What do you think of Satellite Churches?

Phil Steiger (over at Every Thought Captive) has started a good conversation on Satellite Churches.

In a recent Christianity Today article (High-Tech Circuit Riders: Satellite churches are discovering a new way to grow the body of Christ), Bob Smietana writes that there are
almost 1,000 U.S. churches [embracing] a multisite approach, according to the Leadership Network. Sometimes called a "satellite" or "franchise" model, going multisite is seen by advocates as one of the leading innovations of the 21st century and by critics as a sign that the church has sold out to consumerism—becoming just another big-box retailer, selling salvation with convenient hours and a discount price. The answer, as usual, lies somewhere in between."

If the answer lies somewhere in between, what is it?

I read that CT article with great interest, both because I once started a church plant myself in my family room and felt the struggles and anxieities that only church planting pastors feel (you know what I mean!!), and also because the church we have been attending in the last year is a megachurch (2,000+) that is starting a "satellite" campus in the city near them (they are an affluent suburban church, and they are placing the satellite in the high school of a small, blue-collar city near them).

I keep going back and forth on the issue. The city they are satelliting to has no church that offers the quality of worship and the "Christian services" that this church can offer through a satellite--thus attracting some who would not normally go to church. This is a good thing--a church seeking to reach a community with offering its excellent ministry.

But I'm troubled by the start-up campaign: It is all about making the Sunday worship event successful--nothing really about creating Christian community. They need greeters, worship leaders, communion servers, Sunday school teachers, etc.

The reason I bring that up is this: Satellite churches are in danger of making the Sunday worship event so central to ecclesiology that they miss becoming a transformative kingdom community. It's all about seeing a good show--excellent worship, a first-class sermon shown via DVD, an excellent children's program.

I'm afraid of the church becoming a show where many come to watch, but few come to mature. I'm afraid of a church where the pastor is nothing more than a speaker, worship is nothing more than a concert, and church is nothing more than the building where you go watch this stuff.



Matt said...


As a regular reader of your blog, so often I struggle with your perspectives on various issues (though I appreciate your attempts to wrestle with these important questions).

But here I am with you 105%. I don't know all of what to think of satelitte campuses, but what you fear...

I'm afraid of the church becoming a show where many come to watch, but few come to mature. I'm afraid of a church where the pastor is nothing more than a speaker, worship is nothing more than a concert, and church is nothing more than the building where you go watch this stuff.

...is exactly what I fear as well.

bdrtthnnb said...

The question I ask the mega church phenomenon is, "Is mega church growth real kigdom growth?" If the church you attend is opening a satellite in a neighboring community, will they indeed reach the unreached in that community or will they draw back some who are not connecting with any of the existing local chruch groups and/or mostly draw off members/attenders of the existing congregations?

For the most part I (sometimes admittedly begrudgingl) celebrate the mega churches in the communities I serve in. I adopt Paul's attitude in Phillipeans 1... the gospel of Jesus is being preached. And David's wisdom about not laying a hand on God's anointed.

You raise the issue of "quality of worship and the "Christian services" that this church can offer through a satellite..." As one who has and as far as I know will continue to find my ministry venue in the smaller congregations this "quality of worship" and "Christian services" is a big issue. The problem is that a smaller church has fewer resources. If the success of the ministry and the mission is served by these measures well.... we must all move to the mega and pool our resources.

BUT- What do you mean by "quality of worship?" I'm guessing you mean the instrumental, vocal and technological side of things. But, do these things have anything to do with the essence of worship or the quality of worship?

"Christian services" Same questions. I think you are nervous about the phenomenon for the same reasons many are and your final paragraph shows your concerns.

The mission remains the mission... Go and make disciples...

Byron said...


I don't often "struggle" with Bob's take...sometimes I think he's just plum nuts! :)

Seriously, I'm in that 105% as well regarding this fear. One of the strengths of the emerging church movement (I'm reading Carson right now and learning about its weaknesses as well) is that it seems a whole lot less about the "show" and a whole lot more about the really important things, like loving one another as we love God. Satellite churches focus everything, it would seem, "front-ward"; the spectatorism rampant in most churches would only seem to be magnified in satellite churches, it would seem to me. Even if steps were taken to overcome this (and they certainly COULD be), there still remains the "Christian celebrity" feel of trucking in video of the one celebrated, gifted preacher.

I don't think I'd attend one, or encourage one, unless there were some extreme circumstance...

fr'nklin said...

