Each week as I read through our first-time guest surveys, I know there will be some predictable trends. First-timers are prone to talk about the organizational hospitality they sensed when they arrived, the excitement of the worship service, or the inviting atmosphere of the kids’ space. And almost every week, there will be a comment similar to this one (an actual comment from a few weeks back):
“I think watching the pastor speak on a screen will be hardest to get used to and is something I am a bit hesitant about.”
We are a video-driven multi-site church, meaning we have a teaching pastor who is broadcast from one location to all of the other locations. Not all multi-site churches utilize a video feed for the sermon. Some – like Brentwood Baptist outside of Nashville – depend on a weekly campus pastor teaching team at each campus, only using the lead pastor on video a couple of times a year. But for those of us in the video trenches, it pays to address the hesitation that will naturally come from those who are watching the “talking head.”
Let me be clear: the multi-site approach is not for all believers, nor is it for all churches. The point of this post is not to defend the model that we use, but rather to address how we work within this model as guest services practitioners, helping our guests to navigate a norm which may be very unfamiliar to them. (That said, if you’d like to read a little more on our philosophy of multi-site, my pastor has a rather detailed four-part series that starts here.)
So how do we prepare newcomers for what they’ll see inside? I think there are at least five practical ways:
Talk about it at the tent. Whatever your version of a first-time guest tent is, prep your guests before they get in the auditorium. You can say something similar to this: “While I’m walking you in, let me tell you a little about what you’re going to experience. We’re a multi-site church, which means that you’re going to be watching our teaching pastor broadcast from another location. Everything else that you see – the worship team, our campus pastor, etc. – will all be live.” Just those simple few sentences can help set their expectations for what is to come and eliminate what could be a jarring unfamiliarity.
Talk about it from the stage. There are two ways to do this: the campus staff mentions the sermon on video before the screen drops, or the teaching pastor acknowledges it at the beginning of the sermon. We prefer the latter. Often by simply greeting a few (or all) campuses, or highlighting something special happening at a particular campus (launch weekend, anniversary, new campus pastor, etc.), the teaching pastor can acknowledge that he’s being broadcast rather than actually saying hello from video world.
Highlight the campus staff. One of the common complaints of multi-site is “I want to know my preacher.” I completely understand that. However, I’ve found that doesn’t even always occur at non-video, single-site churches. A multiplicity of staff means that people will naturally gravitate to “their” pastor, even if it’s not the main guy on stage. Make sure that guests know that there is a living, breathing staff team at their location, and make sure they meet at least one staff member before they leave.
Highlight “one church, multiple locations.” Back to the second point above, the sermon-on-video is a great way to nod to the work of Jesus in a larger body of believers who are spread across a city or a region. While a video message may be hard to get used to, I always find it fascinating and strangely comforting to know that I’m studying the same passage of scripture as fellow believers who may be 30 miles down the road. The weekly message is one of several ways that we are simultaneously able to encourage people to “serve where they live” and also know that we are in this common journey together.
Realize that normalcy happens. This will perhaps be the least helpful point, but I’m gonna toss it out there anyway: you just get used to it. Currently, almost 75% of our weekend attendees view a sermon on screen. Even when I’m watching live, I have found myself looking around the live guy to watch the screen behind him. I’ve also been 15 minutes into a sermon at our broadcast venue, only to realize that our teaching pastor isn’t actually on stage, but that I’m watching a recording of the previous service. My point is, video teaching can come as a shock to first-timers who have never experienced it, but they may get used to it faster than they realize.
How do you help first-time guests navigate the multi-site approach?