Video venues are flying off the ecclesial griddle like hot cakes. Everyone seems to be doing it. Some with great success, if success is primarily determined by increased attendance at the multi-site video venue church. Many growing churches are getting behind this trend. Who knows if the trend is here to stay or merely a flash in the pan? Regardless, I am convinced that churches must carefully and prayerfully consider not only the short-term but long-term practical and theological implications of launching a site where the preacher is not present but projected.
Here are some of the major pros and cons of video venue preaching. The question that must be asked and answered is, do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa?
Pros of Projection
-The most effective preacher gets projected. Let’s face it, there are relatively few preachers who hit the sermonic ball out of the park on a regular basis. And, there are many who are mediocre at best. Why shouldn’t the church put her best foot forward in order to impact more lives through preaching? So much is at stake. Seekers who visit churches do not typically return a second time to hear irrelevant sermons that seem disconnected from real life. An effective projected preacher seems better than an ineffective present preacher.
-Video venue preaching is efficient. It doesn’t take too much time or money to launch a video venue. The main expense is renting a facility with seating capacity and projection capability. While most video venues have a campus pastor/host who is present, you don’t need a high quality and expensive communicator. That person is projected. So, if you can rent a facility with projection and recruit a campus host, you can launch a video venue site rather quickly. If efficiency is what you’re looking for, the video venue is for you.
-Current culture is enamored with the screen. Many North Americans spend countless hours each week looking at a computer screen, TV screen, or big screen at the local movie theatre. Simply put, people are used to the screen. A case could be made, however, that people are sick of looking at screens and find a live performance refreshing. But, apparently, many nominally churched and unchurched people feel as though a projected preacher is safer than a present preacher.
Cons of Projection
-A projected preacher proclaiming a God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” feels like a contradiction. The incarnation of God in Christ is the central event of Christianity. God came onto our turf as one of us to save us because he loves us. He came to 1st century Jews as a 1st century Jew. He was physically neck deep in the culture he was trying to reach. He preached profoundly to people because he put himself in their sandals and walked where they walked. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). God didn’t show up as a projection but as real presence. How can a Christian preacher do anything less?
-A projected preacher cannot preach a truly contextual sermon. Every congregational context is different. The sermon developed for the mother church is not designed specifically for the multi-site video venue, especially if those contexts are radically different. The live “in the flesh” sermon I preach at a Caucasian church in an affluent suburb of Dallas will not contextually connect via video to an African American congregation in an impoverished urban area. Plus, the projected preacher on video cannot adjust “on the fly” to congregational cues during the preaching event. Can pastoral preaching really be done from a distance?
-Projecting one preacher prevents others preachers from being developed. If we are concerned about utilizing our best preacher, then video venue is the way to go. But, if we are focused on developing the next generation of preachers, the video venue should be avoided. The way to develop more and better preachers is to give them lots and lots of opportunities to preach. If the resident preaching pro is the only one preaching, the growth of potential preachers on the team will be stifled. In the short run, projecting the best communicator seems wise, but it is disastrous in the long run. When the elite projected preachers are gone who will replace them? Under-developed preachers?
More pros and cons of video venue preaching could be listed, so I welcome your response. Do you think the pros outweigh the cons or that the cons outweigh the pros? Is video venue preaching driven by pragmatism or theology? As I wrestle with these questions, I am genuinely interested in your perspective. In fact, I need it.