American Megachurches: Multiple locations and multiple services

It’s hardly all that novel for a church to have multiple services. That’s been going on for a long time. But the survey found that more churches are having more services. Why?

* 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.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to American Megachurches: Multiple locations and multiple services

  1. Anon says:

    Old post, I know.

    The largest UMC in the US in Leawood, KS has a 3100 seat auditorium. A permanent sanctuary is going up, but will only seat 3500, down from the originally planned 7000. Why?

    Some cities wouldn’t approve of a building that large. Too many residential neighbors.

    Multi campus and multi service offers…. Well, something for everyone. You can have a traditional service with organ and choir, a new traditions service with acoustic band, traditional choir and orchestra, or full band. You can fit 14000 people in two services in a 7000 seat sanctuary, however you may not get them all to agree on the worship style!

    Multi campus gives the ability to meet people where they are at. Closer to their neighborhood. Or maybe the campus turns an old bar into a house of worship.

    Online streaming is big too. Sick? On vacation? Just worship wherever you are. I know of assisted living homes that live stream worship as secondary locations. One snow storm Sunday, that UMC had over 8000 people join online. When some churches cancel because of weather, they tell their members to worship online at other churches around the country. Something to think about.

    This can put a preacher up on a pedestal. They need our continual prayers.

    Thanks for your blog, Jay. It is incredibly inspiring, disheartening, and food for the soul, all wrapped up like a breakfast burrito. I echo your calls for unity and grace and a return to the original Restoration Movement ideas.

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