Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

#197 Multi-site churches

multisite.jpgAs evangelical churches vie to become bigger by use of business tactics, they’re outgrowing their buildings. As such, the multi-site church has sprung whole from the American business model.

A multi-site church has a main campus and many smaller spawn called satellites that operate under the auspices of the parent church. (Vocab words are in italics.) The satellite church is sort of a sequel to the original. It’s of the same lineage but everyone really likes the first one better, though in Christian culture they won’t say it out loud. People prefer the original because that is where the charismatic pastor man who started the whole enterprise speaks live and in person.


satellite4.jpgHis title is teaching pastor, preaching pastor or lead pastor, and he very seldom appears in person at any of the satellite churches. The satellites are basically theaters sprinkled around a 50 mile radius (sometimes larger) as overflow reservoirs. At these satellites the lead pastor’s visage is beamed onto a big screen as he preaches live from the main campus. People assemble in the satellite buildings to sing worship songs, listen to the real live campus pastor make announcements, and then watch the main-attraction pastor speak via satellite. Everyone who attends accepts this arrangement as fine and even good.


holographicapocalypse.JPGWhen you see a pastor preaching on a big screen, there is a .0042% chance you would ever be granted a personal meeting with him. Again, this is accepted by the general populace as okay. The New Testament pastors understood they had a shepherding role over the church and felt a personal relationship with each of the members was vitally important, but this aspect of the ancient church is falling by the wayside as technology advances. What can I say, holograms are pretty cool.


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posted October 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I love, love, love that your Star Wars speech bubble references The Village church in north Texas. I went to the main campus in Lewisville for a while until they started the Denton campus.
And nearly every Sunday there was the obligatory “What’s up, Denton?” shout out. The funniest part was that he wasn’t really asking it in anticipation of a response, he’d said it hours earlier when it was filmed at the Lewisville campus and he couldn’t hear the response at all. And yet, people let Matt (or, you know, flat Matt) know how “good/great/excellent/ready to worship” they were that night.
Really bizarre and pretty hilarious.

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posted October 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Yep, this describes John Piper’s church to a tee, which I attended in college for a while. Sometimes I’d go to the main church, which was a pain because there was not enough parking, but the music and ambiance was better. Plus, you got to see a real live person, not watch a video screen for the sermon. A college friend of mine still attends a satellite church of Bethlehem Baptist. One time she criticized church members who “were only there for Piper, not the church itself.” I thought that was a bit hypocritical, seeing as though everyone there was probably a member because they liked to hear him preach, and felt special that they belonged to HIS church.

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posted October 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Dear Ms. Drury,
I would enjoy your blog so much more if you would not make me so uncomfortable in regard to the importance of personal relationships. Why must you incessantly remind your readers that Jesus was so . . . personal?
Could we have a conversation on Skype so that I might technologically explain how uncomfortable your internet presentations make me feel?
Remotely yours, Lee

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posted October 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm

i missed the days where i can go into any church in my hometown and speak with the pastor. now it’s becoming more televangelist, except in an internet way. it’s sad really.

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Wayne Watley

posted October 15, 2010 at 4:08 pm

This particular blog post is an EPIC WIN!!!

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Jake Belder

posted October 15, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Why in the world are the video-recording the video feed in the second photo up from the bottom? Does the superstar pastor want to see what he looks like on video?

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Sara Cooper

posted October 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I went to The Village in Denton once with a friend and no one had thought to tell me that the sermon was prerecorded. I was very confused and let’s just say I never went back.

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Chris Clampitt

posted October 16, 2010 at 12:25 am

The church I had previously attended (in Denver, CO) was once its own, separate church but later became a satellite of a large, megachurch in Colorado Springs, CO. Shortly after, the large screen was introduced.
It sucked. A lot. And indeed, just as Stephen wrote, everyone acted as if it were fine. That sucked too. A lot.

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posted October 16, 2010 at 4:09 am

Once your down to this level of detachment, why bother going at all? Have your avatar attend an online church, where they can watch pre-recorded videos of virtual pastors.

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posted October 16, 2010 at 8:49 am

Our Campus pastor used to stay in the atrium before the service and greet people, then he would make the announcements before the video of our Pastor was played. Now that the Campus Pastor has an “Assistant to the Campus Pastor”, the assistant roams the atrium talking to people in place of the real campus pastor. We never see the campus pastor anymore, he just pops up when it’s time to talk on stage. I foresee an evil cyclical pattern here. I really don’t like it, it makes me bitter. And I don’t like being bitter at church.

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stephanie drury

posted October 16, 2010 at 10:49 am

Aww Billy, I hear you. I want to suggest something: maybe you aren’t actually bitter. You’re upset and it’s okay to be upset about the operations of your church. If the church were full of yes-men then it would devolve into not being church at all but a personality cult. I think that bitterness is a place where hope doesn’t exist anymore and I don’t think you’ve lost hope. It really doesn’t sound like you have. It sounds like you have a sense that the flock should be shepherded well and it isn’t. So I guess what I want to say, is listen to your instincts because God gave them to you for a reason.

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Jeremiah Warren

posted October 16, 2010 at 11:42 am

I just learned about these “churches” last summer. Bizarre. How did things come to this point?

