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« Thought for the day | Main | Atrocity of the Day: August 19 »

August 19, 2008

Hologram Preachers and Drive-Thru Churches

Godcast Recently Slate reported (H/T The Line) on a popular trend in churches today: satellite churches, or "franchises," if you will, where the pastor is absent -- except on the "big screen" or, as in the case of Buckhead Church in Atlanta, "projected in front of the congregation in life-sized 3-D. The preacher is a hologram." (Jason talked about this phenomenon earlier.)

The Slate article continues:

An estimated 2,000 to 2,500 U.S. congregations now operate multiple campuses, and many of them, like Buckhead Church, are so-called video venues. The Leadership Network, a Christian nonprofit that follows these multisite churches, says there will be 30,000 of them within a few years. Already, the most ambitious pastors are predicting that, thanks to video, they'll have branded outlets nationwide and more than 100,000 followers—twice as large as the country's biggest megachurch today. Gigachurches are the way that next-generation celebrity evangelists are building their empires.

But, as the writer asks, "Can a digitally projected pastor lead a congregation, shepherd believers, create and expand a community? Or is this just business-minded religion run amok?" However, notes the writer, since most people don't attend church, one defender of video churches believes that "[i]f it takes a name-brand preacher to put butts in seats, so be it."

Really? So laziness is acceptable now? And church is all about what's convenient for us? Ah. Gotcha.

Here's a thought from Quentin Schultze's book Christianity and the Mass Media in America:

In its strongest formulations the mythos of the electronic church sanctifies modern communication technologies, reflecting a faith not just in God but also in the contemporary machinery and electronics used by religious broadcasters. Evangelicals adopted [communication theorist Marshall] McLuhan's claim that the "medium is the message," baptizing the electronic media as God-ordained vehicles for ushering in tribal community on a global scale. The mythos became the message of the medium, to play on McLuhan's rhetoric. In one sense, evangelicals' apparent veneration of technology was simply part of the American rhetoric of progress. In spite of its sectarian cast the mythos affirms the hope that the future will usher in a better place and time. Evangelicals shared this hope and were able to give it particular rhetorical expression through the language of premillennial theology and popular theories such as those of McLuhan. They situated new technology within evangelical culture as an object of praise and as a tool for cultivating both community and conversion. . . .

The mythos itself was emotionally and spiritually charged, but the underlying organizational processes were increasingly bureaucratic, rational, and even managerial. Thus the mythos of the electronic church separated the public aspects of media evangelism from the private methods and procedures that conversionary mass-media campaigns depended on to become financially viable. In this sense, too, evangelistically inspired futurism reflected the broader American culture's reliance on communication professionals who knew how to formulate effective promotional campaigns and persuasive message strategies. The mythos of the electronic church fused ethical pragmatism with religious altruism, thereby justifying even the most business-like methods in the name of worldwide salvation and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Another helpful title by Schultze on the issue is High-Tech Worship. Also see Understanding Evangelical Media.

Readers, what do you think of this phenomenon and its implications for the Church?

(Image © USA Today)

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Jimmy Davis

This phenomenon always causes me to wonder: What will happen when some catastrophe (whether local, regional, or national...whether due to natural disaster, terrorism, or war) makes it impossible to use technology in church or even to gather in public?

Also, what does this do to the church's responsibility to develop the gifts of others who are called to preach and teach? When the power goes out, who will preach at the site where the preacher is a video feed?

What kind of churches and preacher/teachers are we building for future generations?


Is it a church? Luther, Calvin and others have written of the marks of the church, and these video screenings don't qualify. They aren't churches. No sacraments, no discipline, no shepherding, and on you go. It is a theater, not a church.

Dan Gill

You characterize the "butts in seats" comment as being about laziness and convenience. Don't you think it might be about outreach? People don't initially come to a church because it's inconvenient. As they learn discipleship (if they do), they realize that it requires commitment, struggle, and even suffering.

Do you think that at a 5,000 member church the pulpit minister can know and directly minister to every member? The pulpit minister's job is to preach and teach. Certainly there can be others who directly minister to the members. Video sermons and satellite services can be ways to reach more people.

Look at a lot of mega churches and you will see effective small group programs. It's the way they get big while maintaining community.


Just responding to the comment on behinds "in churches" -- yes, I stand by that judgment. I mean, if you're going for the preacher, rather than the preaching, ... well, you can stay home and watch one on TV for that. Yes, in some cases, an attendee can turn from going to get something at church, to going to give/do something at church, but it seems too often, it's more about 'what's in it for me?' and 'how does this meet my desires and preferences?' Church should never be about being comfortable.

Brent Houlding

Responding to the "is it a church" - the answer may not be quite as negative as you may think. I attend a church which does make use of video and multiple venues. However, sacraments are in place on a regular basis (the Lord's Supper is a monthly event for example), church discipline is both taught and practiced. Dan, you are right about the small groups being an integral part of the philosophy. When my wife went through cancer last summer our small group was our lifeline in ways we will never forget. The use of technology does not exclude personal and loving relationships. Both mega and micro scale activities have value in reaching and discipling a post Christian society.

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