Actually, even if Taylor doesn’t, for the Gospel Coalition Michael Pohlman does notice, and holds open the possibility that multi-site churches may be a fulfilment of the Great Commission. Still, the blog watch on Tim Keller has been remarkably silent about the feature story in USA Today about multi-site churches in which Redeemer NYC figured prominently (especially compared to the reaction from his lecture at Google and the recent story in New York Magazine). In one of the bigger surprises after the USA Today story, Keller’s fiercest on-line critics, the Bayly Brothers, praised the NYC pastor their “hero.”
This could be, as observed previously, an indication of the kind of media outlets that count among those who follow Keller. USA Today and the â€œ700 Clubâ€ donâ€™t achieve the same degree of cool as do Google and New York Magazine.
But the silence could also stem from some less than appealing associations that Keller owns thanks to the story — ties that Kellerâ€™s proponents would rather not notice. According to USA Today, multi-site churches make sense from the perspective of efficiency and maximizing resources:
It’s a growth strategy that works for churches of any size because it doesn’t require new buildings or fighting for zoning or parking space, says Scott Thumma, professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, where the institute is based.
“They just rent a couple of extra theaters and high schools and put together a church in a box. Most pastors wouldn’t give this as the primary reason, but clearly it’s a distinct advantage,” says Thumma, co-author of a 2008 study examining eight years of growth and change in megachurches.
Of the USA’s 100 largest churches, 67% now have two or more sites and 60% of the 100 fastest-growing churches also have multiple sites, according to the annual listings of the USA’s largest churches in Outreach magazine’s October issue.
Then there is the pastor from Oklahoma, a multi-site proponent like Keller, who is apparently following the business model of Fileneâ€™s Basement. Craig Groeschelâ€™s LifeChurch.tv is â€œthe second-largest church in the USA. By video some 26,776 see his sermons at at 13 meeting sites or campuses from Phoenix to Albany, N.Y.
The report adds, â€œGroeschel sees the multi-site route as a way to offer a classic evangelical message â€” â€œthe Bible is true and salvation is only by graceâ€™ â€” at bargain volume rates. His website boasts that LifeChurch.tv reached 1 million people in July, at a cost of 7 cents each. â€˜For us, multisite is only a tool, nothing more,â€™ he says.â€
Of course, Keller is not using video and the story concludes with a contrast between Keller and Driscoll. Keller prefers taxis and public transportation to Driscollâ€™s use of video to deliver his sermons.
Not to be missed are differences among Gospel Coalition leaders over multi-site church mechanisms of delivery. While Keller has disavowed video, John Piperâ€™s Bethlehem Baptist uses it for its three-campuses-as-one-congregation model.
Whatever the reason, it is odd that when an evangelical pastor receives favorable coverage in a national newspaper, the pastorâ€™s supporting cast of bloggers do not mention the article. It could be a valuable discomfort with multi-site churches, or that the story did not include a pie chart.