I have been back and forth on the multisite question. When I first heard of the idea years ago it sounded crazy. “Pastors preaching by a recorded video or by a live feed? That’s hardly church.” But as I studied and thought about the issue more I came to understand why some churches chose multisite. It can steward the talents of the preacher. It can save money. It allows a church to get bigger (in one sense) without getting bigger (in another sense). And it gives you another beachhead for ministry.

With these positives I was happy to see our church explore the option of multisite over a year ago. Call me indecisive, but I’ve now swung back in the other direction. I can’t prove multisite is wrong. In fact, it may be the best option in some situations, especially as a temporary measure. But something I read from Martyn Lloyd-Jones cemented in my mind a crucial weakness of most multisite approaches. New technologies and new methods always have trade-offs. Sometimes the pluses outweigh the negatives. And as I think about it more, multisite has one huge negative I don’t want to live with unless I absolutely have to.

All along my hope was that multisite might be possible by a “circuit-rider” approach whereby I (or whomever) would still preach in person at each location. Some multisite churches use that approach, but I don’t know of any personally. Other multisites use different local preachers from week to week. But most use some kind of video, either pre-recorded or streamed. It seems that the long-term strategy for a growing church committed to a primary preaching pastor involves video at some point. I don’t think such an approach is sinful, but as I’ve reflected on it more, it feels like a real blow to the dynamic nature of preaching.

Lloyd-Jones explained this for me:

Another element to which I attach importance is that the preacher while speaking should in a sense be deriving something from his congregation. There are those present in the congregation who are spiritually-minded people, and filled with the Spirit, and they make their contribution to the occasion…The preacher–though he has prepared, and prepared carefully–because of this element of spiritual freedom is still able to receive something from the congregation, and does so. There is an interplay, action and response, and this often makes a very vital difference. (Preaching and Preachers, 84)

Later he adds:

The preacher then is a man who for these reasons and in these ways makes contact with the people who are listening to him. Far from being detached, there is rapport. This comes our in his voice, in his manner, in his whole approach; everything about him shows that there is this intimacy of contact between the preacher and his congregation. (90)

So upon further reflection, I just can’t see myself sacrificing the dynamic Holy Spirit give-and-take of the preaching event unless it seemed like every other option had been exhausted. I want to see the people I’m preaching to, even if there are lots of them to see. I want to be at the back of the sanctuary to shake hands, even if I can’t shake every hand and may forget too many names. Most of all, I want to know when I’m connecting and when I’m not, when I said something funny or something dumb, when they are crying or when they are sleeping, when I sense God at work and when I feel that God has done something wonderful in our midst as we worshiped together. I want that rapport, that connection, that freedom, that interplay which cannot come by video.

My heart is not hard to multisite, much less is it hard to those who use it. There may be situations or seasons where multisite is the best of several less than perfect options. But for the privilege of live preaching to live people in the same living space in the shared presence of our living God, I have cooled on the idea.