Thursday, December 17, 2009

More on multi-site churches

If you saw USA Today this morning, the cover featured a story on “multi-site churches”: Multi-site churches: A new variety of religious experience. Specifically it referenced Tim Keller who is driven all over New York City to preach the same message to different groups. The article is an interesting read and the tone is reflective of the pastor-centric, sermon focused model. This makes all the sense in the world if you think the primary focus of the gathering of the church is to hear a sermon and sing a few songs. The “brand” becomes important whether you are Tim Keller (hip, urban, orthodox) or John Piper (passionate, reformed, energetic). Satellite churches implicitly say that what comes out of their pulpit is better than whatever comes out of another pulpit. Why listen to a mediocre pastor when you can get a great pastor, either live or via video conferencing?

Again, at the risk of repeating myself, why even have a pastor at all? When you have instant access to the video sermons of men like John Piper and if the purpose of the gathering of the church is to hear a sermon and do some music, why bother hiring someone? Even if you pay Piper a nominal fee it would be cheaper than hiring a pastor and supporting him and his family.

Is there a personal touch missing? Some people say yes, like this person quoted in the article:

"I do miss having a pastor at the door shaking hands in the 'check-out line,' " says Lauren Green, drawn to join Redeemer by Keller's preaching. "But I realize that model of a personal relationship with a particular pastor is probably gone."

If that is your idea of a “personal relationship with a particular pastor”, I think you can do without it. Maybe the A/V guy can be the one you shake hands with and instead of saying “Great sermon” you can shake his hand and say “Great broadcast”.

I think the most disturbing thing for me was a line near the end of the article:

Now, Keller frets as he pushes Redeemer toward a $20 million plan for six more sites in the next 10 years.

Think about that number. $20,000,000 to replicate Redeemer in six more sites. I get that Keller is an amazing speaker. I also appreciate that he is highly orthodox, so the message people are getting is a solid one. I have to question whether this is in any way a reflection, in spirit or in fact, of the purpose of the gathering of the church we see in the New Testament. Take the video aspect out of it because that didn’t exist in the first century (and also keep in mind that Christ came, died and rose again and established the church at a specific time and place that did not have this. If he wanted a video-linked church, why wouldn’t He have come in 2010?). Is it proper to have huge churches full of people who don’t know each other and could probably walk past each other on Monday on the street without realizing they were in the same service on Sunday morning? Is it seemly to raise and spend tens of millions of dollars to set up satellite sites?

Satellite churches seem to be the wave of the future. I can really see it in more rural areas. In many areas, you can’t find the flavor of church you are looking for but why bother when you can just watch the broadcast from a satellite location?

To borrow from Alan’s concept…

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting set up satellite churches in every town so that they could get the same sermon from Paul every Sunday they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14: 23 remix)

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Steve Martin said...

I do like the personal connection. I like being there and having my brothers and sisters there for me.

When I put my arms around an old lady ask how it's going...and she breaks down and crys because of the pain in her life. I can be of use to comfort her (the consolation of the brethren).

I also like being together for Holy Communion.

I also like going to a place that is counter-cultural. A place that does not look like 'the world' and reflects a different reality in Christ Jesus.

But hey, as you said, if you can't find a place like that, then you do what you've gotta do.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of your sentiment here, Arthur. I would add that, in the midst of these imperfections, I am thankful that these great numbers of people are gathering each week to hear Christ-centered, orthodox teaching, rather than gathering to hear how to have their "best life now." Are they gathering in quite the right way? Perhaps not. But someone once told me that we can rejoice anytime someone chooses to gather with the body of Christ under solid teaching.

Just trying to make your glass half full today. :o)

Arthur Sido said...


I absolutely agree that sound, orthodox teaching is vital. I appreciate Tim Keller’s teaching and his writings are excellent, a sound and needed voice in the midst of so much wishy-washy, feel good teaching. Having said that…

I am no longer convinced that getting that teaching must/should come in the form of monologue preaching and I also think that while teaching is an important part of the gathering of the church, it is only one part. If you have great teaching and no fellowship, no community, do you have a faithful gathering of the church? I don’t think you do, I think you have an incomplete gathering.