Are Multi-Site, Video-Venue Churches a Good Idea?

I have thinking about this quite a bit over the past few months and have decided to weigh in with some thoughts. I'd appreciate any other opinions on this as well. The new trend in church growth is for successful churches with popular pastors to start new congregations in other places by broadcasting their preaching via video to the new site. These sites usually have a campus pastor and small groups. Sometimes, they have live worship and sometimes it is simulcast in as well. Multi-site churches are springing up all over and I have to admit that I don't get the appeal.

I understand the desire for good preaching and to be connected to a successful, well-resourced church model. Americans love to be around and hear from "winners" and successful people. But, getting up on Sunday morning week after week to watch a guy in another city preach on a video screen? You cannot possibly know him and he cannot possibly know you. His message is not contextualized to your context, your community, or the gathering at the satellite site. Sure, you have a campus pastor, but why can't he preach? If he did preach the message and person of Jesus Christ, would people not come because he wasn't the celebrity preacher? If that is true, then why are they coming? I am not against a hub church doing this for conferences or on occasion to disseminate information or vision, but every week?

If we are appealing to America's desire for celebrity now in the local church, that is a problem. Why can't we raise up leaders who can preach and lead? What does it do to the faith of people who are a part of a video-venue multi-site church? Would it reinforce passivity and spectator Christianity? How are the dynamics of biblical community affected by this approach? I agree that it might seem appealing in the 3-5 year span, but how can this be sustainable in the long run?

My wife says that she doesn't see much difference between the video venue church and the megachurch. Good point. If people like megachurches they will probably like video venue churches. But, what does that say about our view of church? At least in the megachurch the man preaching is around. He is a real person, not a TV character. But, if the average person can't know the pastor of the megachurch either, then that is also a problem.

Anyway, I obviously have a lot of questions about this and my opinion of the multisite video venue church is not good.

What do you think? What are the implications of this? Why would people want this? What affect will this have in 10-20 years? Interested to see what others think.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

:Update: I wrote this post this morning and after engaging in discussion with readers in the comment stream, I am learning a lot. I pecked the post out on my phone and just intended to present my initial impressions on the growing surge of multi-site, video-venue churches and some questions that I had about it. Going back and reading it now, those questions presented in machine-gun-fire-staccato makes it look like my opinion against this is much harsher than it actually is. I tend to start from a strong position on something, which is what inspires me to learn more about it while trying to keep an open mind. I'm weird that way. Thanks to all those so far who are attempting to answer my questions and help me see a broader view on why this is working well for many people. No doubt, the way that we have done church in the past has problems and I definitely do not want to shut down creativity. I just wonder where this will lead long-term.  

24 Responses to Are Multi-Site, Video-Venue Churches a Good Idea?

  1. Alan, I share some apprehension about the multi-site model, not absolute opposition, but I do have some questions about it. I am curious, however, why you think it’s a problem to not know the lead/senior pastor personally? It seems to me that once you get beyond 200 in worship it’s going to be extremely difficult for everyone to really know him anyway.

  2. When I read your blog, this scripture came to mind:
    Philippians 1:15-18
    15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.[a] 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

