Sunday at a Satellite Campus

September 5, 2010

Matt Chandler on the big screen at the Northway Campus.

This morning we went the Northway Campus of the Village Church in Dallas. This is a satellite campus of the main campus in Flower Mound, north of Dallas-Forth Worth Airport. There is another satellite campus in Denton. Together the three locations offer 11 services each week, drawing somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-9,000 people every Sunday. We chose the Northway Campus because it is closer to where we were staying and because we wanted to see for ourselves how a multi-site church works. 

The Northway Campus attracts a very young crowd. I would estimate the average age of the 500+ attenders to be around 25. The 9 AM service was packed to the point that we were not far from standing room only. 

The service was a model of simplicity. The campus pastor spoke for 7-8 minutes, welcoming us, sharing the gospel, and telling us we couldn’t save seats for latecomers. Then one song from the worship band. Then suddenly, with no warning or announcement of any kind, Matt Chandler (Lead Pastor for all campuses) came on the big screen, part of a simulcast from the main campus in Flower Mound. He was dressed casually, in an untucked short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans. Looking at the big screen, we could see Matt, a lectern that looked like a music stand, and behind him a dark-blue background. There was no other adornment and the video feed contained no subtitles. 

Matt preached for 45 minutes in his 20th and final message on the Book of Colossians. His testimony to God’s grace touched people around the world last year when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 brain cancer. He is tall and thin and looks very healthy. God has gifted him with an excellent speaking voice. He loves to make broad gestures with his arms. He also likes to put his left hand in his jeans and then gesture with his right arm, which gives an appealing mix of authority and informality to his presentation. He gave us several points about the last few verses of Colossians and then spoke about the importance of honesty and accountability in our relationships. “You shouldn’t run in a herd of morons.” “Some Christians are like referees. They like to call fouls on other people.” Matt is a natural communicator, by turns serious, then funny, then serious again, and then very pastoral. He speaks from notes but does not depend on them. 

I wondered how I would enjoy watching the pastor on the big screen. Would it be off-putting? For me the answer is no. We live in such a video age that watching a speaker on a big screen is no big deal. I found it easy to follow along and stay connected. He spoke frankly about his cancer and his hope for a total cure. His preaching style is sort of an organized stream of consciousness based on an exposition of the text. Not everyone preaches like this, but Matt Chandler does it very effectively.

The sermon came to a sudden conclusion. I had no idea that we were near the end. Matt wrapped it up, offered a brief prayer, said “Love you guys” and walked off. The screen went blank and the worship team at the Northway Campus led several choruses, ending with “Before the Throne of God Above.” Then one of the leaders briefly introduced the Lord’s Supper and asked the servers to pass the elements. We shared together, the leader said a few more words, and then “Thanks for coming. See you next Sunday.” And the service was over.

So how well does the multi-site idea work in actual practice? Although there are obvious logistical and leadership challenges, the Sunday morning service at the Northway Campus went smoothly this morning. The video feed on the big screen looked much better than this picture taken with my iPhone. It’s high-def so you can see the speaker very clearly. For a multi-site church to work, everyone has to start thinking in new ways about how you do church. It certainly helps to have a gifted communicator like Matt Chandler. You also need a unified vision and a unified leadership team. Plus you’ve got to master a ton of technical details in order to simulcast a sermon in three locations.

It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone or every church, but at the Village Church it seems to be working very well. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?