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When my senior pastor suggested in 2001 that our church should open a new venue utilizing video teaching, I told him it was the dumbest idea I’d ever heard. Who would want to watch him teach on a video screen? (I probably got away with more than other staff members because he’s my brother.)

Instead of firing me, he sent me to Atlanta to watch Andy Stanley on video at North Point Church. My experience was similar to hundreds of people I’ve talked to since. About 15 minutes into the sermon, I stopped caring that it was a video. Video teaching is now used effectively by churches around the world, so we know it “works.” The question is will it work for everyone.

According to a new survey by LifeWay Research, the answer is definitely no. There is a significant percentage of the population who have no interest in attending a church that employs video rather than in-person teaching. So what does that mean for the future of video teaching? Here are my takeaways from the research:

1. Live preaching will always be more popular than video preaching.

The survey shows that all things being equal people will choose live preaching. This is true outside the church, as well. If the Denver Broncos offered a choice at Mile High Stadium between watching the game on a video screen or watching it live, we’d choose live. That doesn’t mean video isn’t effective. Millions of people watch the NFL by video because TV offers big advantages over buying a ticket, driving to the stadium and shivering in the cold. But if all things are equal, we’d rather see it live.

This is why churches often struggle filling video venues on the same campus as an in-person preaching venue. Unless there is a compelling reason to go to the video venue, people will choose live teaching. A different style of worship or environment is seldom compelling enough to overcome the draw to see the preacher live and in person.

2. People often don’t know what will or won’t be effective until they experience it.

Before launching their new product, Sears asked focus group participants if they would buy a remotely operated garage door opener. The response was overwhelmingly negative. Today suburbanites can’t imagine getting out of their car to open the garage. If Steve Jobs had asked people if they would pay a premium price for a better MP3 player before building the iPod, the answer would have been no. Henry Ford famously said if you asked the people what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse.

Before Seacoast opened our first campus using video preaching, we did focus groups. When we asked Seacoast members who drove more than 30 minutes to church if they’d attend a Seacoast site in their community, they overwhelmingly said yes. When we asked if they’d attend if the preaching were by video, they overwhelmingly said no. Most of those people now attend a campus with video teaching.

Its not surprising that people who’ve never been to a video venue told LifeWay they wouldn’t go. People don’t know what they don’t know.

3. Young adults and people with no church background are the most open to video preaching.

This is the most encouraging part of the survey. The demographics most open to video teaching are people under 30, people with no church affiliation and people from the northeast, which is the most unchurched area of America.

Churches who start video venues for their existing congregation may have a great deal of resistance to overcome, but venues that creatively leverage video preaching to reach people far from God have huge potential.

4. Older people who regularly attend church are the least favorable toward video preaching.

Over the past few years, there has been a wave of churches starting video preaching venues with names like Classic, Traditions and Hymns for the Nearly Dead (I made one of those up, but you get the idea.) The idea is to make the music more palatable for the seasoned citizens while freeing up room in the main auditorium for the young people.

There are several challenges to this strategy. First, most older members don’t want to be separated from the herd. Second, most older members don’t want boring music. And third, most older members don’t like video teaching. So the video teaching venue ends up being a handful of gripey old people who don’t like being told where to go, don’t like watching a video sermon and still don’t like the music.

The main takeaway for me from this data is that video preaching has more potential as a tool for evangelism than a way to move people out of a crowded auditorium. The future for multisite churches utilizing video teaching is more about salvation for sinners than satisfaction for saints.

[This post was written in response to a request from @edstetzer. You can read his take here. He also asked @bobhyatt to write a response, you can read his post here.]

Geoff Surratt, having served Saddleback Church as Pastor of Church Planting and Seacoast Church as Executive Pastor, is now the Director of Exponential. ( He also works with churches on strategy, structure and vision as a free agent church encourager and catalyst. He has over twenty-nine years of ministry experience in the local church and is the author of several books including The Multisite Church Revolution and 10 Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing.

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Chet Gladkowski

commented on Feb 11, 2014

Agree Geoff, but the presenter and presentation can make a huge difference in how the video is received. If the message is delivered from behind a pulpit, the video will be received with less enthusiasm, both remotely and locally. Part of the North Point video impact is how Andy engages his listeners through meaningful movement, hand held and physical props. These translate very well to remote video venues. Colossians 3:23-Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord

Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia

commented on Feb 11, 2014

so you spend hours and hours creating a video for a Sunday service and then you play it. I would wonder whether it was genuine, whether it was a prop for something else, whether it was a cop out because a sermon was not in the thoughts for that week. A sermon presented by a pastor MUST be a genuine effort to relate Jesus to the congregation. It needs personal involvement and it needs to connect. There is no way a listening congregation is going to be concerned with a video. If they are sitting at the end of a pew they could get up and go home. Don't laugh. I've seen it happen.

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