Thabiti Anyabwile on multi-site churches.

Something for you to consider (and discuss) from the article, Multi-Site Churches Are from the Devil:

“. . . 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.”

Read the entire article from Thabiti Anyabwile here.

11 thoughts on “Thabiti Anyabwile on multi-site churches.

  1. Excellent article. Thanks for sharing Pilgrim. Could you imagine the apostle John seeking to televise his 7 messages to the 7 churches of Asia??

    “Coming to you live this morning from Pastor John, we greet you from the Isle of Patmos. Before the message, each of you will please join in the worship of whatever band you have chosen for this morning. After you have all done your own thing, then I will bring the next message in our exciting series!”

    Idolatry is the best term for what we are now seeing become the norm. God will not be mocked though. Man who lifts himself up here has no true room for lifting up Christ.


  2. I read lots from 9 Marks and read Anyabwile’s column on multi-site churches when it first came out. I have been telling people in Houston much the same thing, as Ed Young, Sr. does this very thing – beaming his face and message to various “churches’ around the city. I call him “the Pope of Houston”. Cult of personality is exactly what it is, and it’s a pox on the church. A humble look at the Bible reveals a local, autonomous, connected church led b a plurality of elders who shepherd that flock. The “senior pastor” model is a hang-over from the cult on 7 hills and leads to very thing Thabiti is writing about.


  3. A variation on this theme are the multi-campus churches with their own “pastors” and “elders”, who nevertheless are mere “under-shepherds” to “The Teaching Pastor” of the multi-campus franchise, who makes his rounds periodically visiting each campus in his empire (through either a one-hour personal appearance, or through video feed). Such “under-shepherds” are mere “yes men” functioning in a system which promotes and reinforces the teachings of the “Teaching Pastor” (supreme leader) to the collective laity of the franchise. Still a cult of personality.


  4. I think what you’re saying is preposterous. You mean to tell me that the “cult of personality” doesn’t already exist, especially in some of these “single-site” megachurches? Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s the heart and ego of the person that matters, which translates into how things are done. Maybe we should not have used the
    Gutenberg press to spread the Gospel? Godforbid .

    There are ways to use video and multi-site to reach more and more people and help isolated communities.

    So all of you are against TV and putting the Gospel on TV? Please listen when God talks of doing a “new thing” and “new wine in new bottles?”


  5. Bruce, first, the new wine passage refers to the new covenant in Christ’s death and resurrection, not using technology in churches. Please use scripture in context. Secondly, no one is claiming we should never use available technology for the furtherance of the gospel. The issue at hand is setting up campus church extensions solely devoted to one preacher. Rather looking within the congregation, seeking out those God has equipped to teach and preach, training them up and planting a new church in those “isolated communities”, virtual churches are set up around the one personality. This is more likely to create a body devoted to the “rock-star” preacher than a body of believers devoted to Christ.


  6. I disagree with this post. I think it depends very much on the situation, the pastor, the church, the area, etc.

    For example, my church in Austin meets in a high school gym. We recently built another campus in a neighborhood called St. John in the more north part of Austin that has a modest sized auditorium but is mostly used as a office building for local non-profits during the week. We also started meeting at a middle school in West Austin that is focused on families that live further out that way.

    Each campus has their own worship team (which rotate around) and one of the pastors physically there to give announcements, start in prayer, etc. Then, a screen comes down and we see the pastor (there is one “senior” pastor, but there are several who preach pretty regularly) on the screen from the high school. There’s no fanfare or megaphones, no ego stroking or close ups. Just a wide shot of the front of the gym where he is physically preaching projected onto screens at other campuses.

    Is this idolatry? Absolutely not. I think sometimes this blog doesn’t think of alternatives or both sides of issues. Just a thought.


  7. Christian, thanks for stopping by. There may be others who will respond to this as well. However, let me say that what you are speaking is definitely not the Biblical model. The Bible makes it clear of the importance of the local church and its polity. Each church should be governed by a plurality of elders in the location in which they serve. As an example, Titus was sent by Paul to establish elders in EVERY church. By historical accounts, there were as many as 90-100 towns on the small island of Crete. There is nothing to indicate that Titus or any of those he trained were to take on the responsibility of people they could not see.

    Let me ask this a little differently. If your church is so big that it has the need of at least 3 different locations, then why doesn’t the eldership make the Biblical decision to have a group of elders become solely responsible for each of the works? You know have 3 different churches who are independent but also interdependent. Each one then has the responsibility of doing the same thing – growing and sharing the Great Commission. When you are rotating worship teams and pastors, but the people are expected to attend regularly you have little to no continuity.

