Since my arrival back in the San Diego area I have run into a number of fellow believers that are currently fellowshiping in one of the multi-site churches that exist in the San Diego area. Each of them told me that when they were first invited to visit this new and different way of “doing church” they were skeptical that they would actually enjoy it and thus they went in with almost no expectation that they would ever desire to actually become a part of that type of church.
But, once they actually did attend, they realized their concerns and the skepticism those concerns produced were unfounded. In fact, they found many things that struck a chord in their hearts and that just “made sense” to them.
A few weeks after having those conversations I watched a video from the recently held CC Senior Pastor’s conference. It was a panel session with Greg Laurie, Bob Coy, and Brian Brodersen answering questions lobbed at them by Ricky Ryan. [lightbox title=”2012 CC Senior Pastor’s Conference” href=”#vimeo_lightbox” inline=”true” width=”630″ height=”355″]Click here to watch.[/lightbox]
The first topic discussed had to do with the validity and challenges of multi-site churches. At first, I questioned the wisdom of beginning with that subject considering that probably 99 percent of the pastors in the room don’t pastor multi-site churches, probably don’t like them, and more than likely will never actually attempt to move to a multi-site type structure for the churches they pastor.
But as the discussion unfolded it became clear to me that this was an amazing window into the minds of these men of God that revealed some important principles they navigate ministry by, along with a small glimpse of American church culture that it would be helpful for all pastors to understand.
Based on what Greg Laurie and Bob Coy said, (the guys who actually pastor multi-site churches at this time), my perspective is that they navigate in their pastoral ministry based on the following principles:
1. If you have been gifted by God with communication skills that can draw large numbers of people to hear you expound truths from God’s Word, you have a responsibility to use that gift to the fullest. Be creative and use as many vehicles as possible to unleash your gift for expanding God’s kingdom. Good, Godly stewardship is clearly the motivation.
2. If God has given you the desire, the people, and the financial resources to expand the influence and impact of your ministry in a church form, rather than just your recorded messages alone, give serious consideration to doing so. Keep in mind that expanding the seating capacity in your current facility is extremely expensive. If you’ve already gone to multiple services and are already using available technology to use every square foot of space to its maximum potential, why not take the much less costly step of establishing other, off-site campuses. This might mean planting the new satellite church from the ground floor up, renting a building, assigning existing staff to be the pastors at that campus, and all that goes along with that. Again, this too is an example of good stewardship.
3. Or, if a fellow pastor is struggling with the size of his congregation and the different challenges that presents, especially in the financial realm, then definitely consider using your gift of drawing people. Make your gift available to draw people into this church that this brother would then no longer serve as the senior pastor. He will no longer have to worry about the financial side of things or the fact that his teaching gift isn’t quite ready yet to draw large numbers of people to listen to him. This will actually free him up to use his other pastoral gifts, especially the relational ones like counseling, personal encouragement and exhortation, and so forth which he is obviously much more gifted for experienced in. This too is an example of good stewardship, but not just for the gifted communicator and his ministry, but for the pastor of the small church that has been struggling.
4. (This next principle wasn’t discussed on the video, but is based on my discussions with my friends who attend multi-site churches). Although it isn’t essential that the pastor teaching the congregation at the Sunday services actually be there in person, it IS essential that the worship be done live, preferably by members of the congregation using their gifts. If there aren’t enough people with worship leading gifts from the congregation itself, a worship team from the hub-church can be sent out to lead live worship for the satellite campus.
In other words, the key element that most Sunday services are built around, the message, can be delivered by the senior pastor on a recorded video or by a live-feed from another site, BUT, leading the congregation in worship must be done live and in-person. This is also good stewardship because it offers the opportunity for actual members of the satellite church to use their gifts to bless the entire body at that satellite location.
And what do multi-site churches reveal about those that attend?
1. At least initially, they want to hear and SEE someone that can really communicate God’s truth to them, regardless of whether the person is actually present or not.
2. They understand and act as if the title “pastor” doesn’t necessarily imply anything other than an ability to teach God’s word and they don’t have a problem referring to someone as their “senior pastor” that they have never actually met and probably never will and will certainly never have an actual relationship with. To them, for all intents and purposes, a person with an ability to communicate God’s word effectively–a bible teacher, is qualified to be referred to as “my” pastor.
3. But at the same time, they do want a real relationship with a “pastor” from their church, which is why the multi-site churches have campus pastors at each location. The members of the church desire and need the fullness of pastoral ministry, but it isn’t important that it come from the person they enjoy listening to each week alongside hundreds of others and that they refer to as their “senior pastor”.
4. The gifted communicator that isn’t actually present is what draws them in, but the majority of the people are kept in the body by the real relationships they build with the campus pastors and the others that congregate alongside them on Sunday mornings and during the week.
What does all of the above mean? I’m not sure.
What I am sure of are the many questions that multi-site churches raise in my mind, questions like:
1. Is there anything required, other than the ability to communicate God’s word effectively in a way that draws large numbers of people to hear you do so, to be given the title of “pastor”.
2. Is the title “pastor” given, rather than “evangelist”, because there is a teaching element to this communicator’s gift and because most of the people that are drawn to listen to him are already believers and need instruction rather than preaching?
3. Does good stewardship always require that you expand the impact and scope of your gift to as many people as possible?
4. Is it possible that what we believe is good, Godly stewardship, might actually be hindering someone else from stewardship lessons that are derived from day in, day out faithfulness?
5. Although I’m sure it’s happened somewhere, what happens when the gifted, non-present communicator is no longer present on video? Has the church lost its pastor? Will the flock scatter and find another place where there’s a gifted, non-present communicator?