Evergreen Community Church likes to keep their gatherings small and interactive. So when they outgrew their worship space in Portland, Ore., they decided to go multi-site – but without the video.
Now one church in two locations, Evergreen meets at the Lucky Labrador Brew pubs on Hawthorne Boulevard and Quimby Street. But when launching its second site in May, the Portland congregation decided not to beam live video messages to its other campus like many other multi-site communities do.
Bob Hyatt, lead pastor of Evergreen Community and a church planter, says video venues focus "entirely too much on the preaching gifts of one person, a trend even we small 'emerging' types need to counter," Hyatt said in a recent column on Leadership Journal's Out of Ur blog.
"The celebrity church must die. And doing anything – like video venues – that prolongs its life, even in the name of the lost, runs counter to the best interests of the Church in all its expressions, big and small, and its mandate to see more people not only reached, but gifted, trained, and sent," he added.
Once part of a suburban megachurch, Hyatt launched in 2004 a new church community in the unconventional worship space of a pub, hoping to draw the unchurched and formerly churched. After a year and a half, they outgrew the space and moved to the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne. Another year and a half later, they had to move to the Lucky Lab on Quimby because of space limitation. Then, things got crowded again.
While Evergreen's ultimate goal is church planting, the growing congregation wasn't yet ready to plant another separate community, according to Hyatt. So in May 2008, Evergreen launched a second worship gathering back in the Hawthorne pub, thus going multi-site.
Both sites begin worship at 10 a.m. on Sundays but leave out the signature multi-site satellite feed of the preacher's message. Rejecting a church being driven by a "single personality," Evergreen rotates seven elders in teaching at both sites with one primary teaching elder at each.
"Ultimately, I believe what's best is not to come up with new and creative ways to put space between the people teaching and those being taught," Hyatt wrote.
It's part of the church's philosophy of always growing by introducing and re-introducing people to Jesus while keeping worship gatherings small enough for people to really get to know each other.
For Hyatt, video venues are "no different from megachurch-sized services where "parishioner number 3254 has to sit in the 50th row and watch the whole thing on the big screen anyway."
"It's not like she can raise her hand and ask a question. It's not like the one teaching knows who she is anyway... Exactly. To me, video venues simply magnify what's already a problem of megachurches," Hyatt said in the Out of Ur blog.
The Evergreen pastor believes video venues are "a necessary and temporary compromise until your prayers for more workers are answered."
But innovative pastor Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., sees the need to "redeem technology" for God's purposes and believes many people can connect better with a preacher on screen.
When messages beam on a video screen, Batterson says attendees at NCC are "totally engaged and finding faith in Christ."
"In some ways, in a large auditorium, a larger image on the screen is easier to connect with than a small speaker up front. People can see facial expressions. And there is a spiritual connection that transcends the video," he told The Christian Post.
NCC meets on four unique campuses in the Washington, D.C., metro area, including movie theaters and a coffeehouse, for Sunday worship and is recognized as one of America's most innovative churches.
For Batterson – who is in Dallas, Texas, this weekend for the Echo Church Media Conference where church leaders are discussing new and creatives forms and uses of media – video messages work.
"For what it's worth, our webcast (an online video message) is probably our greatest means of influence," he said. "It goes out to thousands of people in eighty-three countries. I think it works here. I think it works there. I think it works everywhere."
Meanwhile, Hyatt hopes to launch a couple more sites and eventually reach "a size at which we'll have the people and resources to start planting churches around Portland."