Projection or Presence: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Video Venue Preaching

Video venues are flying off the ecclesial griddle like hot cakes. Everyone seems to be doing it. Some with great success, if success is primarily determined by increased attendance at the multi-site video venue church. Many growing churches are getting behind this trend. Who knows if the trend is here to stay or merely a flash in the pan? Regardless, I am convinced that churches must carefully and prayerfully consider not only the short-term but long-term practical and theological implications of launching a site where the preacher is not present but projected. Here are some of the major pros and cons of video venue preaching. The question that must be asked and answered is, do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa?

Pros of Projection

-The most effective preacher gets projected. Let’s face it, there are relatively few preachers who hit the sermonic ball out of the park on a regular basis. And, there are many who are mediocre at best. Why shouldn’t the church put her best foot forward in order to impact more lives through preaching? So much is at stake. Seekers who visit churches do not typically return a second time to hear irrelevant sermons that seem disconnected from real life. An effective projected preacher seems better than an ineffective present preacher.

-Video venue preaching is efficient. It doesn’t take too much time or money to launch a video venue. The main expense is renting a facility with seating capacity and projection capability. While most video venues have a campus pastor/host who is present, you don’t need a high quality and expensive communicator. That person is projected. So, if you can rent a facility with projection and recruit a campus host, you can launch a video venue site rather quickly. If you’re looking for efficiency, “getting the most bang for your buck,” the video venue is for you.

-Current culture is enamored with the screen. Many North Americans spend countless hours each week looking at a computer screen, TV screen, and big screen at the local movie theatre. People are used to the screen. A case could be made, however, that people are sick of looking at screens and find a live performance refreshing. But, apparently, many nominally churched and unchurched people feel as though a projected preacher is safer than a present preacher.

Cons of Projection

-A projected preacher proclaiming a God who became physically present feels like a contradiction. The incarnation of God in Christ is the central event of Christianity. God came onto our turf as one of us to save us because he loves us. He came to 1st century Jews as a 1st century Jew. He was physically neck deep in the culture he was trying to reach. He preached profoundly to people because he put himself in their sandals and walked where they walked. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). God didn’t show up as a projection but as real presence. How can a Christian preacher do anything less?

-A projected preacher cannot preach a truly contextual sermon. Every congregational context is different. The sermon developed for the mother church is not designed specifically for the multi-site video venue, especially if those contexts are radically different. The live “in the flesh” sermon I preach at a Caucasian church in an affluent suburb of Dallas will not contextually connect via video with an African American congregation in an impoverished urban area. Plus, the projected preacher on video cannot adjust “on the fly” to congregational cues during the preaching event. Can pastoral preaching really be done from a distance?

-Projecting one preacher prevents others preachers from being developed. If we are concerned about utilizing our best preacher, then video venue is the way to go. But, if we are focused on developing the next generation of preachers, the video venue should be avoided. The way to develop more and better preachers is to give them lots and lots of opportunities to preach. If the resident preaching pro is the only one preaching, the growth of potential preachers on the team will be stifled. In the short run, projecting the best communicator seems wise, but it is disastrous in the long run. When the elite projected preachers are gone who will replace them? Under-developed preachers?

More pros and cons of video venue preaching could be listed, so I welcome your response. Do you think the pros outweigh the cons or that the cons outweigh the pros? Is video venue preaching driven by pragmatism or theology? As I wrestle with these questions, I am genuinely interested in your perspective. In fact, I need it.

Lenny Luchetti

  • Lenny, this is a helpful analysis. I can’t help but wonder about the trajectory of this approach, and if there will be a move at some point toward the “close and small” church (the local dealer) versus the “can’t beat the value” church (the big box distributor). Video projection is working right now, and that may be what will drive us for awhile. Your thoughts?

  • Lenny Luchetti

    Thanks for jumping in Larry. I think video venue will run its course in time. I have mixed feelings about it, as my article, I hope, reflects. I think that many media saturated people come to church hoping to experience a sermon not from a screen but from a real, not virtual, human being speaking from a deep place to a deep place in their souls. Some say that the church should follow the trend of culture when it comes to media saturation. I say, the church can actually be on the counter-cultural cutting edge if we use less media not more.

  • David

    Hi Lenny, I greatly appreciate your thoughts on this topic. Let me preface my comments by saying that I’m not necessarily a huge proponent of video venues although I have worked for churches that have utilized them with a good degree of effectiveness. I do wonder however if the cons that you have listed are less about the use of video and more about thinking strategically in regards things like discipleship/leadership development, and venue selection. In my opinion and I’m sure you would agree, the Gospel should be real and tangibly demonstrated throughout the congregation not simply through the primary communicator. If this is not happening it would seem to me that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on discipleship throughout the church. As we all need to be “neck deep in the culture” in order to share the Gospel. Additionally, the idea of not being able to develop preachers seems to be again be less about video venues themselves and more of a discipleship/leadership development issue as multiple preachers can be used via video. Churches that only use a single communicator whether live or via video are in fact limiting the development of other communicators but that’s not necessarily the fault of the video venue model itself. Finally, it seems to me that not being able to contextualize sermons is a major issue but one that should be thought through prior to launching a video venue campus. I worked at a church that had this issue but not just from a preaching standpoint, various programs and ministries at the satellite campus didn’t work either because it was such a different demographic. If a church desires have multiple campuses they must identify if they wish to reach similar groups of people or not. And if not, there will most likely be radical ministry changes that will have to take place, not only in regards preaching but also the types of programs, ministries, schedules etc. Thank you again for starting this conversation. It is an important one for us to wrestle with.

    • lenny luchetti

      Great response David. I could not agree with your thoughts more. VV may nor always be the culprit for some of the cons i mentioned.