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Video Venues and the Future Shrinking of the Megachurch

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On Leadership Journal's Out of Ur blog, they are having a discussion about video venues based on the post by Shane Hipps entitled "Video Venues and the Papacy of Celebrity: Why changing the methods always changes the message." What is a video venue?

The best way to describe a video venue is to give you an example.

Willow Creek McHenry County is located more than 30 minutes from Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. McHenry County campus pastor, Wayne Alguire, attends the Saturday night service at the main campus. Afterward, he is given a DVD of the sermon. On Sunday morning, he plays that DVD during the preaching portion of the service in McHenry country. "What," you ask, "they do not have live person preaching?" No, they don't. They have "live" worship and announcements but not preaching. On occasion, there may be an exception but in general this is the basic idea. Wayne Alguire does not have to prepare a sermon each week and is thus freed to care for people. The congregation does not have to drive all the way to the main campus in South Barrington. They can get amazing preaching in their own backyard. That is the basic idea of video venues.

Here are a few of my thoughts (pro and con) about this approach.

PRO:

I like the idea that megachurches are in some ways getting smaller and homier through this approach. In other words, rather than driving from McHenry Country to Willow Creek and not seeing anyone you recognize, you can hear Bill Hybels on video at the Wheaton campus with a smaller group who you will begin to get to know.

I also dislike bad preaching. Bill Hybels says in his preaching/teaching workshop something like, “If you’re not good at teaching/preaching, save your listeners, and go do something else.” I’d choose a good sermon on video over terrible sermons in person any day.

It is worth noting that the microphone changed church culture more than video. Before that, we were limited by the strength of the preacher's voice, the acoustics of the room, and the youth of the audience's ears. No wonder there weren't many megachurches.

CON:

Due to overemphasis on the Eucharist/communion in the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformers put more emphasis on the sermon. I think we have swung the other direction and put too much emphasis on the sermon to the detriment of congregational life. The logical extension of the crucial nature of “good preaching” is to get it "efficiently" by playing sermons on video.

The logical end of the VV "efficiency" argument is to pick two preachers and just have everyone listen to them. How about my favorites Rob Bell and John Ortberg as the two?

I think there is already too much borrowing and imitating in evangelicalism. It is remarkable how much of what thousands of churches do is rooted in the actions and programs of five influential churches.  (Later note August 1, 2007: These rankings by The Church Report are probably not legitimate).
What is really scary about that exaggerated scenario is that few of us would be studying our Bibles as studiously if we didn't have to preach! That is human nature, right? There is something about the local pastor studying and applying the Scripture to a specific context.

The Future of the Video Venue:

I don't think we need to worry about everyone going to the video venue approach. Some people will appreciate it and the approach will continue to grow through the megachurches. Others though will want a live preacher that they can interact with.

Interestingly, this approach may be the sign of the waning of the megachurch movement. People don't want to drive 40 minutes to go to a church. They want to get to know people who live in their community. I bet that Willow Creek will never build a bigger auditorium than the one it opened two years ago. Church planters, and other advocates of the power of the small church, should feel vindicated that even the megachurch is noticing that bigger is not necessarily better. There is power in local churches who contextualize themselves to a community.

Calvin College professor, Quentin J. Schultze, reflects well on these issues in: High-Tech Worship?: Using Presentational Technologies Wisely. Baker, 2004.

If you are interested in this topic, you might be interested in listening to an audio presentation on this topic from Leadership Network at
http://www.leadnet.org/Resources_AV.asp

Here is the description:
Seacoast Church (www.seacoast.org) currently has 9 different campuses, and it continues to pray and plan toward the launch of more campuses. The primary teaching comes from our Mt. Pleasant campus by videocast. This model prompts questions about whether a teaching pastor in one city can effectively pastor people hundreds of miles away. The answer is no, and in the accompanying podcast lead pastor Greg Surratt explains Seacoast's approach and rationale.

Some photos of Saddleback's Video Venues are here.

There is a video venue starter kit from North Coast Church in San Diego here.

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