What are the pros and cons of using video preaching in the church?
The way we do it at Bethlehem is that I preach on Saturday night and it is recorded. The next morning we have two worship services on each of the three campuses, and I go from one to the other week by week. So I show up live on every third week at the North, Downtown, and South campuses, which are separated by 25 miles or so. Where I don't appear live, they use the sermon video—not the service video, but the sermon video—and everything else is campus-specific and live.
Each campus has its own worship leader and its own way of putting the service together. They have campus-specific elders who are there to pray with people after the sermon. They have their own Sunday school classes, small group, and everything. But the preaching component of the service is unified across the three campuses, and we feel that is essential.
So that's my answer to the question, "What is the gain"? The gain is that, if you're going to be a campusing church, I think it is important that there be a unified preaching moment. Probably nothing holds this church together as one body like the Saturday and Sunday proclamation of the word of God (by me in most cases; and when I'm not here, by other staff members).
So the unifying effect of having one preaching moment is a huge gain.
The loss is that I can't see eighty percent of the people I'm talking to. I think ideal preaching is looking at the people, talking right into their faces, and reading off their faces whether they found your point helpful or discouraging, or whether they are angry or sleepy. That's lost for those who aren't there. It's not lost in the moment of the preaching, because I'm looking at real people on Saturday night and I'm preaching into their lives.
So I didn't move into this video preaching quickly or easily. I was kind of kicking and screaming, pondering questions like, "Do you build a gigantic sanctuary for four- to six-thousand people? Do you try to plant churches?" We decided, "Yes, let's plant churches," and, "No, let's not build a gigantic building. Let's do churches of about two thousand people each, and if they want to become independent churches as campuses when I'm done, that would be great. Or if I would be replaced, and another person carries on with the way I do it, that would be great." We feel like maximum flexibility exists this way for not becoming a big empty building someday downtown, with five-thousand empty seats, because something happened.
Campuses seem more diffuse. You get to be in different pockets of the city; and people can more easily invite their neighbors to church rather than dragging them all twenty-eight miles away downtown. So that's a gain when you do the campusing thing.
So I have enough evidence now, after five years of doing it this way, that God uses the sermon video to touch people. The power of preaching, in the context of live worship, is unstoppable by the medium.
It has a few little advantages that I didn't expect. For example, I thought the older people would be the ones who didn't like it, because they might prefer tradition, but that's not been the case. The ones I've talked to said, "We like it a lot because we can see and hear you better! Your face is four feet wide!" And evidently seeing the lips help them hear me better. We have not had any older people who have been here for fifty, sixty, and seventy years say, "Whoa we don't like this way of doing it." It's the younger people who love authenticity who have balked along the way—some of them. So that was a surprise to me.
Here's one little anecdote to show how you can get sucked in. I was on video downtown one time and David Livingston was responsible to do the welcome and be present for the service. So he is sitting in the front pew watching me on video. And I start coughing on the video—which I often do—and he starts to get up to go get me some water. I'm not even in the room! And then he checks himself, "O, that's right. He's not here!"
So I feel encouraged that God has been willing to use it.