Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Outsourced Flock

By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

A few years back, a friend of mine was visiting a church plant in the Midwest. When he asked who was going to do the preaching, he was informed that they were planning on using a video feed of the Senior Pastor’s sermons from the mother church. Similar stories abound: well known preachers broadcast their messages into a variety of locations or “campuses”; eloquent speakers deride the poor preaching in many churches and suggest that videos of more competent communicators ought to replace these pitiable orators; local pastoral preaching is easily supplemented (or replaced) by podcasts of stars from around the country.

“Ah, yes” you may now be saying to yourself, “I can feel it coming: another Gordon-Conwell professorial diatribe against anything innovative in the ministry. Let the tirade begin.” But I am happy to report that your suspicions are unfounded. In fact, I want to ask the question: Why stop with the video pastor?

Let’s say you are able to beam in the very best contemporary evangelical preaching into your church. You are still almost invariably stuck with a very mediocre congregation. All those delectable words are liable to fall into the mouths of theological Philistines unworthy of the repast put before them. Our virtual Pericles is saddled with a motley assortment of crying babies, bored teenagers, distracted parents, and generally lukewarm and befuddled disciples who are likely to forget most of the main points of the sermon before they even leave the sanctuary. Pearls before swine, indeed.

The solution to this problem is obvious: the Video Congregation. What’s good for the pulpit is good for the pew. Rather than relying on the flotsam and jetsam of our towns and neighborhoods to fill up our churches, we can capture on film the best of the contemporary evangelical laity: a flock of bright, attentive, and note-taking sheep culled from the finest pastures of North America. These well scrubbed digital pilgrims will never grow bored or combative or ask embarrassing questions after the service. They will simply sit and soak in the goodness flowing from the virtual pulpit.

Those, of course, are just a few of the benefits accruing to the church willing to ditch the old model of flesh and blood parishioners and ride the wave of the video congregation. Parking issues, like the congregants themselves, become immaterial. Church attendance problems likewise become a thing of the past. For a slightly higher monthly fee, pastor-facilitators could upgrade from the Family Plan (100-200 eager video parishioners) to Thriving Flock level (2 services of 400 people each) or even advance to Excelsior Club status (3,000-5,000 every Sunday). Current (embodied) church members will appreciate the savings in cost (no more need for troublesome tithes and overpaid staff) and time (Sunday am tee times? No longer a problem!).

One final point: how do we find willing and capable video parishioners? I suggest a televised nationwide talent search. We can have a panel of four celebrity Christian judges who will assess the candidates, and then people from around the country can vote for their favorites. It’s a familiar format, and we might even consider paying Fox to take over the name of their hit show– it would certainly fit well with much of the contemporary church landscape:

American Idol.

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