    I would dare say that the person who would suggest such a fantastic idea to the “Senior Pastor” would probably get their head chewed off. Not practical, not feasible, too costly, too fill-in-the-blank would probably be just a handful of the responses received. My question would be – Why is that the case?? More times than not, in fact, I have yet to hear or read of any multi-site churches where the problem does not really boil down to anything but pride and kingdom building. There may be a handful, but again, why not make the break from those churches and do it biblically?

    Look forward to hearing back from you.

    Every blessing,

    The Jungle Missionary


  8. Christianmyoung – I line up with Jungle Missionary. Beaming the face of your “senior pastor” into remote locations proclaims that he is the message. This is wrong no matter how you defend it. No man is the message. The calling is for humble men to preach and teach the Word of God. There is no call at all for one man to be thought of so highly that he alone is worthy of the job. This is idolatry.


  9. To both of y’all,

    You didn’t read my comment fully if you think that what is being beamed is “the face of our senior pastor”. It isn’t. As I said, its not flashy or anything like that. The way its set up is the screen literally makes it look like he’s on the stage. It’s a lot harder to explain on the internet but that’s really the best I can do. Also, like I said, it isn’t only the senior pastor who preaches. He preaches probably half the time, another pastor preaches a third of the time, and two more pastors preach the remaining times. They made a conscious decision when the church started to not have one pastor become the attraction or the message. So “beaming his face” isn’t a prideful thing at all.

    To address the second point about biblical church. Our church very much is one body. There’s a lot of overlap between campuses. We are a “local church” like you were talking about. I don’t want to boast but since I have to defend my church I will, but our church is very active in the community around Austin. That’s why we built our second campus. We sacrificed size to have more focus on reaching out to the community. St. John is a very low income neighborhood in Austin that is served by a variety of charities and non-profits. The point of our second campus was not to build some megachurch for the entire body to meet in. The point of our second campus is to first give office room to many of those non-profits and charities at much lower cost so they can focus on their ministry, second to have a place for our during-the-week’s ministries to meet (since we obviously can’t meet at the school), and third to have another place for people to go on Sunday morning.

    Why didn’t we split up the church? Why would we? God has blessed our church incredibly over the last decade and given us a large and active body to serve both Austin and the world. We are using all the resources available to us to do just that.

    As far as some of the other complaints: with three campuses we have 1 church meeting at three places. It’s not three disparate groups of people. There IS continuity across the body of the church. I can see how you would think rotating around would breed discontinuity, but I can tell you definitively that it doesn’t. Our senior pastor definitely wouldn’t “bite their head off” if someone gave him that suggestion because our senior pastor and elders aren’t stubborn, ego-driven people.

    Again, its a lot harder to explain on the internet, but you’ll just have to trust me. I read this blog a lot, and one thing that y’all are sometimes guilty of is making blanket generalizations about people, churches, etc, for which you have little to no information. Y’all made a lot of blanket generalizations about my church without knowing anything about it. I can’t speak on any other multi-site churches because I don’t know of any. All I’m asking of y’all is that you consider each case individually before rushing out to judge people and churches you don’t know. It makes this blog (which has great intentions) seem legalistic, judgmental, and ignorant. And I have a good feeling that none of you are that.

    Merry Christmas!


  10. christianmyoung:

    Some misunderstandings here. The issue isn’t whether the pastor’s face takes up an IMAX screen, or whether he is an ant on a stage, or whether he is on a pedastal with no screen at all. The issue is: is my church truly Biblical? Is the congregation nodding in agreement with the pastor, or leadership? Or are they (the congregants) searching the Scriptures to see whether what the pastor is preaching is true to the whole word of God (and holding him accountable if something isn’t)? Or to put it another way, is the church following men, or Jesus Christ? Is my church meeting the needs of the poor in the community? Great. But are benevolent works the focus of the church, or is the Gospel message of Salvation, and discipleship the focus (engaging in a “Social Gospel” and calling it part of the Biblical Gospel is erroneous)? Is it providing office space (at church expense) for local non-profits? How is that Biblical (where in Scripture is the church to join/yoke with the world/ungodly even for benevolent purposes)?

    We have gotten so used to thinking in terms of “success” (financially and/or numerically) as evidence of being “blessed by God”, that we too often aren’t looking at the Scriptures to verify if what we are doing is truly approved by God.


  11. “The issue is: is my church truly Biblical?”

    Great statement David! Sadly many still get their church structure from the reformation (slightly reformed roman catholic practices) instead of the New Testament.

    In Christ -Jim


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