  3. # n 1990, there were 10 multi-site churches.
    # In 1998, that number had expanded to about 100.
    # In late 2005, there were more than 1,500 multi-site churches in the United States.[1]
    # In mid-2008, there are an estimated 2,000 multi-site churches across the US. Multi-site church pioneer Jim Tomberlin of Third Quarter Consulting predicts that every major city and large community in America will have many multi-campus churches by 2010.
    I do not personally like the mega church, because I have seen how people fall through the cracks. Some say you lose community? That may be the case but then again how many people fall through the cracks in smaller churches? It seems to be very popular with the American people. If you get involved in a small group or involved with a ministry in the church then that is plenty of community. Not to mention Mega Churches bring in the Money, which allows for awesome technology, amazing children’s ministry etc…Just saying. That should not be our ultimate goal, but it is still appealing. Is it celebrity preachers…I would not say all of them are…It just depends. I try to avoid being critical of others, Lord knows I am guilty of it.
    On the issue of community how many people can you have that is meaningful. I have about 8-10 couples in my life that my wife and I feel comfortable opening our hearts to. Jesus was close with 12 and had a special relationship with three of the twelve. He was God…So what about me…Do I need 100 people.
    When I was growing up we had a Church during baby baptism and the Congregation would all together say, “we promise to help raise this Child bla, bla, bla. I was on staff at a Church that did the exact same thing. My point about community…most of those people had nothing to do with me as a child and with the children at the church I was on staff with. Community can be overrated. I was at a Mega_Church where they are now 5,000 strong and they are a tight knit group. Most of the people are involved and connected.
    My point…smaller churches do the same thing. They have sunday school groups and they have ministries where people can get plugged in. Whether you are at a 200 member church or a 2,000 member church sunday mornings are not a time to go deep with other people. In my opinion you go deep in small groups, home groups etc.
    I have been a part of Mega Churches and medium size churches and tiny churches. The difference was in the Preaching and the Church that was raising up leaders, especially Men! Pastors who are looking for the future leaders of the Church and raising them up.
    So the satellite church model, does it appeal to me? Not really. I can stay at home and watch TV…But if someone else likes it and they are being fed the Word Accurately, they are finding their gifts, they are deeply connecting with other believers and heavily involved with Missions…That sounds like “church” to me.
    I know this…God is Creative! I do not want to limit His Creativity that He expresses through His people.

  4. Micah and Christy,
    I am glad that the gospel is being preached and I understand that a pastor of a large church cannot know everyone intimately. In some cases, this might be a good approach for a season. I am more thinking about the long-term implications of using technology this way when it comes to the local church and discipleship. Much has been said about the drawbacks of the megachurch. Maybe the pastor is just a message and a video. Biblically, I dont believe that, but in this culture, that seems to be acceptable. Are we making everything a commodity that can b chosen based on what we like the best? The video venue church is not foundationally new. It just removes the pretense of relationship between pastor and church that used to exist.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  5. James,
    Sure, if people want to do it, they can. And I am not trying to be critical just for the sake of tearing down. I know that this is the new thing and people like it. But, what happens when the pastor of the hub church leaves? Do people at the satellite church wait to see who is next? What if they dont like him as much as the guy who comes in over the video screen at the satellite church down the street? The identity of the church seems to be SO dependent on the pastor here. Of course, megachurches are the same way, but this approach seems to take that dynamic a step further. People can do what they want, but as for the future viability of the local church, I think that there are going to be some unforeseen issues.
    But, I agree with you. The fundamental basis of church in America is not changed by this. We have been doing the same basic thing for a long time and a small, single site church with a flesh and blood pastor is not necessarily any better. I just think that after the novelty of the video venue thing wears off, people are going to be looking for something else.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  6. I agree completely with you brother. Many of the proponents use Acts 1:8 as the Biblical basis for multi-site, but I just don’t get it. I also agree with many of the other commenters that this trend is very similar in nature to mega-churches. It is impossible for the Senior Pastor to have an ongoing deep relationship with every member. Even in smaller churches, that’s just not possible. However, I think there is an overarching theme in our culture of accepting distance over intimacy, virtual over authentic. Facebook is the second most visited website in America for a reason. We as a a society are more connected than ever, yet we are isolated in ways we can’t even explain.
    Video campuses, internet campuses, and so forth and so on just seem to perpetuate that philosophy. If this mentality of artificiality continues to deepen in the church, I feel that our lack of disciple-making will be taken to a whole other level that we really don’t want to be on. Is it necessary to “know” your pastor to grow in faith and spiritual maturity? Absolutely not. As James pointed out, discipleship doesn’t take place in the context of a Sunday morning worship experience. It takes place with authentic friendships and brothers and sisters who encourage us and hold us accountable. I do feel that multi-site is not healthy. Short-term it may not be that damaging, but as this trend continues, I think we will see negative long-lasting effects on the church.
    I will close with this thought. Personally, my biggest issue with multi-site is do these pastors believe they are the only ones in the church who can effectively communicate the Gospel? It is hard for me to look at a church that spends tremendous amounts of money to reproduce one voice when there are many gifted men that God has placed in position to teach the Gospel. This just further amplifies the “attractional” church model.

