On Wednesday May 14th, Mac Brunson and Jim Smyrl unveiled their strategy for starting satellite churches in strategic locations in Jacksonville. I think it will be helpful as we near the end of new posts here at FBC Jax Watchdog to analyze and discuss this strategy here in this thread; this satellite strategy that Mac Brunson is embarking on to finally get our church growing again. My purpose here is to not slam this strategy and point out all its faults, but to get FBC Jax members to think more carefully about this strategy and the risks it presents to their church.
Let me begin by saying the following: I am not against FBC Jacksonville trying new approaches to ministry in order to fulfill our mission of reaching Jacksonville for Christ. As Jim Smyrl correctly pointed out a few Wednesday's ago, Homer Lindsay, Jr. did some very innovative things to bring people under the hearing of the gospel. So long as the new approaches don't compromise or undermine the biblical teachings of the church, and so long as they are consistent with the mission of the church, we should be open to try new approaches to ministry.
However, careful thought needs to be given before launching new ministries. Just because a certain ministry works for another church doesn't means it is the right move for our church. While it sounds good for Mac Brunson to express the attitude of "let's try it, why not, even if we fail at least we tried" when it comes to this satellite strategy...this I think ignores the possibility that some attempts at ministry could actually harm the church in the long run.
Let's consider first some trends of satellite church ministry:
1. The number of churches moving to satellite or "multi-campus" models have exploded in the past 5 years. National Public Radio (NPR) did a very informative piece on multi-site churches a few years ago that is worth listening to. Click here to listen. This story gives some facts about the explosive growth of multi-campus ministries since the year 2000.
2. Most, nearly all, multi-campus "satellite" ministries are born out of necessity - they are churches experiencing very rapid growth, and because of worship space or parking constraints, they simply have no choice but to set up additional locations to accommodate the crowds. They are not by-and-large started as a means to achieve growth (I've not found any such examples in my research - although I suppose its possible), but they are started as a natural outflow of rapid growth already occurring! Read this article from the Star Tribute (Minneapolis) that highlights several churches in their area that have gone "multi-campus" and I think you'll see this is true.
3. Most, nearly all, of the satellite churches are those of the non-denominational persuasion, or if they are affiliated with a denomination, that affiliation is not part of their name. For example, Andy Stanley's church, Northpoint Community Church, one of the fastest growing churches today and successful at the multi-campus concept, is non-denominational. Ed Young, Jr's church on the other hand, Fellowship Church I believe is still affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (if not they started out as Southern Baptist but changed their name to accommodate their "seeker friendly" approach to ministry), but the word "baptist" is not in their name or any where on their website. Some familiar churches in our area that are non-denominational and so far at least moderately successful in the multi-campus efforts are Mandarin Christian Church (now called "Christ's Church") and also "Celebration Church".
4. Most, nearly all, of the churches utilizing satellites are those that one could easily classify as "seeker friendly". They feature more modern worship styles, modern music, and perhaps more "liberal" or "hip" preaching styles - maybe the more "historical" context of Mac's sermons fit this mold.
5. Multi-campus churches hold services in a variety of ways: some use live video feeds for the preaching, some record the pastor's messages and play it back at the satellite while the music and worship time is led by live. Others utilize a "regional pastor" or they rotate ministers through the satellites. Some of the satellite churches have different worship styles to match the demographics of its region, or to provide variety to reach different demographic groups in the same city with different versions of the church "brand".
So that I think summarizes satellite churches. If I'm wrong, or there is more to add, chime in.
So this leads one to ask the following questions - questions I certainly hope Jim Smyrl and his crack education staff and the A-Group are considering as they plan this satellite launch next April in St. John's County.
1. Is there any evidence that suggests this satellite concept will work for a Baptist church, especially one that already has a brand image of being stuffy, conservative, rich, and judgemental? Are we patterning our move to satellite after another mega Baptist church that has had success in satellite?
