A few months ago, Paul Alexander, my teammate at The Unstuck Group, took a very bold position regarding multisite message delivery. The title of his article says it all, “If it’s not on a screen, it’s not multisite.” Paul was making the case that if you want to engage in a multisite strategy, you should choose video delivery of messages rather than have separate teachers at each location.
Our team works with many multisite churches. My guess is that half of those churches use video delivery of messages and the other half have live teachers at each location. If so, that would follow the trends I’ve seen in previous research. My concern is that I’ve not seen any research that looks at the long-term consequences of using separate teachers rather than video delivery for messages.
There are certainly short-term advantages to using live teachers at your first multisite location. Initially, it’s cheaper because you don’t have to invest in equipment for video capture or delivery. It also opens up more opportunities to broaden the teaching team. It also saves time because it’s easier to send a person to teach than it is to acquire equipment and build and train teams to operate it.
The challenge I’m finding, though, is that there are a number of long-term consequences to using separate teachers at each campus. In fact, I’m running into church after church that wishes they would have started with video instead. Let me share some reasons why that’s the case.
1. Multisite churches that do not use video teaching are more likely to end up as separate churches in the long run.
It’s tough to maintain unity of vision and consistency of culture with multiple voices. It’s possible to stay unified, but much more challenging.
2. Multisite churches that do not use video teaching are less likely to scale beyond two or three locations.
It gets difficult to build a deep bench of good teachers to sustain that model. A church without video and 5 campuses will need 7 pastors teaching 40 weekends a year. That’s a huge financial and leadership investment.
3. Multisite churches that do not use video teaching create leadership gaps at the “remote” campuses.
The reason why is that the campus pastors naturally end up focusing more on message preparation than building and leading teams. Only the largest churches have the resources to staff campuses for strong teaching and leading.
Because of these challenges, I’m running into more and more churches that wish they could turn back the clock. If they could, they would have started with video teaching to protect unity, reduce costs and leverage leadership more effectively. The problem, of course, is that it’s very difficult to introduce video teaching once you’ve set the expectation that the win is separate live teachers at each campus.
By the way, I’ve heard the arguments in opposition to video teaching before…
If you have video teaching, it doesn’t allow for a team teaching approach.
That’s false. I’ve seen many healthy, growing churches develop teaching teams that use a video delivery model. I’m a big proponent of team-based ministry, including the team that teaches.
People won’t watch video teaching.
That’s also false. I’ve never seen a setting where video teaching doesn’t work. In fact, in many services where there’s a live teacher, most people are still watching the screens. I have seen instances, though, where poor leadership around setting expectations and poor video delivery prevented video teaching from working.
Video teaching creates a barrier for campus pastors to lead their congregation.
Again, that’s false. I’ve seen many effective campus pastors lead without teaching every week. There are still many opportunities outside of the message to influence from the platform. It’s also appropriate for campus pastors to periodically teach live at their locations.
I’m not trying to make the case that every church that doesn’t use video for message delivery is doomed to fail. There are instances where separate, live teachers at each campus is working. If you choose that strategy, though, I highly recommend you study the “big idea” approach that Community Christian Church in Chicago uses to keep their campuses and ministries fully aligned. Maintaining alignment and unity will be your biggest challenge.
Using live, in-person teaching may be a practice that many multisite churches are using, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also producing long-term health for the church. You need to go down that path with eyes wide open. You will need to work hard to protect unity. You will need to invest heavily in pastor-teachers to multiply in many locations. You will need to invest more in leadership at each location to complement the teaching role of the campus pastors.
And don’t be surprised if rather than being one church in multiple locations, you end up becoming multiple, stand-alone churches.
There’s nothing wrong with using this as a church planting approach. I think you just need to be aware of the potential consequences if you choose that path.
As I mentioned in the conversation surrounding Paul’s article, this is a topic that needs more research. Before we get more clarity around the results churches are experiencing with both models, I hope you’ll consider all the potential consequences and step cautiously. Just because live teachers might be cheaper and easier doesn’t mean it’s best for the health of the church in the long run.
Photo credit: Jack Wallsten via compfight.com cc
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