Full disclosure – I’m a flag waving member of the multisite movement. I pastor a multisite church. But I’ve noticed two limitations that even the strongest proponents and harshest critics of video venues and the multisite movement seem to have missed.
The first is an Attendance Ceiling.
Few video campuses ever break through the 1,000 barrier. Almost all are midsized or smaller. Ten years into the multisite movement, no one has come close to breaking the code for planting multiple large attendance video campuses. And the handful that have planted one all feature very expensive facilities AND a nearby celebrity pastor with an enormous regional following.
The second is a built-in Geographical Limitation.
The further from the mothership one gets, the harder it is for a video-driven campus to succeed. Most (not all, but almost all) of the video venue success stories are found within the same geographical region as the main campus. Those that do succeed at the outer edges seldom grow beyond the mid-hundreds.
What does that mean?
Well, to begin with, it means that those who envisioned video campuses as a way to break completely free from geographical constraints and expand their ministry nationwide won’t see their dream fulfilled. It’s not happening anywhere. And it won’t. The constraints of the attendance ceiling and the geographical limitations are simply too strong to overcome.
It also means that those who feared (and were horrified by the thought of) the MacChurching of America can rest easy. The American religious landscape is not about to be dominated by a few high profile celebrity pastors anytime soon – or ever.
THE ATTENDANCE CEILING IS SIMPLY TOO HARD TO BREAK THROUGH
Here at North Coast we do video well. Over two-thirds of our weekend attendance watches either Chris Brown (our other teaching pastor) or me on the big screen. Yet despite our success with video, the biggest hurdle we face on our off-site campuses is always the video.
Yes we reach lots of people, but there are many more we’ll never reach as long as we’re on a screen. Even those who rave about the quality of our sermons often end up somewhere else. They tell us they’d rather shake the hand and look into the eye of the preacher – even if that means listening to a message that isn’t quite as “good” (whatever “good” means).
It’s a story I hear from video campus pastors everywhere. That’s not to say that video venues aren’t working. They are. But most seem to top out at three to six hundred and appear to function best in mid-sized or smaller settings.
THE GEOGRAPHICAL BOUNDARIES ARE ALSO NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO OVERCOME
In the early days of the multisite movement there was a lot of talk about a few churches having hundreds of video campuses spread across the country and even overseas. It sounded a lot like a franchising model. It never took off.
The reason is simple. Ministry is highly localized. There is a context to our preaching that is not only local, it’s regional as well. What plays well in one part of the country is often a dud in another.
Even celebrity status can’t overcome this geographical barrier because one region’s superstar is another region’s “Now who is that again?”
For instance, only a few people in my San Diego congregation have a clue who Andy Stanley is; same for Groeschel, Driscoll and any other non-Southern Californian “celebrity” you might care to name. And virtually no one has ever heard of Ed Young, John Piper or Tim Keller.
Sure these folks are well known among their fellow pastors, leaders, and the thousands who read their books. But the average Christian outside of their geographic region has no idea who they are. And it’s this regional myopia that makes it nearly impossible for any high profile pastor to launch a Wal-Mart like national franchise – which by the way few would want to do anyway.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Video Venues and multisite churches are here to stay. They’ve proven themselves to be a powerful tool for expanding outreach and ministry beyond a church’s natural drive-time boundaries.
But they’re not about to replace church planting or local ministries any time soon. They fill a void. They draw some people. They help expand the kingdom. But in very few cases will they ever become the dominant ministry in your town or mine. They’re just another weapon in the arsenal.
At least that’s the way I see it playing out.
How about you?