Wednesday, September 12, 2012
The Multi-Site Church
According to the Rev. Gary Shockley, executive director of New Church Starts at the Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, at least 50% of the 621 new churches started by the UMC since January of 2008 were multi-site venues. What’s more, Shockley goes on to say that of the 1,000 new churches they intend to start between 2013 and 2016, they are “targeting 60% to be multi-sites, extensions or satellites of vibrant existing United Methodist Churches.” It is hard to get more mainline Protestant than the United Methodist Church. But the strategy is also creeping into such churches as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, as well. As congregations in older denominations borrow methodologies from those on the "cutting edge" of evangelicalism, the communal aspects of their congregational life (such as the Lord's Supper) have already retreated from Sunday morning and thus there is little standing in the way of magnifying the impact of a charismatic preacher through the use of multi-sites and the big screen. It does not seem that modern folks are adverse to watching their preacher on video, either. Perhaps the manifold use of screens in the daily life of most folks (smart phones, tablets, video games, computers, etc.) has made it easier to transition to a worship service in which the preacher is not live but digitally projected.
A great article has raised all sorts of questions about this -- from the cult of personality which is a real and potential down side to the practical effects of such geographic distance for people supposed connected together as one congregation in different locations. Sadly, the one and only thing that seems to unite these folks is the face of the man on the big screen.
While the answer may not be pleasing to the ears of those that lead these churches, an argument could be made that as opposed to centering the practice of the church on the life, death and resurrection of the Christ and the proclamation of His Word, many of these churches have made a subtle shift towards centering the church on “the proclamation.” That is to say, an argument could be made that many of these churches are leaning more upon the rhetorical giftings of their Senior Pastors than they are upon the content of their message. And when they begin to slide in this direction, they begin the slow, inevitable descent into what is commonly referred to as the “cult of personality.”
I will leave it to you to read and draw your own conclusions but it would seem to me that multi-site congregations only further the church down the slippery slide to a virtual congregation in which personal connections and what is believed, confessed, and taught have taken a distant second to the oratorical skills of a preacher whose task and responsibility is to become an ever greater personality and celebrity for a people further and further removed from the life and pastoral care of that individual. In my mind, this is one trend that the LCMS needs to forego.
Satellite congregations -- congregations which function more as preaching stations with a real, live Pastor and essential functions but whose governance, financial support, and fuller array of programs eminate from one central location is a far different thing. Here we realize that it may not be possible to plant independent congregation in certain areas but that by drawing on the strengths of an established mother, these daughters can be give some time to solidify, to grow, and to become independent congregations. It is much less prone to the weaknesses of multi-sites where the preacher is digital and the music is live and the venue is much like a simulcast event for entertainment than it is the living, breathing Church of Christ. In certain scenarios, such a satellite set up may be a fruitful means to the longer term goal of planting new congregations. Multi-site congregations are generally not interested in planting other churches -- only bring the show to more people and thereby reaping the benefits of satellites without actually offering to the people there a real church and a real Pastor.