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posted October 16, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I actually had the opportunity to meet and talk to the pastor of a pretty big church. We had a conversation that lasted two hours and he seemed so sincere and interested in everything I had to say and even gave me an “unvitation” (def: when somebody invites you somewhere but actually has no intention of following up on it) to his house for dinner sometime. The next day I saw him and it was like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones flashed their memory eraser in his eyes and he had no clue who I was. My point is that even the non-holographic pastors that will meet you and talked to you can still be assholes…just to your face.

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posted October 16, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I believe this is what happens when the pastor’s focus is on “growth” before following Jesus. I read a novel that dealt with that sort of thing, called _And the Shofar Blew_ by Francine Rivers. It made me really angry the first time I read it. So much so that I had to put it down for awhile and then go back to it later. I agree about the awkwardness of satellite campuses. It also made me very uncomfortable when I’d be at a church whith people whose faith I respected, and they would be all for the pastor’s building campaign. They talked about his prayer for the project, etc. Yet, to me it just seemed like a “bigger and better” deal. I couldn’t go back.

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posted October 17, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Here’s what’s really strange to me: there was a time and place when this would be unheard of, even when there is a shortage of pastors. Actually it’s still going on in many rural areas in the US. Because there are so few pastors, it’s not unheard of for one minister to be the pastor of several churches in different towns and villages, and to minister to all of them regularly. I don’t know how the scheduling works, but they make it work, because they and the congregations value being physically there. (This has been the case, to my knowledge, with Lutheran pastors in North Dakota, but probably happens in other areas.) Oh yeah, each church building is it’s own individual congregation, rather than a satellite church, so there isn’t a hierarchy of better congregations.
So, we have many rural pastors who are willing to travel many miles, yet we have other ones in big megachurches who won’t even take the effort to travel outside of their neighborhood/suburb to be at the other locations. That’s sad.

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posted October 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Why not just watch him online, at home in our pj’s… Shoot, he should just preach from home still in his pj’s too… Then we all wouldn’t have to get up early and rush the kids out the door.. That would make American Christianity dang near perfect…

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posted October 18, 2010 at 9:35 am

Forgive me for being a picky grammar cop, but I think “populous” should be “populace.” My college students make this error, and numerous others, all the time.

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Sarah J

posted October 18, 2010 at 11:49 am

Milton wrote very forcefully about just this issue — about “blind mouths,” those who would be bishops (a bishop is one who sees) or pastors (a pastor is one who feeds) but fail because they are willfully blind or self-absorbed to really SEE the members of their congregations (this is the greatest sin of a bishop) or because they are too concerned with being fed — addiction may play a part here — to really FEED those to whom they minister (this is the greatest sin of a pastor). These lines are from “Lycidas,” which was first published in 1638. I think the danger he speaks of is the same danger we see today.
Blind mouthes! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A Sheep-hook, or have learn’d ought els the least
That to the faithfull Herdmans art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel Pipes of wretched straw,
The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim Woolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,

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posted October 21, 2010 at 6:21 pm

To me, these satellite campus teleprompter sermons seem rather egotistical on the part of the head pastor. I can understand wanting to expand your church into a “sect” as it were (hey, worked for the Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, etc). But the afore mentioned denominations have confidence in their pastors to head the individual church. They delegate church leaders highly trained in their respective sect’s unique doctrine. I’d go on some more but I’ve got a killer lunch on the table with my name on it.

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posted October 22, 2010 at 9:45 am

One has to question why churches become “mega”. The logical thing to do is to form another church with another pastor instead of developing “megachurchopolis”. I feel that too much status is placed by senior pastors on how many people attend “their” church. Could it also be that when you have 10 thousand people attending your church, it wouldn’t be “financially prudent” to splinter off a segment of “your” congregation?

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posted October 27, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Threads that weave together insight, sarcasm, laughter, Star Wars, Men in Black, epistolary literary style, and Milton are why I can’t stay away from SCCL.

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posted November 5, 2010 at 12:10 am

It’s interesting to me because the Catholic Church I attended as a kid – so we’re talking ~15-20 years ago – actually had satellites. Of course, it wasn’t exactly the same – we shared space with other churches (the satellite we attended was held in a Lutheran church), and the services were performed by one of the parish’s priests at a different time than the services at the main church. (I don’t think you could have a Catholic Mass via a TV screen – how would you get the Eucharist?)

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posted February 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I know of a certain well known red-headed pastor in the Seattle area who takes a friggin HELICOPTER between the main and satellite locations. Do I need to mention that he is a big proponent of the Prosperity Doctrine?
While I was there, they were collecting for their building fund which meant up to THREE separate collections during the course of one service (offering, special offering, building fund, etc).
Now, I found it hilarious when he would break out into an ironic Cabbage Patch, but the focus on monetary gain was just unpalatable.

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posted February 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Mega churches make me very very nervous. I know it’s exciting to many others. My church is very small despite welcoming guests, friends, and neighbors. I still love it though. My pastor knows my name, birth day, address and occupation. He knows my mother’s name, even though she attends somewhere else. He’s even arranged to come to my house (because church is 35 minutes away) to hold pre-marriage meetings with my fiance’ and me. He shakes my hand every Sunday. I love that! I know him and that’s why I trust him to preach the word to me. Not because he’s being projected on 90in, 3-D screens.

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