I continue to get questions about the “multi-site” strategy on a regular basis. It’s not nearly as bizarre as it was when we began, but is still controversial for a lot of people. In light of that, I’ve revisited and expanded a post from a few years ago about our decision to go multi-site. Continue Reading…
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This guest post is from @Rick_Langston, Senior Associate Pastor at the Summit Church, who oversees Multi-Site Development.
After posting a defense of video teaching and a list of tips for video teaching, Geoff Surratt got controversial by predicting that video teaching probably wouldn’t be around forever: Are Flatscreen Preachers a fad? I cringed a little when I saw this, since I think it plays into the hands of the critics (and they are legion) of churches who use video teaching to multiply services, campuses, and churches. And it creates more fear for those who may be considering taking this leap in their own churches.
Ironically, I was in the middle of a visit at LifeChurch.TV when his article came to my attention. Seeing the effectiveness of “flat screen preaching” as used in a church that is reaching and pastoring up to 50,000 a week inspired me to write a brief response.
Here it is: Flat screen preaching is not a fad. Geoff makes the comparison to bus ministry, a popular methodology for a few decades that we older guys remember fondly. The problem with that comparison is that video isn’t a methodology. It’s a medium.
Once technology makes a new medium readily available, historically, it continues to be refined. The print medium has been around for a few thousand years and is always advancing. “Print” no longer relies on ink or paper, but it’s being used more than ever because of the ability to be delivered digitally and instantly.
Preachers have taken advantage of the video medium since Jack Wyrtzen, founder of Word of Life ministries, began broadcasting messages on TV in 1949. It predates the bus ministry “fad” and has already outlasted it by a couple of decades. We don’t know how the technology will be different in 10 or 20 years, but I believe the “flat screen preaching” medium is here to stay.
Churches were slow to begin leveraging this medium, but now many are just beginning to experience the potential. I think we are going to see continued growth for some time. Of course, video teaching needs to be done well by those who are gifted for it. And churches that utilize it need to understand that there’s more to pastoring people than just delivering a quality sermon video each week. For help there, I’ll refer you back to Geoff for some of the great books he’s already written that have benefitted me so greatly.
In fact, we plan to follow Geoff’s advice on this issue as well. As long as video teaching works, we’ll use it. If it stops working, we’ll be ready to move on.
SEBTS theologian John Hammett has recently published an article entitled, “What Makes a Multi-Site Church One Church?” You can access the full article online at the Great Commission Research Journal. Here is an outline of his argument:
Historically speaking, the “oneness” of the church initially referred to the connection to certain bishops. Unity was visible—you were either part of the tangible Catholic Church or you were not. The Reformation recast this and tied oneness to the gospel instead. For the Reformers, unity was invisible—you are a part of the universal church if you believe in the gospel.
Over time, denominations and associations sprouted up, occupying a middle ground between “local church” and “universal church.” In many ways, multi-site churches function in ways similar to denominations. This is particularly the case if they never gather altogether or if they are spread over several states—a growing trend for many multi-site churches.
Is multi-site biblical? In the sense of having a clear biblical precedent, no. But that does not invalidate the practice. Many current church practices are not found in the book of Acts. Opponents of multi-site claim that it undermines church unity. The New Testament word for church—ekklesia—means “assembly,” so the heart of local church, opponents argue, should be assembling.
The New Testament evidence is not quite so simple, however. Paul used the singular word ‘ekklesia’ to refer to churches in one city (such as Corinth), but used the plural when talking about churches in a large region (like Galatia). We know that the church in Corinth met in several houses, so it was—in a sense—multi-site. But Paul didn’t see the many congregations in Galatia the same way.
What this shows is that multi-site can be biblical, but only insofar as it is citywide. It must be possible for the whole church to gather together. Many churches, of course, are going multi-site for bad reasons, but many are doing it for the right reasons and in the right way. It is a better option than turning people away, and is a wise move when a speaker is exceptionally gifted.