This is part of a post I wrote in November 2009. See the post here for the comments generated way back then. I’d still adhere to everything I wrote back then, yet I have further nuanced and more deeply understand how preaching shapes a congregation into mission, and all the ways video-venue preaching works against those dynamics. I’m due for an update on this post. If you care to read this, what would you update? ______________
I just heard of another church this morning that has changed its name so that it could in turn go “multi-site.” This church—in other words—intends to set up sites in various locations that gather people into large auditoriums to conduct the same liturgy for all sites (a 35-minute set of music and some Scripture reading) and then turn everyone’s focus to a large video screen where the senior pastor delivers the one message. The church changed its name to a generic name with no designated locale. Instead of a name like, say, Barrington Christian Community, it will now be named ABC of Barrington and ABC of Palatine, and ABC of South Chicago. The name change enables it therefore to go “multi-site.” No designated locale = video-venue church. And so the multisite phenomenon continues reminding us that the church is not local, it is a franchise spreading a certain product to Christians everywhere.
Now I define the missional church as the church mobilized for incarnational (as opposed to attractional) ministry occupying the place of Christ’s humble servant presence in a locale (as opposed to a place of coercion and presumption) whereby we live (visibly) an entire way of life that witnesses to the salvation of God (His Kingdom) birthed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is natural, it is concrete and it is above all local. In this witness, people are invited out of their lostness into a vital relationship with the Triune God and all He is doing to make the world right through Jesus Christ.
Accepting this definition of missional (admittedly this is assuming a lot; I don’t have space to unpack this definition here or defend it; I have done this elsewhere however in numerous blog posts and writings), my question is “can preaching within a multi-site venue strategy be missional?”
I think not for three reasons:
1.) In the missional context: Preaching is always local. In missional incarnational church, preaching proclaims truth for a specific locale. The man or woman gifted to preach interprets Scripture for the challenges each faces as a people. He/she fashions our imagination through unfurling Scripture via the Holy Spirit, allowing us to see what God is doing here and around us in our surrounding communities. This preaching is communal, always informed out of community relationships. It is interactive in a way. (At LOV, our preacher interacts at the 9 a.m. hour and then speaks among the people in the 10:15 a.m. hour. I see this as intensely interactive whereby the community feeds into and from the preaching of the Word.) And so at the preaching of the Word, we are illumined via the Holy Spirit as to where we are going, what God is doing in our midst. The less local, the larger the crowd (beyond say 200?), the less missional the preaching can be. It will become preaching/teaching for the self-improvement of the individual’s Christian life. Video venue preaching de-localizes preaching, forestalling its missional purpose—to fund the imagination for what God is doing among us and to invite us into that!