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.