  7. Alan, I think the one problem with your approach is you are essentially invalidating any other pastors who serve in the church as sufficient. In our church, for instance, we have a plurality of elders who each understand that they are called to pastor our people – not to mention associate pastors, staff, etc. While our church is larger, and I don’t have a personal relationship with many of our people, most of our people have a personal relationship with a pastor.
    Now having said that, I’m not a fan of the video venue option but we have kicked around a multi-site option as a precursor to spinning it off into an autonomous congregation assuming that live preaching is occurring at the other site.

  8. Rob Bell, of all people, has some interesting things to say about this here:
    I’d have to agree that doing multi-site with video venues is not the best practice. Why not plant churches? Or as Micah said, do this a a precursor to planting churches, as Redeemer Presbyterian has done in NYC. I have also talked to a pastor who does multi-site where each campus is doing the same series in their services but the preaching is done by the campus pastor. The pastors get together to come up with and work on the sermon series with each one taking the lead at different times. This seems much more healthy than the video venue model.

  9. Micah,
    I see what you are saying, but that is not what I am trying to do. The problem with the video approach as opposed to what you are doing is that the video pastor is never relationally accessible at all. You are, even if it is on a limited basis. Now, I fully accept the shakiness of my position because the contemporary church model is already 75% there on what I am concerned about. James said it well – video venue is not that much different from what we already do. My wife agrees. But, when there is no chance for relationship and I never get to see the pastor on any level other than when he is speaking and the whole leadership component of a local congregation gives way to the preaching function, the distance at that point becomes too great for me to justify.
    Can other pastors shepherd? Absolutely. Both in your church and in the satellite church model. But, for the satellite church, even those campus pastors are removed from relationship with the video broadcasted preacher by geography and time. Eventually, I think that this will break down and leave some unintended consequences.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  10. Justin,
    Bell made some good points. I should have linked to him in the body of my post. Thanks for doing so.
    As for the rest of what you said, I agree. If a church wants to use video venue temporarily in a way to get another church started that will eventually function on its own with its own pastor(s) in a different area, I think that that can be helpful. If they are trying to coordinate messages and campus pastors are delivering them, like you said, that can work too. I guess that I am just most concerned with going to church on a weekly basis and watching the message on TV. Even if you have a campus pastor or pastors, you are still removed from the weekly teaching, that I think we are going to end up doing unintended damage to the body of Christ.
    I love the way that Keller has Q&A after his messages, by the way. He really tries to make the message relational to the people that are there. Maybe you can do that with video venue where you use clips or snippets of a lead pastor’s message and the campus pastor then expounds upon it. I don’t know. That might work. I am not trying to be hard-core against this or just stick my head in the sand, but I am trying to think through the implications of this 10-20 years from now. What kind of disciples will this approach produce? How do we raise up people for ministry? What if a church doesn’t like their preacher and they like the video pastor guy? Do they fire their preacher and bring in a video screen of the video pastor guy and become a satellite church? I am just trying to figure out where this might be headed and right now, I see a lot of problems with it.
    But, maybe I’m just ignorant of how it really works. That wouldn’t be the first time . . . πŸ™‚

  11. BTW, I noticed that when I comment on a computer it comes in as “Alan Cross” and when I am on my phone, it is “Downshoredrift.” So, that last comment was from the author of the post, ME, in case someone new comes by and doesn’t pick up on the shift.

  12. To expand on what I wrote on facebook.
    I worked at a church that was seriously considering the campus-thing. I understood that they wanted to broaden out into another geographical area while trying to make the congregants that would move to the new church still feel part of the original body. Anyone who has a church that occasionally splits up small groups can imagine standing in front on Sunday morning and asking the people to do the same.
    But it just smelled wrong to me. Instead of planting a church–sticking a seed in the ground and watching it grown into a tight, inter-dependent community–it felt more like a kingdom-building maneuver. We weren’t even denominational; we had no one to impress with our numbers. Instead of a healthy new body, the satellite idea felt more like a sulky teenager that never left the basement.
    Fortunately (?) attendance faltered and the preacher moved back to New Jersey.
    Our pastor here was one of seven pastors in a mega church in Illinois. (No, not [i]that[/i] church.) He says his breaking point came the day a lady at a restaurant said he looked vaguely familiar. They spoke a while and he realized she went to his church. He didn’t have the heart to tell her he was the #2 pastor and preached at least monthly. He vows now to never have a church with more than 400 people. And he’s keeping to it. We’re having a good Sunday if we have 80. πŸ™‚
    We visited a satellite church one week in Hawaii. That was a disaster for other reasons. The message wasn’t even broadcast. It was a VCR tape.

