Thabiti Anyabwile has written a provocative piece on the multi-site church movement. It created a bit of a stir. As a way of shamelessly piggybacking off his post, I thought I'd share a slightly edited reprint of a piece I wrote back in 2009, collecting my own thoughts on the church multiplication strategy known as "video venues."
First, a couple of disclaimers:
1) I would not word my opposition as strongly as Anyabwile's. And my opposition is not really to the multi-site concept but to the use of video preaching (and video music) as the features of a worship service. There are quite a few churches that appear to do multi-site well, by which I mean, they feature live preaching, have dedicated elders shepherding a community rather than organizers attracting a crowd, and they function for the most part like church plants. I think some multi-site approaches are viable means of a church's gospel mission. In any event, my aversion to the video venue multi-site movement is 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, some of my best friends are multi-site pastors. And they are all fantastic, humble, godly men who love Jesus, love the Church, and love seeing lost people get saved. I am not against them.
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 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? Technology, as some insist, may be neutral, but that does not automatically mean that all technological tools are suitable for uncritical ecclesiological appropriation. I am afraid many churches have moved from "leveraging technology" to merely mirroring whatever they think the world finds appealing or slick.
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. 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, moreover, 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 preachers.
This is something Matt Chandler, himself the pastor of a church using video venues, brought up: "Twenty years from now are there fifteen preachers in the United States?"
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?)
I understand that God raises up certain men of unusual anointing to lead in unique and higher-profiled ways. But what does it say about the gospel if, where the rubber meets the road, we minister as if it requires a certain level of homiletical talent to do its work?
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 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.