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Satellite Churches

Oct 7, 2010 2:29 PM, By Bennett Liles

Multisite ministries become a technical reality.

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Senior Pastor Jack Graham at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.

Senior Pastor Jack Graham at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. The church has a video-linked second location at Prosper, Texas, 17 miles north of Plano. The church reaches thousands by TV, radio, and Internet.

Few would doubt the positive impact that television has had on the church since Oral Roberts first took to the TV airwaves in 1954 and as thousands of churches have televised their services and begun streaming them to the Internet. But today’s concept of growing a church has come to include the group energy, fellowship, and total worship experience that watching from home cannot provide. For an increasing number of churches trying to grow but faced with limitations on expanding their home sanctuary, going multisite offers a powerful solution. Jim Tomberlin, founder and senior strategist at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based MultiSite Solutions, says that the multisite church offers a whole new experience.

“There is a big difference between a broadcasted TV service and a multisite campus. A typical multisite campus is a fully functioning worshipping congregation with a local pastor who shepherds the flock and where ministry occurs throughout the week,” he says.

According to Tomberlin, the multisite trend started in the mid-1990s as a band-aid solution among a few innovative megachurches that found themselves out of room or facing zoning restrictions on campus expansion. It quickly spread as a strategy that any healthy, outreach-oriented church could use. Central to the multisite method is a franchising concept that is easier to draw people to the church if you can physically spread the church around the community through unified satellite locations. For many of these churches, the way to join their local congregations has been through a video link. In many cases, that link began as an analog RF-modulated TV signal sent on coax to an adjacent room or building used as an overflow space. The logical next step was to apply the idea over a greater area.

Jim Tomberlin

Jim Tomberlin

The Leadership Network—an organization that provides churches with growth strategies, innovation methods, and other resources—recently conducted a survey indicating that among the 3,000 multisite churches in the United States, 34 percent use a combination of video and in-person methods while 20 percent use video primarily. The survey also showed that multisite churches have been very successful and that the movement is spreading worldwide.

The three basic components of the video link are capture, delivery, and presentation. There are options within each phase that can be customized to suit the message, congregation, budget, and expertise level of the tech people available. Tomberlin sees the recent technical trends.

“High definition is becoming the standard for video presentation,” he says. “Though satellite transmission is increasing, video streaming over high-speed, broadband Internet will become the primary vehicle for delivering sermon content. Still, the most common, least expensive, and [most] reliable way of sermon delivery is videotaping and delivery utilizing DVD or hard drive.”


Indeed, some of the churches with the most professional video production operations have chosen not to go live to their other sites but to record the sermon and distribute it either by FTP, streaming for delayed local playback, or by physical delivery on a DVD or hard drive. The latter method can take advantage of an innovative software solution to enhance the viewing experience. In the originating sanctuary, the stage is often flanked by large IMAG screens. The sermon is recorded on two simultaneous video streams. One carries the wide stage shot while the other has the close-up IMAG video. They are both recorded onto the same hard drive using a software application called ProVideoSync from RenewedVision. The hard drive or its video is sent to the satellite venue and using a ProVideoSync playback system, the wide-shot primary stream is displayed on a large, high-def screen onstage while the synchronized IMAG video stream plays to the side screens just as it appeared at the originating church. The main screen and the shot on it are arranged so that the pastor appears life-size onstage. Subtle frame-by-frame synchronization adjustments between the streams can be manually done while they are playing for the audience.

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