  13. Our family feels blessed to be members of a multi-site video church since 2004. We attend a satellite campus with live video sermon with a live worship team. The mission statement of our church is “to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ”…not the pastor and it has been amazing to actually see this happen. The authenticity and community of our church is something I never experienced in traditional churches. Watching the lives of others be transformed and being a part of their growth has been an incredible experience. This is the point, right? so why not? Our senior pastor meets with the campus pastors and leaders regularly because we are all in the same metro area. His heart is not to self-promote but to clearly present the message of Christ. He gladly shares this opportunity with other staff pastors throughout the year–many who go on to pastor other churches. I am sure there are other churches following this model who may have different intentions, etc. but to generalize is unfair to the work and service of the churches who just want to share God–sometimes in unconventional ways.

  14. Rachel,
    Thanks for your insight! I apologize if I came off like I was generalizing unfairly. Those are great points and I am glad that it is working out well in your situation. The model that seems to work the best (or at least that I have the most favorable impression of)is Northpoint. I think that that is the one that you are referring to and I am really glad that you are benefitting from it. I have known people connected to their satellite churches and it seems to work really well from what they say. For that I am very glad. I also think that there are many megachurches that do a great job of discipling people and giving glory to God instead of man, so it isn’t always just the model that is the problem. Maybe there is a great way to do this as well. I am open to different ideas and hope that it works out overall.
    In watching all of this, though, I have not seen anyone work through where we end up in 10 years if lots of churches go this route. Will they all do this as well as Andy Stanley and Northpoint has? I hope so. Are there questions about this that we should be asking before we get started in the widespread proliferation of multi-campus, video-venue churches? Are there things to avoid and that can take away the sense of distance and coldness that I think about when I think about watching a video pastor? It looks like your church is doing a lot of that right and hopefully others are learning from it. This is definitely the way that things are going and I don’t have any illusions that I can stop it, nor do I want to. I really just want to understand it and see how the questions that I have about it can be answered. Perhaps through discussion we all end up better off.
    All in all, the good that these churches do (as in your case) needs to be highlighted in these types of discussions along with the questions so that we can see all sides.

  15. As for what we get in 10 years, the fear is that we get McChurch. We have Northpoint, NCC, Mars Hill (Bell), Mars Hill (Driscoll), Reedemer, etc. churches in each area and we dilute the gifts of people who God is calling to teach. This will probably not happen, but who knows. I love watching and listening to these great communicators via podcasts, but watching someone via video does not have the same effect as listening to someone live (at least for me). There is nothing wrong with video venues, but that does not mean this is the best practice.

  16. I doubt there’s any pat answer. Maybe it is, that all kinds of churches are needed to appeal to all kinds of people. Maybe, thinking of the folks who like the multi-church deal and enjoy sitting and watching a video screen of real live people doing their thing elsewhere .. maybe God prefers them being there, to being at home. Maybe that’s just one way God uses to reach people, as if He’s smart enough to know more than one way of drawing folks to Himself.
    I really don’t know. I don’t care for the multi-site-video thing myself, but I don’t have to go there. So all is well with my soul, and He sure hasn’t told to inform those who disagree with me, of the “error of their ways”.

  17. The only thought that I would like to add is the greatest way to advance the Kingdom of Heaven is through Church Planting. The flip side to that thought, is only Church Plant with a SOLID plan and SOLID finances. To many people plant churches and the marriages and families end up in a total mess! I think that with the satellite churches you keep families and finances together and intact. I am not saying that is the answer, just what I have noticed. There is a Church called Manna Church in Fayetteville, NC and they had a town very close to Fayetteville. They tried many times to plant a Church in that town and it did not work out on several attempts. The people were close enough to drive to the Church. When they found out they could have life worship and still hear Pastor Flethcher preach they were excited. They planted the Satellite. The only difference is Pastor Fletcher drives to each location on Sunday live rather than through a live telecast. They found that was not successful at all.
    The only reason they went with that model was also because they were land locked and had know where to put the people. They were already at three services. Now I believe the Pastor preaches 5-7 times a sunday. (YIKES)
    Alan I agree people want the real deal in front of them. There is just something real and authentic rather than “just push play” feeding a live video or even a recording. That is why I love Gateway because you do focus on the Church being close and a family.

