A few months back, to much fanfare, Lifechurch.tv launched a free video teaching website which could beam preachers and teachers’ videos directly into your living room to be digested alone or with a small group. The expressed purposes of the VideoTeaching.com website were fourfold but one in particular stood out to me:
Develop your ministry.
You might be bi-vocational or maybe you’re planting a church. Either way, video teaching allows you put more energy into reaching your community by freeing you from weekly message preparation.
In other words, by replacing the custom message crafted by a church leader with a cookie-cutter one (although doubtless a great cookie), then church is good. It’s ok if the church leadership is busy…just offer them a great message from a far-away pastor who knows exactly what you need.
I know I’m being snarky, but in all seriousness, I worry about reliance on broadcast to replace the personal nature of pastoral ministry. It’s like people are coming for a meal and get the same thing wherever they go. That’s the beauty of fast food franchises like McDonalds: you get the exact same food wherever you go. It is comforting, but its not that great for you.
I fear this is the beginning of franchise churches: ones that offer the same stump message regardless of who is receiving it. I get annoyed by this from preachers on a preaching circuit too. As much as I like Shane Clayborne and Tony Campolo, in most of their preaching engagements they rely on the same schtick. It’s a good sermon, it inspires the soul, but it gets repetitive if you’ve seen them twice.
…Utilizing a live stream of worship could enable existing congregations to begin another worship service with a small amount of resource commitment.
I love the rest of Andrew’s posts, but this next-to-last one rubbed me the wrong way. It’s one thing to encourage bottom-up groups (as I mused about in What the Church Can Learn from Wikipedia); it’s another to have bottom-up meetings with a top-down message crafted by a person thrice or more removed from their situation. While Andrew undoubtedly was focusing on a single church adding another service, which is a more personal connection that I applaud, the application of that approach leads to a slippery slope towards franchise churches that get the same message beamed to them every week from on high.
I guess I’m struggling with how grassroots churches can work with a top-down broadcast medium. I worry that if more and more churches turn to the ease of boxed videos like VideoTeaching.com, if more and more mega-churches create tentacles like WalMart churches, then Christianity becomes a franchise and christians seeking room to grow become disenfranchised.
While one can argue that preaching and even the bible are top-down broadcast mediums, they are understood as more personal than a third party’s opinion. Even guest preachers, if they are good, are prepped beforehand by the church’s pastor or laity on their congregation’s struggles. And if you think convincing a board on a local church to try a new ministry is hard, try doing it to a corporate church board.
This is one of those posts where I don’t have a solution at the end. I’m just worried for the future when ease of use of homogenous materials becomes seductive, when small groups wrestle with sermons thrice-removed from their context, and when eight churches in an area are plants from one mega-church. If it has happened to food chains, banks, and other industries, we must be mindful of it happening to churches too. We don’t need more homogenous outreach…it works and is effective (like franchises), but I fear on a large scale that franchised outreach leads to more disenfranchised Christians than it inspires.