First, a bit of background to my idea.
Megachurches have lots of resources and manpower at their disposal, but they often promote geographic dislocation. People have to travel to the central location to get those resources. Smaller parish churches avoid this problem by being closer to home and more rooted. But they’re smaller and have correspondingly fewer resources. I don’t think we need to make bad guys out of one of these two models, though it’s unfortunate we have to pick. So are there ways around the dichotomy?
I think we should take a page from rural youth ministry practice. If you’ve ever lived in a rural area, you’ve probably encountered the phenomenon of churches sharing a youth minister. Three congregations barely have enough to pay a pastor, but they have youth hanging who need attention. So they share the costs and services of having a youth pastor with three or four like-minded area churches. And this increases the critical mass of the youth group as a bonus. I think it’s a brilliant solution to their problem.
Why can’t we use that same model for almost all staff? That would alleviate the dichotomy between high power megachurches and lower resourced parish churches. Share a family pastor, a small group director, an adult education pastor (my idea for that…), a youth pastor, share everything you possibly can. It’s church “in the cloud”…(cliche, I know). To start a new location, you just need someone to preach there. Everything else is “in the cloud”.
So, you’ve got two questions:
- Don’t multisite churches already do that?, and
- But how are you going to have good preaching at so many locations? Isn’t that always the draw of the megachurch in the first place?
Multisites as I know them still center around a central megachurch. The most resources are there and, importantly, the preaching usually comes from there too. So if we are going to really overcome the kind of dislocation which the contemporary megachurch model offers, even using the model I just described, we have to find a way to develop a higher number of consistently competent preachers.
So how do we do that? Here’s one idea.
The College of Preachers
Imagine there are 5 churches sharing resources as I described above. All the locations or sites need is someone to do their preaching and teaching. Well, what if those 5 people got together at the beginning of the week and divided up the research (though not the individual writing) part of preparation. It’d be a kind of college of preachers who could help each other.
What might that look like? Well, you could identify different areas of strength and divide them up between the people in the group. Everybody does their part of the research on Tuesday. Then they meet early Wednesday morning. The more people you have in the group, the more topics you could have covered, and the less each person would have to do. Maybe have one person each on these topics.
- Linguistic research (10 min)
- Historical background research (10 min)
- Commentaries surveyed (10 min)
- Outlines and emphases used by the greats (10 min)
- Articles and contemporary literature surveyed (total of 10 min, everyone contributes)
- Group discussion of major things to keep in mind (10 min)
If you did something like this, each person makes a 5 minute presentation of what they found most important, with 5 minutes of Q&A per section, you’d have a one-hour meeting. Then they still have the whole week to write and practice.
A Real Life Example
I actually saw something like this at work in seminary. A pastor in the area had the genius idea of drawing on the seminary students in his congregation. He usually tackled sticky subjects in the summers anyway, so we’d all get together with him on a Tuesday or Wednesday, while he was still preparing, to offer insights from our different areas of expertise. What an awesome benefit for him. And I always thought to myself that preparing a message was so much more enjoyable when done in camaraderie with others like that, with people thinking about the same text.
This “college of preachers” could also provide a good way to get input from peers and constantly be improving. Let’s say there are 5 guys in the group. Each one of them could be “on” every 5th week, meaning that his sermon would be complimented and critiqued by the group. They would always have input coming in about their messages, even when they’re out of school, so that they wouldn’t settle into bad habits. What makes this great is: it keeps getting better the more people you have. If you have 10 parishes in the organization, that’s 10 peoples’ input and expertise. And it’s 10 people off of whom you can bounce ideas and ask questions.
Thoughts? Thanks for reading.