These are bullet points. There's quite a few smarter folks than me having substantive and substantial conversations on this subject. Check out David Fitch, recent posts at Out of Ur, a pro/con exchange series at 9 Marks, etc. for much more.
First, some disclaimers and caveats:
1) My aversion to the video venue multi-site movement is theologically informed and philosophically driven but not morally framed. What I mean is, I am not saying video venue multi-site is sinful or even unbiblical. I am not speaking to its wrongness per se, but rather hope to suggest it is not wise. Sort of a "not everything that is permissible is profitable" kind of thing.
2) Secondly, and this is going to sound really cliched, but Some of My Best Friends are Multi-Site Pastors. :-) And it's true. Through the Docent Group, all of the writing/research clients I have worked for are multi-site leaders. And they are all fantastic, humble, godly men who love Jesus, love the Church, and love seeing lost people get saved. In addition, I have friends and family who attend video venues for worship, and my favorite "celeb" preachers, the ones who most bless and edify and inspire me are without exception pastors of multi-site churches.
3) With that said, I do not offer any critique lightly. This is not just some throwaway exercise for me. I critique the multi-site thing knowing full well that I risk hurting the feelings of people I love and respect and admire, and that I may actually be jeopardizing my ability to continue working for some of my clients or the likelihood that they may endorse my books or invite me to speak at their events, etc. In other words, my opinions aren't offered in a vacuum of inconsequence.
But because I do love the local church and do love pastors of all varieties, I think it's important to engage this conversation with conviction, even if with gentleness. (Let the reader understand. :-)
So: why I'm averse to video venue multi-site whatchamacalits:
1) I do not think it is wise, in our consumer culture, to go down the path of continued un-incarnation.
This applies to the "virtual church" phenomenon in general, as well. In a day when the idolatry of the self and the mass production of "beauty" and the disconnection of individuals from each other are daily, constant, pernicious struggles, I don't think the church can afford to un-incarnate anything, much less its preaching. Video is by definition un-incarnational.
2) Video venues are not counter-cultural.
You can go a lot of ways with this thinking, sometimes overboard, but the kingdom of God is supposed to run counter to the way of the world. What I see in the worst examples of the video venue movement is just more accommodation of cultural values begun in the modern church's idolization of "relevancy" twenty years or so ago. All churches should be seeker sensitive (in the best sense of the phrase), by which I usually mean seeker comprehensible and seeker welcoming, and all churches should be good students of the culture and good workers at contextualization, but there is a line between contextualizing and accommodating, and I think video venues often cross the line. At what point do we look at cultural trends not as things to mirror and ape but to challenge and subvert. Technological movements in our culture may indeed all be neutral, but that does not automatically mean they are all suitable for uncritical ecclesiological appropriation. I am afraid many churches have moved from leveraging technology to merely mirroring whatever they think the world is into.
3) Video venues can reinforce the kind of pragmatism that has not served the church well at any point.
We are just now seeing the data revealing the fruit of the attractional paradigm, and it is not good. Big churches are increasing, but the numbers of Christians are not. By most accounts, the most churched states in the nation are in danger of soon-coming evangelical disaster. It's not just the Internet Monk saying this. It's Tim Keller too. Much of the video venue stuff is clearly from the same school of thought as the ecclesiological trajectory we are only now discovering was wrongheaded and impotent to grow disciples.
4) A video preacher can't be shot in the face.
5) Video venues assist the idolization of and over-reliance on pastors.
This is something Matt Chandler, himself the pastor of a church using video venues, brought up: Are we simply heading toward the day of 8 preachers in America?
There are a lot of sub-points under this general point:
- Would your church be able to open its satellite campus if the main pastor was not the one doing the preaching? If not, doesn't that say something important about the viability of your church and where it is centered?
- What happens if your pastor gets hit by a bus? Would your church collapse? Do you lose major attendees? Do satellite campuses have to close down? (And this is not just a problem with video venue churches, but with any church unhealthily centered on the personality of the pastor. A one-campus megachurch I attended fired its pastor and hundreds of people left. The vocal evacuees largely stated their inability(!) to attend a church where the fired pastor wasn't preaching.)
- What happens to the men in your church with preaching gifts? Where do they go to exercise their gift and bless their church family? (Somewhere else, that's where.) How do video venues develop future pastors and preachers? (This is closely related to the fact that most churches -- big and small -- more often than not hire from the outside. Across the board, we all suck at developing in-community "talent.")
Just some bullet points. I hope they are received in the spirit with which they are given: not as having it all figured out, but just as having some grave concerns. I am assuming common ground between all of us is that we want to see the fruitfulness of the Church and Christ glorified by it.