Okay, that title is homage to James MacDonald, who says congregationalism is from Satan and whom I had the privilege of spending a couple days with at the recent 9marks @ Southeastern Conference.  During the Baptist21 Panel, our moderator stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest by asking me what I thought about multi-site churches.  Why me? I thought.  Mark Dever is sitting right there.  He loves talking about this stuff.  Aww… man.  Ask me about basketball.

So, after I finished my pity party, I answered my brother’s question, stated something like: “Thabiti, what arguments for multi-site have you found persuasive?”  My articulate response: “Uh, none.”

Okay, this should be the end of the post.  But because I’m in the Miami airport and the people-watching has become a bit weird, I think I’d rather invite you all to my misery and discovery.

Idolatry

At bottom, I think the kind of multi-site churches (realizing there are a few different approaches) that feature one pastor being beamed into several sites around a region—and in some cases around the country or world—is simply idolatry.  It’s certainly cult of personality multiplied and digitized for a consumer audience.  As a brilliant young man remarked to me this morning, “The pastor now becomes the new icon in the midst of the Protestant worship service.”  I think that’s well said.  Video multi-site tends to idolatry, pride, and self-promotion—even where the ambition of spreading the gospel is genuine.  In other words, the ends do not justify the means because some of the ends produced will undoubtedly be odious in God’s sight.

Now I can hear folks pushing back, saying, “There’s cult of personality in small churches with no screens, etc.”  To be sure.  But here’s the difference: In that small church where the pastor is live, his life is visible and the accountability to the congregation far more achievable.  The people get to see his warts and stand half a chance of speaking into his life—even dismissing him if needs dictate.  Such accountability can go terribly wrong.  But it’s nigh unto impossible the farther the pastor gets away from the congregation he serves.  I can’t think of being farther away than being beamed in remotely.  Moreover, the guy standing live before a pulpit stands on biblical ground.  The guy standing on airwaves has chosen a medium without biblical grounds and a medium with greater, more efficient idol-making potential wired into it.  The heart is an idol factory.  The screen cranks that factory up several levels.

Competition and Pride

Try as one might, I can’t escape the conclusion that those who take the multi-site option are effectively saying, “My preacher is better than your preacher, so we’re gonna brand him and export him to a theater near you.”  That’s crass, I know.  But that’s really the bottom line.  Even during our panel discussion, the main argument for multi-site was “our best preacher should do all the preaching because the other guys are gifted differently or aren’t as good.”  Now that’s disturbing.  And it’s disturbing precisely because it elevates one preacher above all others, and, despite protests to the contrary, it intentionally neglects the development of other preachers who are “good enough.”  Furthermore, doesn’t it confuse a person’s gifting with God’s blessing?  A church is large not because the guy up front has unusual gifts, but because God in His sovereign kindness has decided to add to the number.

Besides, why would you have elders at a multi-site location and not appoint a main preacher or a team of preachers from among them? Why intentionally opt for an absentee pastor?  Why make best the enemy of good?  Why?  Unless there lurks a merchandising and market monopoly spirit driving an expansion of “my church” at the expense of other more biblical and longer term effective methods.  Many of my multi-site brothers are doing a great job at planting churches, and they do have methods for training young men.  But from the distance of the Caribbean at least, it looks and sounds like the reps the young guys receive are not “prime time” reps.  Preachers are made by preaching.  A man who has this gift needs, by God’s design, to use this gift.  If the video multi-site phenomena curtails the use of this gift, then it’s actually retarding the development of gifted men.  It’s ironic, really.  Many multi-site folks are also theological charismatics who argue for the use of all the spiritual gifts.  But the one gift that Paul says should take center place (prophecy, or preaching), they seem to despise in others.

Removes “Local” from “Local Churches”

Which brings me to another suspicion.  To the extent one argues “our main guy must do the preaching and be beamed out,” then I think you effectively disavow the “local” in the phrase “local church.”  A very thoughtful pastor pointed out this morning that we surely need a better theology of the unity of the church beyond the local church.  But I think the multi-site, multi-campus strategy that is not speedily and intentionally moving to church planting unravels the local church with an absentee pastor model.  Indeed, “church” becomes a strange moniker for this situation.  A “church” is not just an assembly, it’s an assembly that is also a “family” where the members do all the one anothers and also a “body” where the joints are connected to supply to one another and a “flock” kept in a corral where the shepherds feed, bind, lead, and guide in personal relationship.  Multi-site churches reduce the family, body, and flock to an anonymous assembly.  In that way it trades in the lowest common denominator (assembling) while effectively mimicking “local.”

Idolatry… Again

And there’s another form of idolatry going on in some of this strategy.  Again, at breakfast, a rather astute young man pointed this out to me.  For some of the tech heads among us, the very technology is idolatrous.  This young man, a guy who leads the technology ministry at his church and thinks a lot about the theological underpinnings of the church’s use of technology, told me of a technology convention he recently attended.  During the convention, they were given a tour of a well-known mega-church who’ll remain nameless to protect the guilty.  He reflected on the barely muffled “ooohhhss” and “aaahhhss” rising from the techies as they got a glimpse of all the techno wizardry.  He felt the same in his own heart.  In a secular culture that prizes flat screens, blu-ray, and a host of other man toys, we need to think carefully about the use of technology.  For it’s possible to not only make an idol of the pixelated preacher posing as pastor from some major distance, but to also bow at the shrine of technology itself.  Our hearts easily gravitate toward entertainment and celebrity when the preaching event gets broadcast on screen rather than shared in flesh and blood.  The same equations that drive our movie and actor choices now drive our preacher and church choices.

Pragmatism

Another observation: Does anyone else hear the shrill voice of pragmatism in the justifications for multi-site churches?  The main retort from many of the proponents is, “It works.”  Now, I’m not afraid of doing things that “work.”  But the claims to “it works” seem to me a bit myopic.  Works in what way?  Well, you begin to hear the statistics and numbers.  We’ve increased attendance or grown membership or conducted x number of baptisms for, example.  But these metrics are blunt.  They’re not refined by numbers leaving other churches, or numbers becoming anonymous in these massive congregations, or numbers who once had a personal relationship with their pastors who now do not.  As a social scientist, I’m not at all impressed with the pragmatic appeal to these gross numbers because, contrary to public opinion, these kinds of numbers do not “tell the story.”  And I think the jury is still out on whether “it works.”  That jury won’t be in with a verdict for another several decades, I’m afraid.  And theologically, the pragmatic appeals to “it works” persuade very little.  Too many other things we’re called to be faithful in doing are simply left undone in this approach.  If that’s true, what exactly is this model “working” at?

Cultural Captivity

Finally, a word about cultural engagement.  Sometimes proponents talk about the strategy’s use as a means to redeem certain aspects of the culture, like the use of technology.  They say, “Hey, do you use microphones in your services?  Then this technology is fine, too.”  They argue that it’s either a full-on I-Max experience or off to Amish country we go.  Here’s what that perspective lacks, in my opinion: Any real deep thought about the structuring elements and assumptions of culture.  In other words, most of the talk about culture and technology lives at the superficial level of cultural artifacts, tools and technologies produced in cultural settings.  Little of the conversation goes to the underlying philosophies and world views underpinning the technology.  Out of what world of thinking and values did this technology arise?  And how does that world of thinking and values affect our use of it?  When we ask and answer those questions, then we’re starting to probe culture at its source.  And only then can we talk credibly about redemption, rejection, and reformation of culture.

Take, for example, the use of video.  Where does that technology come from?  What’s it’s use?  What values prompt its creation?  In terms of video, a quick answer would be it comes from the world of entertainment.  It’s use is fantasy, entertainment, and image-making.  It promotes image and fantasy and make-believe over the glories of reality with all its warts and beauties.  In the adoption of this medium or technological artifact, are we not also unwittingly adopting cultural assumptions that produce the medium, assumptions that are antithetical to the life and worldviews of the Bible and the Christian?  I fear we are.  Perhaps that’s why we’re sometimes agitated in this discussion or nervous about such innovations but can’t quite put our fingers on why we’re bothered.  At the deepest level of cultural being, we feel the antithesis or at least suspect it’s there.

There you have it.  That’s why multi-site churches are from Satan, or a few quick reflections in a crowded airport on a movement in the Lord’s church that we ought to slow down and think about.  And in some cases, reverse course.

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257 thoughts on “Multi-Site Churches Are from the Devil”

  1. Well… that won’t stir up any controversy. On a more serious note, those are very helpful reflections.

  2. Doug says:

    Thabiti,

    One of your very best posts. Thank you so much!!!

    ~ Doug

  3. Daryl Little says:

    You put into words many of my own thoughts.

    Which may be bad for your reputation…

    Will written.

  4. Henry Petrash says:

    these words are a blessing. I had never considered this at all but what you have said makes a ton of sense. Thanks for having the courage to say it.

  5. Jon Clayton says:

    Very good points…

  6. Mark says:

    I appreciate your insight, Thabiti.

  7. Dan Phillips says:

    Brother, amen and bingo. In fact, I’ll see you and raise you a couple that might not stand out as starkly to you.

    If multi-site churches foster preening, prima-donna pastors, what do they do to the people? Do they not produce people who “won’t settle” for anything less than a superstar pastor who (necessarily!) entertains them but keeps his distance from them? who preaches slick, sweet, perfect sermons, but never inconveniences them with his imperfections or confronts them about theirs?

    But more: what does it say to the many gifted men who either (A) labor in small, struggling churches, or (B) long to preach the Word but don’t have a church to pastor, while Megachurch Omega has so many people flooding in to see the Main Attraction that it (A) can’t conceive of planting some churches and installing pastors who will — oh, I don’t know, maybe PASTOR them and GROW WITH them?, and (B) can only conceive of building a building, buying some technology, and cloning their superstar’s graven image?

    I have a few thoughts on the subject also myself, as you may have noted. Those are a couple of them, for starters.

    1. James says:

      What exactly is a ‘struggling church’ that would feature a gifted man laboring in its midst?

      1. Dan Phillips says:

        A church with low attendance and low giving, challenged to remunerate and support the pastor(s) as God commands, to help the poor in its midst, to afford a place in which to meet together and keep it up — as opposed (read the comment) to a megachurch with more people than it knows how to handle, for starters. I’m not sure how the phrase was opaque to you.

        1. James says:

          It was opaque due to the schema that I envision as founded in Ephesians 4. I suppose the criteria you have introduced for the definition of ‘struggling’ do not typically equate into the evaluation of a local assembly’s ability to manifest it’s calling to the community around it.

          That’s all.

      2. David Deem says:

        “struggling church”? How about an inner city church in a neighborhood where the median income is under $20,000? I know of more than one church that is blessed with very good pastor who are also good preacher and have all kinds of trouble paying the bills.

    2. Anonymous says:

      Yes, to your entire comment. Within this movement I find pastors don’t pastor anymore. Instead they move from one speaking event, to the next book deal, to the next arena event, building their own name and career brand, far more than Christ’s. I thought Jesus said “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”, not makes a life for himself off the backs of the sheep. The sheep are secondary and means to their end. God is not pleased, nor are the hard working sheep who pay their big salaries.

  8. gloria dyet says:

    Agree with you. Can’t stand the video stuff takes away from worship of God.

  9. Justin R. says:

    I am confounded when multi-site guys boast of the dramatic spike in attendance once the video gets beamed into a new site while, simultaneously, denying that the multi-site phenomenon creates pastor/celebrity centered churches. Why else did the attendance triple once Pastor So-and-So’s sermons got beamed in by video?

    The troubling question to ask is, What will happen to that spike in attendance once Pastor So-and-So’s sermons stop getting beamed in?

    Like you mentioned, its a pragmatic approach that we will ultimately discover isn’t pragmatic in the long haul.

  10. Matt Hauck says:

    Very thoughtful and probing critique. I had until now disapproved, yet not with such clarity as now. Definitely some helpful insights here.

  11. david carlson says:

    Is this the new Lark News website?

  12. Steve says:

    LOL – wrong.

  13. Rod says:

    Thank you for this very thoughtful response. I’ve always been troubled by this move to remove the “local” from local church.

  14. CR says:

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  15. Mary E T says:

    I agree, excellent post!

  16. Wilson says:

    I had a good laugh when I imagined you in a comical way thinking to yourself “mark dever is right there!”

    Great post, this also reminds me of the TGC conversations, where MacDonald and Driscoll was trying to persuade Dever on doing multi site as a form of church planting strategy. This has probe I trust not only me, but many to reconsider and think through what is a biblical eccelesiology. Thank you Thabiti.

    1. Mark says:

      I saw this TGC conversation as well. I was won over to Dever’s view based on how he conducted himself. MacDonald and Driscoll came off as arrogant, cocky, and simply rude in this interview, never allowing Dever to explain his view. Dever remained gracious and humble. I’m not really concerned with reasons why we shouldn’t do multi-site as I am concerned with the bad reasons put for as why we should do it. Multi-site as church planting? Sounds good but I don’t see it happening.

      1. Bridgett says:

        I’d like to gently correct those who claim that MacDonald and Driscoll said that multi-site was a strategy for church planting. I’ve seen that video to which you refer, twice, and that is not at all what they said.
        Both Harvest and Mars Hill have planted churches AND have multi-sites/multi-campuses.
        What Driscoll said about a multi-campus turning in to a chruch plant was if he suddenly died.
        I do not know that numbers of Mars Hill, but Harvest has now planted 70+ self-governing, autonomous, other-than-MacDonald-preaching, churches in the last 11 years. In other words, more folks are hearing non-MacDonald preaching via Harvest, than his multi-campus-Chicago-area church.

  17. DARLENE WIEBE says:

    What about tv church services. If that tv sunday service is being shown in 50 different countries to reach the lost who have never heard the gospel before and souls are being won for Jesus, who are we or you to judge. Doesn’t the bible say go to the ends of the earth with the gospel. Then the end will come. Does it really matter what kind of media tv,services beamed in? As long as they are speaking God’s way of salvation and backed by the scripture that is what is truly important!!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Darlene,

      Thanks for stopping by the blog, reading the post, and leaving a comment. I appreciate all three as acts of grace and iron sharpening iron.

      Briefly, I would draw a distinction between getting the gospel into “closed” countries via television or the internet and building a local church on that strategy. In one case, you’re pushing into the uncharted frontiers of the gospel. In the other case, I’m arguing you may unwittingly be undoing what Jesus promised to build in Matthew 16. Further, I would say that even in those unreached missions settings the end-game is not simply beaming in the gospel but the establishment of disciple-making churches. So, at best, television as a missions strategy can only be regarded as an entry strategy of sorts, not “the whole enchilada.” Even in those missions contexts (which most of the NT letters address), we’re aiming at the establishment of local churches with elders in every church teaching and shepherding the people. Ultimately, that’s what we’re called to do, so we want to be careful of things that take its place.

      I hope that helps. Thanks again for being a conversation partner. Please drop another note or comment if you like.

      For Jesus,
      T-

    2. Keith says:

      Darlene, back when I was in seminary we crunched some numbers and learned that only a tiny number of converts to Christ happen as a result of TV evangelism or televised church services (I can’t recall the exact figure, but it’s well below 1/10th of 1%). Given the prohibitive cost of such programing, it turns out to be the least cost-effective form of evangelism or church planting. When you say “who are we to judge” you’re forgetting we’re supposed to be good stewards of the financial resources we have on hand.

      Christian radio broadcasting is much, much more effective. And it turns out that THE most effective form of evangelism is face-to-face encounters, preferably where relationships already exist. Who’d a thunk? The Church as only been doing that since the time of Christ …

  18. Jeremy says:

    Why are we dividing the body of Christ over this issue now? Prominent, evangelical theologians such as Gregg Allison have Biblically defended the use of multi-site well. I think this is a non-issue and a post that is merely intended to create more difficulty for those churches that are using multi-site broadcasts. You should not guess the motives of the pastors and churches who do use a video-feed, etc. to broadcast their sermons and simply label it as idolatry. I think you ought to rethink your post here and I think it should have stopped at the line where you say, “this should be the end of the post.”

    When words are many, transgression is not lacking – Proverbs 10:19

    1. Reid says:

      Gregg Allison has defended multi site (postd also by 9Marks) but his personal recommendation is “Elder-led, Deacon-served, Congregational Multi-site Church for City Reaching” and it is different in many ways than what Thabiti is critiquing here. These can and do have live preachers, plurality of elders and a network of campus/churches. I do think there are elders who also serve as bishops in this model – whether that bothers folk or not likely depends on if you have allergic reactions to the word or really object to any sort of connectionalism..

      1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Thanks Jeremy and Reid for joining the conversation. Jeremy, I think Reid said succinctly what I would say in response. As I say in the post, I haven’t found the arguments for multi-sites (in general) very compelling. My comfort level goes up–and more importantly, my sense of the biblical faithfulness of the strategy goes up–when the “multi-site” looks and acts like a genuine local church rather than a “satellite” orbiting a church/pastor elsewhere. Allison’s description begins to get where we need to be, and his description looks a lot like genuine local churches, imo.

        Thanks guys for the exchange.
        T-

        1. Bridgett says:

          Thabiti,
          I’m confused by your reply here. It would appear that your issue is not with the concept of multi-site/multi-campuses, as much as you are by the details about how *some* are set up?
          I wish your blog post would have been more thorough in talking about the different methods churches implement multi-site, and critiquing those things, rather than claiming that multi-sites are unbiblical.

          1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

            Hi Bridgett,

            Welcome to the conversation. Thanks for stopping by and engaging with this issue. I appreciate your question and critique.

            As others have also pointed out, the post would have been strengthened considerably if I would have spent more time defining the concept I am critiquing. I tried to give a brief definition early in the post, referring principally to the multi-sites where a pastor is beamed in to other churches–sometimes several states and in some cases countries away! That’s what’s mostly in my sight in this post. Interestingly, few have shared their thoughts about such strategies.

            Here’s the gist for me: I recognize that many of the leaders of multi-site are also great leaders in church planting. They’ve invested considerable energy and resources in seeing other local churches established around the world, churches overseen by teaching/preaching elders locally. I’m a huge fan of that effort and pray for more fruit. May their tribe increase!

