One thing I am certain of following my recent travels is that the multiple-site church phenomenon and video services are here to stay. Dead churches will be revitalized more and more by larger churches establishing services in them through the use of video. An entirely new form of church planting seems to be emerging that, along with traditional church planting, will help to add healthy new churches.Driscoll described how his own church will reflect part of this trend when he said in a recent sermon that Mars Hill Church plans to expand over the next six months from seven services in three locations to thirteen services in four locations. Because of a technological limitation, one of those services will take place earlier in the week so that the sermon can be recorded for rebroadcast at one or more locations on Sunday. "You're going to need to accept video as our inevitable future," Driscoll said.
Mars Hill Church is certainly not the only example of this trend. The Leadership Network recently sponsored a conference to educate churches on the concept. USA Today reports on the "godcast" developed by North Point Church, which is pastored by Andy Stanley. North Point has developed a network of eleven church "strategic partners," which agree to use recorded sermons from Stanley for at least 50% of their Sunday services.
To some readers, this whole concept of pre-recorded messages piped to daughter churches from the mother ship probably sounds like the stuff of squishy evangelicalism. Even Joel Osteen hasn't gone this far yet! Some might even argue that the multiple-site approach John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist Church has developed is similarly unhealthy.
But before we start throwing stones, maybe we should ask what is qualitatively different between multiple sites and multiple services. I suspect that some of the same fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who would decry multiple locations and video sermons might very willingly employ multiple services when their buildings reach capacity. But if it's unhealthy for multiple churches to share a pastor, and similarly unhealthy for one church to meet on several campuses, how is it more healthy for distinct groups of people to meet at different times on the same location?
In other words, the New Testament is full of admonitions for our churches to admonish, build up, encourage, and serve one another. Churches and individuals are gifted for the building up of the body. The body is about the congregation, not the building. So to what degree can we say that one body exists when it persistently and willingly never meets in the same place at the same time? It seems like a stretch to suggest one body exists simply because two groups of people meet at different times in the same building to hear similar preaching and contribute to the same bank accounts. How can our celebration of the ordinances display unity and the mutual affirmation of spiritual realities when the ordinances are observed by only part of a congregation?
I certainly don't have all these things figured out, and I'm not dogmatically condemning anyone who employs any of these methods—from multiple services all the way to multiple campuses and recorded video. I simply think we would be wise to consider the implications of the strategies we use to get everyone into our buildings. Sometimes the unintended consequences might be more severe than we would expect. What do our strategies for accommodating growth imply about our ecclesiology? And more fundamentally, what do they imply about our understanding of the gospel? Have we even thought deeply enough to ask these questions?