2. Forget for a moment whether any stagnant, mega, conservative, non-seeker friendly, denomination-affiliated churches have had success with satellites...maybe the more pertinent question is: what makes us think that a downtown, centrally-located Baptist church in a fast-growing metropolitan area, a church with above average facilities, plenty of space, plenty of convenient parking, excellent ministries for all ages, a modern worship center and children's building...that has been mostly stagnant for 10 years in its growth...is suddenly going to see growth by starting a satellite ministry? Does this mean our location is why we've been stagnant? If so, what took us so long to figure this out? Or are there other underlying problems or "issues" that need to be addressed? What are these other issues, and how are we addressing them?
3. Is our stagnant growth a function of us not "modernizing" our worship to becoming more "seeker friendly"? Or is it also the antics of our new pastor and current lay leaders that have turned people off to our brand? Maybe the common thread of fast growing churches utilizing satellites IS the seeker friendly model. If this is the case, are we willing to modernize our worship and change our brand image to be more "attractive" to the lost? If we haven't been up to this point, will we go seeker friendly at the satellites? If we do need to go more "seeker friendly" to reach a younger generation, why have we not in the two years Mac has been here tried starting a "seeker friendly" worship service on Saturday night or Sunday morning to perhaps try to reach a younger generation and begin moving in this direction? Space or even cost certainly is not an issue. Mac can't claim that we would oppose it, as the church has followed in lock step with all of Mac's other ideas, so why would he not have started a contemporary service like the one started in Dallas?
Some of the posters here have been discussing how Mac is trying to lead us to "Purpose Driven". I tend to agree with that assessment now, and I can't say that I blame him. Either he needs to lead us in that direction, moving our church to staying faithful to the preaching of truth while offering a more modern style of worship to reach a younger generation, while teaching us why and being respectful and gentle and to those who might not like it, or he needs to not do it. Right now it feels like our church is stuck in the middle. We have a pastor who wants to move us in that direction to reach a younger generation, but senses that there will be opposition so instead he complains that we are stuck in the past and have "legalist lists". Get over it Mac - there will be some opposition no doubt - but LEAD. Just LEAD in love. And I'll add: this is why this blog was started: to get Mac to address the concerns that the congregants have over his actions the first year PRECISELY SO HE CAN LEAD US TO WHERE WE NEED TO GO!
So will the satellite strategy work for FBC Jax? I honestly have my doubts but mostly that's because I don't see a precedent for a stagnant mega church achieving growth by satellites - and of course I have doubts about Mac's ability to lead the church successfully until he comes clean and clears up issues raised on this blog with his congregation. So really there are other issues behind why our church is stagnant that are not going to be solved by satellites; our problem is not that we just aren't "where the people are". The current strategy for launching the St. John's County satellite is to start home groups, home churches to meeting on Sunday nights, then use these converts and home church leaders to start a satellite. That's fine, but if that strategy works, why not invite these home church converts downtown to join us for an awesome God-honoring worship service? Our stagnant growth might have to do with Mac and his questionable leadership or even his pulpit behavior the first two years; it might have to do with our worship style, it might have more to do with our church "being stuck in the past" as Mac says. Whatever happens, I do wish FBC Jax well in their quest to grow through satellites, but something tells me: we need to have a clear strategy to start reaching people more effectively downtown, through evangelism, expository preaching, perhaps offering more diverse worship style alternatives downtown, being more involved in city youth ministry and concerts....in short building momentum in our current location, before we start looking at satellites elsewhere. And we are fools if we think a school is the primary way to reach young people in our city as Mac has told us. So Mac, address the problems downtown where our church has been hugely successful in the past, then we can start talking about satellites.
As I said yesterday in the comments section of the previous article, I will be winding this blog down by mid June. Doesn't mean the site is going to be "taken down" or removed, just that I believe its time for me to stop blogging for the foreseeable future after I make my last three or four posts, with one grand finale that you won't want to miss. Stay tuned.