One of the growing trends in the evangelical world today is the satellite campus. When a church grows too much for its surroundings, or it feels it needs to expand in some significant way but cannot build, it may decide to start a cloned campus of itself.
I want to thank Steve for the link to the story in Christianity Today and his thoughts on the matter. He addresses what is an interesting twist in this trend-what of small rural areas that may not be able to hire a pastor? Would it be beneficial for them if they were part of a satellite campus network? I encourage you to visit his post.
For the uninitiated, a satellite church is a second (or third, fourth…) campus under the auspices of a single church in which the services are a mixture of live and video feed worship and/or sermon. The satellite campus serves another part of a community, but maintains the name, the character and the senior pastor of the main campus. The CT story notes that the Willow Creek satellite campuses are made to look and feel as much like the main campus as possible-like a franchise. The pastor there overseeing the satellite campuses notes:
Even the parking lot directors wear the same orange jackets—so that when people drive up, they immediately feel like they are at Willow. [Jim] Tomberlin says, "We do the same things same way you would do at Starbucks or a McDonald's or a brand name that works."
So what are we to make of this trend? As a church planter, I must admit a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the whole thing. Isn’t a satellite church a little self-centered? Isn’t it a bit too much of an extension of a pastor’s or pastoral staff’s ego? What you find with most churches with satellite campuses is that they are large-up into the tens of thousands many times. Is it really all that hard to plant a sovereign church with all those resources and let them grow in a community themselves? Wouldn’t a church plant be better able to know and meet the needs of a specific community better than a video feed from across town?
Many satellite churches, and the ones mentioned in the article, try to meet those challenges by having pastors who oversee the ministry of the satellite campus and are physically there much the same way a typical pastoral staff would be at the main campus.
After reading the article and reflecting a bit, I have to say that I see some potential positives to this trend.
First, as noted by Steve, there may be ways to make this useful to churches and communities that cannot support a full-time pastor, or who have a hard time finding pastors who will stay for more than a couple of years. Steve also notes, though, that this situation has serious drawbacks as well such as the lack of connection between the “pastor” and the church and the relevance of the pulpit ministry. But if those can be overcome, is there a way to extend the ministry of a large church with many resources to a community that cannot enjoy some of those perks?
Secondly, there simply are things a large church can provide that small churches cannot. I have ministered in both, and see advantages in both sizes, and the advantages in a large church have a lot to do with budget.
Jim Tomberlin notes in the CT article that they have found that if parishioners drive more than 30 minutes to church, they are less likely to be involved or to invite friends. So the satellite, for them, helps to mitigate those problems. If they can drive 10 minutes to the “same” church, they are much more likely to invite friends and be involved. Not a bad result.
But there are other critiques that may go deeper than the results of involvement and franchised convenience. This post is getting long, so those will be developed later…
What are your reactions to this phenomena?