            But I’ve not heard a compelling argument for is the necessity of “beaming” a guy into a setting that could and probably should be an independent local church. The arguments have been largely pragmatic, often failing to wrestle with the biblical pattern except to attempt saying the Bible “permits it” or is “silent about it.” I’m suggesting that actually the Bible is not so silent about what constitutes a local church and the necessity of a local preaching pastor, and that we should carefully consider potentially unhealthy forces that may alloy themselves with other godly motives for doing this. In the end, I do not think multi-site churches are biblical. That doesn’t mean they’re inherently sinful. But they are not “biblical” in the sense that they’re either commanded or modeled in the NT scripture. And pragmatically, I think the negatives may outweigh the positives–especially in the long run.

            I hope that helps. Thanks again for engaging the topic so thoughtfully. The Lord make His face to shine upon you!

            T-

  19. marvin says:

    So, while I agree with Pastor T I wonder why other leaders have not chimed in?
    Multichurch video feeds are a kind of movement. They create a flow of thought and action that unless turns scandalous continues to ebb and flow like the ocean. There must a tremendous approval for multi-site, guaging from the folks that attend those churches, you must think that they agree in most respects to the methodology of multi-site video feed.

    I attended Mars Hill in Seattle numerous times and I love Mark Driscol. I love his teaching his methods of ministry and I enjoy his quirky hammer head style. Nevertheless I have always been opposed to multi-site simply because as I met the pastor at the Bellevue location, I came away feeling “well here’s another young guy that will never be able to grow into preaching like Mark”.
    My real resistance to multi-site is that the pastor must be a figure head at best, a second in command, an assistant. He could never be a Pastor? Why? Because he has relinquished his pulpit to another man, who’s authority supercedes his own, his teachings being presented are not ‘exactly his’, nor is he able to exactly answer for the teachings Mark gives, because Mark gave them and not him.
    The preaching of the message of the cross is connected with the person of “pastor”. A disconnect between the message and the figure-head at the satellite locations must and absolutely must divide message from the ‘minister’ because the message is not from that resident minister no matter how much that satellite pastor is willing to own Mark’s preaching and message.

    Again, dont get me wrong, Im not in any way attempting to denegrate Mar’s Hill ministry or Mark Driscol, but I do have plenty of red-flags over the multi-site methodology of pastoral ministry.

  20. Hannah says:

    I hesitate to respond here, simply because I come from a multi-site church, it might sound like I’m defending the system simply because my church is a part of it. I attend a large Acts 29 church, where the pastor is a regular speaker at the Shepherd’s conference, Together for the Gospel, etc. We’re multi-site. And you’re right–there is a cult of personality that is something the church battles against. Scratch that. Our pastors themselves battle against.

    But ultimately, we have multi-site churches because there is a hunger for gospel teaching that is grace-saturated. We don’t get that here. Frankly, churches in my region would generally prefer to die for quibbling causes than rally around the gospel itself. There is a need, so we plant churches and also have multiple sites. (Each of our sites have campus pastors and an elder board so in the entire process we have never lost the “local church.”)

    All that to say, multi-churches *can* be a promotion of idolatry. OR they can simply be a system–not an ego-boost, but just a system of getting the gospel out. Technology is not the enemy. (Though I don’t venture to speak for him, might’ve Paul appreciated the opportunity to videocast in his years of trekking around helping churches? Sure seems like if video-casting is a tool that can be used for the gospel, we should use it.) I sure hope this doesn’t become an issue we consider worth fighting about, because I doubt any of us should easily say that *a system* is across the board idolatry.

    1. Trey says:

      I think the point being made is that if each campus has their own local pastor, why not let him preach to the local congregation himself instead of outsourcing it to another, more prominent figure?

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Hannah and Trey,

      Thanks for interacting on this post. Hannah, I’m so grateful you didn’t continue hesitating to respond. Your comment is very welcome here and helpful to the discussion.

      I think Trey captures the main point of the post well. I would understand 2 Timothy 2:2 to require pastors to train others to teach. Those for and against multi-site would agree on that. I would go further and say that the NT model features the deployment of teachers to congregations to serve in flesh and blood. So, Paul leaves a timid Timothy in Ephesus to straighten out false teachers and put things in order (1 Tim. 1:3-11). He leaves Titus in Crete for the same reason (Titus 1). Apollos, a very gifted and well-known preacher, didn’t have everything together when he began his preaching ministry (Acts 18). And, when his reputation grew, he refused to visit certain churches (Corinth) to preach to them–perhaps because the Corinthians were divided themselves up into personality cults (1 Cor. 3:1-4:6; 16:12). So, I think the NT is replete with examples of less-than-superstar-but-adequate preachers and leaders taking the helm at prominent and strategic churches to teach and lead the people. There’s no sense in the NT that “only this guy can do it” or “we need our best guy always before all the house churches and meetings in the city.” If that were the case, you’d expect Paul to say “don’t meet until I get there.” But he doesn’t. He finds faithful (not outstanding) and flawed men to entrust with the gospel ministry. We should do the same.

      Perhaps Paul would have loved video technology. We can only speculate. But what we can be certain about is that the Lord sent forth His Son and the apostles at the appointed time. He had purposes in inspiring the word in the cultural and historical moment He chose. Now we’re trying to learn not to go beyond what is written and to apply the Scripture as faithfully as possible, knowing that the Scripture is sufficient.

      I hope that helps some. Let me know.
      T-

      1. Brian Ramsey says:

        Thabiti,

        Thanks for this post. Referring to the specific kinds of Multi-site churches you’re addressing (those where there idolatry is happening and only one teacher in the church), I couldn’t agree more.

        I wanted to provide two examples of multi-site churches doing flesh-and-blood pastoring and a deployment of teachers well.

        My first experience is Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, CO. There are two sites, and although it is a video feed sermon, the teaching pastor alternates which campus he preaches from every week (they have recording equipment at both locations). By doing this, it is evident that he seeks to be approachable and accountable to all the members.

        My other experience was with Mars Hill Church, Albuquerque. I used to drive down to Albuquerque, NM once a month for the Mars Hill Leadership Program. There I discovered a larger team of deployed teachers. Even though Mark Driscoll is the primary teaching pastor, many of the other elders at the various locations are teaching to large groups within the church at events throughout the week such as Redemption Groups and the Mars Hill Leadership Program. In fact, I’ve never seen such a large group of teaching pastors who are actively teaching in different ways as I saw at Mars Hill Church. There are a plurality of elders doing flesh-and-blood pastoring at each location.

        Just wanted to provide a couple of positive examples of churches seeking to follow scripture and avoid idolatry even as they embrace newer technology. I know you were writing about churches which are not doing these things well, and I’m sure this article is a much needed critique for them.

        – Brian

  21. (Pointy points + a dash of helpful humor) * (composed sitting in the corner of an airport lobby??) = incredibly helpful. Thank you!

    Just to not be a complete fan lady, may I also raise a hand about the relegating of video to entertainment only, and not considering the educational component? There’s probably something more deeply theological we’d have to consider about the introduction of the human image into the equation (vs. a voice through the telephone, radio or podcast).

    But other than that as simply a question for further thought, a hearty “Amen” and sincere “thank you” for preaching to the possible sins of your own TGC congregation. That in itself is instructive and encouraging.

  22. Stephanie says:

    I am saddened by the time that we spend bashing others and making judgements – I have to wonder if the time spent on all blog posts to bash someone were spent in prayer and gospel advancement what would happen – could be amazing if our focus was simply the gospel and its advancement whether that be multi-site, small rural church, large city church, or simply in the home of someone over a meal.

    1. Stephanie, sister, I’m going to pray that 1. you reread the post to reconsider your perception of Thabiti’s arguments and motives and 2. that this kind of comment does not discourage the TGC community from interacting seriously with the post’s content. Thabiti has raised a concern targeted at the very heart of gospel advancement, and done it with equal parts grace and truth, and even humor. For those reasons and plenty more, his post deserves thoughtful consideration of its arguments, not reflexive reaction to a title meant in light jest.

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Stephanie and Rachael,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Stephanie, I assure you this is not a “bash job.” At least that’s not my heart. Some of my dearest brothers and teachers in the ministry employ multi-site as a strategy. They know I have nothing but love for them, and that I pray with and for them. We do so very often in our church services. So, this is “friendly fire,” if you will. The same kinds of things I would say and have said on occasion when in their company. We’re together in the advancement of the gospel, even if we’re not together on all the means we’d use. I hope that helps.
      T-

      1. Stephanie says:

        Thank you for your response however, I find that saying something is “of the devil” is serious stuff – – that says something is severely wrong and demonic. That does not come across as “friendly fire” or “light jest.” It comes across as a strong accusation. If I look at the schedule of preaching and campuses for Bethlehem Baptist where John Piper is located it is definitely “multi-site” and I feel they are a far cry “from the devil.” It just saddens me that we feel the need to get shock value from a title like that – – I can’t come up with a good reason to “jest” about things “of the devil.”

        I feel there are multi-site churches out there doing great things for Christ – as are other churches whose structure might be different.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Stephanie,
          I take your point. Honestly, the title was simply riffing off James MacDonald’s post about congregationalism. And since I’d just spent the weekend serving with James (a multi-site pastor) and talking with him briefly about this on a panel discussion, those things were uppermost in my mind when I wrote the post. The title was simply tipping my hat at James, and I hope nothing in the body of the post itself remotely suggests that any of these brothers are “demonic.” I fully realize that the substance of the post and the tongue-in-cheek title brings faithful friends into fire. And I also fully trust they’ll know my heart for them, just as I know and trust their hearts for the Lord, though we differ on this strategy question. Thanks again for raising this concern.
          Grace and peace,
          T-

  23. Jeremy says:

    So if I attend worship at church on Sunday and arrive 4 minutes late and find the auditorium completely full of thousands of other worshippers and have to sit in an overflow room in another part of the campus and watch the preacher on a video screen that’s legitimate “church”? BUT if I drive down the street to church where I am under the authority of local elders and worship with hundreds of other believers and watch the preacher on a video screen, that’s idolatry?

    The straw man doesn’t stand very well when you put him to test in real life.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Jeremy,
      Honestly, I think the straw man is in your comment here. Actually, I would not call attending the overflow room “legitimate church.” The church filling overflow rooms and using video technology has seen that growth problem coming for a while and should be planting another congregation or building a bigger meeting house. I’d vote for planting.

      Let’s not forget that most churches employing video have seen and witnessed their coming growth problems for a long time before they actually reached them. There are a handful that were instantly overwhelmed with attenders. But most have seen the curve. And I would suggest the better response should have been how do we plant more effectively and perhaps more rapidly rather than how do we accommodate more people in this church. But I think the straw man is in your comment here.

      Grace and peace,
      T-

      1. Elaine says:

        We have a small overflow room in our church. We meet in a Christian school gym which is located a few steps down from where the office is located. I sat in the overflow room once, one Sunday when I had this terrible cold but didn’t want to stay at home (you know how it is, you wake up feeling miserable and a couple hours later you don’t even remember you have a cold). Sitting there with me was an elderly man who has trouble with the stairs. Then a few more people came in when the actual preaching had already started, and they left when the pastor finished his sermon. I have never seen this people before. They miss out one great biblical teaching which our pastor frequently talks about: the fellowship of the saints.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Well said. Thank you, Elaine, for taking the time to contribute to the discussion.
          T-

  24. Lynn says:

    This is interesting, but I’m still trying to decide whether or not I agree. I’ll start by stating my bias, I currently attend a very large church that has recently started several satellite congregations.

    Do you object to large congregations in general (for example more than 1000 members)? I ask this because many of your objections to multi-site churches (e.g. limited access the pastor, use of technology) could apply just as well to any very large “mega” church whether or not it is multi-site. If so, do you think that churches should necessarily split once they reach a certain size? What should churches do when they attract large numbers of attendees?

    Once again, I confess that I’m biased and I briefly attended James MacDonald’s church : ) My current church has approximately 5000 members but many more than that may attend any given week). I’m not particularly attracted to mega churches — primarily because it is difficult to connect in such a large group. When I moved to my current city 3 years ago, and was looking for a church, the most important criteria for me were (in order of priority) 1) Teaching that was biblically accurate/doctrinally sound, substantive and practical 2)Ministries that are a good match for both my gifts and needs, thus providing me an opportunity to serve but also to be served in my areas of need 3)Demographic match – this is probably not the most noble criteria, but as a single person moving to a new city, I was hoping to find a church with a critical mass of people similar to me in age, life stage etc. So, during my first few months here, I visited a handful of churches recommended to me by trusted Christian friends. I confess that I was drawn in by the teaching at my current church. It was the third church I visited, and I never made it to the rest of the churches on my list! This church isn’t perfect, frankly I don’t like the music that much, and I’ve basically given up on my search for demographic “match” — but every time I think of leaving to find a church that might feel more comfortable, I hear a sermon so full of biblical insight, so convicting and so spot-on applicable to something going on in my life that I decide to stay. It is important to note that although the senior pastor is an excellent teacher, the other pastors rotate in fairly frequently (about once a month sometimes more or less). This rotation includes specific ministry pastors as well as the satellite campus pastors. They all have different styles, but teaching is consistently excellent. The church also has excellent ministries for those in the congregation as well as the broader community.

    The church draws people from all over the city. It is about 17 miles from my house. Many other people drive further and feel the same way. Needless to say, in the past two years since I’ve been attending, the church has grown and had been bursting at the seams in recent months. In response, the leadership has encouraged members to attend satellite “campuses” closer to their homes. This year, one such satellite opened about 2 miles from my house. I’ve attended a couple of times, but I currently still primarily attend the main campus as that is where I serve on ministries. I also prefer the live sermon to the video – but I can understand the appeal of attending the satellite service. The shorter drive and smaller congregation of members who all live near me is attractive and conducive to closer fellowship.

    I understand your arguments, but what, in your opinion, **should** the members and leadership do in a church like this? Should a popular church turn prospective members away? Should the members search for new, smaller churches?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, and for sharing some of your own spiritual pilgrimage on this issue. I love that you shared in that way because it reminds us that real living and lovely people are touched by this issue. So, “thank you!”

      No, I’m not opposed to large churches per se. If I were, I’d have to be opposed to the early church in Jerusalem in the opening chapters of Acts. So, imo, large is not inherently bad or good, and small is not inherently bad or good. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing. Faith expressing itself in love is what counts. Now, I do think that each have their advantages. Large is usually going to mean more resources. Small is usually going to include more potential for close community, or at least the feeling of it. So there are pors and cons either way.

      But what should a church do? I’d say plant relentlessly, train up pastors, and train people to go with them–even at your own hurt. I think of a faithful congregation in the Middle East that planted a church a couple years ago. They sent off about 30% of their people, supported the new plant at about $300,000 and saw their giving drop off when those 30% left! Why? They are radical about the kingdom and growing the kingdom/gospel, not just their local congregation. We should plant and give and train until it kills us and hurts our coffers. Now, I think a church who does this will continue to grow and continue to have the growth problem because God will continue to entrust them with His mission and His people. So, this is a good problem to have and continually have! :-)

      As for turning people away, “Yes.” A local church that’s full, that’s planting all it can, and that’s seeing people drive past good-enough churches to attend should turn them away. Seriously. When I was on staff at CHBC a few years back, we saw the growth problems coming. And I would hear Mark say in membership interviews, when someone was passing up good churches to drive an hour to attend CHBC, have you considered this church or that church? He’d encourage them to check out other churches where they could settle, build, and join community. I think that’s incredibly godly, kingdom minded, and ultimately better for the witness of the gospel in more communities than if one local church becomes this great magnet sucking everyone into one church then branching itself back out into the very neighborhoods that people drove past to get there.

      Now that I think about your great questions, and these brief answers, I’m wondering if the multi-site strategy (instead of turning people away to other churches) strikes anyone besides myself as incredibly inefficient and a bit self-centered? I know the retort, “There aren’t any good churches out there.” But I think that’s overblown and I think we need to revitalize a lot of those churches. We can’t have a concern for the kingdom and have little concern for existing congregations in all of their weakness and need. Just a thought.

      Thanks, Lynn, for your very good questions and for your faithful labors in the Lord our God!
      T-

      1. Elaine says:

        That was great Thabiti, just wanted to say thank you! It helped me to understand something about my church. We started attending there in December 2010, and in January they sent out a pastor and some members who would be starting a church on the other side of the city (some of these members live that way). I didn’t understand why, since the congregation wasn’t that big to begin with. Now I understand.

        I agree with you on “a bit self-centered”. To this day I can still remember the Sunday where my pastor sent out those people to start a new church. You could tell that if he could have his way he would have kept everyone together. His tears and his voice made a great impact on me: that man really loved his people! But he loves Christ more! =)

  25. I think a necessary component of Thabiti’s argument that he didn’t broach in this article is how multiple services and largeness also significantly affect a church. In a very real sense, when a church has multiple services it’s already living as two separate congregations. Why not simply acknowledge that and make them two churches? In the situation of a mega church even with just one service, if you are “bursting at the seams”, instead of looking to build a bigger building or add another service, why not plant a new church?

    The pushback to that argument almost always seems to devolve to “the main preacher is so good we have to give him as many opportunities as possible.” But why do we need to do that? Is there biblical license for getting a preacher to preach to as many people as possible? Please note that I’m separating preaching from the calling of a pastor. You can be one without the other, but shouldn’t ever be the former without primarily being the latter. IF we really equipped our congregations for Word ministry in their everyday lives, they wouldn’t need the mediation of a great preacher on Sunday to show them Jesus.

    Quick hits:

    * Also left unreferenced in Thabiti’s post is the fact that he is a Baptist, which brings with it all sorts of issues about local church autonomy and gathering. That likely contributes significantly to his thoughts on this issue

    * Every church should plant more churches. There is no biblical case to be made that you can only be a church planter if you’re a high DI and have started 50 businesses before you were 20 and lead a local church youth group from 1-1000 kids in 2 months. Not every man who wants to plant churches should but if we stopped requiring church planters to be some combo of Malcom Gladwell, Walt Disney, and Billy Graham we would find that there are actually a large number of qualified and equipped men waiting to follow God obediently and start a new church community.

    * Many of the comments here point to the idea of excellence and having to have a great preacher during gathered worship? Are there any verses in the Bible that specifically speak to putting on an excellent service? Should that be a primary, or even secondary, concern to us? If so, then we should only ever hear preaching from the world’s best preachers. You local pastors, sorry, Keller and Driscoll and MacArthur and Piper can do it better. We’ll just pipe in their sermons every week even if they have no idea we’re doing it.

