Much has changed since the concept of video venues and multi-site churches burst onto the scene in the late 1990’s. What was initially considered a wacky idea has become the new normal – especially among fast growing and larger churches.
Today, literally thousands of churches use video as a way to expand geographically, demographically, or simply to avoid the high cost of building.
One of my biggest surprises has been the 180-degree turnaround in the way that church planting movements look at multi-site churches. When we launched our first Video Venue, our harshest philosophical critics were the leaders of church planting movements. Most of them seemed to assume that video venues would cannibalize church planting – as if ministry was a zero sum game in which the success of one method means the failure of another.
But now, a few years later, many of those original critics have launched their own multi-site campuses as a way to handle growth. And they’ve done so without any wavering in their commitment to church planting. In fact, many of the most effective church planting movements are now led by pastors who have multi-site churches. Go figure.
Recently, my friends Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird released a book that explores many of these changes as well as the current state of multi-site ministry. It’s called A MULTI-SITE CHURCH ROAD TRIP. If you want to know where the movement is going and how it’s changed, this is a great read.
They’ve also asked me to participate in their blog tour by answering a few questions regarding multi-site and video venues. So here goes – Geoff Surratt’s questions and my answers.
1. You pioneered the concept of the video venue at North Coast. What do you feel are two or three reproducible keys to your success in utilizing video that other churches could reproduce?
I believe a huge part of our success was our decision early on to only use video for teaching. Many things don’t translate well on a screen (for instance music, drama, and the like). But teaching plays well in almost every geographic and demographic setting.
In fact, the biggest shock when we launched our first Video Venue was that it was so readily accepted by virtually every demographic. We thought our older folks would reject it outright. We thought younger generations might find it inauthentic. We assumed churches in the more traditional parts of the country would be highly resistant.
But we were wrong. It played well just about everywhere.
Looking back we should have realized that teaching is uniquely suited for a big screen. It allows people to clearly see facial expressions and non-verbals – which is why most people in a large facility with a video screen end up watching the screen rather than the little person up on the stage.
The other thing that I believe is easily reproducible is our use of differing music styles and ambiances to broaden our demographic outreach. Both Chris Brown (our other teaching pastor) and I are able to reach a far broader demographic (traditionalists, country music fans, and folks with lots of body art) than we could if we had a one-size-fits-all sanctuary.
2. How important is it for a church using video teaching to have the very best technology available?
I think the need for the quality technology is vastly overrated. You don’t need the latest and greatest in order to succeed. You can’t be so cheap that your venues are cheesy. The video can’t look like a 1980’s VCR.
At North Coast we’ve always made due with less than the best technology simply because we often can’t afford the best. We’re not a rich suburban church. We’re a blue collar church that meets in an old warehouse. If we felt we couldn’t succeed without the best and latest technology, we’d still be saving up to launch our first venue.
We’ve learned that good enough is good enough when it comes to technology. I always tell the churches we consult to buy the best they can afford. There’s no need to hock the future for cool technology you can’t afford and there’s no reason to hold off launching a new ministry just because everyone else has better equipment.
3. North Coast has multiple venues with live worship bands at multiple locations and multiple service times. How do you find enough musicians to have that many worship teams?
The secret to our plethora of musicians goes back to a decision we made long before we started our Video Venues. Because we believe the job of a pastor is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) our worship pastors have always been judged, rewarded, and paid for raising up other worship leaders rather than creating an all-star band.
I find you always get what you measure and reward. So guess what? Since we measure and reward raising up worship leaders, we get worship leaders. And better yet, once we turned the corner, we discovered that musicians draw musicians. So right now I think we have something like 24 adult worship bands to pull from.
4. In your book Sticky Church you describe the role of sermon based small groups in the life of North Coast. How integral do you think sermon based small groups have been to the growth of North Coast?
Our attendance was about 120 when we started our sermon-based small groups. They haven’t particularly drawn people in, but they have helped to slam our back door shut – and when the back door stays shut, a church tends to grow.
We’re pretty much a word-of-mouth church (we don’t do any marketing or advertising) so closing the back door has been an essential ingredient of our growth. But the biggest advantage has been the way these sermon-based groups have enabled us to get everyone on the same page – and keep them there. That’s made us a much healthier church, not just a bigger church.
5. What did I not ask that I should have?
You didn’t ask why my books are so much better than yours – at least that’s what my mom thinks; though my wife, Nancy, isn’t so sure.
By the way – Here’s a link to A MULTI-SITE CHURCH ROAD TRIP at Amazon.com