  18. This is a good conversation and a needed one. Like you, Alan, I am not closed to multi-site churches but have reservations. Some of the same ones that several have already stated: cult of personality syndrome, cookie cutter churches, sermons/teaching that is unaware of the context, etc. I currently live on the West Coast and there is a church near me that is becoming a site for a multi-site church from the South. This is a radically different context, and I can’t imagine that it will be appropriate for this West coast community.
    I think it would be helpful for multi-site churches to be aware of the potential dangers and downsides and always work against those. Off the top of my head, here are some:
    – Reduce the cult of personality syndrome. Redeemer Pres. in New York intentionally does not disclose if Tim Keller will be speaking that Sunday for that reason.
    – Make it a goal to plant more churches than new sites/campuses. This helps keep the kingdom focus rather than that church as the focus. The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham does a good job of this.
    – Create space for the Holy Spirit to work. It bothers me that some churches plan 17 1/2 minutes of worship. What if a movement of genuine repentance broke out in the congregation? Do multi-site churches create the space for that to happen?
    – Intentionally partner, encourage, elevate, and depend on other churches in the area. Megachurches and multi-site churches can become overly independent where the greater Church is neglected or marginalized.
    None of these issues are limited to multi-site churches. I have churches of all shapes and sizes err in these directions.

  19. Overall, when it comes to church, we say, “to each his own” and bless people do what they like for the most part. But, technology is changing things fast and every year causes us to deal with a new form of ministry and church gathering. These things are worth thinking through. If good comes out of it, great! But, often there are unintended consequences from non-verbal actions that we don’t always think through. I would never say that it is impossible to do video church well. Rachel tells us that she is going to one that is great and is effectively meeting the challenges that I am concerned about. But, overall, I wonder if the big picture of this approach reinforces the view of the church as the sent people of God or paints another picture for those who are not as discerning.
    Of course, the very presence of one pastor giving a message behind a pulpit sends non-verbal messages about the functioning of the body of Christ, spectator Christianity, and attractional ministry. That is what I do every Sunday live and in front of people. Nothing that we do is void of non-verbal messages that might not be what we intend to send. So, nothing is perfect, obviously.

  20. Thanks for that example, James. Judging from your positive experience and Rachel’s as well, and the situation that Michael is describing with a church from the South trying to do a video venue in California, might we say that a local or metro church with video or satellite campuses would work better than a church that is trying to go national with this approach?
    And, by the way, my original question was not about multi-site churches per se. But, rather, it had more to do with the video venue approach. Maybe I am just trying to think through the implications of a church gathering to watch someone on a video screen that they never get the chance to personally interact with on any level. Maybe the teaching pastors visit the satellite churches regularly and speak live and make themselves personally available at different times in each location? That would alleviate some of what I am concerned about. At the same time, I would still hope that the ultimate goal would be that we keep striving to effectively reproduce leadership that far outlasts each one of us. I would imagine that eventually even multi-site, video-venue churches will begin to see local people take on more of the preaching/teaching/leadership role. That’s just a guess.