I want to agree with you, and to a large degree I do, but there is a MEGA nearby that is planting a satellite church in "my town". I talked with the missions pastor about it and here was his take:

They have hired a pastor for that church who is not going to preach - the sermon is piped in from the Saturday night service of the "mother church" - but his job is to simply build the community life of the church...home groups, etc. They don't want him to even have to worry about a sermon because they don't see the sermon as central to the spiritual growth of their folks. They think his time is better spent in developing the people in relationships of discipleship...

This sounds good. I want to say the pastor of the "mother" has an ego problem, but I know that is way too judgmental..so...I'm encouraging them...and praying that it goes well.

Bob Robinson said...

Yes, that's some good sounding stuff there, fr'nklin!

Bob said...


Some of "the answers" (if there really is one) is that satellite congregations aren't simply McChurches that have given into the big box consumer mentality--that they are trying to be faithful to their calling from God and trying to serve their communities. The $$ question is an interesting one as well--a megachurch costs megabucks--as Joel Olsteens $100 million dollar Compaq Center church attests. If we're going to have megachurches, than starting satellites seems a better option than building stadiums.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just wanted to say that I attend a satellite church on Oklahoma City, OK called Life Church. I do not see anything wrong with this approach. I think video teaching is just as effective as a pastor who regularly speaks to his congregation. I do have to admit that you do not see the main pastor in person, but the teaching he does teach on the video is anointed and does help a person mature spiritually in the LORD if that person decides to apply that particular message to his/her life. In the church I go to, we have small groups, children's workers, and a whole host of other volunteer workers to help run the satellite campus plant. I will be honest with you in what I am about to say. I do believe God is using satellite churches to get His Word out just as He is using Christian television networks. The reason why some of the satellite churches have non-traditional music as their style of worship is because that is how God wants them to lead worship. It does matter what style of worship you have to worship God with. Worship is worshipping God from heart and spirit not according to the particular style. These satellite churches are not using all this mainstream stuff to bring glory to themselves saying stuff like, "I want to have a satellite church so I can be proud and happy with a really huge congregation." They are using the mainstream technology so they can glorify God with it and reach out to the people by bringing glory to God. The Bible makes it pretty clear that whatever we do, we do it all for the the glory of God. So,in my opinion, I believe God is a doing new thing by using satellite churches to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ around the earth.

sean said...

Does anyone know of a satellite church where the pastors rotate preaching at each location. How has that worked?

Doug said...

I will not say that satelite churhes are unbiblical but i still think they are ridiculous. I wonder if it is really that bad in our country that we can't find pastors with the gift of preaching to run new churhes. It could possibly be that pastors egos are gtting so big that they think no pastor could do it as good as them. The truth is that most churches are worried about building their kingdom rather than God's Kingdom. With a church plant that doesn't make their church bigger. The Christian faith is about reproduction and dicipleship. Part of discipleship and reproduction is letting them become their own. With satelite it is like we don't trust anyone else to do it better than us. The church is becoming more and more of a show and this is the epitimy of that mentality. Lord help us to be more concerned about Your Kingdom rather than being famous and building our corporate enterpirses.

Jan said...

Who are WE to judge? Can we not simply examine the fruit of a ministry and just leave it in God's hands? From what I've seen in my "short" 56 years of life, God's proven He can handle His business in so many creative ways and with such diversity. The resources are HIS... the fruit is HIS... if not, I'm sure He can handle that too! God is GOOD! :)

Anonymous said...

AMEN! Jan! I'm from one of the fastest growth church. We do have people who complain that the church grew so fast that there's lack of "personal touch". But if we look closely, we will realize that they feel no personal touch because they are not participating / contributing in to home cell group or ministry.

The lives that God has transformed in such a fast speed... people get healed of cancer, delivered from Tsunami, escaped from bombing (2 cases, one in each of Indonesia bombing), people who wanting commit suicide melted in God's Love... HEY!!! Jesus knows what the World need!

"It's the Lord's making and it is marvelous in our eyes..."


Anonymous said...

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Lee said...

I am a 73 y/o pastor who more than 30 yrs ago had a vision for development of a ministry using satellites. Without the tech. Without support for such a radical idea. I just prayed and kept serving the Lord.
Praise God someone else had the idea! And the technology. And the support. I think this will give rise to thousands of small churches and
....whok knows......Revival?????