John Mark Comer, whose new book just landed on my desk (Loveology) and I’m more than a little interested in what he says, was recently interviewed about Solid Rock Church. In the interview he made some comments about multi-site churches, and I’m wondering what you think:
What do you think of multi-site churches? What kind of ecclesiology is at work? Why would one not start other churches with other pastors/preachers? Is this empire-building?
The multi-site model is basically ministry franchising. It’s the Starbucks model of “local” church. Now the good thing about Starbucks is you get the exact same cup of coffee everywhere in the world. I was in England recently (not known for good coffee), and seeing the green Starbucks sign was like finding an oasis in the desert.
But the bad thing about Starbucks is that their conformity flattens the creativity of individual baristas or shop owners. It’s an a-cultural expression. It all tastes the same. So whether you’re in downtown Portland or in Mumbai, India, you get the exact same cup of burnt-tasting coffee.
That’s what a multi-site model (especially with video) is—despite attempts to counteract those tendencies. The very nature of it flattens diversity and color. Maybe it’s bad or maybe it’s good, but there it is.
Now, I want to be clear—I have a great deal of respect for some pastors who do this. Many of my friends in ministry work this way. I don’t want to come across as the arrogant young guy, or dismissive, or overly critical of something that the Lord’s using to draw people. But I’m finding that this type of ministry takes church in a direction that we need to pause and consider.
With multi-site models and video-venue preaching, large churches have changed how we’ve done ecclesiology for 2,000 years. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong, but I think there should be more of a conversation about it. People bought into it really fast. Maybe it is the next best thing since the pew and the sound system. But I don’t know. The broader community needs to wrestle and critique it.
What does it mean for a pastor to live in one city and be the primary preacher for people in another state? Should we think about that a little bit before we adopt this model? It might be wise. The model is very American—and not in a good way. In the UK, for example, they don’t have the celebrity thing like we do. They loathe branding. They have much more respect for tradition and homegrown. So if we swallow a cultural hook without thinking about it, is that really going to produce solid ecclesiology?