Monday, March 08, 2010

A Multi-Site Church Road Trip

I just finished reading A Multi-Site Church Road Trip by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird.

In this book they look at a number of different churches who are functioning as Multi-Site churches.  In many ways it reminded me of the book Treasure in Clay Jars, by Lois Barrett.   It gives a new look at different ways that churches around North America are functioning and dreaming about what it means to fulfill the great commission.

As someone who is new to the whole, multi-site movement this was a good book to get a feel for some of the benefits and hindrances of starting up your own multi-site church.  They seem to offer some really good insights for any leadership team who is considering this proposal.

It is also a book that made me think a bit more about this issue.  There are a number of really great positives that I see for this model.  It can lower costs, it would certainly be cheaper than building a new mega church.  It can also create close tight communities while at the same time having the resources a huge church.  While a church of 200 may not be able to sustain a full time missionary by itself, 1 church with 10 sites of 200 people could.  It also allows for pastors to be a little more specialized.  Instead of having to be a preacher, counselor, and administrator, you only need to be one or two of those.

This specialization of pastoral work can be troubling as well.  Does this model bring about a cult of personality?  What happens when the teaching pastor decides to move on?  At the end of this book there is a chapter that tries to deal with some of the criticisms that multi-site churches face.

However, they did not answer one of my biggest concerns, and that is, how does technology change the message that is being sent?  The very mode that we receive our message through, shapes the message.  There seems to be great rush to move churches into multi-site, because of the seen benefits of this technology, but what are the downsides, and who is talking about that?  And I have to say I totally disagree with any one who thinks internet campus‘ are a good idea. I didn’t think that Mark Driscoll and I would have much in common, but on this one we are definitely together.  My biggest problem with them is that it is an individualistic experience, and I firmly believe that the church isn’t at all about my experience.  I believe that internet campuses are a prime example of churches foolishly rushing into a technology that will shape the church, without fully weighing the costs and damages.

All in all it is pretty good book, worth picking up if you are interesting in starting a multi-site church or just interested in knowing more about it.      


Geoff said...

Interesting comments about technology and the message. It seems to me, however, that the only way to avoid the pitfalls of technology would be to read only from the original scrolls. Anytime technology (i.e. a pen, a printing press, a video camera) are involved the message can be changed. That doesn't seem like a valid reason to avoid new technologies. Just my thoughts. Thanks for reviewing the book.

greg ligon said...

Thanks for the post. You ask a great question about the nature of the communication medium. Couple of responses ... 1. only about a third of multi-site churches are exclusively video based - many have live teaching at their campuses. 2. churches report and I have experienced the connection that people have to the communicator live or on video - those in the congregation soon forget it is video and respond appropriately - laughing, crying, interacting. 3. Some would argue that video indeed does change the message ... for the better! :-) as it enhances the message much like the use of other digital imagery in worship has begun to do. Would love to know more about what you are thinking here ...

officehourthoughts said...

Let me first say that I am in no ways an anti-technological Luddite. I love technology and the things that it allows us to do. After all here we are blogging about a book we read, developing a community of thinkers! However, I think that sometimes we are not critical enough in asking how technology is affecting the way that we think. Geoff you mentioned avoiding technology would mean reading from the scrolls, but the very fact that we are reading something means that we are using a technology that by it's very nature makes us individualistic, and encourages abstract and rational thinking (can you tell I have been influenced by the writings of McLuhan, Postman and Hipps?). I don't want to be heard as saying that we should not use technology in our churches, but I am saying that perhaps there are some that aren't good for the church, or that at least we need to acknowledge the places that they change the way we think about community, teaching, church, attention spans etc.

officehourthoughts said...

I was just thinking about ways that video could cause problems in terms of preaching. Does it dehumanize the preacher? Does the preacher become like one of our celebrities who we recognize, think we know, but is somehow different (maybe even better) than the average person? We all know that Brad Pitt is just a person like us, yet because we only know him from his movies, and celebrity news shows he is somehow different than any other person we meet on the street. Could this happen in our churches as we move to move video teaching? I realize that the same problems can exist in a mega-church. However, what I really like about the idea of multi-site churches is that smaller communities can exist as part of a larger organization.

Kurt Willems said...

Great comments happening here. Hi Greg!

I would say that I am not "anti" video venue. I think that there are certain situations that could benefit from such a use of technology. I am suspicious however about making one "figure head" the main voice of a multi-site community. That can be dangerous. What if that person has a moral failing? Or, what if that dynamic leader leaves and the whole personality of the multisites were based on his or her dynamic preaching style?

With that said, the reason that we have chosen to not jump on the bandwagon of using video preaching as we prepare to launch our first campus is that we have as a high value "equipping." for this reason, we want to decentralize our leadership (similar to how multisite is about decentralizing locales). This gives an opportunity for more emerging leaders to grow in their teaching gifts. Rob Bell pointed this out in a recent interview when asked about video venues:

"There is something more powerful than simply beaming yourself into other locations, and that is raising up disciples. Over time that will go farther and faster, but right now it will be more work and slower. With technology today it's easy to spend all of your energies reproducing your own voice, but there is a longer view that says, what if instead of beaming video to those ten locations, we train ten people who can go there and lead? That's a very basic question that should be in the mix somewhere."

Finally, I should add that if there is a leader who is not primarily a teacher, BUT is a shepherd... we ought to consider this option for such a person. Much could be missed if we do exactly the opposite. If we neglect potential shepherds who could do great things for the kingdom, simply because their teaching gift is not dominant.

gligon said...

Great questions. And ones that every leader should ask about the use of technology in any facet of their ministry.

officehourthoughts said...

great comments Kurt.