    * Hebrews 13:17 says that leaders will be called to give an account for those under their authority. In a multi-site church, who does this include? Will the main speaker give an account for everyone at all churches since they are all technically under his authority? Just the people at the campus where he preaches live? What about the local campus pastor? Typically they don’t have final authority as most multi-sites have something like an executive elder board.

    One final thought, completely cribbed from a previous post of Thabiti’s:

    What if the reason really large churches are so hard to “manage” and cause us to come up with so many extra-biblical “solutions” is because God intends for there to be numerous, smaller churches instead of a few large churches?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Chris,
      Great comments, brother. Yes, I am a Baptist and our view of polity does influence much of my thinking on this. However, I do suggest in the post that we need a more robust understanding of church unity beyond the local church. A great brother pointed that out to me at breakfast Monday. And a good example that comes to mind is a circuit of Baptist churches in the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. They don’t “feel” all that Baptist in some regards because of the way their polity insists on unity beyond the local congregation. Essentially, they have four elders serving three churches around the island. The elders rotate between the congregations, preaching regularly and live at each venue. The three churches regularly cooperate in evangelistic campaigns and things of that sort, but also have some local observations that distinguish them. It’s an interesting blend.

      Thanks for your other comments. As you know, I agree :-).
      T-

      1. Greg M says:

        This makes me think of two issues that concern me about the church I attend. First, I believe in the 80/20 concept. I am not going to agree with 100% of what my church does. If I can live with 80%, then I can overlook the other 20%, which hopefully are non essentials.
        1, a few years back we planted a church in an area about 20 miles south of our main locations. After entering the multi church graze, we added a campus of our original church in the same area of the planted church. It was almost like saying they had had their chance, now we are movingin.
        2, one church, multi campuses includes everything, down to the announcements. We can not have local announcements during services at any one location, even if it is to promote an area activity.
        Still, I stay

    2. Doc B says:

      “In a very real sense, when a church has multiple services it’s already living as two separate congregations.”

      Chris, this is exactly what I’ve seen in several churches I’ve attended in my life. In each case, the church grew from one service to multiple services while we were members, and in each case the problems you cite in your post arose there. They became completely separate congregations where few in one service knew folks in the other, fellowship was disjointed, and the usual problems of age segregation were multiplied (often due to different worship styles in the separate services).

      I’m not sure how these problems translate to a multi-site church, as I’m still formulating what I believe to be true about that movement. But I think a lot more deep thought and observation needs to happen, especially if these problems are manifest.

  26. Shaun says:

    Is not Christianity one large cult personality? And in the bible, how often did we see God speaking through multiple people in any time period? It seems to me that God often spoke to many through one voice, and hardly ever worked through many voices. Paul preached to multiple churches through letters which was the comminication technology of their day. I’m sure each church had a local pastor just as today’s multi site churches should as well. Pastoring is a full time job unto itself and a totally different work from preaching. Let each do the work given him by God regardless of our opinions about how it should be done.

    1. Greg says:

      God also actually spoke through people at that time. We have the Bible for that now, and individuals are to be subservient to what it says.

  27. Ryan says:

    While you provide some helpful reflections and warnings to potential problems associated with multi-site congregations, I believe your criticisms need clarification if this discussion will be anything more than a strengthening of your own personality cult – the very heart of your criticism of video-venue preachers. I will point out a few of your statements or sections that I hope you will be willing to clarify or refine to pave the way to healthy dialogue rather than merely sensationalized blog titles. For clarity, I will include the section title in brackets behind any quote unless otherwise indicated.

    “At bottom, I think the kind of multi-site churches (realizing there are a few different approaches) that feature one pastor being beamed into several sites around a region—and in some cases around the country or world—is simply idolatry.” [Idolatry] This statement fails to realize the issue is not multi-site per se, but rather the two matters of video-venue, multi-site delivery and the polity used by multi-site congregations to carry out their ministries. Yes, this distinction may appear to be “splitting hairs” at first, but one must not lump all multi-site congregations into one category. While you initially (in your first section) provide a specific designation that you are criticizing video-venue, multi-site congregations, you slip into a foggy, one-size-fits-all criticism of multi-site congregations in the remainder of your post. For example, you write, “Multi-site churches reduce the family, body, and flock to an anonymous assembly.” Such a blanket statement is absolutely unhelpful. What about one-site models guarantees anything beyond anonymous assembly? On this point, you lack clarity of thought again. The issue that guarantees authentic connection within the body of Christ is multi-layered functionality, not rejecting multi-site. I would argue that a multi-site congregation with a healthy small-group structure – whether a church utilizes the Sunday School model or newer versions of small groups – is further down the line in caring for its members than a congregation with multiple elders only ministering deeply to a particular “inner circle.” My point: this issue is a bit more complex than your post indicates.

    Please rest easy concerning your point in “Competition and Pride,” knowing that certain multi-site congregations share resources (including preachers), have appointed campus preachers, and use other such means of avoiding the exaltation of one preacher above all others. Certain multi-site congregations have appointed elders who oversee specific locations of their various sites. There is no “absentee” pastor in that model.

    I thought your section “Idolatry… Again” would offer some helpful critique of exalting certain pastors to the level of idolatry. Your argument concerning technology is pretty lacking however. I suppose all pastors should refrain from using microphones and we should avoid amps for our instruments. The issue, on which I agree with you, concerns the message that one-pastor, video-venue, multi-site churches send: personality cults are more important than raising up more gifted men to preach the gospel. One helpful point to remember, however, is that having godly heroes is a biblical practice. Before rejecting my connection between this point and multi-site polity, note that your criticism should therefore do away with all forms of distributing the sermons of Piper, Dever, and other such gifted men. Also, I suppose conferences such as Together for the Gospel, where certain highly gifted pastors are given a deserved opportunity to bless their brothers and sisters, should cease to exist. Curiously, the organizers of such conferences have asked you to be in leadership. Why not the “average” pastor from rural Arkansas rather than you? I suppose you will either refuse future involvement in such endeavors or admit that you need to refine your thought concerning your post’s assertions.

    Your “Pragmatism” section is sound. Multi-site congregations justifying this approach to Christianity are no different that uni-site churches falling into the same rhetoric. Again, however, the general assertion that all multi-site churches fall into this trap is a stretch at best. More accurately, it appears that your point simply suffers from a lack of research and dialogue with various multi-site pastors to understand the nuances within this approach to ministry.

    Your thoughts on “Cultural Captivity” are ones that we all should consider. When contextualizing the gospel, whether it is in the States through available technologies or in Pakistan speaking to Muslims, we must be careful about the associations of our words and methods of communication. Certainly, many people have adopted Christian forms or terms while deep within their worldview associating those forms or terms with non-Christian beliefs. Syncretism and folk religion are deceiving plagues to be sure. Your point, however, only focusses on one use of video – that of entertainment and fantasy. What about documentaries? Surely you would not object to watching footage of WWII to gain a better grasp on D-Day. What about filming a family event and watching it decades later after memories have faded and loved ones have passed? The use of certain technologies are not the problem.

    Ultimately, I think your criticisms of video-venue, multi-site congregations are spot on! If a congregation is going to subscribe to that means of hearing a sermon, I would encourage them to pipe in Keller, Dever, Duncan, etc. because these men are certainly more gifted than the majority of video-venue preachers. I will say, however, that your criticisms lack the discerning precision that I would expect from a blog post on TGC. Therefore, I agree with you initial thought: you should have ended your post by simply informing us of your “articulate response” and not succumbing to the boredom of sitting in the Miami airport and continuing to type. My encouragement is to either take down the post or refine your comments.

    In the name of our blessed Christ,

    Ryan

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for the comments, brother. Much to consider. But I think some/many of your comments would be helped if you graciously assumed throughout the article that I’m addressing the version of multi-site I state upfront.

      I’m sorry if the post wasn’t specific enough for your liking in places. I’m benefitting from your pointing that out. So, already I’m learning from you. I pray that if you re-read the post with the definition of multi-site I’m addressing that you might be able to take away something more from the post, too.

      The Lord’s richest blessings on you, friend. Grace and peace,
      T-

    2. Ryan says:

      Thabiti,

      Thank you for your gracious response. I will reread your post, but I must admit that I read it several times before responding. So, my concern that all multi-site models are lumped into one category (as well as my other comments) stands. Thanks again.

      Blessings,

      Ryan

  28. james says:

    I guess this means I will need to find
    someone else’s sermons to show this Sunday.

  29. Michael Pate says:

    What about multi-site churches that have live pastors preaching every Sunday? I can understand the problems you stated above but if there is not a cult of personality/preacher (every campus has a regular preaching pastor and also rotate in other preachers) and all preaching is live then don’t some of those problems disappear?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Yep, absolutely. And then I would say, let’s call them churches and let them function more independently. But that’s the Baptist in me! :-)
      T-

  30. mrben says:

    FYI the Pastor in the opening picture is Steven Furtick. (He has black hair now, but a quick Google confirms that he has had bleached blonde in the past :) )

    I recognise your points, but I guess that I have a couple of underlying questions:

    1. Regardless of whatever potential or realised abuses, is there a Biblical defense for multi-site?
    2. Is there a practical, theological, social and Biblical precedent for large churches?
    3. Is it possible to manage (2) without becoming (1)?

    Personally, I think we need to be aware of the potential dangers, but without necessarily throwing the baby out with the bath water – tricky, as it seems to be an historically consistent response :(

    1. Joshua Smith says:

      re: historicity of the multi-site

      The catholic/episcopal system, including the idea of local parishes under the purview of an overseer, is a very, very old model that definitely finds support in the New Testament.

      Everyone is accountable TO someone, but those in authority must take steps to ensure that all those FOR whom they are accountable are well shepherded, and this requires an intimate view of the local church and its pastor-congregant relationships.

  31. Gregg Allison says:

    Thabiti, your post is disappointing and unhelpful. It lacks both substance and respect for your opponents, and will do nothing to further the conversation on the issue of multisite churches. If you will receive counsel from a proponent of the multisite structure, I would urge you to model future critiques along the lines of the respectful and substantive interaction between your colleague Jonathan Leeman and me: Allison http://theresurgence.com/2011/05/18/are-multi-site-churches-biblical; Leeman http://www.9marks.org/blog/non-assembled-assembly with response by Allison.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Gregg,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post, and thank you for your contributions to the discussion. I appreciate your counsel. And on many issues, I’ve written in the way you suggest. But not every comment in a discussion need be couched in the terms you suggest or the terms you model in your very helpful exchange with Jonathan. We need the kinds of exchanges you and Jonathan share, and we need other kinds of statements as well.

      I pray this post stirs more than you currently see in it. I’m sorry this has been disappointing and unhelpful in your view. I know I’d profit if you’d care to post here or write me separately with the specific things that disappoint and hinder.

      Grace to you, brother,
      Thabiti

  32. Tim Bertolet says:

    I have always wondered why some of those who champion “incarnational” ministry (e.g. a missional approach) also champion video preaching. If Jesus’ way of ministry was being present so that he could be seen and touched (1 John 1:1-4) should this not condition what we think about multi-site and video preaching?

  33. John says:

    Thanks, brother Thabiti! Great and helpful thoughts here. Keep up the good work.

  34. This is an interesting quote:

    “And it’s disturbing precisely because it elevates one preacher above all others, and, despite protests to the contrary, it intentionally neglects the development of other preachers who are “good enough.””

    Interesting because of your use of the word “elevate” when the pastor in the opening photo is Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC. You can learn more about him and his rock star approach to evangelism here: http://airocross.com/2011/08/18/furticks-elevation-church-on-evangelism/

  35. Joshua Grant says:

    Thabiti,

    After spending time at the 9marks conference and even getting the chance to speak with you; I thank you again for your thoughts and comments.

    I am glad you referenced here, as from what I heard live seemed to miss, simply “where is the faith?”

    Personally, I was frustrated during the slight difference in opinions at Southeastern because everything seemed justified with their being the “big-hitter” and such. For men whom I want to believe and do, seek God in their lives and ministry, some missed the mark–on a grand scale.

    Although I support the idea that men need training, and that flocks should have shepherds among them, the lack of faith in God to transform people through biblical pastoring and preaching utterly blew me away. The mindset was every bit on themselves as the ones who were the “best” among them.

    Thank you: “A church is large not because the guy up front has unusual gifts, but because God in His sovereign kindness has decided to add to the number.”

    A side note: its funny how at the conference, some mentioned the opportunity to embrace new technologies, citing the older and continued use of radio, tv, and now “beaming in” a message as the latest and greatest. It was mentioned that these mediums were not used in the original church, as they were not available–fine, but interesting, that there wasn’t a master craftsman of messages to write out sermons and send to peoples to simply read and shepherd with…their were elders and leaders in the local church leading the local people.

    And as the offer was made, if you make it back this way (eastern nc), Lord willing, Lunch is on me!

    jg

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Joshua,

      It was great meeting you this weekend, brother! Thanks for the hospitality and fellowship, and for attending the conference. The Lord refreshed my soul during the time there. Thanks also for your comments here. Very helpful to hear from someone who was watching that discussion and to have you register your impressions. Helps us see our hearts, or at least how we sound to others.

      And when I’m back in NC, we’re definitely on for some BBQ! But I’ll have to pray about whether it should be the second place Eastern NC style, or the best on the planet Lexington-style :-).

  36. As far as the multi-site churches go, I don’t know where I stand because I have never been convinced by any biblical or scriptural arguments. I understand and respect Thabiti’s position, but he does not make any scriptural arguments. I think they are pastoral and wise considerations, but that is different than using the word of God to make the case.

    When I think of multi-site churches, I think of a Church like The Village Church, where Matt Chandler is the lead pastor. I’ve been following his podcasts for years now, and even as an outsider I see how they’ve grown and struggled to adapt to the new challenges, going so far as running 6 services and having to turn people away. They’ve been growing by about a thousand per year, and because he does not want to build “the monster” they have gone to smaller venues.

    The reality though is that people will always come. What do you do when you are straining at the seams to accommodate the people?

  37. Ron Wells says:

    I attend a multi-site church. I normally attend the “mother ship”, but occasionally go to one of the satellite locations. Though the satellite is actually closer to my home and I have family who attends that location, I find myself driving the extra distance to attend the primary location. There has always been something about attending the secondary location that I don’t like. I can’t quite put my finger on what that is.

    Your post lists an objective view of some reasons why a mulit-site church could be a bad idea. I find it helpful in examining my own beliefs. Thanks for posting.

  38. Doc B says:

    I’m still formulating what I believe to be true about the multi-site movement. I’ve heard a few good arguments on both sides, along with quite a few bad ones.

    This post is well-reasoned and will be a valuable part of the formulation of my thought on the topic. Thank you, Pastor, for your insight.

    1. Doc B says:

      Let me add one example of the difficulty of the problem for me, and I would assume for at least a few others-

      My initial gut reaction when hearing of multi-site churches (as Pastor T defined them above) was negative. It didn’t sound right, for many of the reasons that have been well-stated.

      But then, if John Piper’s folks, or R. C. Sproul’s folks, or Pastor T’s folks decided to open a facility here in the Texas Panhandle and beam in sermons on Sundays in the multi-site format, would I attend? Absolutely. The thought of getting that kind of preaching each week thrills my soul. Are Piper, Sproul and Anyabwile better preachers than my local pastor? Yep. I’d have to say that objectively, they are.

      On the other hand, is John Piper or R. C. or Pastor T a better pastor than my local pastor? No, they aren’t. Not because they aren’t better pastors in general, but because they aren’t here.

      Now, all this is self-centered…anecdotal. And the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’. In other words, how do I translate this to the good of the local Christian community, and even more so to the good of local lost people in need of the gospel, and in need of discipleship?

      This is a tough question, and I really would like to get the answer right. I’m trusting in a lot of prayer and the wise counsel of men like Pastor T to try and get to that point.

  39. Chuck says:

    “I think the jury is still out on whether “it works.” That jury won’t be in with a verdict for another several decades, I’m afraid.”

    I think that is a fair and reasonable assessment of the time it will take to know for sure. That said, the balance of the article seems to have already rendered a verdict without the benefit of that longer term deliberation. That is not to say that your views are not credible or lacking in support from scripture. But the sense that I got in reading the article was less the manner of offering up concerns and cautions and more in the manner of utter rejection of the multisite method. I also could not help but sense an nearly unwavering kind of strict assignment of motives to those churches/pastors who utilize multisite.

    As for the multisite campus pastor who does not preach, the sense that I get from the article and from some of the supportive comments above is that the assumption has been made that this man has been permanently cast in this role without hope of ever doing something else with his gifts. I guess I see the possibility that this same man is a campus pastor but for a season, and as God sovereignly calls him to other/different kingdom work, he will be obedient and faithful to follow. The assumption in the article seems to consign him permanently to burying his talents in the infertile soil of a multisite ministry in quiet subservience to a larger than life, idolotrous teaching or lead pastor.

    All in all, a thoughtful article, but too broad a brush may have been used in making some of the points.

  40. Jessica says:

    There is a large multi-site church in our area (with a nationally known pastor). Another danger that I’ve noticed with this type of church is that it gives the congregation anonymity. Our church has had several members who have had to be removed from fellowship for ongoing, unrepentent sin (Matthew 18) and every one of the has ended up in one of those satellite churches where they can sit in anonymity while continuing to live in sin. The flock needs to have a pastor who is there and who has a personal relationship with them.

  41. Mrs. Erven says:

    Interesting viewpoint. I attend a small church in south GA and probably won’t ever be involved in a big, multi-site church like Stanley’s or Piper’s or Driscoll’s. However, I think they’re a good thing. Well, they can be a good thing, just like anything else that isn’t Biblical but isn’t heresy, either.

    As long as the people in those churches have three things, i think multi-site churches can be good.

    1. Community Groups or Small Groups–This way, no one gets lost amidst the huge crowds.

    2. A campus pastor–There has to be a real, live human facilitating Sunday mornings and available throughout the week, even if they aren’t the “pastor for preaching.”

    3. A desire for the glory of God above all things! If their preacher is pointing his congregations to the glory of God in Christ and teaching them to love Him with all their hearts and love one another, then I think, “Great! Let him reach as many people as possible.”

