Recently I have begun to hear more and more about what is called a Multi-Site Church. Basically, a Multi-Site Church is a church that broadcasts its service at another location from which it was recorded. From what I understand, they usually are limited to the message, and the local church oversees a time for worship, and prayer.
The movement really started to grow in the late 90’s, as mega churches found themselves getting too big. They found that they didn’t have room for everyone, and the traffic was becoming impossible. The solution was to franchise. They would create smaller versions of the big church and just show the message by video. As of 2005, it is thought that there were over 1,500 satellite churches. And they’re growing.
Pastor Mark Driscoll has proclaimed that you can’t stop this movement. He says,
“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.”
Is Driscoll right in saying that this will help add healthy churches? Does this fall in line with the requirements and guidelines given in God’s Word for the church? Surprisingly, Eddie Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, comes out as a dissenting voice. Gibbs says, “perpetuates the chronic problem that (the Church) have of undiscipled church members”
One argument that comes to play is the question for local church autonomy. Should the local church be autonomous? Is there an example for that in the early church, or were they clusters scattered in a city. I would argue that the churches were autonomous. This can be seen in the way they practiced church discipline (Matthew 18:17). They had the authority to elect their own leadership (Acts 6:1-6), settle internal difficulties (I Cor 6:1-5), and observe the ordinances (I Cor 11:23). They also exercised a relationship with the other churches around them (Acts 15:1-2).
I believe that it is clear that churches are meant to be autonomous and not be dependent upon another for these decisions. But I think that the bigger danger here is the lack of a possible relationship with the teaching pastor. How is the pastor to care for those flocks if he never knows them. While a pastor should never create a message because he thinks that’s what the people need to hear, he should be able to apply the text to the hearts of his congregation. And how are these hearers supposed to interact with their pastor about the message he preaches? What happens if they desire interaction with their teacher?
But this can also affect the congregation that is in front of the pastor. He can’t gear his message to them, because in the back of his mind he is concerned with the other churches. I know that this is a temptation even for my own pastor. He knows that people listen to his messages online and says that sometimes he feels the temptation to avoid saying certain things that they wouldn’t get because they are there or are not a part of that local body.
This also seems to communicate a “I am of Apollos or I am of Paul” mentality. The people gather at a church to hear that one preacher. I can see this going awry very quickly. The franchising of churches are really only one step above going to church on TV. The only difference is that you’re watching the TV together.
Is this really the best option in light of massive church growth? Can we not train up good pastors? Is there not one or two qualified men among the thousands drawn to these churches? Is it the responsibility of the local church to train these men to come in and take over?
From what I understand, McDonalds used to be a great burger joint. They used to serve great burgers and the fries were always fresh. Over time, they began to grow and grow. There weren’t a lot of changes at first, but as time passed, corners were cut and quality was sacrificed for the sake of convenience. Now they are everywhere and you can get yourself a bland burger whenever you want. I can’t help but think that this is the future for franchised churches.