Okay- thanks everyone for the comments below on video venues- thanks especially to Darrin, who provides what I think is a needed perspective (and tone) on the matter.
My response to the whole thing...
I understand Darrin's concern that there just don't seem to be enough called, gifted people to plant and pastor churches.
I'm just not sure that I agree.
He sites the 70% failure rate in church plants as evidence of this.
I'm just not sure that one (70% failure rate) equates to the other (not enough qualified/gifted/called people).
And while I appreciate Darrin's tone (video venues CLEARLY are not the way he would prefer to go), I think more can be said, even if a church finds itself in the position of HAVING to plant a video venue.
Look, it's not like at different times we haven't needed to do different things to make sure that local communities were taught and were being cared for. Circuit riding preachers have a long and storied history in the church.
But no one has ever suggested we pursue that as a model. It was always a necessary compromise, a "good" until "better" came along.
My concerns about video venues are copious. I have extreme issues with people who are being eldered and taught by people they do not regularly come into contact with, whose lives they cannot see, know and inform as well as be informed by. This is bad in the case of a mega church, where most do not know who their elders are, much less "know" them. I think it's even worse in the case of video venues, where elders from the mother ship are given oversight of communities in outlying areas of their city (or even 100 or more miles away), church communities they are not functionally a part of.
The thing I fail to hear time and time again in this discussion is sufficient thought given to those who will be pastored by video. What I do hear is, "It's no different than in our main service when parishoner number 3254 has to sit in the 50th row and watch the whole thing on the big screen anyway. It's not like they can raise their hand and ask a question and it's not like I'm ever going to have them over for dinner anyway, so..."
Exactly. (The only problem is, what some see as a justification for video venues I see as an indictment of mega-churches.)
The answer is not to come up with new and creative ways to put space between those teaching and those being taught. The answer is to shrink that space as much as is humanly possible for the sake of those being taught. If the problem is not enough qualified teachers, you do whatever you can to find, call, equip and send teachers. You don't install a video screen and beam teaching from 200 miles away (as is the case with some video venues). And if you do have to install that video venue, you call it what it is- a necessary and temporary compromise until your prayers for more workers for that particular field are answered.
What I want to hear from those who plant these is what they are doing to raise up indigenous elders for these new communities, including teaching elders. I see the bootcamps and the trainings and I think they are great. Seriously. But I'm fairly sure that the problem is that the bar is being set at "Can he (natch) pastor a church of thousands?" Perhaps if the question was "Can he or she, along with a team of others, lead a Christ-centered community that starts with 50 and grows from there, reproducing itself before becoming unmanageable and growing past the gifting of it's leadership?" I think with a little tweaking of the question, you might find more gifted/qualified people than you realize. Do 70% of church plants fail because of the planter? Or do 70% of church plants fail because of the unreasonable expectations placed on the planter, the unsustainable "big launch" methods where thousands of dollars are pumped into new churches in an effort to make them big, fast and the consumer mindset of many Christians who have been conditioned to want it all now who look at the big churches down the street with not a small amount of envy?
And, honestly, the argument that "my teaching is what reaches people" only goes so far.
Okay- so you have a "ten talent" gift for preaching and people come to know Jesus through your messages. First, I'd say that it's a bit reductionistic to leave the rest of your community out of that equation- you don't do this thing alone. People come to Christ in community, and the teaching they hear when and if they visit the Sunday gathering is only a small part of the equation. Better to give credit to the love your community shows people as one of the main conrtibuting factors.
And let's not forget the Holy Spirit.
I think that making the argument that for the sake of the lost we have to beam the best preachers to the most locations so that their teaching talent can be used strikes me as a bit out-of-balance, not to mention curious coming from Reformed folk who lean heavily on the prevenient grace of God, and the drawing power of the Holy Spirit when speaking of why people come to Christ.
It's true that "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" But it seems like the underlying message of video venues is "We need to ensure that the BEST preachers gain the BIGGEST audience so that the Holy Spirit will have the most opportunity to work."
And I'm sorry, but that seems somewhat counter to Scripture.
It's not the preacher that brings people to Jesus. Not his or her eloquence, not his or her powers of pursuasion.
It's the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who sent Paul, and "not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power." The same Holy Spirit who says "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." The same Holy Spirit that gives the gift of pastors and teachers where new communities of Christ followers spring up. At least, I'm pretty certain he's still giving pastors and teachers and evangelists and so on to local communities...
So while it may make sense in some ways to say that a church with a "ten talent" preacher might bring more people to Jesus, I say that the evidence and the Scriptures say: a community that loves people, that faithfully with words and deeds proclaims the Gospel will be used by God to bring people to Him. And it seems as though that happens (according to statistics) mostly in smaller communities, between 100 and 200 (see the Finch quote here)
So- are video venues where the best preaching is beamed to insta-congregations of more than 200 people really the BEST way to reach people?
And be careful- your answer, I think, says a lot about your eccelsiology, your soteriology and pnuematology.
Okay, a whole lot of people love your preaching and want to hear it. Let them get saved and discipled there at your community, or spend a season there, and then point them to your pod/vodcast and send them as missionaries, part of a church plant tasked to reach their local communities. But don't say, "Well, people just want to hear me, so we have to make a way for them all to physically sit in a room and either watch me or my video representation." It simply makes no sense when we're talking about maturing Christ followers who will live self-sacrificially in communities centered around Jesus, not centered around a preaching personality.
Ultimately, Video Venues strike me as a poor compromise, maybe a necessary one in some places, but not the best, and certainly not a strategy to be pursued even along side traditional church plants. They focus entirely too much on the preaching gifts of one person, a trend even we small "emerging" types need to work to counter (I write that last sentence with some amount of feeling convicted).
I'm not the first and I won't be the last to say it, but the celebrity church must die. And doing anything that prolongs its life (like video venues), even in the name of the lost, I believe, runs counter to the best interests of the Church in all its expressions, big and mall, and all its hopes and dream to see more people not only reached, but gifted, trained and sent.
More on this later...