    1. mike vanalst says:

      I attended Jon Piper’s church for some time in 2006 and 2007. I’ve been to each of the 3 sites. They are all full, and God is present in each of them. Without the multiple sites, the church would have to spend millions to build a larger venue. At the time, he rotated between campuses his live preaching. I believe it worked very well.

  42. Dane Ortlund says:

    Thabiti, I’m digesting this and not sure I agree with everything (though I think I do agree with most), but this is very helpful and brotherly, and your responses to comments in this thread is a MODEL my friend!! Whatever you’re doing keep doing it my friend. Well done. I am helped.

  43. Erik L says:

    Thanks for the post. I think a good deal more discernment is needed in this area and I’m thankful that someone like yourself with a platform and who is acquainted with many multi-site preachers isn’t afraid to graciously speak up against the practice. Great post!

  44. john says:

    uh… not all multisites are like this. Many multisites have “live” preaching and do not use video. Many multisites have local government as well as shared government/oversight with broader elders.

  45. Rob Rice says:

    Nonsense. You have no understanding of true idolatry.

  46. Dan Phillips says:

    ..proving that it is possible to write little, and say even less.

  47. Mae says:

    All I know is I kept failing as a “Christian” because I was trying to fit in with other believers. Walk the talk, do the good, have the friends, be a giver, etc. I would attempt to serve and get involved in all the church programs. I would read the word. But something was still missing. It seems I still wasn’t good enough or able to be cool enough. You can’t just have a big church with lots of followers and believe you are really doing what the Lord is calling all of us to do. We are not here to fit in, we are not here to socialize and show it off on some social networking site, we are not here to show all the good stuff we are doing, we are not here to brag about how much our church is growing that we need to make other campuses, we are here to simply serve God and give him the glory in this troubled world. I have been filled with the Spirit by seeking my own relationship with Christ grow through questioning if I am doing what Christ wants or if I am becoming just a Christian in America. I don’t see how someone can feel like they are really serving God in a big church if you don’t even feel like the Pastor and his Wife has time to talk to you, to mentor you, to lead you. All I know is we shouldn’t seek church growth and a name for ourselves we should seek making the Gospel known and becoming a part of the Church of Christ not just some church down the street. We are not here to ENTERTAIN people we are here to SERVE. I don’t know if any of this makes sense but the idea of multi-site churches just doesn’t seem intimate or real enough.

    Romans 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

  48. mike vanalst says:

    What a silly, pragmatic blog post. May as well do away with podcasts as well. Maybe my church should stop sending worship CD’s with our missions teams in Haiti.

  49. Elliot says:

    I agree with a lot of what he said about the “beaming in” idea. I may be mistaken but it seems like much this seems to lack grace in how it is condemned. If we just come out of the gate with “your ideas are from the devil” it is unlikely that the person we wish to change will listen to us (even if the ideas are dangerous). I also didn’t realize congregationalism is from the Devil.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Elliot,

      Thanks for stopping by, for reading the post, and for leaving a comment. I agree with you. Offensive comments out of the gate certainly shut down or hinder substantive dialogue.

      With the title, I was trusting that many of the readers would know of a post with a similar title aimed at congregationalism. As I explain in the opening line, the title is simply a hat tip to James MacDonald, whom I recently had the privilege of serving with. That’s all. Other than the opening and closing tongue-in-cheek lines, I don’t think there’s anything in the post that asserts “demonic” influence at work here. That’s because I don’t tag these ministries in that way. I hope you can trust me when I write that. And I hope knowing that, you might actually get more out of the post than perhaps you did originally. I’m certainly benefiting from your kindness in leaving the comment. Grateful for you,

      Thabiti

  50. Paul says:

    There are several key distortions to this article. Though I understand the point that is trying to be made, I feel like this is an overexaggeration. First and foremost, you do not have to have a mega-church or a multi-site church to idolize your preacher. In fact, I have seen even more idolazing happening at the seminaries that these preachers come from than I necessarily do in the churches themselves. Though, being a pastor, I understand the power that comes from the communicated Word.
    Secondly, Paul made it very clear that the Gospel is fluid, not changing its message but how that message is delivered. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 that he has become all things to all people that he might save some. In this entertainment age is “beaming” a sermon to another congregation, if that method of delivering the gospel allows people who might not be able to hear the gospel to in fact hear it, evil? In fact, isn’t it better that they are in a congregaiton, in small groups with their local body of believers, still “church”?
    Finally, I would venture to say that one should be careful before labeling things “of the devil”. They said that during the Inquisition, but that didn’t mean they were true. Preaching that Christ isn’t the only way, or that God didn’t Create in 6 days, or that you can get to heaven yourself is of the devil. Can we say about this?
    I am not a fan of big churches. I agree that people can be most fulfilled when there is an element of accountability and personal relationships. But honestly, and this comes from a pastor, I wish more people in church would seek relationships with each other than bake me a cake….The church is hurting not because Pastor’s aren’t being heard, but because the church isn’t being the church. If a pastor is on staff at a church that broadcasts and they are disgruntled by it, then they should leave to a place they can get more opportunities preaching.
    Come on, is this really something that we should be labeling “of the devil”? I would be apt to label fighting over the color of the carpet being “of the devil” than if a church, in its autonomy, decides it wants to plant churches but keep the senior pastor as the one who preaches the majority of Sundays. Think about it…

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Paul,

      Great to hear from you, brother. I’m grateful you decided to interact with some of the ideas in the post and to share your own thoughts. You raise some good issues, so let me leave just a couple thoughts in reply.

      First, I certainly agree that idolizing pastors happens in settings other than mega-church or multi-site churches. No argument there. And, pastors in smaller settings have a different kind of opportunity to build the church almost exclusively on themselves, failing to share responsibility and authority. So, yes, idolatry may happen wherever men congregate.

      As for 1 Cor. 9, I think Don Carson’s talk on that passage at The Gospel Coalition in 2009 would be worth considering (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/That-By-All-Means-I-Might-Win-Some). Many people read that passage as though Paul is a dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist and as justification for every novelty and innovation we conceive. When people do that, it’s a very poor reading of Paul who instructs that we “may learn the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not to go beyond what is written'” (1 Cor. 4:6). Please note the context in which Paul states this. It’s part of his remedy for the Corinthian problem of taking pride in one minister over others! He certainly doesn’t mean in chapter 9 to then suggest an uncritical adoption of strategies that might lead again to the problem he spends nearly four chapters addressing in the opening of the letter.

      Finally, I hope we can tolerate hyperbole. I am not labeling any ministry as “of the devil.” You don’t find that statement in the body of the post other than in the tongue-in-cheek closing lines. And in the opening line, I explain that this is a riff on another post aimed at congregationalists like myself–at which I take no offense. The brother who wrote the post serves with me at TGC and we’ve recently hung out at a conference together. There’s no demonizing going on here, just rhetorical tit-for-tat between two brothers who serve together but have differing approaches to organizing the church.

      I’m grateful for your comments, brother. If anyone is interested in how to approach and perhaps apply 1 Cor. 9 to this discussion, the Carson link above is well worth your time, I think.

      Grace to all,
      T-

  51. Joseph Fuqua says:

    As an architect I abhor the multi-site concept where churches rent an old grocery store, install a screen and sound system and open a branch of the mother church. In a short time these churches often have hundreds of people attending, worshipping and learning the Bible without a building that is expensive to build, expensive to maintain and sits empty most of the week. Gone are the good ole days of multi-million dollar capital gift campaigns, bond sales, the 20 year mortgages and the design fees that support the architects that design 4000 seat sanctuaries that are used for two to three hours a week.
    Actually, I am an architect and church designer that is a member of a multi-site church. I see your points and have some discomfort with the concept but do see it working. I also have some discomfort with churches that do not wish to grow because they will not have intimate contact with the pastor if they have to share his time with additional members. Also,some of the comments about the “idolatry” of the technology I see more in the mother churches than in the multi-site locations with their much smaller, often portable, systems I have seen.
    What is the “ideal model” for the future? The traditional model I believe will be unsustainable… at least in these troubled economic times.
    Great discussion!

  52. Desiree den Engelsen says:

    Yep Thabiti,

    I agree full heartedly!
    Thanks for this clear piece of writing

    (just glad my pastor doesn’t have warts :-) )

    Desiree

  53. Pingback: | Phoenix Preacher
  54. Josh Jacobs says:

    Imagine the Apostle Paul limiting his influence over 1 local body of believers. His letters were sent all over the Roman empire and could be seen as idolatrous. Why should believers in Ephesus or Corinth listen to this man and not their local leaders? If the message spoken by a messenger of God is biblically accurate and promotes God’s glory, why limit it to one location?

    This issue seems more logistical/practical than theological to me. Therefore, I don’t think it’s fair to disparage others from doing a video feed.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for taking the time to read the post, brother, and to leave a comment. I appreciate your raising the question as to whether the apostolic letters themselves give us precedent for something like multi-site. It’s a good question.

      I would argue “no” for two primary reasons. First, the apostles exercised apostolic authority over all the churches. So, what we have in the letters are faith-defining communications that are meant to be received as Scripture by the faithful. That’s a different issue than the issue of whether or not we can use certain technologies to transmit preaching by men who are not apostles and are not transmitting Scripture (and praise God none of these men are claiming to do so).

      And second, I don’t think the letters provide a model because the apostles trained and left pastors, teachers, and elders in every church. That’s Paul’s practice everywhere. It’s what we see even in a place like Crete where Titus is called to appoint elders in a very young church with significant problems. So, it seems to me that God’s design is the appointment of elders and teachers who teach and lead a congregation whilst living in and among that congregation. I know that many of the multi-site churches have “campus pastors.” The key question in this post is: Why would you not have such campus pastors be the preaching and teaching elders of that congregation? What does “beaming in” teach us about the nature of the local church, pastoral ministry, and the relationship between pastor and people? I honestly think this strategy is a game-changer in some significantly unhealthy ways.

      Even if we reduce the issue to logistical or practical problems, we must keep in mind that “the medium is the message.” The way you do things has a lot to say about the what you’re doing. So, even on those grounds, I’d suggest this is a legitimate and important discussion to have.

      Grateful for your comments. Let me know what you think about my response to whether the apostolic letters are analogous to multi-site. I’d benefit from your reaction.

      For Jesus,
      T-

      1. Josh Jacobs says:

        Thank you for your reply. I guess I’m just not comfortable with painting a broad stroke and say that the concept of multi-site video feed should never be used. Surely the ideal is to have local leaders who preach and teach, but there may be situations that are analogous to Paul’s situation.

        For example, let’s say a small town doesn’t have a gospel-preaching church. There are a few believers who travel 30 minutes away to a nearby church. They decide that they want to plant a church in their town. In the beginning of that process, there are no qualified elders who can teach, so they decide to pipe in video from that nearby church. Their goal should be to get to a point that they do have qualified elders, but it’s just reality that video feed is the way to start.

  55. Question:

    In what way, if any, does the fact that Jesus is the Word made flesh adress Thabiti’s argument?

    Of what importance is it that our salvation was accomplished by Jesus actually dying, in real body, on a real cross?

    What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrected body being seen in person, interacted with, even touched, not merely watched via YouTube?

    FWIW, these thoughts are original with me. They come from Matt Anderson’s book, “Earthen Vessels”, which has much to say about evangelicalisms general thoughtlessness about the significance of the physical body in matters of faith and practice.

    1. Apologies for the typo. These thoughts are NOT original with me, they’re inspired by Matt Anderson’s book.

      Apparently the Comment Edit function only gives you about ten minutes to reread/edit a comment. :(

  56. Luke Dubbelman says:

    what about single site churches with more than 1000 members??? Is that the same idea? Whether it is different locations or only one locations…seems like some of the same reasons for the massive numbers could be the same….just a thought!

    I will say that, but then I will say that I really enjoy the preaching of some people (even steven furticks who is pictured on-top) and benefit from there sermons though I live hundreds of miles away from them, so I am at once both for and against it!

  57. Adrian says:

    Thank you Thabiti for a very helpful post, and to all those whose comments have added to the discussion! I remember attending a large event in London where a US multi-site pastor was speaking and being so disappointed to see that unlike other speakers who sat among the audience when it wasn’t their ‘slot’, this man hovered out in the back somewhere, not mixing, and at the lunch break when he remained briefly on the platform he was treated as the ‘rock star’, with a line of young men waiting to have their photo taken with him and have him autograph something for them. That disturbed me considerably.

  58. Internet says:

    ****
    The best Reformed preacher will win. Period. He’ll be the nation’s (or the world’s pastor). The flat screen ensures this.

    If your preaching is not the best, instead of demonizing the best (e.g., MacArthur, Piper, Driscoll) as “idolaters” or “of the devil,” instead, find your niche in the new normal.
    ****

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear friend,
      I can’t tell whether you’re being serious or what. If you’re being serious, I think your response illustrates the very problem I’m scratching at in this post. On what grounds would we use words like “win” or “best” when we’re talking about Christian servants laboring to expand the kingdom? We’re not in competition with one another–or we shouldn’t be. The Christian church is not a market wherein pastors are vying for “market share,” thus “winning” over others. If even a scintilla of that kind of thinking is in our ministry philosophies or ambitions, we have great cause to tremble before our holy Father. I regularly pray for the flourishing of the ministries of the men you mention, all of whom I’ve at least some personal interaction with, and two of whom I regard as real significant mentors. No one here is demonizing these men. And I don’t think either MacArthur or Piper would say they’re aiming to be “the best” and they’re using flat screens “to win.”

      Honestly, unless this is sarcasm or something, I think you do more to misrepresent these men and their ministries than I do by asking questions about the method of “beaming in” multi-site.

      Grace to you,
      T-

  59. Rodrigo Sanchez says:

    Much biblical wisdom, beneficial to guard against sin and the temptation of exchanging the glory of immortal God for images of mortal man.
    On the other hand, categorizing in a general way by saying that all multi sites are from the devil can do much damage to the unity of the church. You are a very well known and respected man, people read your blog and read your books (and some may even idolize you as well) and it may be dangerous to say something like that publicly on a post. There are many young folks like me (my wife and I are 21 years old) that just love controversy and reading about different theological points of view and jump into any kind of discussion just for the sake of it.

    I pray that in the midst of immaturity and the temptation to idolatry in many, the word of God will triumph in the hearts of many and the Lord will use videos, books, blogs, and podcasts to continue to bring the obedience of the gospel for the sake of His name to all the nations and all cities in the United States.

    Love you all, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
    Grace and peace!

  60. Jason Baeuerle says:

    Dear Pastor Anyabwile, I’m not sure if you will ever read this comment or not–but your comments “triggered” something in me to write/reply. You mentioned you have spent time with James MacDonald lately… and thus, it would be interesting to hear how James would reply to your blog. The pastor of the church you have in the photo at the top of your blog is Steven Furtick–and he recently joined James (last March) for “The Elephant Room” at James’ church. What’s more, the Gospel Coalition website has a video of Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald chatting about multi-site campuses. I think you make some valid arguments in your blog… but I’m wondering if you might also be judging the hearts & motives of some of your brothers (fellow preachers)in a way that isn’t fair? In the end, MacDonald encourages us to pick up the phone and chat with our brothers in Christ rather than blogging about them or their ministries without knowledge or personal realtionship. Likely, your views might sharpen a Mark Driscoll and a Steven Furtick… but perhaps James MacDonald might challenge you as well on multi-site concepts. I guess I’m humbly suggesting to you–a pastor I admire and respect GREATLY–that you give a listen to “The Elephant Room” or even the video on multisites on the Gospel Coalition website. Respectfully, Jason Baeuerle (a fellow pastor in Indiana)
    P.S.
    I’m not suggesting you don’t have relationships with pastors who do multi-site scenarios, I’m just wondering if your blog may come across as a veiled atack on those who do???

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Jason,

      Great to hear from a fellow-laborer in our Lord’s vineyard. And I’m grateful for your gentle and loving ‘push-back.’ What pastor doesn’t need that from his peers and his people? I certainly do, and I appreciate the way you’ve done it here.

      James was kind enough to send me a DVD of his Elephant Room 1 conference. I watched the entire series of discussions. And I’ve watched the video of Dever, Driscoll, and MacDonald “discussing” multi-site. I write “discussing” in quotes because, honestly, that looked more like an attack than an exchange. I’ve never asked Dever this, but it seemed to me he took the more gracious, silent role in what looked like it was going to be a verbal brawl. So, I don’t think sharp counter-points were made in that discussion.

      As you point out, James, Mark, and I along with a couple other brothers were on a panel discussion last weekend discussing this very issue. It was the first time I’ve had a lengthy conversation with these men about this issue, and the panel largely featured a back-and-forth (friendly and substantive, but also direct in our disagreement) between all the panelists. With the exception of the technology and culture bit, there’s nothing in this post that wasn’t said or attempted on the panel. If anything, the post says some things a little more clearly at points.

      Once people make public statements or write things for public consumption, the long-standing rule is that such comments are fair game for rebuttal and discussion. If this were a private conversation between me and any proponent of multi-site, I would not be writing it in a public forum. But since multi-site proponents have made numerous public comments in support of their strategy, it’s acceptable that others respond. That’s what I’ve tried to do here.

      Now, I know James’ heart for seeing brothers dwell in unity even when they disagree on some matters. But he didn’t call up his congregationalist friends before he wrote a post entitled “Congregational Governement Is from Satan.” That’s the title of the post I’m playfully riffing off in this post. And of the many Baptist folks I know who love congregational government, who believe it’s biblical even if it’s messy, none of them took James to be saying they were demonic or that their motives were wrong. James wasn’t attacking people (even though his tone was much sharper in tone than my own), any more than I’m trying to attack particular persons here.

      I hope the multi-site folks who read this can receive a critique without thinking its ad hominem, even in a veiled way. It’s not a veiled attack against persons; it’s an open critique of a methodology–a methodology some of my dearest friends use. We critique and push one another all the time in the spirit of love and sharpening one another. I hope those watching this discussion can take this exchange in the same spirit.

      It’s meant to be an open discussion. A friendly discussion. At times a clear and sharp discussion. And I hope that’s seen as fair game. And, I pray the Lord gives me grace to know my own heart and to not critique or speak with improper motive. Your questioning me is a means of grace to that end. So, I’m grateful for your question and push-back. And as best as I can discern my own motives (the heart being deceitful and desperately wicked), I’m not here impugning the motives of my fellow pastors. I’m trying to point to a method that requires, imo, continued reflection and exchange. That’s my aim. I welcome the continued help with my heart.

