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.

August 05, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 32 comments

Joel

September 21, 2010  7:27pm

I definitely agree with this post. It saddens me to see so many people fixated on a particular preacher/teacher rather than understanding the real purpose and nature of the church. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. In regard to teaching, the Apostle Paul never instructed Timothy to "Make sure you do all the teaching, because we need to have the most dynamic teachers in place." Rather, his instructions were that "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnessess, entrust these to faithful ment who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). I especially appreciated Bob's point that if we 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." The multi site model that incorporates video conferencing instead of placing real people in the leadership and teaching roles is one that is contrary to the biblical picture of church.

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jordan fowler

September 09, 2008  11:41am

A little late to conversation, sorry. Wondering about this statement in the article... "For various reasons, we're not quite ready to plant another separate community." It seems like that would be the most giving/ least arrogant thing to do, no? Would it not exhibit the least amount of concern about the church's name being tied to something? Not throwing stones, just wondering aloud. And writing from the weird perspective of someone in a mega-church sizewise but not at all culture wise (northwood church who has about 2,500 in attendance but has planted over 100 churches several of them within 5 miles of us).

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Shane Montgomery

September 06, 2008  6:29am

Awesome article. After three years on staff at a multi-site video venue church I was struggling with the whole thing. I am not sure you can separate the role of Pastor from the responsibility of teaching the body. Service Pastors are really just Master of Ceremonies for that days video and concert. My biggest concern is that while we may ask, "Can video venues work in the church?" we should be asking, "SHOULD video venues work?" I can not think of anything less missional (which I define as men and women living out the incarnation of Jesus Christ to others - Phil. 2) than a teaching pastor not having enough time to show up and actually teach his congregation in person. I am very glad Jesus did not do that for us...

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brian hofmeister

September 03, 2008  10:52am

I agree with the philosophy of ministry you present, but I'm slow to throw the whole thing under the bus. The word of God is getting out there, so it can't be all bad. Besides, church format is the same wether we're doing mega, mid, mini, or video-venues, so it's hard to claim that a lot more interaction is taking place by staying away from one or the other.

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Rick

August 20, 2008  7:35am

I wonder if the discussion is similar to the comparisons between an oligopoly and small business? I think people desire the personal interaction of the small business. But usually it's a little more costly at a small business. Are we willing to pay the price or will we settle for the cheaper product with little personal interaction? If a societies businesses were made up of all oligopolies or monopolies you would have something similar to a communist state or a two class sytem (the executives and the workers). And given the nature and tendency of man (even redeemed men still struggling with remaining sin) I'm not sure that this is what we want.

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Judy

August 16, 2008  6:33am

As a member of one of the original video venue churches, I would like to share my experience with this approach. At first, it was done of necessity to meet the needs of a growing church with limited physical resources. It worked well–we continued to grow. We had live worship teams with different styles so everyone could choose their preferred type of music. We still had small group ministry so the benefits of a small interactive setting were available. Now, after a dozen or more years of practice, we have put the technique in a box and we market it. We have seminars on how to do it in any church setting. That may be the problem–we have taken something that worked for a specific purpose and congregation and made it into the latest fad. There are some downsides to this approach. It can make church seem impersonal and create distance between the pastor and the people. It also can create celebrity status for the featured pastors. So my take on it is that it has potential to be a tool for growth, but it also has possible side effects that are destructive. Like any tool, it has limitations and cannot be used in all situations.

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Bil_

August 10, 2008  11:43pm

Just to come out with it, I find myself competely opposed to the "video-venue" model. Here's why: Even Jesus (the Messiah Himself) empowered others to carry out his message to the ends of the Earth! Who are we to "assume" that we are the only ones gifted enough to communicate His Truth?!!? This seems to be an issue with His HUGE Gospel colliding with our big god. Or perhaps the Gospel being strained through our own ego. What about disciple making? Training and equipping others?!? Surely G_d can handle the growth of his Church without us!! Is G_d suprised?!? Caught unaware?!!?! May He help us with the abundance!

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Paul Wilkinson

August 09, 2008  3:12pm

Ben (August 6th) – I agree with you that good things are taking place at Willow, but Willow, while it is inspiration for many, is also the exception that proves the rule. The sentiments expressed in Bob's article are slowly becoming the majority voice. Up until recently, we've heard nothing but the upside of multi-site, but slowly other voices are being heard. Yes, this has worked in some places; but perhaps they also are exceptions that prove the rule. I've been reading much on this subject, but hadn't encountered the phrase "celebrity pastor" before. I think this nails it. Left unchecked, by the year 2025 there would only be a couple of dozen Evangelical churches left in the U.S. with all the rest being video feeds of that handful of central locations. That ain't how this whole thing got started.

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Dave

August 06, 2008  3:26pm

Bob, thanks for the comment on the comment. It really shows that you do like to engage. I re-read the article and I think it was the last paragraph that got you in trouble. It is clear that you're saying all video venues are "bad" and need to go. I am simply saying that our approach should be both/and not either/or. I took away from your article a sense that video venues were not biblical. I'm just not sure you made that case. I'm pretty sure this is a new wineskin issue. The mega-church will slowly fade and smaller, local, vibrant, interactive communities of faith will take their place, but the overlap period will be decades, not months. May our LORD pour out his Spirit on Portland and may the hearts of men and women there be awakened! dt

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