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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 minutes 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 multi-site 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!

2.) In the missional context: Preaching always demands a response.

In other words, it is not the passive digesting of information through taking notes from which we go out and try to improve our personal Christian living. Preaching is the proclamation of God’s Story into and over our lives and inviting people into it. So there must necessarily be a response at the end of the sermon. Such a response should be here and now, after the hearing, that requires – by the Holy Spirit – a commitment to obedience, an act of submission, a confession of sin, an affirmation of God’s truth in my life, a profound act of gratitude that owns our participation in God’s grace. These moments shape the believer profoundly for life in Christ and His Mission. The congregation cannot sit passive gazing at the speaker – disconnected from him/her – taking notes to be applied at a later time. For this makes the gospel something we do, not who we become (from whence it becomes something we do!).  Preaching turns from a transformational encounter into an impersonal information distribution to thousands of individuals who then go home and try to do something with what they’ve heard. The latter rarely happens.

At LOV, the response at the end of preaching often takes the form of a verbal response-prayer prayed by individuals in the congregation and responsively agreed with by the whole congregation in saying ‘Amen.’ It is intense and personal yet congregational. It has become a highlight of our communal time together.

3.) In the missional context: Preaching is always better when we know the person

--When he/she is one of us.  Missional disciples are formed via modeling the life in following Christ. Often this modeling begins by the pastors themselves modeling when they preach out of their relationship with God in mission. This preaching will always be more effective out of authentic relationship – the being known by the congregation. In a congregation of 200, even if the actual person does not know the pastor preaching that day, he/she probably knows someone that actually does. The pastor is a real person. And the pastor, among the people, knows people and can preach the Word of God over their particular situation as one of them. The power of witness, a life lived in glaring humility and authenticity, ‘that very presence” (the Holy Spirit fills in order to) communicates the gospel. This is quite different phenomenologically from the preaching that happens via an image ( a talking head) on a screen. The first one is preaching life among us, the second is a command performance often hiding the warts and problems of everyday life. For discipleship reasons, missional preaching is most effective when the pastor is known by the congregation.

Have I missed something here? Is there actually something missional about video venue services? If so what would that be? I invite “push back”

David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary. Hehelped start Up\Rooted, a collaborative gathering for Chicago area church leadership engaging the post-modern context. More recently he's been involved in organizing the Missional Learning Commons in the Midwest.

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Janice M. E. Lowden

commented on Jul 21, 2015

In our area of Pennsylvania, there is, also, a mega-church with multiple campuses (I think it's up to 8 now) that uses the same structure for its weekly gatherings as you mention, above. It began as Lancaster County Bible Church, but now uses the acronym LCBC for all its sites. All hear the same message each weekend via satellite broadcast. BTW, this week, the theme was "At the Movies: Jurassic Park" with scripture from Ezekiel.

Johnny Prettyman

commented on Jul 21, 2015

I have worked in all sizes of churches from Mega to medium and small. They all have their challenges and many of them still have a valid ministry, but I don't think any of them are fully capable of reaching every personality or meeting every need. I have found smaller venues to meet personal/relational/spiritual needs much better than the larger performance-driven ones. Smaller is definitely my preference, so I am biased. The larger ones do well on the platform. They have great communicators and musicians and can reach a broad audience and point them toward authenticity in their faith. Their programs are even decent on following up, but often people will slip through the cracks, stay shallow, get inoculated with the gospel and remain immune to its power - showing a form of godliness while denying it. That is the major concern. I guess we all have our opinions and this is mine - I don't like wasting limited resources on huge things that don't appear to effectively make disciples. We do have to try things and make mistakes and be rejected by the world, but it is about being good stewards of our time, talents and treasure for the furthering of the kingdom - making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Paul Zeron

commented on Jul 21, 2015

Whatever technical advantages one can find using a multi-site church, they do not outweigh the Biblical sense to the issue that you have provided. Thank you.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Jul 22, 2015

We have a Box Church near our little town, out near the Interstate. I think they claim 30,000 "owners." They don't have members. I'm not sure how many sites they have. I think the draw is the idea of being part of Something BIG. That plus the rock concert that opens the festivities. I'm sure they genuinely reach some for Christ, but those "for real ones" have to dig through a lot of cultural clutter to find Jesus. A minister friend told me of going to Mega Mega with his young adult son. Sam said that during a "music" period as the rock group on stage played, he sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" at the top of his voice. Neither his son nor the person on the other side of him seemed to notice. May God's peace be with you . . . and also with them.

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