Brokenhearted Theology

Video Venues and church syndication

There’s a really interesting series of blog discussions led by Bob Hyatt that is highly critical of video venues when used as a strategy rather than a temporary measure for overflow crowds.  Many of his frustrations stem from, Mars Hill Church’s recent video venue strategy in Seattle.  Hyatt and others believe that video venues hurt church planters, emerging church leaders (who are told that they are good enough to be a “site pastor” but not good enough to preach), congregations, and the church as a whole.  In his words, “the celebrity church must die.”

I’ve been following the conversation, and it’s been really interesting and challenging to me.  I come from a church that uses video venues, originally for overflow reasons and then just because people really liked them.  And until last year, all venues have been on site, rather than spread out across a city.  Last year, one was launched off site, a couple of miles from the main building simply because there was no more room to accommodate everyone.  That said, video venues are going to be a strategic part of the church’s future.  And knowing the hearts of the leadership of the church, I am okay with that.  So, I am not entirely against video venues, even when used as a strategy rather than an overflow solution. 

Bob Hyatt’s greatest fear, I believe, is that church becomes more and more marketed as a “syndication”, or a “franchise.”  Today, he posted about Fellowship Church, based in Grapevine, TX where Ed Young Jr. is the lead pastor.  Several months ago, Fellowship made the decision to launch a video venue in Miami, FL.  Although the Miami venue will have it’s own staff, all the teaching will be through the mother church in Texas. 

Yikes.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  And what if this trend continues?  There have been several discussions here on Vox about the 80/20 or 90/10 rule…what if 90% of churches in the country…or the world…were taught by 10% of the preachers?  Even without that extreme…is this a good thing for the church and for congregations?

Some concerns that others have raised that I see as valid points:

What does this say about faith in church plants?  What will happen to those who train and prepare others to plant churches if church planting is seen as obsolete…and the preference is instead “venue planting”?  Can small churches survive the blessing/curse of large churches, or “celebrity churches/pastors”?  Are people being attracted to large churches because of the dynamic speaker that they enjoy listening, or because the church is a place of life change for them?  Is this another sign of consumerism in the church?

What does it say about what the church believes about spiritual growth?  I’ve heard the vast majority of church leaders I’ve spoken with say that the most growth occurs in small groups.  Why, then, is there an almost idolatrous obsession with the speaker/teaching pastor/”sermon”?  I don’t mean that to belittle the teaching of the gospel, or the preaching of the Word.  I recognize the necessity and sanctity, and the challenges, that come along with a calling to preach.  But how high of a pedestal will the church place the teaching pastor?  Or, better phrased, how high should the church pedestal the teaching pastor? 

Does this trend say anything about the power, or our belief in the power, of the Holy Spirit?  If we elevate and focus on those with the greatest gifts, and ignore those with lesser teaching gifts, who is getting the credit?  The excellent speaker/teacher, or the Spirit who can use someone in spite of their imperfections?  Not to say that we shouldn’t allow those with great gifts to flourish…but just because one person has a 10 Talent gift for speaking and someone else has 5 isn’t cause to tell the 5 Talent speaker that they won’t be able to teach anymore.

Are people watching a video venue being cared for properly?  I think this is something that entirely depends on the situation.  Some are, some aren’t.  The corollary of the question is, of course, are people in a megachurch/large church being cared for properly?  The second corollary is are people in small churches being cared for properly.  I don’t want to ignore the reality that many great teachers aren’t great shepherders or disciplers.  There are small churches that can’t shepherd a congregation at all, and there are mega churches that can.  I think it gets more difficult to shepherd as you move from a small church to a mega church to a video venue.  But I might be wrong.  I just think it’s important that a focus is not only placed on “what strategy can we use to get as many people exposed to the best teaching as possible” (i.e. a video venue), but “what strategy can we use to get as many people spiritually mature and reproducing followers of Christ?”  And, many have said that the best strategy for that is small groups and personal interactions…so that should be a high priority of anyone “doing church”, right…maybe even the highest?  Then why does it always seem to take second place to a great speaker?

I didn’t intend for this to be a long post.  Most of this is stream of conscious response to the discussion that Bob Hyatt is having on this topic.  And, in reality, I have no experience leading a church, or even reading/thinking enough on this topic to have any kind of expertise on this matter…so take it all with a grain of salt…but I’d be interested in hearing any thoughts/criticisms/etc on this issue. 

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8 thoughts on “Video Venues and church syndication

  1. J3 says:

    good points, I’ve wondered if video venues had run their course, but apparently they are still thriving and growing, I have experienced one and was not a big fan. it was nice to be with people just my age, but I almost think that limited my involvement in the church as a whole. It probably depends a lot on the campus and the environment the people provide for those searching. There’s a good blog about the 80/20 role on
    http://joelpno81.voxtropolis.com/2006/09/07/the-problem-may-be-us/
    though the latest comments are…a bit…interesting. I don’t know if we can say for sure yet that video venues are all bad or all good.

