quibbles and regrettable blog comments. Again, I realize the importance of these issues and the theological repercussions of seemingly pragmatic decisions. But a survey of our corner of the blogosphere would lead you to believe that this is one of the most significant issues facing the church right now. I’m not sure that’s the case, and it leads to my next reason we ought to redirect our attention.
3. It’s not very important. If we survey Christian history we can quickly distinguish the arguments that were worth having. Justification by grace through faith? Really important. The number of angels who can fit on a pin’s head? Not so important. There is no shortage of significant issues for our contemporary churches to address. Are the efficacies of multi-site and video venue models of church among those issues? If so, they must be towards the bottom of the list.
I can think of a few things I’d prefer that we were talking about. How about articulating a theology that addresses the plight of millions of uninsured Americans? What about expressing the intrinsic worth of the undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows of our multi-site churches but never enter to see our impressive hi-def video preachers. What about a global conversation about ways the Majority World can influence evangelism in our increasingly post-Christian nation? One day someone will look back at our movement in the early 2000s and judge our priorities. I doubt they will find our current infatuation with sites and venues will all that important.
So how about a breather? For a small percentage of churches, the issues associated with launching a new site or venue are critical to their mission. But can we stop pretending like these questions are so significant to the rest of us? I’m going to trust that those churches in the position to launch new campuses and install video projectors are doing so with theological clarity and Holy Spirit-led conviction. And I’m also going to trust that those of us for whom this conversation is largely irrelevant are going to wrestle with our own questions and challenges—those things that have Gospel importance within our contexts.