      Grateful for you brother.
      T-

  61. Bob says:

    While I see some of the potential dangers of the Multi site may be true I see the vast majority are solid and good. I want to know if those who critic have really studied the churches closely. Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ill have 13 sites. All of them have live preaching. They are raising up Campus Pastors, Worship leaders and disciples at a great God given rate. The church I serve has opened 5 sites and have found it to be wonderful. Five different communities, 5 congregations, 1 church, 1 budget, 1 accountability. I am just saying to chill out a bit. There will be a few bad apples in the multi site world and there are ego filled pastors in non-multi site churches. I urge us to look at each church as individual and not make blanket critics. If its alive its meant to multiple. Blessings form one who has seen our wonderful God sovereign election souls being saved at all 5 sites. I hope we will be able to do 20+ sites in 10 years. The Lord’s will be done.

  62. Tim says:

    Someone sent me a link to this post, and I’m horrified by it. Ok, maybe “just shy of horrified.” First, we have the needlessly provocative title, which is either juvenile or insulting. Perhaps both. Second, we have the sweeping claim that multi-site churches are always and everywhere rooted in idolatry. Really? Not a single exception?

    You may be personally a lovely fellow–I’m assuming you are–but this post conforms to every stereotype of the Angry Reformed: 1) Sweeping Triumphalism 2) Criticism of other Christians that you would probably never offer to their face (“Hi Lon Solomon. You and your congregation are idolaters!”) 3) A bunch of positive feedback from this subculture, reinforcing this way of thinking.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for stopping by and for leaving an honest concern. I appreciate your doing both.

      First, the title simply plays off another title using the same kind of hyperbole. I don’t want to defend the use of the title any further. But if a writer can’t use hyperbole and others recognize it as such, then the writer isn’t the only one with a maturity problem. In fact, a person who can’t recognize and respond appropriately to hyperbole is going to have problems accepting portions of the Scripture itself.

      Second, I must sincerely apologize for writing in such a way that sweeps up all multi-site churches into a charge of idolatry. That was not the intention of the post. I was speaking of the specific practice mentioned in the first sentence under the heading “Idolatry.” I did not have in mind all multi-site practices or any particular pastor or ministry. But not making that clear throughout the post is careless and insulting. It’s not excusable. I offer a sincere apology to those offended by general and sweeping charges of serious sin they find in this post. That’s not my intent. And I’m saddened that it’s been the effect with you, brother.

      Finally, I wonder if you could accept a little pushback from me? Even if you found my post offensive and “just shy of horrifying,” should you really then cast a sweeping condemnation of the so-called “Angry Reformed”? I don’t know that it’s fair to say the post suffers from “sweeping triumphalism” or that I “would probably never offer [these critiques] to their faces”, but I am pretty certain that it’s a step too far to use the weaknesses and sins of my post to now paint part of the “Reformed” world in this way. So, I wonder if you might want to rethink that second paragraph before the Lord. I hope this is a means of grace to you, just as your comments were a means of grace to me.

      And as an aside, I used to attend Lon Solomon’s church when I lived in the No. Va area. I was there during the period when they were moving from inside the Beltway out to the location in Reston. At the time, Solomon drove back and forth between the two locations, preaching about six times on a Sunday morning! He’d leave immediately after finishing a sermon in one place to drive the 20 minutes or so to the second location to arrive just in time to preach there. He’d have to do that 4-5 times on a Sunday morning! What a mensch! I had nothing but respect for Solomon’s dedication to being before the people at that time. If his strategy has changed, yes, I would offer these critiques to his face for him to consider–just as I’ve offered these assessments to others in person. But since you named Lon as an example, I want to state publicly my admiration for him during that time and give thanks to God for the deposit of faith he imparted to me during my family’s short time with them.

      Grace and peace to you,
      Thabiti

  63. Stephen Ley says:

    Pastor, your time at MIA was well spent. Just thinking out loud…

    Multi-site is franchising. It’s taking insights from the business world and applying them to church. What is it about franchises that American consumers like? What are weaknesses of franchising that those of us who believe in the Reformation ideal of local personal ministry (see Carl Trueman’s recent article “Is the Reformation nearly over? Perhaps, but maybe not for the reason you think”) can gently point out and then demonstrate a better way of “doing church”.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and graciously respond to critics of your critique. I think it’s spot on.

    1. Bob says:

      This is my Father’s world. Might we not learn from it? Seems quite like a reformed worldview to me. Do Churches use any accounting systems? Go and do like wise.

  64. Jim says:

    Amen. Mark Driscoll TV has come out at the same time as Glen Beck TV. Driscoll in his interview with Douglas Wilson laid out the pragmatic argument. He has more involvement in the churches where he is pumped in. One of our pastors even wondered about putting sermons on our website. Sermons should have a context–check out the sermons in Acts. We lack Fathers in the church and Fathers must be “present.” We are still addicted to a modern model of ministry. Wesley’s “the world is my parish.” An African Anglican bishop told a group of us once, “your family is your parish.” Wesley didn’t get that message and how his wife suffered. Also, Protestants often make an idol of preaching itself. Agree with Calvin, the Lord’s Supper should be weekly and the word exposited and the bread of life should go together. Services should be about Jesus not the “man.” Love Eugene Peterson on this. He said he hated his call to be a pastor as he never say it modeled well. Also, he felt the pull to become an idol to his people and he felt the desire to be that idol.

    1. Elaine says:

      Hi Jim. I don’t understand your statement “Sermons should have a context–check out the sermons in Acts” especially because it comes right after “One of our pastors even wondered about putting sermons on our website.”

      Could you clarify it for me? thanks!

      1. Jim says:

        Yes, Thank you for the question. Peter on Pentecost preached to thousands but he knew these people. He was with Jesus as Jesus rebuked those who rejected him. He preached, “this Jesus, whom YOU crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ.” Stephen’s sermon had a similar context though not as well received as Peter’s. Sermons should be prepared within a specific context and it is hard to know and be known by people miles away who live in a different context. The NT reveals an intimacy between shepherds and flock. Parishioners should be able to discuss concepts with teachers and vice versa. The cult of personality is everywhere in the church and it is ingrained in us Americans. I work with college students and some seem more excited about Piper, Driscoll and Chan than they are about Jesus. We need pastors that we know well and not known as the outsized personalities. I also favor smaller churches. My pastor’s point was does he want to market his audio sermons to folks he doesn’t know when everyone needs a pastor/father/shepherd within their own context and the pastors themselves need oversight. I know tons of people who are fed mostly by their favorite Christian personality. The Reformed are not immune to this. Another issue to discuss in the independence of single churches and church movements. Single heads of ministries or churches have had to step down recently. When you have strong personalities it is hard to discipline. You also have a “circle the wagons” mentality because so many are so into one man’s ministry. If the “man” is on a smaller pedestal he has a shorter fall and a softer landing. I strongly believe we are moving away from a model of ministry where the entrepenurial guy anoints himself and builds something big.

        1. Elaine says:

          Jim, thank you for responding.

          Peter knew all the 3,000 intimately? If I follow your thinking, no pastor should preach to whom they do not know intimately.

          Yes, the NT reveals an intimacy with shepherds and flock (flock designates the saved, not the unsaved to whom Peter preached). But I’d suggest that the pastor who posts his sermons online is not trying to create another category of “flock”, one that’s far away and distant in intimacy. I’d argue that following your logic we could also include books along with online sermons. Of course, some pastors might be just doing that: expanding “their” kingdom (and some we know are).

          If a person decides not to fellowship in a real church, with real brothers and sisters, would that be the reason for pastors/teachers not to share their sermons or write books anymore? I remember John MacArthur saying that no believer should be unchurched, that if you are home on Sunday morning whatching his televised service, you should be in a church.

          I believe that sharing sermons online fall more on the category of evangelism than what you suggest. I for one am grateful for that, it was how I got saved a little 2 years ago. And guess what, right after I got saved I looked for a real church. Would not the true believer look to fellowship with the saints and loving the brethren? and how else that can be achieved unless we are together to serve each other?

          I might be reading you wrong, but are suggesting that audio sermons encourage the cult of personalities in the church? Interesting, because the cult of personalities in 1 Corinthians 1:12 had nothing to do with audio sermons. But everything to do with the fallen of men (I suggest to you that idolatry and pride are at the very core of all sin, and although redeemed we will still be tempted in those areas).

          Finally, I would like to say that an expository sermon needs only one context: the bible. We don’t look for external contexts or cultural contextualization. The Word of God has stood firm throughout the ages despite that.

          And I have to agree with you on this one: “I strongly believe we are moving away from a model of ministry where the entrepenurial guy anoints himself and builds something big.” Here’s pragmatism at its best. I thank God that there are many true shepherds out there, those who are after His own heart, who will guide us in knowledge and understanding.

          thank you for reading,
          Grace and peace!

          1. Jim says:

            Elaine, thank you for your comments! Yes, thank God for those who love and care for their flocks. Motives are hard to judge completely but structure is important in order to protect both shepherds and sheep–so thank you TH for getting this going. As for Peter preaching, he did know a bunch of them as he had been with Jesus’ ministry for three years and he saw the same crowd at the trial of Jesus. Disagree strongly your point only context is the Bible. It is impossible to preach outside of a specific context. Every prophet and preacher in Scripture delivered specific words to specific people in a specific context. Also, Peter and Stephen were preaching to Jews who were in God’s covenant. Think of Nicodemus, Jesus said, “you are the teacher of Israel yet you do not know these things.” The audience was not rank pagans but folks who knew Scripture but didn’t know better–explains why the were then “cut to the quick.” Peter knew he needed to give them some Biblical Theology. Preachers should preach for conversion no matter what the audience. Our churches have those who do not yet believe savingly yet are in the covenant. Peter, Paul and Stephen as they preach in Acts carefully exegeted their audience and pastors are wisely trained to do so today.

  65. Leslie Jebaraj says:

    Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile:

    I am a regular here at TGC. I am a Christian, and I live in India. We got no problems with multi-site churches here, simply because we got none!:) But I thought I’d post a comment just to say that I loved the tone in your post, and in all your comments. That’s a classic example of being truth-ful and gracious, I’d say! Thank you.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Dear Leslie,

      Thanks for dropping by and for leaving a comment. And for leaving a touch of humor and encouragement! I really appreciate your encouragement, brother. The Lord make His face shine upon you today,

      T-

  66. Brent Johnson says:

    Watching Mars Hill, Seattle franchise i’ve had many of the same questions posited in the article. I do think Mark has worked to make each branch autonomous and most have preaching pastors even if not full time. My question is: couldn’t each of the issues brought up be there in single dwelling sites? How about those who post blogs and get many responses? The church whether big or small is prone to all kinds of issues yet isn’t the real issue whether the Gospel is faithfully preached. I can’t say multi site is a sin so it seems we are looking at a pragmatic model.

  67. Stephen says:

    Mr. Anyabwile,

    In 1 Corinthians 4:5 Paul writes, “do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden darkness and will discolose the purposes of the heart.” If I am reading your post correctly, and correct me if I am wrong, it seems that you are saying that the motive or purpose behing multi-site video campuse is pride, idolotary and competition. Yes, I don’t think that 1 Cor. 4:5 is telling us that we can’t call adultery wrong or discipline or judge what the Bible condemns to wrong, but that we are not to judge the purposes or motives of the heart. Are you judgeing the motives of multi-site video campus leaders, or are you just guessing at their motives? I am not going to say that I believe your motive in writing this post is jealousy or to draw attention to yourself because of pride becasue I don’t have x-ray vision into your heart, and 1 Cor. 4:5 says, not to judge the purposes of the heart. I’m open to hearing Biblical arguments against multi-site, but it seems to me you are judging the motives of these leaders. Ofcourse, all of us can do ‘good” things out of pride and idolotary. Perhaps, the discussion should be focused on whether multi-site is good and Biblical or not instead of the motive behind why folk are doing. And yes, if pride and idolotary is the motivation for multi-site, that should be repented of, but I think that judging motives before the time should be as well.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for the comment, brother, and the reflections on 1 Corinthians 4:5. Great passage of scripture to apply to my heart and this discussion.

      Again, as best as I can discern the motives of my own heart, I am not calling into question the motives and hearts of any particular multi-site pastor beaming their sermons into various sites. I’m not claiming intimate or even accurate knowledge of another man’s heart; my own is difficult enough to know.

      But I would say this: It’s possible to have the sin of idolatry manifesting itself even when we’re not consciously acting upon that sin. For example, it’s difficult for me to imagine that any man using multi-site would consciously and intentionally say, “I’m going to set myself up as an idol. I’m going to choose a medium that maximizes that potential. I want to gather all the applause and praise I can from as many people as I can.” That man would indeed be Satanic in that attitude–not to mention not qualified for pastoral ministry! I’m not saying anyone is motivated in that way.

      However, subtler forms of idolatry lurk in every person’s heart. It doesn’t matter whether they’re pastoring small churches, large churches, multi-site churches, or no churches. Even aspiring preachers and servants have to test their hearts for pride for positions they don’t yet have. The tendency toward pride is ever-present with us.

      All I’m pointing out is that such a tendency can be at work more effectively in some mediums, and such a tendency can drive the way we think and act even if it’s not our intent. We can look at a statement like “I need to do all the preaching at my church and the satellite campuses because I’m the best preacher” and we can discern potential pride in such a statement without discarding either the person or other motivations also at work (like a genuine desire to advance the gospel). Every human heart this side of glory combines gold and dross. It’s the nature of indwelling sin. Saying, “Hey, I think we ought to think about that motivation” is not the same as saying, “Hey, I know that guy is proud and intentionally seeking to make himself an idol for others to worship.” And my prayer is that by raising the questions we are by God’s grace better able to test our motives–both the motives of the one raising the questions and the one being questioned. I hope that’s an act of love and grace. But I’m not saying that anyone desires with full conscious intent to make themselves an idol of worship for others.

      Does that make sense?
      T-

  68. Jack says:

    It seems to me that many of the arguements made for preaching via satellite (or not to) should be applied to corporate worship with song as well. Maybe there are some theological differences to flush out, but it seems to me that they would share much of the same strengths and weaknesses with multi-site. Maybe I’m wrong, but don’t most multi-site churches have a local band and worship leader? If so, why don’t they keep the best musicians and singers at the main campus and beam them through? I think there is something cultural (or just human) that would make this a bigger hurdle for us to accept. So contrast that with the arguements we make for preaching and I wonder what light that might shed? I’m not an expert and don’t have an official opinion. It’s just an honest musing.

    1. Jim says:

      I’ve been at a service like this where the music was pumped in by video. Most are watching not worshipping. The model of having a “kicking” band perform worship music live in a service has the same effect. Most are not singing but watching the video screens and the cool player close-ups. Plus, it’s hard to hear yourself over the noise. I was told it is an “attractional” model. Bad model to structure services with people in mind primarily. I talked to parents afterward and they say they like something more liturgical but hey, this style packs in the kids.

  69. Joey E says:

    I think this has been addressed in the comments, but (from my perspective as having been a part of a church that is now working on it’s 4th campus) we have to be clear to not over-generalize.

    For example, let’s separate the roles of “preaching” and “pastoring.” While 3 or 4 guys did most (but not all) of the teaching, we also had at least a dozen pastors for a total congregation of about 3500 / weekend. It was a change in mindset for many of our congregants, but it was the Campus Pastors and Community Group Pastors that did most of the shepherding.

    Also, just because there is a video teaching does not mean the teaching is done by one person. One pastor/elder does about 60-65%, another pastor/elder does about 25-30%, and other men (staff and lay) do the rest.

    One major advantage of the structure we had (and no structure is perfect, of course) is that staff got to operate more and more in their primary gifting. This is not to exclude the need to work in or develop other areas, but any institution functions best when people are contributing in their areas of their greatest strengths (I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham).

    1. Jim says:

      Whoaa there!! Think carefully about the distinction between “pastor and preacher” and NT accountability and responsibility regarding ministers and their families and congregations/sheep. We have a church in our area with thousands and they make a sharp distinction. If you raise the issue it is dismissed by the phrase, “well you know he’s a preacher not a pastor.” Though “pastor is his title. One has to set an appointment nine months in advance to talk with the pastor/preacher. Agree congregants should pastor each other. However, this church has a divorce culture on steroids and very few are really pastored. I’m not throwing rocks from the outside–many friends and even family have been affected. The preacher has protected himself from the brokenness in the congregation as he gets to use the “gift” he is primarily gifted for–“don’t do windows.” I think D.Wilson calls it mechanics who no longer get their hands dirty with the engine.

      1. Joey says:

        Good points. And while I see where you are heading, I assure you this sharp distinction was not the case with our church. The preachers were also involved in pastoring/shepherding.

        The nuance, I believe, is when someone refers to THE pastor/preacher. I’m not sure there is a NT model that the one who preaches should be readily available for an appointment with X months.

        In our structure, however, there ARE pastors available, and they deal with the brokenness on a close level. But just because it’s not THE preacher/pastor, doesn’t mean that it’s any less meaningful.

  70. erik bennett says:

    I’ve always wondered what would happen in a multi-site if the video pastor resigns, retires, or simply leaves for something else. Have you seen those types of issues?

    1. Joey E says:

      No different than at any church when a teaching pastor leaves. Our church has worked to develop younger teachers. There is no “video pastor.” Just teachers who teach, and some of that teaching happens to be shown on video.

  71. Joe Miller says:

    Sooo… Multi-Site church function is more self promoting than things like,….hmmmm…. BLOGGING? You know, using a modern cultural medium to broadcast the self served and experienced opinions of one person… the same person that feels there is a vastly wider audience that is longing to know exactly what said opinion and experience is? At least multi-site chuches are using technology to move the gospel forward… All blogging does is literally what you accuse “them” of….

    And did you really say that “standing in the pulpit is BIBLICAL” and being broadcast through airwaves “is not?”

    Well, you are over 100 comments on this blog… Is your ego stroked yet? Or do you need another 100 to get there?

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Joe,
      Welcome to the conversation, brother. I pray you’re well and that you abound in the grace and knowledge of our Lord in every situation and at all times.

      Brother, I mean you no harm either in life or in this blog post. I trust the Lord will give us grace to see each other in that way.