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  2. I did see Hyatt’s article earlier, didn’t read all of it. but have you read Driscoll’s book, confessions of a reformissional rev…?

    There’s a section that’s worth the price of the book.

    He talks about preaching in the first of five services, and crapping his pants midway. Not a real biblical reason, but that’s was a big push for videoing his messages…

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  3. i have always had a hard time with the idea of video venues and church syndication. not that it can’t be done well, or that it is a horrible idea…more along the lines of whether we are making the people giving the messages too important and not the spirit empowering them.

    so i wouldn’t say i’m against it. i would say that i am FOR campus pastors giving messages at their churches if possible. (as long as they are good at it, of course)

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  4. mike says:

    why can’t i post a comment for “did i used to be more interesting?” dave, i just wanted to say that i think you’re incredibly interesting, spontaneous, and deep…and more now than ever before. i think the same thing sometimes, but i’ve realized that you may not think that your current thoughts are profound when they actually are.

    i’m glad i got around the blocked comments thing and could tell you something to make you feel better.

    what?? hello??

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  5. Hey all, thanks for the responses.

    Definitely agree that VV’s can be good or bad, depending on how they are put together and managed. I loved the church that I went to, and the offsite “video cafe” became my service of choice…but I was also very involved in the church, knew the leadership, was plugged into a small group, and felt very cared for in that environment. I don’t know if that would be true for someone that came in from the outside. But I don’t have the experience to say, really.

    Lon, it’s a book that I’ve thought about getting. I really didn’t like Radical Reformission, so I’ve put it near the bottom of the “to get/to read” list…but it’s something I’d be interested in picking up at some point, or borrowing from someone and then seeing if it’s worth buying ;).

    Also…my church back home has 10 services at 5 different times…5 video venues (1 off site), and then 5 live services. Whoever is teaching goes 5 times on Sunday. Just one of those things that they’ve had to do for the last few years in order to fit everyone into a service. So, as much as I feel for anyone who has to do 5 live sermons in a row (and can understand not wanting to keep doing that), I know there are churches that have done it because they want to keep as much live teaching as possible. But, like I said…I am no expert on this…but I think it’s a great topic of conversation!

    Oh, and Mike, there was a reason I didn’t allow comments for that post 😉

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  6. I am from the church Dave attended as well. One thing I think hasn’t been touched on is maximizing the hard work of studying and developing a strong message. It takes a lot of work. We don’t have one teacher, we have a teaching team. Although there is a main teacher, he teaches about 60% of the time and trains the other teachers that teach. This avoids the one-man show. People actually like all the teachers. But only one of them spends the better part of the week on the message, the others can lead and do other things pastors need to do…which is care for people, lead groups, ministries, etc. I think video venues when done well can leverage technology to give pastors time for things other than preparing to teach. My two cents!

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  7. It’s a fascinating discussion. I’ve gone back and forth on my philosophy of the subject. I’ve visited Saddleback, WillowCreek, Prestonwood, Fellowship Church, Seacoast Church, LifeChurch, Mars Hill – you name it – I’ve been there and experienced each.

    Personally, I like the momentum that a video venue option brings to a new church plant. Most church plants (2 out of 3) don’t make it 3 years. I’ve seen churches like Fellowship and Prestonwood (here in Dallas where I live) launch new church plants with over 1000 people on their first Sunday – that’s amazing.

    I’d like to see them overtime allow their “campus pastor” to teach more and more, but in the beginning stage, I think the video venue is a God-thing and a valid form of church planting. There’s my 2 cents.

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  8. A great friend of mine – mature believer who has been through hard things [so a seasoned faith, not just an easy one] recently attended a video venue church for the first time. She and her boyfriend attended the most crowded of the video venue rooms. When I asked her about it later, her impression was that it was rather bland… ok music, good coffee, lighting wasn’t great, but it was this impression that marked me most of all…

    “no one ever looked me in the eye from the front of the room. No one even knew I was there. It is billed as being ‘intimate’. I think it should be billed as being ‘anonymous’. ”

    She summed up what my concerns have been for video venues all along. Having spent several years working among them, I know how they tax a ministry and people in service… most especially in the music end of the worship spectrum. Frankly, whether we were a video venue or not, 8 services a day would be draining to pull off for any ministry. I think, that in the end, it does have diminishing returns. I know that it did in my life. But I can’t compartmentalize and identify for sure if those diminishing returns were from the ‘divide and conquer’ mentality of separate and concurrent services, or from the constant hard work and uphill battle of staffing – and staffing well – 2 rooms. It makes me happy to lead worship for one little service for one little church on Sunday mornings! 🙂

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