The multi-site church revolution is often seen as a threat to the local church.
Of all the predictions I hear, one of my favorites is that eventually there will only be four or five superstar preachers whose sermons are delivered via video to almost every church in America. The only question for church attendees will be whether they are more in the mood for a little Hybels or a dose of Warren on Sundays. Such sky-is-falling apocalyptic thinking makes for great blog posts, but I don’t think it reflects reality. In fact, I think the multi-site movement could actually be a boon to the local church, rather than mark its demise.
As Greg Ligon, Warren Bird and I researched our new book, A Multi-Site Church Road Trip, we visited dozens of multi-site congregations across the country. During our road trip, we uncovered several concepts that are applicable to any church regardless of size. Here are our five most surprising multi-site lessons.
Lesson One: Video teaching is your friend.
When I heard that my own church (www.seacoast.org) was considering utilizing video teaching, my first thought was, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” I don’t like watching TV preaching, and I don’t like watching talking-head teaching videos. And honestly, as a preacher myself, I secretly feared that my opportunities to speak would shrivel up and die. So our Senior Pastor, my brother Greg Surratt, sent me and a small team to Atlanta to watch Andy Stanley speak by video at North Point Church. I went in determined to hate the experience, but after about five minutes, I stopped worrying about Andy not physically standing in the same room, and I focused instead on the content of his message. Clearly effective teaching is effective whether it is live or Memorex, and in the eight years since that experience, I have heard similar stories again and again. The bottom line is that video teaching can be effective if delivered well.
What does this mean for you? You do not have to preach 52 weeks a year. Your people do not have to suffer through the “fill-in” preacher who doesn’t know the “p” in “Psalms” is silent. There are sermons available from resources such as www.videoteaching.com, which allows pastors to bring in guest preachers such as Craig Groeschel, Wayne Cordeiro, and Mark Batterson for free. Video teaching doesn’t have to be a threat; it can be effective, and it can be a great resource.
Lesson Two: Sermon preparation can be fun.
In the movie Arthur, Dudley Moore comments to his butler, “Bathing is a lonely business…except for fish.” I’ve always felt that sermon preparation is a lonely business, even for fish. But Dave Ferguson, Senior Pastor at Community Christian Church based in Naperville, Illinois, discovered that it doesn’t have to be. When Community Christian went to multiple sites with multiple preachers, they began planning their sermons together. Rather than Dave holing up in a room by himself begging God for new illumination for the next family series, he now gathers a group of staff members and volunteers, and they write the messages as a team. We have adopted a similar process at Seacoast, and it has been amazing to see the results of a message-planning team working together.
You can create a message-planning team of your own.
There are teachers and creative thinkers in your congregation who would be willing—if you bribe them with free food and plenty of coffee—to help you write your sermons once a week, once a month, or once a quarter. And it’s even Biblical; Paul often utilized friends and co-workers to help him write his letters.
“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth…” (1 Cor. 1:1)
“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians…” (1 Thes. 1:1)
Lesson Three: You don’t have to have a bully pulpit to lead.
My grandmother was an ordained minister who felt that the pulpit was the best place to correct problems in the church. It was amazing how many Scriptures she was able to apply directly to whatever problems were currently rampant in the congregation. Rather than sitting down face-to-face with members and working through differences, Grandma would come packing her Thompson Chain Reference Bible and a fistful of Scripture on submission to authority. Unfortunately, she often ran off more people than she corrected.
What I’ve discovered is that the pulpit isn’t always the best place to lead, instruct, and correct; sometimes sermons should just be about Jesus. In multi-site churches, campus pastors who don’t speak on the weekends are still very effective at discipling believers, developing leaders, and correcting miscreants. When pastors speak to multiple locations, they tend to stick more to the timeless truths of the Gospel rather than addressing problems that are more effectively dealt with in a smaller setting; they focus on a biblical lesson that is universally applicable.
Lesson Four: The whole world is your flock.
In A Multi-Site Road Trip, we experienced firsthand the impact of making worship services available online. Visiting with Troy Gramling, Senior Pastor of Flamingo Road Church based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we learned that people were committing their lives to Christ, connecting in small groups, and being discipled without ever setting foot on one of Flamingo Road’s physical campuses.
With the abundance of free tools such as www.livestream.com and www.ustream.com, broadcasting your services live on the Internet is now available to any church with a webcam and an Internet connection. It is a great way for students away at college, families on vacation, and those unable to attend your services to stay connected to the church. Regardless of your theology of virtual church, live-streaming your worship can be a great asset to your congregation.
Lesson Five: Talent is sitting on your bench.
When we first proposed the idea of starting a service in another location, the ministry leaders at Seacoast were stunned. Where would we find enough leaders and volunteers for the new site? The ministry with the biggest challenge was the worship team. They already had to have a band for five services every weekend; now they had to build a completely new team. An amazing thing has happened, however; as we added services and locations, new talent has come out of the woodwork. We have discovered that there were people on our ministry bench without a place to serve. As we continue to open up more opportunities, we always seem to find enough leaders to fill them.
There are people in your church who would love to serve, but they think the spot they could fill is already taken. However, as you become very intentional about reproducing leaders and making sure that there are leadership opportunities for new people at every level, you will be stunned—stunned, I say—at the quantity and quality of leaders in your church who are just waiting to be asked to lead.
Going multi-site without leaving home
How can multi-site help your church without making it multi-site? Maybe you could put these five ideas to work all on one campus. For instance, this would be a good week to call in a team to help prepare the weekend message, or to try an experiment live-streaming your worship service on the Internet, or to download a video to fill in for you while you take a quick trip to Cancun for some much needed R & R. And remember, regardless of what is going on in the multi-site revolution, your congregation needs to be pastored. If you focus on replicating, even multiplying yourself at every level, you’ll never run out of work—and you’ll see more and better disciples made in the process.