Archive for March, 2008

We continue our conversation about multi-site churches today. I always enjoy the comments and email. Through the conversation, my own thinking on the subject is becoming more clear. I wish we could hear from someone who attends or leads a multi-site church in order to get a sense of their perceptions. As a member of a church that does some things differently than most in my fellowship, I’ve come to learn that the benefits of some things are much deeper than the simple act itself. No one can articulate the fullness of an experience like those who have, well, experienced it. Anyway, here we go…

1. Multi-site churches seem to be built around a personality. A couple of years ago, I was driving in my car with Brian McLaren riding shotgun (yes, I’m dropping names), and we saw a billboard for a multi-site church here in Houston that had a huge picture of the Sr. Pastor on it. I shared with Brian my reservations about the kind of multi-siting they were doing and Brian said, “Well, they have a product, and he is it. He’s what they’re selling.” I’m sure Brian wouldn’t remember that conversation, but I do. Unfortunately, some church leaders seem to be saying, “Hey, come be a part of my empire.” Again, my training and impulse would lead to planting new churches rather than reproducing.

2. Multi-site churches seem to go to silly lengths to justify being multi-site churches. I recently read a paper justifying multi-site churches. The authors mention  that one kind of multi-site church occurs when a church host a service in nursing home. Come on! A service by church members in a retirement community is a little different than 500 folks in a movie theater watching a sermon on video. I remember when I worked as a telemarketer. The owners of the business said that when someone ordered a pizza for delivery then that was telemarketing. Really? The same thing? When you call people at home during dinner they don’t think it’s the same thing. Trust me! Similar actions aren’t always the same thing. Why go through the all the hoops to justify?

3. Multi-site churches do what they do well. Much that is done in many local churches is done poorly. This is the simple truth. Every multi-site church I know appears to function at a high level, with great accountability, and high competency. All churches need to learn from them. They do the gospel a service by giving it the attention and value it deserves. Any of us who have witnessed worship leaders selecting songs right before the church service begins (as I did as a kid) knows that too much of what happens is some churches is far too casual and poorly done.

4.  Multi-site churches are taking full advantage of the full arsenal of technologies that God has made available. Good church leaders know that to best communicate we have to speak to people on their own terms and in ways they know and understand. We live in a screen world — computers, TV’s, navigation devices, iPods, news, sports scores and internet on cell phones, etc… Multi-site church leaders now this and they are using it to the best of their ability.

What are your pros and cons?

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To continue our discussion via comments and email, here are some of my thoughts regarding multi-site churches. The good and the bad are intermixed. As with all things, there are both good and bad aspects and elements that can be used for the glory of God and elements that are simply about the glory of mankind or a particular man.

1. I question what multi-site says about what church is. I come from a free-church tradition that places a great deal of emphasis on the local church. Some of you reading this will know what I mean, and could sing along if I started out, “You can’t go to church as some people say, the common terminology we use everyday…” The multi-site church movement suggest, even at it’s best, that “church” is a place where certain things happen, not a people sent. Obviously, these two impulses aren’t mutually exclusive, but when you can “go” to church online, I have to ask whether that’s more about services than serving.

2. If you’ve got something good, why not extend what God has blessed. This is a strong point of multi-site to me. Trust me, I’ve been around long enough to know that they’re not a lot of great preachers out there. And some bad ones, who are good at many other things in ministry, spend 30+ hours a week working on sermons that don’t turn out well. I would rather see a good preacher on video and work alongside a great minister on my campus than have a preacher who is bad at preaching and spending so much time preparing sermons that they are bad at everything else too. It’s conceivable that campus pastors can inform and work alongside a lead pastor and the local church can accomplish more for their community and the kingdom.

3. I don’t like what multi-site says about church leadership. I fail to see how elders or pastors can effectively pastor people they don’t know. I understand that many multi-site churches function more from a corporate model of leadership than a pastoral one. I believe that as children are born, people die, and decisions are made about church life, the elders of the church, the folks charged with spiritual discernment for the body, should actually know the body. They need to be able to look into the eyes of the people they are charged to lead. What’s more, If I’m preaching a sermon about tithing, while I wouldn’t back off the importance of tithing, I might approach it differently if I lived in Michigan — who has been experiencing a one-state recession for years now — than I might in Houston where the economy has not been as deeply hurt by recent national developments in the economy. One size doesn’t fit all! And multi-site appears to work against contextualization. We would never try to evangelize S. Africa from Austin. And Austin may be just as different from S. Africa as it is a retirement community in S. Florida.

4. Going multi-site can be a good use of the Lord’s resources and meet changing needs across the American landscape. Houston is a big city and there are folks who feel blessed and called to work with a particular church. For one reason or another, the life of one particular body speaks to them. There’s one problem; they live 25 miles away and traffic is “heck!” Several years ago our congregation dismissed our Wednesday night gatherings because people spent more time in the car getting here than they spent here. Interestingly, many of these folks lived about 10 miles from one another. Had we been thinking we might have taken the opportunity to establish another gathering place and different modes of spiritual formation. I still kick myself for not being forward enough to think about multi-siting then. Now the opportunity has passed. We could have formed something, using very little resources, instead of throwing in the towel. In this way, multi-site is rolling with the punches of life in the big city.

