This is an add-on to my previous post on Video venue church. Here I want to suggest strongly that video-venue mega-church-developers examine how their plans might impact the surrounding church community. In other words, do a survey!
In the past I have said that churches should abandon “marketing type” surveys. Such surveys usually look at the church’s surrounding context as a place to market the church, to find out what people in the neighboring communities are looking for. The goal is to build a church that appeals to people already seeking church (or why would they even ask these questions) so that they are attracted to the idea of coming to church. Such surveys serve no purpose in post-Christendom where there are few ex-Christians or de-churched Christians just looking for a more relevant user-friendly Christianity (these surveys still work however in many places where Christendom is alive and well). Instead of this kind of surveying, I have proposed we exegete a neighborhood. This requires inhabiting the neighborhood, seeing the neighborhood as a place for redemption, discovering where the hurting are and the unjust structures are, seeing the possibilities for ministering the gospel to those who are lost and through the gospel (over time) seeing that very culture transformed.
What I propose here in this post however is a different kind of survey that I challenge all “video-venue-churches-to-be” to do. This kind of survey would seek to understand the collateral damage such video venues are doing to the other local churches surrounding the entrance of said video venue into the neighborhood. Because time and time again I can point to situations where the mega-church has entered a neighborhood – set up a video screen, moved 200 people to the new venue, provided 8 pastors and all the goods and services (including rock and roll youth programs) – and within six months to a year their Sunday morning attendance has gone from 200 to 600 or even 1000. Where did these folks come from? Was it a massive Acts ch. 2 in-pouring of newly saved? I have some doubts. I know of at least 4 cases in our own back yard where the local community churches lost half of their people to these video venues and then had to in essence shut down a year later. Ironically, in a few cases, after the video venue church sees the community church struggling, it offers to take over the struggling church’s debts, the church building and what do you know – they put their own name on the building with ironically many of the same people having returned. Even more telling? perhaps those people have now become consumers instead of being knitted into a missionally driven community?
Perhaps I have over generalized? (I confess I am prone) Has any one else seen similar things going on?
I am sure there are times when dying churches, or churches that have wandered from sound theology should be transitioned into death and their people transitioned to a more vibrant ecclesiology. But in these cases that I am describing here, these churches were growing from 250 to 300. They lost Christians to the video venues. They were people who (IMO) needed to be discipled into a deeper commitment to a way of life in Christ together in the world for God’s Mission. Did these people see a glitzier, user-friendly form of church and then bolt? In two of these cases, the church had recently undergone a building program and when they lost over one hundred people they couldn’t afford their bills anymore (another reason to not enter into building programs as a growth strategy). Let’s just hypothesize here for a minute. Could it be? that these smaller communities, seeking to nurture a communal and missional life together, didn’t have the time to disciple people because the video with all its conveniences attracted them away to an easier way (and BTW, as far as I know, Willowcreek has not been involved in such episodes directly). (Just so people know, Life on the Vine has not faced any of these stresses).
So I am just asking that we seriously take a closer look here. Perhaps all this musical chairs movement from one form of church to another (video venue) is good? Perhaps these churches were not doing a good job of discipling their people missionally in the first place? Perhaps I have over stereotyped every mega-church video multi site as being attractional, user friendly and contrary to the missional life and its intense commitments (I admit, this is the way I see things 84% of the time – there are exceptions). Perhaps these people that left never should have been in the small churches in the first place? Perhaps we need to offer many different kinds of church options to the church marketplace and video venue should certainly be one? Who am I to limit people’s free choice of church style? There are certainly times when dead forms of church need to be closed – why not do it this way?
Obviously I think there is some flawed ecclesiology in the above questions. But even if all of these questions could be answered yes, I’d still like to push for all video-venue’s planner-leaders to examine answers to the following questions as you survey the context for your next video installation.
1.) How many people will we anticipate coming from other churches to our video venue church in the first six months? If we set up shop, how many of the people coming will be people transferring to a more convenient form of church?
2.) How many small church communities will be destroyed and closed up because of our new video effort in this locale?
3.) How many actual pagans to the gospel (those who have not been followers of Christ for over ten years say?) will we anticipate be brought into the Kingdom in the first three years based on our strategy.
In fact, survey your previous video venue start-ups for answers to these same questions. I am sure there are good reasons to move people out of local churches, close down smaller churches or call de-churched or previously churches people (as opposed to pagans) into a personal commitment to the life in Jesus as Lord through video preaching (I am serious). Knowing that video-venuing is actually doing this can help clarify not only what the video venue movement is doing but the missional community movement as well.
There are many of us who consider that the gospel requires a way of life to become manifest in post Christendom worlds. The gospel is a way of life, and so no matter how good the quality of the teaching might be, no matter how efficient a job of meting out the goods and services to existing Christians, mission is not possible without true community that inhabits the whole of life as gospel in the neighborhoods. This kind of discipleship is not accomplish-able through video venues. But there may be other contexts where video makes sense? Am I wrong? Maybe? So let’s do some surveys and find out!
Ok, any push back will be warmly received.
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