Thursday, September 08, 2005

Satellite Church: More Thoughts On Cultural Captivity

Continuing some thoughts on satellite church campuses, I have run across a few other reactions to the same article and people’s personal experiences with them that I find very instructive.

The first is a comment by Bob Robinson in which he states, “Satellite churches are in danger of making the Sunday worship event so central to ecclesiology that they miss becoming a transformative kingdom community.” This highlights a few crucial issues about why we do church the way we do it.

Are we trying to focus people’s spiritual lives around the experience they receive on the weekend? Even if that is not our intent, it is the inevitable result of a format that is so heavily focused on the concert-like event of a popular and well-funded church? I believe that we help engender consumerism in our adherents when we think our services and pulpit ministers so important that we feel the need to franchise them and keep other communities of differing flavors from evolving. We can ask the question then, looking at how we spend out time and money, what is the difference between where we “worship” and where we buy socks? There is no need for personal involvement or transformation when I purchase socks at the cheapest and best-stocked store or when I choose to “worship” and the latest and greatest fad in evangelical churches.

Should we not rather be focusing people’s spiritual lives on living every breath in the life of Christ? If that is the case, then the focus of our weekend services may change drastically, and might I say, our pastor’s sense of self-importance will be knocked down a few notches. Try as I might to be charitable to this phenomena, I can’t get over the visceral reaction that satellite campuses are inherently prideful. If a large and relatively wealthy church is concerned about another community’s spiritual need, why not plant a church?

The second set of comments comes from the inimitable Dr. Groothuis at The Constructive Curmudgeon. A couple of his comments:

We should unmask the controlling presupposition at work here—functional rationalism. The idea is to create products that can be efficiently reproduced according to a standard model in multiple locations. This works well for mass-market behemoths such as McDonald's, but should we then embrace McChurch, McPastor, or (heaven help us) McGod?

Moreover, these electronically mediated services must be calibrated to the minute if not the second. Hence, the obeisance to the idol of Chronos. What of the serendipitous work of the Holy Spirit wrought through the personal encounter of a pastor with his or her flock?

His first worry is “functional rationalism.” What I think he is concerned with may be colloquially stated as, “you cannot argue with success!” If it works for mega-corporations, it must work for mega-churches, and most importantly, if it makes us bigger it must be theologically and ecclesiologically acceptable. That is a huge leap in logic, but one that is taken way too often in evangelicalism.

The second concern noted above also strikes at the heart of the issue-where does God fit in? What if one congregation needs to be involved in worship longer than the other? What if a pastor senses his “live” audience requires more time on a certain point, but cannot do so because of the time constraints placed on him due to the narcissism of satellite campuses? Does it then become impossible for a pastor to be faithful to the active work of the Holy Spirit in a service when he or she cannot actually interact with the broadcast audience or the “live” congregation? I might think so.


Nathan said...

I think you hit the nail on the head by diagnosing satellite campuses (or "video venues" as I've heard them called) are matters of pride, particularly from the pastor & his leadership team. Its a matter of control and thinking that no one else could possibly provide the quality of preaching, music, programming, etc. Which to some extent is actually true. A mega-church's budget opens the door to many things smaller churches just could not do - the question is, of course, is this really a bad thing?

Tony Myles said...

I affirm the danger of pride... experienced that one.

However, this could just be a fancy way of reaching into new areas of a city. You could church plant or start a new church with your existing teaching, but either way there needs to be people on that site to care for people.

Bob Robinson said...

I'm honored to be quoted alongside the "inimitable" Douglas Groothuis!

I still keep going back and forth on this. For some, yes, it is a pride thing.

But then I read in the original CT article about Life Church pastor Craig Groeschel, who seems to be using the satellite model to "hang on to a small-church feel despite the congregation's growth...Life's first two campuses seat 2,000 and 1,400 respectively. Every campus started since then has about 500 seats, and some will have as few as 200 people at an experience."

"People like the options and quality of megachurches, yet crave the intimacy of smaller churches," Groeschel told CT. "This model gives you both. You can go to an experience that may have 200 people and dive into deep biblical community with them, and at the same time, you have the option of going on any one of 25 different mission trips during the year. So you get the benefits of a smaller community with the benefits of a megachurch."

That sounds good to me...

Phil Steiger said...

Bob-I must admit that I go back and forth on this issue mainly due to that kind of consideration. The things a mega-church budget can provide are not to be sneezed at. But can they be accomplished in a more sovereign-church format?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for being 5 years late, but my church was recently taken over by a mega-UMC church. After experiencing the conversion to a franchise, it has been one of the worst experiences of my religious life. My wife and I are constantly at each other and one of my kids has joined her. I have fundamental problems with the franchise model and will not worship a passive aggressive, egomaniac and his church. I have finally agreed to go back and not make any disagreeable noises. I will read my study bible. I will truly hate going to church and putting up with the pro-franchise zealots who want not to hear a discouraging word.