More to come…

Multi-Site Church?

Posted: March 28, 2008 in church, consumerism, ministry, theology

I’ve been kicking around the idea/concept of multi-site churches lately. One of the questions that keeps rattling around is this: Why not simply plant a new church? Why not be indigenous?

One church here in Houston simply “bought out” another church, changed the decor and called it a new campus, complete with piped in sermons. Another church I know took over a dying congregation, repainted and called themselves multi-site, though the church was still the same church, the same people. Only now they have a new campus pastor. What’s more, there are churches that offer the chance for your church to become one of their campuses. And that’s not to mention the new phenomenon of Internet Campuses. Can you be part of a church online? What more can Internet Campuses offer besides the media (sermons and songs) side? What and how do they do it?

I go back and forth on multi-site. I can see much good in it. But I get shaky when I hear people say, “Yes, we’re a franchise of X church.” Franchise? Really?

Doesn’t the multi-site movement beg us to ask some fundamental questions? What is a church? Is it simply a place where things happen, certain services rendered? Can a preacher in Texas actually pastor a church in Chicago simply because they get a video of him each week and he shows up in person every two months? What does this say about the incarnation? What about community?

What do you think? Leave a comment or email me. I’d like to know. Part of me really wants to like the idea of multi-site churches. I want to be convinced! But so much of me sees the multi-site movement like the McDonaldlization of church.

Simon Says, “Happy Easter!”

Posted: March 26, 2008 in Everything

I’m not sure what your church did for Easter service, but the Granger Community Church played a life-sized game of Simon. The Pastor, Mark Beeson, used the game as a sermon illustration. I gotta tell you, that is a long way to go for a sermon illustration.

Tax Time

Posted: March 25, 2008 in family

As you know, tax time is upon us. I don’t think I know anyone who “enjoys” paying taxes, even though we all use tax dollars — streets, infrastructure, national security, schools, police enforcement, etc — and the headache of having to comb through your receipts and bills from last year make the process even more mind-numbing. Yet there are some interesting things to ponder as you prepare your  W-2.

1. The number of people who will be waiting in line to file their taxes on April 15. Surely these are the same folks who go shopping on Christmas Eve.

2.  89% of Americans give less that 2% of their after-tax income to charity. So much for all that pretense from people who say they tithe.

3. A tax attorney friend of mine says that Pastor’s income tax returns often raise eyebrows at the IRS because they give away a disproportionate percentage of their income (more than 2% I suspect).

4. Americans who make more that $150,000 on average give 2.2% of their income to charity.

5.  The landmark case regarding minister’s housing allowance was The IRS vs Rick Warren. Warren won! Warren is a man of integrity, and his uprightness allowed those of us who don’t make millions from ministry to keep our housing allowances. Thank goodness it wasn’t The IRS vs. Paula White or some other religious swindler. We’d all be in trouble

6. Thank heavens for little deductions!

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Computer Church

Posted: March 24, 2008 in church

One of my favorite websites, Church Relevance, has a list of the top 80 church websites. Obviously websites are a great way to introduce newcomers to a church. When traveling or going to speak for a church, I always check out the church’s website before I go. I like to see the faces of people and try to ascertain what a church is about.What’s more, an ever-increasing number of people I know use the internet to choose which congregation they will visit as they look for a new church home. Here’s my question: What’s in a website? What can a church do to make its web presence useful? And what can be placed on a website that might make you visit one church rather than another? Could a church by any other website smell as sweet?

E-mail me or leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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Along the same lines, I’m noticing a growing number of churches hosting church “services” on the web. You can go to church by logging on. What do you think about that? I can’t imagine that the fellowship diners are all that good.

Missing You

Posted: March 24, 2008 in books, family, fatherhood, Malia, reading

So, I’ve taken some time away from the blog. I know you’re asking, “Sean, what’s been on your mind.” The answer. Nothing! That’s why I haven’t written much lately. Believe me, I tried. But in truth, we’ve been kind of busy lately, and busyness is antithetical to thoughtfulness — at least for me.

In the the last month I had some good time with the family, we even took a rare family trip to my wife’s hometown, Phoenix. This last month I’ve spent some time reading and writing about pastoral care issues (and actually did some pastoral care), I’ve done some research into early Anabaptist baptismal theology and their union and break with Ulrich Zwingli. I read Chris Matthew’s book, “Life’s A Campaign.” I’m glad I checked it out from the library, because — even though it was a bestseller — it’s not that good a book! Rochelle’s mom spent some of her spring break with us. And to top it all off, I’ve been battling the flu. As a matter of fact, our oldest daughter, Malia, is home sick this morning.

Thankfully, we were able to get a much needed family picture taken over the past few weeks. I’d post-it, but the grandparents need to get their copies first before I throw it out on the net. Trust me, the girls look almost as cute as I do.

Anyway, I hope all is well with you. We’re doing our taxes this week. As Malia says, “That’s the poopiness!” So after the stress of tax season is over, I will return to the self-congratulatory work of  blogging often so I can keep my readership up.

Blessings…