      I suppose anyone who acts publicly is liable to the charge of self-promotion. And, I suppose that charge will in some ways be accurate and will sometimes resonate with others. You felt free to express your opinion. Multi-site proponents feel free to express their opinions. And I hope we’re free and gracious enough that I might dare express my opinions, too. I don’t ask that anyone agree with them, applaud me, or even respond. But I do think it’s a hard-earned right to speak freely. I cherish it, and judging from the tenor of your comment I suspect you do too. Continue to enjoy it and continue to extend others the same courtesy. We’re all better for it, even if we’re not always our best selves as we use the freedom. I pray we’d all be better.

      As for “standing in the pulpit,” what I’m maintaining is that a man who stands before a congregation (pulpit or not) and serves them in a living, accessible relationship has firmer biblical ground than someone who opts for distance medium. I don’t think that’s controvertible.

      I’m a proud man. I confess that. Perhaps that’s why I think I see pride elsewhere. Takes one to know one, right? I fight my pride as best I can. I find that the fight rages most intensely when I’m stroking my own ego, not when others are doing it for me. I need help in that fight. Your comment is help to me today. I pray the post and your own comment are help to you, too.

      Much grace and peace in Christ Jesus our Savior, who loved us and gave himself up for us, even while we were proud sinners,

      Thabiti

      1. Joe Miller says:

        I am not harmed, nor am I attempting to harm….

        However, the “harm” in my opinion, is when words are broadcast to an open audience seeking opinions of peers regarding subjects they know little of and border line fear. They read your words on all of your reasons why something, in your opinion, is potentially “not good” and it becomes their gospel on the subject regardless of the realities of it and never dig deeper into function and reality.

        And you have still lost me on this whole idea that the Pastor must be “present” for it to be Biblical. It’s neither Biblical nor accurate… If it were, Paul would have never written his letters, cause he would have been PRESENT with them the whole time… But I am sure that is the basis for “planting” churches with a fresh face and a fresh Pastor… Unfortunately, we could argue the good and bad of that until we are blue in the face.

        The reality of this is that any time a move of God happens in a way the “traditional” denominations aren’t sure of, it’s heresy. They strike at the movement with toothed Scripture taken out of context, but fully righted by opinion… All the while being a spectacle to the unchurched watching it unfold.

        God is moving. And it He is moving like He always does,… differently now than He did before.

        I will look forward to your blog post on why/how mutli-site CAN be a great thing if motivated and lead by God. ;)

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Joe,

          Thanks again for your comment. Just a couple short responses:

          1. In your first paragraph, you simultaneously call into question any open disagreement and brand as “uninformed” anyone who agrees with an opinion you don’t like. Surely you see the problem with that.

          2. Check the letters and practice of Paul more closely. You’ll find that he established pastors or elders or overseers in every church the Lord used Him to plant. Paul was an apostle with a much wider responsibility–the entire church world. But in local contexts, he left men there to shepherd and teach. Read, for example, 1 Tim. 1 and Titus 1.

          3. I never called multi-site teachers or the practice “heresy.” Nor am I as certain as you are that we should dub this “a move of God.” If many terrible things have happened when “traditionalists” have bared their teeth, as many terrible things have happened under the guise “move of God.” The only safeguard against either wrong is free and open discussion where we challenge, listen, learn and prayerfully grow.

          4. I don’t think you’ll see that post on how/why multi-site can be a great thing. To write that post I’d have to abandon what I think are biblical convictions, even what I think a “church” is in essence. ;-)

          May the Lord give us grace.
          Thabiti

  72. Dan Phillips says:

    So, Joe: commenting without actually reading post or preceding comments since when?

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone be as longsuffering, patient or gracious with repeated silly accusations and lazy questions as Thabiti has been in this meta. It’s… it’s Phil-Johnsonic!

  73. PK says:

    At this point, with so many posts already shared, I imagine that my meager offering is only redundant. However, since I have neither the time nor inclination to read every response, I will say a few things if only to reinforce thoughts previously stated.

    1.) I fear that the title of this post might be truly of the devil in that it minimizes his odiousness, reducing him to a comedic/shock device intended to generate interest in an article. I consider the title lamentable.

    2.) In order for this article to be truly helpful, it should better define terms. One is not so much speaking of multisite churches, but rather video venue churches. As such, the article generates more confusion than clarity. I believe that there are multisite approaches that avoid the errors listed here.

    3.) Even with the disclaimer, I think that the photo at the top of the article is unnecessary and lacks graciousness toward those brothers and sisters with whom we might disagree, but whose reputations we must defend. You’ve portrayed our siblings in Christ, co-ministers of the Gospel, as egomaniacs. That might be true in some instances, but is definitely not true in all. I could easily create a Photoshop portrait entitled, “Gospel Coalition,” subtitled with the words, “Because some pastors’ egos are too big for their own personal blog.”

    I think this is a regrettable and ill-conceived post.

    1. Elaine says:

      You are right in one thing, your post is redundant. If you don’t care to read the comment section, where Pastor Thabiti addressed those very issues you posed, why would comment at all? It’s clear that you are not interested in the conversation, but only posting your opinion.

      1. Joe Miller says:

        “It’s clear that you are not interested in the conversation, but only posting your opinion.”

        …interesting. Same could be said for a blogger whose opinion cannot be swayed yet has a comment section.

        All “glad handlers” welcome.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          But, honestly, Joe, did you or PK really offer anything to sway anyone’s opinion? I accept your reaction as genuine and heartfelt. But mostly all you’ve offered is a reaction. I’d be happy to hear and consider your apologia for multi-site. But you actually have to set forward arguments, not just share your disdain, however sincerely you feel it.

          All comments pro and con are welcome. Feel free to make your case. There are plenty of folks in the meta who have explicitly stated they’re trying to make up their minds. Feel free to serve those brethren with your points in favor.

          Grace and peace,
          Thabiti

          1. PK says:

            I didn’t intend to set forth an apologia for multi-site. I agree with much if not most of what you said. My concern is with your approach. The title is lamentable. The photo, needlessly inflammatory and judgmental. The definition of multi-site was too loose to be of be of value.

            1. Joe Miller says:

              Exactly. The use of that photo is to do nothing more than provoke a reaction. Period.

              I can argue for hours on the necessity in some cases of Multi-Site based on function alone….

              The problem is, you can’t argue with traditionalists. Cause that’s all they are. Traditionalism is the only way. This is what we’ve always done and this is what we’ll always do… There is no discussion.

              My points are simply to open your eyes to the “pot vs kettle” theory…or the “plank and speck” theory… Which you have easily passed off as “I am right, you are wrong.”

              To pre-judge Pastors and ministries without knowing and understanding anything about them, their calling or their ministry is sin in my opinion. More so, giving your readers reasons and ammunition to do the same is an abomination.

              Your readers know nothing of Steven Furtick (pictured) or any other multi-site church in their own area… They do now have an opinion of it’s Pastor, thanks to you.

            2. Thabiti says:

              Cool, PK. I’m tracking with you now.
              T-

            3. Thabiti says:

              Joe,

              The Lord bless you and keep you, brother. I haven’t said anywhere in this blog or this stream that “I’m right; you’re wrong.” To my knowledge, that hasn’t been my response to anyone who has opposed what I’ve written. I seriously think you’re guilty of what you’re accusing me of. So, why don’t we both withdraw to spend time before the Lord examining our own eyes and heart?

              PK, I’ve offered my apology to Furtick and others for the photo and I’ve removed it from the site. Damage has already been done. But I hope those gestures take a step toward amending things.

              Grace to you both,
              Thabiti

  74. Jono says:

    Don’t you think we should just go all the way with it and have Tim Keller streamed into every church? If the best preacher is the only one that should be preaching, then I say we take a vote and have everyone else sit down ;)

  75. cait says:

    Dan, I’m with you. It’s astounding to me how many poor readers there are out there. Pastor T has only had to say about 100 times that he doesn’t actually think that these men are demonic, since apparently it was too difficult to glean that from this post?

    I think this is an incredibly clear, helpful post that deals with our hearts, whether or not we attend or agree with the multi-site idea. Thanks so much, pastor thabiti, for your clear, gracious writing.

  76. bob says:

    i quit reading after the word “pulpit”

  77. sean carlson says:

    My guess is you have no experience/exposure to such an approach. Being in a church which has multi-site I candidly confess to not caring much for it. I think it fractures our unity tho claiming to be one church. I wish the multi-site locations well but they’re not even on my radar screen. All in all, unimpressed.

  78. I realize I’m late to the party, but I thought this comment was worth highlighting:

    “As for turning people away, “Yes.” A local church that’s full, that’s planting all it can, and that’s seeing people drive past good-enough churches to attend should turn them away. Seriously. When I was on staff at CHBC a few years back, we saw the growth problems coming. And I would hear Mark say in membership interviews, when someone was passing up good churches to drive an hour to attend CHBC, have you considered this church or that church? He’d encourage them to check out other churches where they could settle, build, and join community. I think that’s incredibly godly, kingdom minded, and ultimately better for the witness of the gospel in more communities than if one local church becomes this great magnet sucking everyone into one church then branching itself back out into the very neighborhoods that people drove past to get there.” Thabiti Anyabwile

  79. Tyl says:

    I have to agree and disagree. I agree that this kind of thing COULD happen, but am well aware that there are churches out there where this is not the case.

    My church, for example, has 2 locations, and our third will be opening in a matter of a couple months. At each service, associate pastors are present who are willing and able to shepherd over the congregation. Each service then has its own live music with live musicians. The only part of the service that is internally telecast is the actual message, generally from the lead pastor. ALL of the other pastors take turns giving the message during the times when the lead pastor is out.

    NOTE: This church has several associate pastors that take turns rotating at the different locations, so each pastor is seen by the naked eye by all.

    Ultimately, I believe that when the multi-site church takes the correct approach, they are not using a tool “from the Devil.”

  80. Patrick says:

    This type of discourse is always so disappointing to read about. I’d expect to read this type of rhetoric on the Huffington post religion section or on CNN where most commenters aren’t believes, but on TGC? It is this type of rhetoric that divides us even further. So now we have a whole sub-culture of believers that have pride that they go to a single-site or smaller church, that this is the ‘only’ and ‘first-century’ way to congregate and worship.

    I do attend a multi-site, this after spending 5 years at a smaller church where I knew every person. I enjoyed my time at the smaller church, but have found that I actually have more community at the multi-site. I know all the pastors at my campus and am walking through life with them. So what if the guy giving the sermon isn’t the guy who I go to when I need counsel? I think it can be just as much of cult of personality with a church that places so much importance on having their pastor be present at every meeting. I walk deep with these people, they know me, hurt with me, keep me accountable, and love on me, just like at any other place of worship. We are the church.

    Anyways, my $0.02.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Patrick,
      Your two cents is worth $200 or more. Thanks for commenting and giving a perspective from both vantage points.
      T-

  81. PK says:

    Wow. I am genuinely thrilled that you took seriously my thoughts, and responded in such a gracious manner. Thank you, deeply and sincerely. I hope to meet you someday, and assure you of my love in Christ in person.

  82. Brian Ramsey says:

    Thabiti,

    I appreciate your humble and gracious responses to each of the comments posted here. That really creates a positive feel to the discussion.

    – Brian

  83. JJ says:

    Really… The Devil? The Christian church in its many forms and configurations is the Bride of Christ and you have degraded her in public sir.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi JJ,

      Thanks for reading and commenting, bro.

      No, not really. That’s why I wrote the first sentence in the piece. The title is tongue in cheek as the first line and the last line suggest. So, I am not saying that is really the case.

      But I am questioning the very notion of “the Christian church in its many forms and configurations.” I don’t think we can use a phrase like that without much deliberate prayer and reflection. I am convinced the New Testament gives us the form and configuration the church should take. Others would have a different view of how Scripture should regulate these questions, but I begin with the notion that we should conform our practice to what the Scripture commands, abstain from what it prohibits, and be very, very careful in filling the silence of Scripture with pragmatic ideas.

      My intent is not to degrade the church, but honor her by treating her the way her Bridegroom instructs. Conversations and discussions about precisely how to do so seem to me to be of utmost importance.

      For Jesus and His bride,
      T-

  84. David Holt says:

    On the other hand, many of these multi-site churches are pastored by men who truly preach the Gospel, and Paul said to rejoice when the Gospel is preached, even if from impure motives.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Amen, David.

      At the 9Marks at Southeastern conference, Dr. Akin paraphrased something he attributed to Piper reflecting on Philippians 1 and Galatians 1. It went something like this:

      Paul rejoiced when men preached the gospel with impure motives (Phil. 1), but he called down a curse when men preached a false gospel with pure motives (Gal. 1).

      Something like that. It’s something to think about, isn’t it?

      I rejoice wherever the gospel is preached faithfully. I trust we all do.

      T-

  85. Jared says:

    I don’t believe all churchs with video pastors,are from the devil. I attend a small town, store front church, and we watch a video feed from the main church we were planted from. We are the only church plant that does not have a pastor(yet). The video isn’t beemed out to any other churchs. We get it from the website and veiw it on Sunday morning. I’m not even sure the pastor is aware we watch him. I will say the above post by Thabiti has some very good points. Our church went on a trip to the main church and I over heard many people saying”I got to shake his hand”,”I got to touch him” reffering to the pastor we wacthed on the video feed. It really concerned me that some were treating this man as a celebrity. I also have come to realize that watching a video feed is VERY IMPERSONAL. It just does’nt feel like the pastor in the video is speaking to our Flock/congrgation. Also people talk,sleep and get up and go to the restroom right in the middle of the sermon/video. If a real person were standing in front of us, I know the sleeping and lack of attentiveness would cease, because a good pastor would address these isssues. Since becoming a follower of Christ, I am someday interested in going into ministry. One day I was compelled by the Holy Spirit to say something in Church, so I asked an elder if I could speak. He was reluctant to let me speak, but did anyways. I spoke a few minutes and sat down. No one else in the church had an issue with what I said, which was pretty convicting. I later found out that a troubled young lady in our church was VERY convicted by my speaking and accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior. I’m not saying this in a boastful manor. I am just saying sometimes a video does’nt address the issues that a pastor would. So I do agree that a multi-site church hinders the growth of those who may be called by God to preach. After speaking with several members of the church, I realized many of them see the need for a pastor. The pastor we watch isn’t big on preaching convicting sermons. I have seen very few impacted by these videos.

  86. John says:

    Man – your willingness to respond to everybody in depth is a lot more than I would be willing to give on a blog.

    On another note, did I see you dancing to the Gettys on the front row at the Gospel Coalition this year or was that somebody else?

    Preach on.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Oh, man, you busted me! I enjoyed the Gettys and had a great time sitting under the word with my wife at the Coalition conference this year. You’re not going multi-site with me dancing are you? ;-)

      Blessings to you,
      T-

      1. John says:

        Multi-site? No. Dancing to the Gettys? Well, when nobody else is around, I might dance before the Lord.

  87. Thabiti,

    Thank you for the fantastic post. I really appreciate your desire to share these thoughts with all of us. In a lot of ways I agree with you, but I see an issue that I don’t believe has been brought up.

    For many of these pastors (let’s use Matt Chandler as an example) people are going to come to them no matter what. I’ve seen The Village grow from a very tiny church to a huge multi-site church and no matter what they do, more and more people come.

    If the church suddenly cut ties with two of its campuses and ended the video services, would people stop going to those campuses? Maybe some. Would many more go to the campus Chandler preaches at? Certainly. That’s been an issue at that church since he started.

    So what do you do with a pastor whose preaching attracts people? I’m not a village member, nor do I go to that church, but I see it as an issue that, without the multi-site platform, would force him to either turn thousands of people away every week or he would have to step down from preaching all together.

    Thoughts?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Alex,

      Welcome to the discussion, brother, and thanks for the kind way in which you engage. I appreciate both the fine question you ask and the way you ask it.

      I think your question illustrates one of the issues I’m trying to scratch at. Let’s call it pastor-dependence. Whether in a small single-service church or a large multi-campus/site church, an over-reliance on one man’s preaching is an unhealthy thing. So, if people stop attending because a particular pastor is no longer preaching there (and this happens in all kinds of churches) then that’s an indication that those folks may have been committed to the pastor rather than the church.

      That problem isn’t necessarily the pastor’s fault. But the main preaching pastor can do a lot to work against that attitude. He can generously share the pulpit. He can make specific comments about the need to support other preachers. He can avoid using technology in a way that makes much of and focuses the congregation on himself.

      He can even turn people away, suggesting they attend other faithful churches in the area. It’s not the worst thing in the world if we have direct Christians to other churches. Doing so shows a concern for other churches beyond our own. And doing so may mean greater health in a greater number of churches in our area. We have to trust the Lord to continue shepherding those folks even though we’re not their church. They’re His sheep and He can care for them with or without us. We have to trust that.

      Doing these things doesn’t mean a man’s preaching won’t continue to attract people. It likely will. Even if a church plants aggressively and turns people away, it doesn’t mean the church will be able to accommodate all the growth coming their way. But some of these strategies will at least help build the church into a widely shared leadership and hopefully into one another. As pastors, we should consider it a failure of sorts if attendance at our churches falls off or people leave when we’re not preaching or no longer there. It means we’ve failed to really strengthen the bonds of affection between members of the family and commitment to the whole.

      I’m sure many of the multi-site folks are doing the best they can with a really tough and really good problem to have. But I think there are better strategies available than beaming a man into a site.

      Thanks again for the engagement, bro. Praying the Lord makes His face to shine upon you,
      T-

      1. Thank you for the awesome response!

        I see what you are saying, and I agree there is a bit of pastor-reliance or “pastor super-stardom” that happens.

        I used Matt Chandler specifically because I have seen the village church turn people away, recommend other churches, etc. They only accepted a new campus because this other church was shutting down and they asked them to do this (same with their third campus).

        I guess I see some churches as having no other choice if the pastor is going to keep preaching (not all, I still don’t understand why Mars Hill has a church in Albuquerque…).

        Thank you for your amazing response to myself and to everyone else. I am really grateful for the way you are responding to questions. I think most of the negative feedback is over your title. (though, that had me laughing a bit!)

        God Bless!

