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June 27, 2017

Week Delay: Sending Video Teaching to Multisite Campuses

By Stephen Smith

If you are a tech nerd, “Ted-Talker” or a “RadioLab-er,” (I’m making up words) you might be familiar with George Moore. He’s the guy who proposed that technology doubles every two years based on his study of semiconductors. It sounds like heady stuff I know. He first proposed it in 1965, and since then what we now know as “Moore’s Law” has not only proven true, it is also being used by futurists to predict technological advances well into this century. We can see Moore’s Law all around us in the devices we use each day. Like the one you are holding while you read this blog.

Using technology for church multiplication. 

Moore’s Law and the flood of technological advances have directly affected church multiplication in the last 70 years. What radio and TV did for Billy Graham in the 50s is roughly the same as what streaming content is doing for teachers in churches all over the globe. But just because we can, does it mean we should?

This was our big question when it came to sermon delivery at Houston’s First. When we set out to do multiplication through multisite, we had four core convictions:

  1. It must extend ministry to reach the lost, not just for attender convenience.
  2. It must be neighborhood focused.
  3. It must focus on creating, not cloning, our original campus.
  4. It must be shepherded by an empowered campus pastor who recruits his own staff.

We set off with these convictions in mind but also tacked on the idea that the message delivery must happen simultaneously across all sites. Imaging a huge DVR system that trailed behind the broadcast campus by just a few minutes. We could think of no other way for us to feel connected as a church unless we were all experiencing the same teaching on the same day.

It was high tech, but it had a downside: Murphy’s Law.

If things could go wrong, they would. We allocated resources to match every possible contingency that something would go wrong. We had airtight redundancies from multiple platforms and locations. But somehow, it wasn’t enough. Murphy would always arrive and beat Moore to a pulp. Our team performed so admirably as we asked them to broadcast to one campus in a basement without cell service, a campus in a public middle school whose IT configuration kept changing weekly, and a campus in a retail center that was (and is) the first place to lose power on the Texas gulf coast in the breeze picks up.

Outside of space and time.

So we decided to re-examine our core convictions about multisite and message delivery. That study led us to realize we had assumed immediacy of the message. We (meaning me) had never stopped long enough to measure whether our Multisite Signature (how we do multisite at Houston’s First) could still happen outside of space and time. Just because we could didn’t mean we should.

As it has turned out, due in part to having a capable and adaptable pastor, we were able to make the shift that would open our minds to an “augmented time schedule.” When most people hear the words “week delay,” they automatically assume “weak delay,” “low quality,” or “being behind the main campus.” (That’s my favorite one.) The week after implementing the new system we realized a few major things:

  1. Our campus pastors were sleeping better. Not having the stress of knowing whether or not the message would be delivered and queued on time was a major load off their minds.
  2. Our teams were less stressed. Similar to our campus pastors, the teams were more at ease because they knew they had it in the can for review ahead of time.
  3. Our congregation’s confidence in the message consistency increased. They were more likely to invite people since they knew it was going to all “work right.” (We have the most flexible people in the world that stuck with us through those awkward moments of dead air and audio drops)
  4. The messages got better. On a typical Sunday, Pastor Gregg gives the same message three times in a row. With the week delay, Pastor and the teams are now able to take the best version of the message and export it to the campuses. We are not at the point where we are editing out any coughs, or excessive “ums,” but it is nice to know we could if we needed to
  5. The largest win for our augmented schedule was that it really empowered the campus pastor. Because Pastor Gregg stays away from using current events and references to holidays in his message, it gives that much more room for the campus pastor to shepherd his congregation within his very own context. In other words, the campus pastor is able to pastor the people through a tragic news event, natural disaster, or special celebration days throughout the year.

The lesson for us is that God can work on His own schedule and that the words of the lead pastor don’t necessarily need to be heard by the entire congregation simultaneously. It has opened new doors for message translation into Spanish with a view toward many more languages after that. And although our yearly program schedule looks like something from NASA, we feel that this kind of planning and preparation is producing a new freedom for our entire church.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith (@stephenandstar) serves in Houston with his wife and four kids. He shepherds four teams within the church: Music, Multisite, Media, and Marketing. He spends the remainder of his time these days with his head in a book or dealing with an unruly yard. His passion is leading worship through song with his wife and leveraging their lives to see ministry multiplied in their home church and beyond.

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