Church franchises

Andrew Park hits one out of the park with a great article in Slate magazine, The Chick-fil-A Church. Please read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:

Most Sunday mornings at Buckhead Church in downtown Atlanta, one person is conspicuously absent: the senior pastor, Andy Stanley. A nationally known evangelist, Stanley is usually 20 minutes away at North Point Community Church, the suburban megachurch he has led for 13 years. To the 6,000 or so faithful at Buckhead, he appears only on video, his digital image projected in front of the congregation in life-sized 3-D. The preacher is a hologram. […]

Six thousand people watching a sermon via video.

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. […]

Branded outlets. Gigachurches.

In a blog post, one of Stanley’s lieutenants compared the job of running a video venue to operating a franchise of another Christian-led business: Chick-fil-A. “Just like that Chick-fil-A owner/operator, I’m here in Nashville to open up our franchise and run it right,” wrote Eddie Johnson. “I believe in my company and what they are trying to ‘sell.’ ” … He stands by his analogy. Most residents of Nashville, Tenn.—he estimates around 71 percent—don’t attend church regularly. If it takes a name-brand preacher to put butts in seats, so be it. […]

Whatever it takes to fill the seats.

But church-planting, as it’s known, can be arduous and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee it will reproduce the home church’s success, especially without the same charismatic leader at the top. With video, you just need seats and a screen to replicate the original. While only a handful of churches can afford Buckhead’s $250,000 high-def system, it costs relatively little to project a DVD of the home church’s sermon from last week. Or churchgoers can head to the movie theater: National CineMedia rents multiplex screens that otherwise would be dark on Sunday mornings to churches. […]

Arduous and time-consuming? Forget that.

This spring, Saddleback opened the first three of 10 planned video venues in and around its Orange County, Calif., home. “We’re not reaching out because we need to be bigger, we’re reaching out because more people need Jesus,” the church’s Web site says. […]

More people need Jesus? Or more people want Rick Warren?

And my absolute favorite observation:

And for Christians looking to create community on a more intimate level, video venues do present an alternative to the suburban megaflock. While some people find it strange at first to worship in front of a big screen, they frequently come to view it as no different than attending a service that is totally live, supporters say.

I’d view it as no different, too.

One thought on “Church franchises

  1. Wow, how very…Atlanta. (I lived there for years and still visit.) But I also consider it a possible danger in my own large church. The pastor says he doesn’t want a megachurch, but people just won’t go elsewhere.

    And yet, sometimes when I think of my own personal experience as a child in the South, I can see why this happens. People get tired of the subcultural pressure (not truly Biblical, but just a way of joking or entertaining, narrow preferences in music, etc.) in some small churches, so they go somewhere where they can be more anonymous. Right now, despite the obvious gifts of learning I have received from attending my current church, I am yearning to try a smaller one again.

    Although video is the current issue at hand, books have long been a form of mass theologizing. I sometimes think I’m a Christian still because I read C. S. Lewis constantly in college. I didn’t have access to anyone else who was up to the challenges I was receiving from professors. My pastors in the South were more interested in being folksy, or occasionally belligerent, but I needed well-thought out arguments, not for others, but for myself. I guess when people don’t read, maybe they’ll watch a video? I’m not at all sure that that argument follows. I think the media are very different.

    I don’t know the answer, but I found the article very, very interesting.

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