  88. Jerry Austin says:

    I found the irony that Anyabwile provides in his article quite amusing. If we apply Anyabwile’s logic (and I use that term loosely) to himself then we would would say that if someone could publish a blog on well traveled website on the internet that makes broad sweeping conclusions based on distant observations, with very little fact involved and damn churches that faithfully preach the Gospel, then we could conclude that the internet is of the devil and Christians should avoid it completely. Since Anyabwile feels that the original and primary use of a technology should factor into whether the church should use it or not, once again the Internet would be off limits. Another bit of irony I found was on Anyabwile’s own church website, his testimony includes his first encounter with the Gospel, “By the grace of God, he and Kristie began watching a TV evangelist who practiced expositional preaching and faithfully presented the gospel of Jesus Christ. They watched regularly and even tape-recorded the sermons each week.” It seems he has a short memory on how God first brought him to the saving knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through a “pixelated screen.” That is unless I have the wrong Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.

    I dare not speculate at Anyabwile’s motives for his argument, but his case misses the point completely. The church through the centuries has used the technology of its day to propagate and to contextualize the Gospel following the example of the church in Acts. Which technologies that feature a prominent figure faithfully preaching the Gospel should we eliminate? I am sure that there are some that idolize Billy Graham, should we then throw out television and radio? Numerous prominent preachers publish books by which the Gospel is brought a new or its understanding is deepened. Should we eliminate the press? Ridiculous as that may seem, when those technologies were new, they were deemed of the devil as well. And since when do we serve a God that uses “conventional” means to spread his message? We serve a King that is creative and unpredictable. As for God “using” all things to His Glory, true, but there is a subtle difference between using and blessing. If a Pastor is preaching the Gospel faithfully with orthodox theology and hearts are changed, people saved, families strengthened in great numbers, when do we move from God using it to saying that God is blessing it? If there is evidence of the blessing of God and no evidence of heresy or Gospel distortion, then it would seem prudent to me, not to be too critical of what God has blessed; ask Peter.

    If Anyabwile had been to the multi-media church I attend. He would know what authentic community looks like: 80% of membership in Community groups. He would know what it looks like to hold a Pastor of a mega church accountable for all areas of his life. I can only assume that Anyabwile has actually never been to my multi-media church even though he seems to know a lot about it.

    1 http://sites.silaspartners.com/CC_Content_Page/0,,PTID324006_CHID770814,00.html

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Jerry,

      Thank you for stopping by the blog and sharing your perspective, bro. I appreciate your doing that when you certainly could have given those precious moments of your life to other things. Your visit is a gift.

      Honestly, I think your opening paragraph misses the main point of the post. Only in one section am I raising questions about the use of the technology itself. The main point is that this form of “church” unravels very fundamental and biblical aspects of the local church. We ought not be pragmatists about what the Lord himself builds. Instead, we ought to measure all we do by the dictates and models of Scripture. Whenever we opt for innovation, we need to be careful. There’s a massive difference between using a technology and allowing that technology to define the church or how you do church itself. Websites, blogs, podcasts and the like are not being offered as alternative ways to do church. But in the case of video-based multi-site, it is. That’s worthy of critical reflection, imo.

      As for the Lord’s gracious work in saving me: I dare not forget so great a salvation. And you might be interested to know that the man whose preaching the Lord used to save me, served as shepherd of one congregation–last I checked–for over 25 years. They broadcast his television services–for which I’m grateful. But I think every time I heard him make a gospel appeal or counsel some new convert, he urged them to find a Bible-believing church to settle and grow. On a number of occasions, I even heard him urge visitors and viewers not to send their tithes and offerings to his church, but to be sure they gave to their local church. He did not want to “rob another congregation.” The man broadcast recorded services, but he did not attempt to redefine the local church by doing so. He was full of integrity and I’m eternally grateful to God for him and for God’s work through him.

      Finally, I think there is ample biblical caution against assuming numbers and crowds equates to God’s blessing and success. As I said in the interview you link to, I’m not in any way against large churches. I wish that all the Lord’s churches were filled and facing growth problems! This isn’t “anti-big church.” This is anti-redefining the church. And it’s certainly a caution against redefining the church for pragmatic reasons or the allurement of visible “success.”

      And for what it’s worth, I’m thrilled that you’re happy at your church. May the Lord continue to bless you there and send seasons of revival to your congregation!

      For Jesus,
      T-

  89. Brian Sheehan says:

    Thabiti,

    I think you have the spiritual gift of time management.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      I wish I did! :-)
      What I do have is a very effective administrative assistant!
      T-

  90. Steve says:

    I am extraordinary grateful for Pastor Anyabwile’s post. I recall recently reading an article at Reformation21 by Carl Trueman related to Reformation ecclesiology and its incompatibility with the Mega Church multisite. I understand that Pastor Anyabwile speaks from a free church perspective, but I think he shares many of the concerns of conservative Reformed and Lutheran thinkers.

    To throw in my two cents, I am currently working on a ThM at Fuller Seminary in Historical Theology, focused primarily upon Luther (as well as his relationship to several church fathers). I would like to affirm the thesis here that, if we define “Evangelical” historically, then multi site cannot be a truly Evangelical ecclesiology. The first concern of Luther and other “big name” leaders was to train local pastors. They did not attempt to exercise anything like the control, say, Driscoll has over his “branch offices.” Rather, pastors were sent out to plant churches in areas the Reformation had not reached. Moreover, pastors were often wed to that calling often for life–think only of Calvin’s feeling of compulsion to return to Geneva from his comfortable life at Strasbourg, after the former city had thrown him out! But that was his calling. It was seen as a grave infraction for a pastor to abandon a small church for a larger, for instance. There was an organic connection between Pastor, congregation, and city that could not be easily broken. The “marketing” and frequent career changes of most American pastors would likely scandalize the Reformers.

    The motive driving early Reformed and Lutheran ecclesiology was not “pragmatism” (which in my mind is something akin to a curse word) but theology: Having endured the abuses of the late medieval Church, in which bishops were absent from their sees, ecclesiastical positions were “stepping stones” to ever more profitable careers, and the church hierarchy was distant and totally unaccountable to the Christians “on the ground,” the Reformers were determined to emulate the community driven ministry they saw in the New Testament.

    To be polemical: Multi Site has far more in common with late medieval Catholic modes of ministry and ecclesiological models than with historic Evangelicalism. I think if Luther were alive today, he would probably brand some of the mega pastors as shadow Popes. He would do so in very impolite language which would be hilarious and fun to read in Latin.

    God bless your ministry, Pastor, and may God send forth many more dedicated shepherds to care personally and presently for his people.

  91. Todd Murphy says:

    Responded to Thabiti’s Great Post on my own blog. Could not help drawing the parallel between “milti-site” simulcast and the movie the Mosquito Coast and the cult leader who did it too.

    http://sjchurch.org/blog/details/the-mosquito-coast-and-the-cult-of-video-venue

  92. Craig says:

    Thank you Thabiti
    you are right that multi-site is from the Devil in fact if you read Revelations 13:11-15 it say that the whole Earth will worship the beast & his image & in verse 15 The false prophet will give Breath to the image of the Beast & cause him to speak. ( thru a flat screen in all probability) Multi site is the future! but not for God’s true people & Church

  93. Greg M says:

    I agree with everything you have said in this piece. And, non-the-less, I stay. I do not agree with the church I attend concerning the statement “this is the way we do chruch now”. Butm alas, I stay. I fear we are mortgaging the future of the church by “doing church” this way. But, for now, I stay.

    I wonder if a multi-site church has lived beyond the “founding, lead, senior, main” pastor’s tenure. You can pick any of the more popular multi-site churches (and yes we know which ones they are) and ask what will happen when (fill in the blank because we know who they are) leaves. I know attendance goes down and responce is low when our main guy is not in the pulpit.

    But, still, we stay.

  94. John Yi says:

    It has always been and will be that idols who are being worshiped have a hard time letting go of their idolaters, and idolaters have such a hard time letting go of their idols.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      this post from Michael Horton is well worth the read. Mike almost convinced me of becoming a Presbyterian! But then there’s that pesky dunking babies thing ;-).

      Seriously, if you want a very lucid and succinct articulation of Presbyterian polity and why multi-site doesn’t fit well with Protestant polities but Roman Catholic, check out this post.

      T-

  95. Mark says:

    people once said jesus was of the devil. his response was to point out that if a house is divided it will not stand, i.e. satan can’t work against himself. People are coming to know God through these type services, so i don’t know how we could think for a second that they are from the devil… They might not be the most effective method, but not from the devil. And if this language is just rhetoric that this pastor is using, then he is choosing some very dangerous rhetoric with huge implications. And if it really is just rhetoric intended to stir up discussion or traffic on a blog then does that not place this post in the same category which it condemns? God help the division among his people…

    1. Well, said, Mark. I don’t like the term “devil” being thrown in for an emotional response. I too am curious if it is really meant, or just to get a response.

      1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Hi Joey and Mark,

        Let me assure you that the use of the phrase “of the Devil” is simply hyperbole. The point of hyperbole is to exaggerate for a point. Moreover, the title is taken from a multi-site pastor who used the same hyperbolic tone to critique congregationalism. That’s what I allude to in the very first sentence of the post. It’s not intended to be taken literally or seriously.

        It’s like: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). Jesus does not literally mean gouge out your eye. The language is figurative and hyperbolic. That’s my intent, too.

        Grace and peace,
        Thabiti

  96. Rick Star says:

    Seems to me that multi-sight churches are less about “I’m the best preacher to they all can watch me”, than it is about the all mighty dollar. Five churches, one pastor = less pay roll = churches have a better chance of staying afloat.

    1. Joey E says:

      From my experience (I was on staff at a church for 4 years, that grew from 1 to 3 campuses, and is looking at adding a 4th), this is partly true. But to say “one pastor” would be incorrect. At one point, we had about 12 pastors — 2 guys do most of the upfront teaching, others focused on students & children, and many were intensely focused on shepherding.

      In fact, during 2008 (when the economy was really tanking) the elders made a strategic, long-term decision to add 3 “Community Group Pastors” to be responsible for most of the shepherding needs of our church.

      The great advantage of a larger church is having the resources available to have specialized staff, i.e., people operating more and more in their gifting.

      But the fact of having fewer staff (compared to many other churches our size) may have had more to do with our philosophy. We didn’t so much get paid to DO ministry (if you understand my context), as we got paid EQUIP others in the body to do ministry.

      Let’s be careful about generalizing about multi-site churches and the roles of pastors.

  97. Rod Walker says:

    First, AMEN! I also would like to also point out that church members and church attendees, regardless of what we say, want and need to have some sort of personal relationship and contact with the man in the pulpit. The pastor needs to lead by being an example. (I Corinthians 4:15-16) Conviction of sin often comes from the personal encounter of looking into a man’s eyes that you believe to be the representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. How can we feel accountability to an image on a screen? We don’t! As far as using all means possible to draw them in, alcohol suppresses a man’s inhibitions and make him more receptive to stimulus and suggestion. Why don’t we replace the “coffee” bar with an “open bar”? That might get them to commit.

  98. Rod Walker says:

    First, AMEN! I also would like to point out that church members and church attendees, regardless of what we say, want and need to have some sort of personal relationship and contact with the man in the pulpit. The pastor needs to lead by being an example. (I Corinthians 4:15-16) Conviction of sin often comes from the personal encounter of looking into a man’s eyes that you believe to be the representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. How can we feel accountability to an image on a screen? We don’t! As far as using all means possible to draw them in, alcohol suppresses a man’s inhibitions and make him more receptive to stimulus and suggestion. Why don’t we replace the “coffee” bar with an “open bar”? That might get them to commit.

  99. Jim says:

    There is a down-side to “specialized staff” as well. It creates more programs. A huge problem in the American evangelical church is we have the dualistic view that spiritual growth comes from being in the four walls of the church mostly receiving teaching–men’s groups, women’s groups, divorced recovery, seniors, youth, children. Programs attract no question. The church often encourages us not to be out in the world equipped as saints to do the work of ministry but wants to attract us with their programs. We should reach tons and tons of people, no question, but we should do it through planting churches where folks are cared for and become healthy sheep out in the marketplace. There is an underlying notion that numbers and growth are a sign of health and it is not necessarily so. I was a member of a church which would reflexively tout their many programs from the pulpit whenever anyone pushed for reform. “Look at all we are doing, and all we are reaching!” Shut up!! Meanwhile, few in the congregation except the leaders were all that happy with their church home. The larger churches in our area claim to be healthy, tout their programs but when you talk to most who attend–some don’t even care about membership they just want butts in the pews–they feel alienated and isolated. They simultaneously talk about what a great teacher the preacher is. The fact is, much of the ministry of the church is built on the gifts of the leaders. They have a great stake in things not changing. The young men who want share in pulpit ministry have to leave because the old bull has to be the preacher and won’t give up short of retirement or death. It’s not a family which is how the NT describes the church. No wonder there is ennui, lack of direction/purpose and a culture of divorce in the evangelical world. Are priorities are terribly skewed. Is multi-site video of the devil? Of course not, there is freedom to use technology. So it is “lawful”–big deal! Long term it is not profitable and it is isolating and alienating. Generally a very bad idea!!

    1. Joey E says:

      Jim —

      It sounds like you have had a rough church experience. But you make a dubious connection between multi-site church and a church with programs. You can have single-site churches with many programs (or not), and multi-site churches with many programs (or not).

  100. Jim says:

    Fair enough. I may be confusing these things. I didn’t find things rough on myself personally. It is much rougher on leaders with bad priorities and on church-goers who are caught in bad American evangelical systems. For me, it is not a matter of personal hurt but a matter of needed church reform. Getting away from the cult of personality, even in the Reformed world should be a huge priority.

  101. While I enjoy and respect Thabiti Anyabwile, he didn’t really convince me of anything, and I don’t believe he used any scripture in this post, did he? I agree we should be careful about not creating a cult following, or not training up other preachers or about creating idols (whether that is the preacher or technology), but those aren’t reasons not to do multi-site, they are reasons to be cautious.

    1. Pieter de Villiers says:

      Tx Ronnie. Big or small, multi- or single site, technology or not, the temptations are the same. If the heart of the pastor is not humble and the gospel is not preached responsibly the “idol” problem will rear its ugly head. We need to differentiate the non-negotiable Scriptural principle of being church and be gracious to churches where we differ on issues that fall outside these non-negotiables (starting at the 5 solas).

    2. Joey E says:

      Great point. I didn’t even notice the lack of scriptural backing to his argument. Agreed that we need to separate the symptoms (idolatry, cult, pride) from the method (multi-site or video).

    3. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Ronnie, Pieter, and Joey,

      Thanks for making this a conversation. Your input is welcome and valuable. Iron sharpening iron….

      Ronnie, as I say in the concluding line, that its “a movement that we ought to slow down and think about.” So, I think we completely agree on the need for caution. We also are in complete agreement that many of these issues are temptations to pastors in single-site, small, non-video churches. Sin is a universal problem. I don’t even have to get out of the bed in the morning before I’m confronted with this reality. But I am suggesting that this universal problem gets exacerbated by this approach to “doing church,” an approach that inherently makes much of the man and departs, imo, from the biblical norm.

      As for quoting Scripture, I’m sure we all know enough Scripture prohibiting idolatry, pride, and so on. The real issue, imo, is (a) how we use/apply scripture on an issue where some claim the scripture is silent, and (b) what the scripture teaches about the nature of the church itself.

      For my part, I’m suggesting that the Scripture is clear about the appointment of pastors in every congregation and the pastoral functions–including teaching, perhaps especially teaching (1 Tim. 5:17)–being carried out locally. I’d cite 1 Tim. 1 and Titus 1 as examples from the pastoral epistles themselves. I’d also cite the apostolic practice in Acts 14:23. Now, given that this is the apostolic and biblical model, I think we need compelling arguments to depart from it. In other words, the Bible is not silent as at least some claim, and so we’re not free to innovate as we’d like. The issue cannot be reduced to pragmatic, logistical, and numerical concerns without first settling the biblical claims.

      But that brings us to the other issue: how do we apply the Scripture. We’re off into regulative principle issues. I don’t take the Scripture as silent here, and even if it were, I don’t think that means we have permission from silence to do as we wish. For even if the scripture were silent on “multi-site” specifically, it’s not silent on the nature of the local church, which some forms of multi-site depart from, imo.

      In brief strokes, that would be my biblical case agaist. I’d welcome a statement of your biblical case for the practice.

      In Jesus,
      T-

  102. moe says:

    I’ll throw in my input and be real quick about it. This is just another subject that divides Christians and is irrelevant in the spiritual fight. People put more effort in these subjects than actually going into the world and sharing the Gospel. Not all churches are great. Here’s a tip: if you don’t like a church, go to another that suits you. I’ve attended a small church for over 16 years and there were always fights over stupid misunderstandings. It was pretty much a cult. Big churches and small churches all have faults.

  103. brent says:

    Seriously? You are making a huge stretch and you’ve have wasted space in a forum that could have been dedicated to bonding Christians together in the love of Christ. You have essentially tarred every multi-site church with the same brush based on pure assumption and conjecture. Astonished.

  104. How is multi-site different than Paul writing letters to different churches to teach them how to follow Christ? A letter is a medium for the message just as the multi-site is a medium too. I think we need to be careful for going to the extreme in saying this method is idolatry. Are some, maybe, but are all… no.

    We (Westside Family Chruch) are a multi-site church who’s mission is to Love Jesus, Become like Jesus, and Share Jesus and we are doing this through campuses and through missional communities. I don’t think this is idolatry.

    Way to provoke the thought and stir up the convo!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Kasey,

      Thanks for being a part of the discussion, brother. I’m thankful for your comments and questions. To your first question about the difference between multi-site and the apostolic letters, here’s a comment I left in response to an earlier comment asking the same thing:

      I would argue “no” the letters and multi-site are not analagous for two primary reasons. First, the apostles exercised apostolic authority over all the churches. So, what we have in the letters are faith-defining communications that are meant to be received as Scripture by the faithful. That’s a different issue than the whether or not we can use certain technologies to transmit preaching by men who are not apostles and are not transmitting Scripture (and praise God none of these men are claiming to do so).

      And second, I don’t think the letters provide a model because the apostles trained and left pastors, teachers, and elders in every church (Acts 14:23). That’s Paul’s practice everywhere. It’s what we see even in a place like Crete where Titus is called to appoint elders in a very young church with significant problems (Titus 1). So, it seems to me that God’s design is the appointment of elders and teachers who teach and lead a congregation whilst living in and among that congregation. If that’s the biblical pattern, then we need a very compelling reason for departing from it, imo.

