* Buildings are expensive. Multiple services avoid having to spend outrageous sums to build huge facilities.
* Land is hard to come by. In large cities, a campus large enough for a 5,000-seat auditorium, with classrooms, etc. may be impossible to find, unless the church moves many miles away. It’s just far more fiscally responsible to hold multiple services.
* People need different schedules. Some members work Sundays and need a Saturday night service. Some have early shifts. When a church goes to multiple services, it can accommodate more people.
* Zoning. Some cities have adopted zoning ordinances that are church-unfriendly. They may not allow a large enough parking lot or building. Several churches have found themselves in court over these kinds of issues.
On the whole, the trend to multiple services is good, I think, because it frees up financial resources for better things.
Multiple campuses, on the other hand, is a trend I didn’t see coming. But it’s caught on even here in Tuscaloosa, where we have a campus of a Birmingham church.
The idea is that the sermon is shown by video feed on a screen, either live or via DVD. People are so used to watching TV that they don’t mind not seeing the preacher in person. After all, in some large churches, members sit so far from the pulpit, they have to watch the screen just to see the preacher!
In such churches, a non-preaching pastor is hired for the separate campuses. He serves the church in every way other than preaching, which gives him more time for other duties.
The local church that went to multiple campuses originally did so because they couldn’t find a site to build the bigger building they needed. And once they built one daughter location, they spread to other communities.
There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the advantages and disadvatages of this approach. Obviously, it’s unconventional. But I expect to see more and more of this style. It is, after all, very American. I mean, we’d rather watch the NFL on TV rather than go to a local high school game. We’d rather listen to Eric Clapton on CD rather than hear a local artist perform. We are used to seeing and hearing the very best electronically. It’s no surprise that some of us would rather hear a great preacher 100 miles away rather than a mediocre one 50 feet away.
It’s interesting to ponder how far this will spread. I mean, will people open up mini-Saddleback churches with Rick Warren DVD sermons? We could find churches virtually franchised — and very preacher-centric, which is a dangerous concern. I mean, if loyalty to the preacher is the foundation of the congregation, what happens when he retires — or is caught in scandal?
And there’s something just deeply disturbing about turning church into a commodity.