Parkway grows church body using live stream church services
Jennifer Lee Preyss
May 17, 2013 at 12:17 a.m.
Updated May 18, 2013 at 12:18 a.m.
Betty Pederson remembers when she first started attending Second Baptist Church on Lone Tree Road 10 years ago.
The modest sanctuary and matching congregation size was a comfortable change from her Catholic upbringing, she said.
And for the first time, she was growing in faith and knowledge of the Bible.
That's why she remained loyal to the congregation, even when it dwindled to a near nonexistent eight people.
But with no bodies in the pews and no money in the offering plate, Pederson said Second Baptist had to make a decision about its future: Stay open and go under or relinquish the building to a church organization with a new vision.
Second Baptist chose the latter, and a few months ago, Second Baptist became a satellite campus for one of Victoria's largest churches, Parkway Church.
"We were jumping up and down and shouting, 'Hurray' when they said they wanted to take over the church," Pederson said. "We heard a lot of good things about Parkway, and we didn't have any doubts they could turn this place around."
She didn't expect that Parkway's senior pastor, the Rev. Mike Hurt, would turn Second Baptist into a cutting-edge digital pastorate campus model that would stuff the pews with more bodies than Second Baptist has ever hosted on Sunday mornings.
Pederson has never been more excited about attending church.
Before returning to Victoria to pastor Parkway Church, where he formally worked as youth pastor, Hurt was living in the nation's capital, working for one the nation's largest non-denominational churches.
His role at Washington D.C.-based McLean Bible Church, which boasts an average Sunday attendance of 13,000, was to help grow the church body and expand McLean's vision to neighboring communities throughout the District and northern Virginia.
"Our goal was to build 10 campuses in 10 years and grow what we called the 'spiritual beltway' around D.C." Hurt said. "That's what I was doing when God brought me back to Victoria."
The church campus model, Hurt said, allows single pastors to live stream a Sunday morning message from the church's main location to its associated satellite campuses on a movie-size projector.
The benefit for the people like Pederson, who attends a satellite campus, is they can choose a location that's near their home, a place they may already be comfortable with, and watch a digital feed of their favorite pastor.
Digital pastorates and satellite campuses may keep people attending church more regularly, or create a less intimidating environment for those unfamiliar or skeptical of church.
Hurt explained each campus such as Parkway Lone Tree and their secondary campus location Parkway Port Lavaca operates as any other independent church body. Each location has its own staff, worship band and volunteer greeters on Sunday morning.
Churchgoers can drop their kids off at the children's ministry, attend small groups and other community church events.
The only part of church that's different is the pastor isn't there in person on Sunday morning. He's streaming a live message on a big screen from Parkway's main campus on John Stockbauer drive.
"We don't think people should have to commute to their church community," Hurt said. "Personally, I think expanding through the campus model is exciting, because I think there's potential and it's proven that it works."
The success of growing multiple church campuses rather than growing a single church building that can house thousands of congregants has become a successful business and gospel-spreading model for some of the nation's largest church bodies.
Andy Stanley's North Point Community Church in Atlanta; Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.; and Ed Young's Fellowship Church in Grapevine all use the satellite campus model to reach the masses.
Using a similar model, Parkway said on Sunday mornings volunteer tech crews will call each other on the phone a few minutes before the service is about to begin and sync their countdown clocks so church at all three locations begins at the same time.
Parkway, Lone Tree and Port Lavaca's worship bands arrange ahead of time to play the same five introduction songs so they keep to the same time schedule.
And when they're done with worship, Hurt begins his Sunday sermon.
Steve St. Jean, Parkway Port Lavaca's campus director, said he drives from Victoria every Sunday morning around 7:30 a.m. to begin setting up for the 11 a.m. service at the Port Lavaca Bauer Community Center. St. Jean said they rent the Bauer for a few hours each Sunday, except for three Sundays of the year when the building is dedicated for other community uses.
St. Jean said as many as 30 people who now attend Parkway Port Lavaca were formerly driving to Victoria on Sundays to Parkway's main location. Now, they simply attend at Bauer.
"This way of doing church allows everybody to see the same pastor and get the same message in three locations," he said. "We want to be one church, one vision and one message. And in order to get the same message, we need to get the same pastor. The teaching becomes the unifying point."
In a society groomed to welcome all forms of new technology, St. Jean said digital pastorates are to be expected in the future.
"They're watching him live, they're just not watching him in person. And we've become a community that does that anyway. ... We're a society that watches video on our phones, and we DVR everything so we don't have to watch commercials," he said. "I think we're so tech driven that this is really normal."
The future of Parkway
Since Betty Pederson has had a few months to adjust to Parkway Lone Tree's digital makeover, she said she's grown to love her new church.
With more than $100,000 in interior and exterior renovations, including an upgrade to the community fellowship hall that invites area children for weekly tutoring and mentoring, Pederson said she's never been so excited to attend church on Sunday.
"The congregation was a lot bigger when I first got here than it was when we were struggling and Parkway took over. But now, it is the biggest it's ever been," she said.
Pederson, a retired Victoria resident, admitted it took her a few weeks to adjust to her pastor streaming live on Sunday mornings. But she soon moved past the technological advancements and discovered she enjoys her sermons on the projector and the contemporary worship music. She's found a new community, she said. And she's now used to watching her pastor on the screen.
"I got used to him up on stage and it's like he's there in person," she said. "I hope this church continues to grow, and we have to build another church."
Hurt said Parkway's plans are to do just that. In the next decade, he's planning to grow campuses within in a 45-minute distance of Victoria, which may include other Parkway campuses in El Campo, Ganado, Edna and Cuero.
Hurt said he isn't focused or concerned about growing to the scale of Ed Young's or Rick Warren's church. He simply wants to spread the gospel to the people of the Crossroads - reaching them truly where they are rather than having them come to where he his.
"We're amazed to see how we're growing both numerically and spiritually. We create environments. People choose and God brings," Hurt said.