      I know that many of the multi-site churches have “campus pastors.” The key question in this post is: Why would you not have such campus pastors be the preaching and teaching elders of that congregation? Even in Crete, where presumably most were new and comparatively immature Christians, the apostle instructs Titus to appoint local elders and for Titus to do the hard work of advancing and defending gospel in the local context (Titus 1:9). What does “beaming in” teach us about the nature of the local church, pastoral ministry, and the relationship between pastor and people? I honestly think this strategy is a game-changer in some significantly unhealthy ways.

      Hope that helps. Grace and peace,
      T-

      1. Todd Murphy says:

        Thabiti,

        This has been a fruitful conversation. I would like to add one thing. On of the elements that I have found that is widespread in the Evangelical sector today is what is called by system’s therapists the problem of over-functioning. Peter Steinke has an an excellent book on pastoral leadership that deals with this called “Congregational Excellence in Anxious Times.” Here is the idea in a nutshell. Over-functioning is basically usurping any other person’s responsibility. The reason behind it is usually anxiety. So for instance, the controlling pastor is usually that way because he is fearful of not being in control or other things real or perceived.

        Your last comment is extremely material to this. You noted that the Apostles ordained elders wherever they went for the advance of the Gospel, even if they were very new. They were willing to risk imperfection. I find many postores today are very frightened to risk raising up new leaders. Many of the people who now attend my church do so because they sat in a church for years feeling unused and unprepared for the work of the ministry. This explains how many otherwise faithful Gospel preaching Churches sometimes still see no real advance in mission. I would argue that a large part of our western Church culture is lead by over-functioning clergy. This is what creates this stark “clergy/layity” problem where parishioners are always deferring to the “Professionals.” Our parishioners have learned to “under-function,” so their default is to bring their people to the pastor or to the Church rather than go to them. And to put this all in biblical terms, the tendency to over-function is rooted in a fear that is being met by a false idol. Be that “being in control,” or “being needed,” or just “being the “center of attention,” the need to constantly be at the center identifies an emotional idol in the pastor’s identity, a brokenness in their identity in Christ.

        I think the Multi-site model is another case of idolatrous over-functioning. It is either pastors or leadership who are fearful in such a way that they are not willing to risk the process of raising up new leadership. Rather than invest for the future, they would rather export a an icon because it works in the short run.

        This of course creates a catch-22. The congregation then tends to under-function, abandoning their responsibility to be a kingdom of priests. So they can often be part of the problem because in their narcissistic lust for a “rock-star” entertainer preacher, they will often settle for video so they can happily sit and be entertained by his eloquent and entertaining speech. This then excuses them of really having to support a less than stellar guy in his formation and take up their own ministry cross and bear it. Over-functioning leadership always leads to spiritual irresponsibility and immaturity.

        Great Stuff Thabiti

        1. Joey E says:

          I think you are correct about the fear / anxiety issue. But I don’t think you can connect that with a multi-site model. At least, churches MAY choose multi-site out of fear, but this is not the sole reason.

          The church I have been a part of is a multi-site church, but if anything, we are very heavily focused on developing leaders and teachers.

          In many of the initiatives we have been a part of, there has been a lot of risk involve. From a personal level, when I was a pastor on staff, I was one of the ones who was most fearful when it came to multi-site. I assure you that we had challenges, but the elders did not choose this path out of fear or the desire for a teaching pastor to retain control. If anything, much of the decisions and power has been decentralized.

          1. Todd Murphy says:

            Hey great comments and good push back Joey. I am using “fear” or “anxiety” in a really liberal sense. I think anxiety can happen over anything. I do not for any reason feel that all “multi-site” is anxiety based. some of it may be pure pragmatism. But I think there is still a certain level of adaptation in most cases where it seems far more risky to trust a new guy than export another. I would even add, that in some cases, based upon the lack of maturity of the congregants, exporting the “rock-star” may even be necessary until you have developed the maturity to not bail because a new guy does not meet the standards of approval. But then that creates a situation that could drag out for a long time. I have found in my own ministry context a lot less stress from refusing to adapt to immaturity. Thanks for the thoughtful response brother!

            Todd

  105. Joey E says:

    To follow up with previous discussion (in the comments) about how large churches address discipleship, here is how it was addressed this weekend by one of the teaching pastors at our “large” church. It’s the entire sermon, but he addresses the question in the first 3 minutes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcvO2c9R8nQ&feature=uploademail

    And to be clear, I’m so glad we have this video technology, as we are “on a mission” in an impoverished area 3 hours from our church. (missionallendale.wordpress.com)

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Joey,

      I’m glad you’re happy with your church. I want all Christians to be happy with their churches. And I’m glad your church takes disciple-making seriously. I want all churches to be serious about the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).

      Grace and peace to you,
      T-

  106. James says:

    Great post.

    A friend of mine attends a multi-site church which was and is still experiencing rapid growth. I was mentioning to him how exciting it must be for them that there church was growing so fast. He said that it was exciting, but at the same time he was worried about what would happen to their church if something happened to Pastor ________.

    This was only the concern of one member, but I have to wonder if that is a concern among the greater membership, just who are they worshipping?

  107. Steven says:

    This is downright comical. Not even worth an argument.

  108. Katie says:

    Our family is experiencing the “cult of personality”…a church with multiple sites with hope of 200 campuses in the next 20 years. Please read our family story of “church” turned cult…pastor is a devoted follower of Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Bil Cornelius.

    Would love James MacDonald to see our story- we need HELP!

    http://onemothersjourney7.blogspot.com/ .

  109. W says:

    I find it disturbing that believers and leaders take time to write and read near bashing of fellow believers and church planters. Sad for us, the family of God. Very sad.
    Lord help us to get on and spend our lives on worthy and noble things.

    1. Paula says:

      W, it’s sad to me that you came here to bash fellow believers for wrestling with issues in the church, for trying to figure out what is Biblical, and by doing so, openly acknowledging that sometimes we get it wrong.

  110. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Dear W,

    Welcome to the conversation. I regret that this post and comments sadden you. I wish, rather, you’d been edified, even if challenged by the substance of the post.

    I want to learn from you, friend–especially as it relates to “bashing of fellow believers and church planters.” I looked at the post again, but I don’t yet recognize what you label “bashing.” I’d welcome your specific comments about where you thought I was bashing in the post.

    I do think the local church is a “worthy and noble thing.” I think the desire to pastor a local church is noble, a good thing (1 Tim. 3:1). That’s why I think it’s important that we have open and frank exchanges whenever our strategies raise questions about the viability and integrity of the church itself. For me, getting on and spending our lives on worthy and noble things requires thinking about how we lead the church.

    Grateful for your visit and comment friend. Looking to learn more from your perspective.

    Grace and peace,
    T-

  111. Paula says:

    Ok so how come Macdonald retweeted Rick Warren’s criticism of this post?
    http://twitter.com/#!/jamesmacdonald/status/120565328077004800
    What’s with that? Macdonald/Warren criticizing Anyabwile for criticizing?

    Criticizing him for taking issue with methodology? (fiddling while rome burns and people go to hell?) Isn’t that what the Elephant Room is doing, almost exactly? Fiddling while Rome Burns?

    Macdonald seems to be coming apart at the seams trying to justify something or other.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Paula,

      Thanks for sharing the tweets. That’s interesting. Wasn’t Nero the one who set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians? For the analogy to hold, wouldn’t the video-beamed multi-site preacher be the Nero setting fire to the church and the saints? Or, as you point out, hosting someone who denies the Trinity at your conference?

      Honestly, I would think that both Warren and MacDonald (neither of whom are attacked or named in this post) receive enough critique and challenge that they could respond–if they felt they needed to respond at all–with something more than dismissive quips. I know they’re both very capable and knowledgeable brothers. And given that James authored a post of almost the exact title, only charging more seriously that congregationalism is from Satan, he should be able to endure a little rhetorical tit-for-tat. I’m a little surprised.

      The people they shepherd and hope to influence deserve more than tweets, especially when the call of this post is simply for us to think carefully about what we’re doing.

      We all want to see the churches overflowing, especially with people converted from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son. There’s zero disagreement between us re: that aim, even if there are substantive methodologial differences. I’m praying for my brothers and for myself, and for the advance of our Savior’s kingdom. I trust they are, too.

      T-

  112. Oneisimus1tg says:

    We live in an area where most all the churches are pastored & deaconed by the great grandson of Charles Finney–and their outreach programs resemble something PT Barnum would have organized. With that being said, would you say we should “join” one of these local churches just so we can be subject to a local pastor? Help….we really want to know.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hello dear friend,

      Welcome to the discussion. And thank you for such an important question. I would say, “No,” you should not join an unhealthy church. It sounds like things are a bit… crazy… in the churches you describe. Rather than settling for that, find yourself a faithful church family (perhaps small and almost unnoticed), a faithful preacher/elders who expounds God’s word and watches the sheep, and plant your life with theirs. Go where you’ll be fed and where you can serve and love others. Then serve and pray, love and stay. That church and your soul will profit far more over the long haul.

      For Jesus,
      T-

  113. moe says:

    “@RickWarren: Offering someone a Band-Aid doesn’t make you a doctor. Writing a blog doesn’t make that guy a theologian.”

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Moe,
      That’s a good one. Rick must be one of the great kings of one-liners. And my having a blog certainly proves his point!

      But I do love blogs by both theologians and non-theologians alike. Why? The blogosphere helps democratize information and opinion. Not everything in the blogosphere is worth consuming. And even the best blogs/bloggers have their bloopers. But on the whole, blogs have helped bring news- and opinion-making ability down to the common man with a computer and internet access. It’s helped reduce intellectual elitism. Let’s face it: the experts and the theologians are not always right. Sometimes the nobody sees more clearly the “professional.” As my grandmother sometimes said: “All that book learning makes some folks crazy.” She wasn’t against education. But she understood that you actually have to be pretty educated to commit some forms of stupidity.

      So, I think the democratization of information and the reduction of information elitism are good things. Not without fault, but good things, even when amateur theologians offer their opinions. The challenge: This democratization requires us to actually be better, more discerning readers because more voices join the fray. And again, learning to be a more discerning reader is a good thing.

      So, reader beware: writing a blog doesn’t make a person a theologian. But can having a twitter account make us theologians or judges of theologians? I suppose the proof really is in the pudding of the post’s or tweet’s content, isn’t it? Whatever the medium, we should judge a person by the content of their character, or the substance of their post/tweet. I say: Let the bobbleheads blog and the twits tweet!

      I don’t know Mr. Warren personally. He’s been the beneficiary of my prayers from time to time, including during the DG National Conference last year where we almost had the privilege of serving together. I’m certain his tweet has wide applicability and not a little bit of wisdom. But we should apply the same wisdom to everything we read, even those zingers called ‘tweets.’

      Thanks for sharing,
      T-

  114. Steve Walsman says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of your blog. I do appreciate your attitude as you speak about the things I was able to read. On vacation and getting ready to spend some time in the Word with my family :)

    Yes, your title concerns me greatly, although, when you flesh it out it becomes more understandable. I wonder, though, in our world do titles that catch your eye like that benefit the reader or bring an instant negativity towards things. Just a wondering.

    Also, I listen to Chandler – not because of Chandler, but because of the Gospel preaching through him. I listen to Piper (although he isn’t a multi-site church that I’m aware of) – not because of Piper, but because of the Gospel preaching through him.

    I can’t say that as a whole multi-site churches are “from the devil”. I think it unwise, as well, to make such a dogmatic statement when Scripture does not specifically speak to this.

    Thanks!

  115. Staci Eastin says:

    I wasn’t going to comment, because I couldn’t imagine saying anything that hasn’t already been said, but a couple of people have questioned what will happen to these multi-site congregations when the main pastor is not longer there.

    I belong to a “church plant” that is 45 years old. Our founding pastor went home to be with the Lord 6 years ago. We aren’t a mega-church or a multi-site church, but we’re not a small church, either.

    Our pastor did everything he could to build a church that would continue on without him. He turned over regular preaching duties at least a decade before he died and was continually identifying men with leadership potential and encouraging them.

    But even with all that, when it became clear that his illness was likely to be terminal, a wave of anxiety went through the congregation. He had been leading the church from the start, and it was hard to imagine the church without his leadership.

    Six years later, the work continues, and the church is going strong. But like the other commenters, I too have looked at these gigantic congregations built around one man’s teaching and wondered how they will continue once that man either dies or moves on. Couldn’t the money being poured into the infrastructure necessary to sustain a multi-site church be put to better use?

    The temptation to put our faith human teachers rather than the Lord is very strong, and something that all pastors need to guard against. Founding pastors (or pastors who have been blessed with huge growth, since not all multi-site pastors are founding pastors) have to especially guard against this (as Paul spoke against in 1 Corinthians 1:12-17). I obviously don’t know the inner workings of these churches, but it’s hard to see any kind of long-term vision in this model.

  116. Nick says:

    While I have not read all the comments here, I have perhaps a different point-of-view. This comment seeks to contribute to the debate as to whether a site/campus might as well be a church plant or not.

    I am in church in South Africa that is based in, what I would say, is an upper-middle income area. Our church is elder-led and deacon-served. We have heart to reach our city and have recently turned to multi-siting to do so. We’re not beaming our sermons anywhere, rather, our eldership team serve, are present at and preach at all our site meetings. One of the difficulties in South Africa (and I would imagine many 3rd world countries) is the massive gulf between the rich and the poor. What multi-siting does is allow us to use the resources (people, finances, equipment) of the ‘base’ to reach areas that would never afford rent, equipment, etc. let alone a salary for a pastor. The model allows us to extend our reach beyond simple geography and socio-economic barriers. Any thoughts/comments?

    The other comment I want to make is regarding methods. While we can surmise some detail as to the methods used by the early church, the Bible is not very prescriptive when it comes how to grow the church. As cultures change and technology evolves surely we as the church need to examine and explore how we adapt to reach a culture (obviously without compromising our foundational beliefs) and use new tools available to us? Is video streaming really from the devil or will it perhaps go down as a tried and failed method?

  117. Joel says:

    “Moreover, the guy standing live before a pulpit stands on biblical ground.  The guy standing on airwaves has chosen a medium without biblical grounds and a medium with greater, more efficient idol-making potential wired into it.  The heart is an idol factory.  The screen cranks that factory up several levels.”

    The mediums which we choose to use and not to use are a matter of great dispute and countless varying perspectives. While one might say the screen increases the heart’s propensity toward idolatry, another might say certain types of music, certain types of clothing, certain types of words do so. Even an article on a website whose authors are so removed from a particular reader’s local church sphere could be considered a form of careless fuel upon the fire of idolatry within the church.

    Regardless of your views on multisite churches and video preaching, an article on the Internet written without the premise of accountability or context for the author from it’s sphere of readers cannot be taken seriously. At least on the point of idolatry, there is no more credibility and no less potential for idolatry from readers of this article to its author as their is to viewers of a pastor on a screen.

    The idolatry which the author speaks of is as much of a threat in words written online as it is in a face on screen.

    Regarding multisite churches, let me paraphrase the first century Jewish leader Gamaliel: if it is of man, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop it.

    May the Gospel be preached and received to the ends of the earth.

  118. Joel says:

    “Moreover, the guy standing live before a pulpit stands on biblical ground.  The guy standing on airwaves has chosen a medium without biblical grounds and a medium with greater, more efficient idol-making potential wired into it.  The heart is an idol factory.  The screen cranks that factory up several levels.”

    The mediums which we choose to use and not to use are a matter of great dispute and countless varying perspectives. While one might say the screen increases the heart’s propensity toward idolatry, another might say certain types of music, certain types of clothing, certain types of words do so. Even an article on a website whose authors are so removed from a particular reader’s local church sphere could be considered a form of careless fuel upon the fire of idolatry within the church.

    Regardless of your views on multisite churches and video preaching, an article on the Internet written without the premise of accountability or context for the author from it’s sphere of readers cannot be taken seriously. At least on the point of idolatry, there is no more credibility and no less potential for idolatry from readers of this article to its author as their is to viewers of a pastor on a screen.

    The idolatry which the author speaks of is as much of a threat in words written online as it is in a face on screen.

    Regarding multisite churches, let me paraphrase the first century Jewish leader Gamaliel: if it is of man, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop it.

    May the Gospel be preached and received to the ends of the earth.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Joel,

      Thanks for your comments and insight. I appreciate you contributing the discussion

      One clarification: When I say “the man standing behind the pulpit,” I don’t mean that pulpits are biblical or required by the Bible. I was speaking figuratively, as with the next line: “the guy standing on airwaves.” I was trying to say the live preacher with a live congregation is what we see modeled in the Scripture. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear in that statement.

      In regards to your second paragraph, fair enough. Idolatrous responses may arise with any medium. However, perhaps it’s important to keep contexts in mind. One technology is used in the context of public worship while another (blogs) exist independent of the worship context. You’re correct to say that either has potential for idolatry. But the potential increases significantly when the medium is employed in a worship setting for worship purposes and the medium itself is used in the culture for “larger-than-life” celebrity creation. The difference is not one of kind, but I’d suggest it is one of significant degree. Given this argument, I would obviously disagree with your third and fourth paragraphs.

      Finally, do you really want to take Gamaliel’s side in this discussion? :-) Applied generally, Gamaliel’s reasoning leads us to say let everybody try whatever they think might work and let time judge. Shouldn’t we, rather, begin and end with the scripture, attempting to be faithful to model what’s in the word? We need to have a robust approach to allowing the Scripture to regulate what we do in our gatherings.

      Praying with you that the Gospel be preached and received to the ends of the earth!
      T-

  119. Thank you Brother Thabiti for being the voice of Godly reason. I appreciate a man who has the courage to speak the truth, and appreciate very much the love in which you did it. I agree with your argument with every fiber of my being.

  120. Gabriel says:

    I’ve never heard of a need for multi-site that church planting couldn’t resolve. If, as some have suggested, people refuse to go to churches because they want to hear from THAT pastor, that pastor should preach on Acts 14:8-18.

    There are thousands of jobless pastors out there, and thousands of seminary graduates looking for people to shepherd.

    If people want to listen to THAT pastor, then subscribe to his podcast.

    Thabiti, thank you for providing an example of how to respond to critics in the comment section!

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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