  21. Just for the record, I personally wouldn’t like a video venue…I prefer GATEWAY where the pastor is fo’ rizzle!

  22. Hi Alan-
    Always good to hear your opinion and I thoroughly enjoyed the insight, debates, long talks we were able to have in Haiti. I must say I have never in my life responded to a blog, especially to combat the message of a pastor (yikes!)but I wanted to share some thoughts with you. As you know, I attend a video-venue church, and quite honestly I can say that a lot of your thoughts have never even crossed my mind- therefore it was good to understand ones opposition or concern for video venue types of churches. That being said, maybe my thoughts will provide you with some thoughts from the opposite point of view.
    I (and assume most others that attend vv churches) never set out to attend a vv church. I honestly cannot imagine people actually making this a priority unless they worry about falling asleep in church and know they cannot be called out by someone on a screen. You make a point about Americans loving successful people and go on further to imply that maybe vv churh goers perhaps like the appeal of a tv character? I have never once thought of our pastor as a celebrity/ tv character nor would that have any affect on me chosing a church. I would hope that if I wanted to see a celeb, I would chose to spend my Sunday morning at an Elton John show or something (ha) Secondly, could I stay home and watch a sermon on tv- sure. Lets say that my pastor was televised- would this be the same for me as actually attending? Certainly not. A big part of church to me is fellowship and worship. Do I attend just for the music? Of course not, but I do enjoy praising God this way with fellow Christians. I also enjoy the fellowship. I love the people of my church and honestly have felt more connected with them, than when I was attending a traditional church here. Who knows..maybe since we don’t have a “pastor in the flesh” we are required to interact more with eachother.
    Okay, im really becoming long winded summarize, I think my point is this. I love the pastor of my vv church. I love his message. I am inspired by him. If I had the convenience of attending his “real” church- I certainly would. I think that is where most people lie. I do not think people willingly choose a vv church because it is a vv church. I think the choice is one of convenience. They are unable to drive 1.5 hours to hear the pastor that they love in the flesh, therefore this is the next best thing. There have been many instances that I have been able to convince people, non church goers, to attend church with me due to its convenient location and the more “laid back” atmosphere of a vv church. Many have told me they felt a lot less pressure than having to stand up in a traditional church and have the pastor welcome all new comers. Is it sad people are not willing to drive a decent distance to church? SUre. Is it bad they worry about being embarrassed or feeling uncomfortable by a pastor in the flesh? Absolutely. But the bottom line is- they are still receiving the word of God. They are still surrounded by other Christians and experiencing fellowship and praise with them. I have to think that (most) vv pastors feel this same way. I do not think they are looking for more power or tv stardom, I think they simply want to spread God’s love and word and unfortunately cannot be in 15 places at one given time. So….in my opinion, the more vv churches we see pop up, more people attend church that might not otherwise attend, more people get to hear Gods word, more people become Christians. I guess I just think the more we can get the word out, in whatever way, shape, or form, the more people we appeal to over all. Personally, I do not care what type of church you attend- as long as it speaks to you, it works for you, your peers their hold you accountable, you continue to grow in your faith, and you develop your personal relationship with JC. Thats what its all about anyway, right? πŸ™‚

  23. Thanks, Kasey. You and Rachel have given me the Northpoint perspective and I am very impressed with both of your experiences. If I have questions about the future impact of video venue churches, I have no doubt about the present impact of Northpoint and its satellite churches. Thanks for commenting and giving me a lot to think about. I hope you come back. Scroll down and read what I wrote about Haiti.
    I do appreciate everyones feedback. I still have questions about the long-term effects, but my opinion has definitely been affected by the positive experiences that have been shared here. We all work from our experiences and if you are having a good one, then you will have a good perspective. Unfortunately, a lot of what Ive seen personally from megachurches has not been good, so when I see large churches then going to video venue satellite campuses, it is easy for me to project that negative impression onto the new medium. Hearing positive reports helps me see things more holistically.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  24. Great post….thought provoking. Why not take it a step further? Sell off the church buildings, fire the staff….and have everyone meet in homes. We can allow each home to choose on itunes their teaching for the week and they provide their own worship time. If we’re already watching a video on an expensive campus….why not free up the money and do it at home.
    We should take some cues from the business world on this one. Indoor malls are on the way out…in the mid 90’s over 140 were opened each year…it’s now been several years since a new one has opened. New retail avenues such as are thriving as people seek to connect with hand-made goods. The trend…mass is out….individual is in. At the same time we’re obsessed with branding pastors and franchising them out via multi-campuses. Watching churches do this is like finding out your local favorite restaurant is starting to franchise….you know it’ll never be the same again.
    I think this is quite arrogant of pastors to think only they can build a church. Sell the video screens and invest in young pastors who can live among and connect to the local community.