Last week, pastor J. D. Greear, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stirred up a social media storm when a 27-second clip from his Sunday sermon went viral on Twitter (now X).
In the clip, Greear reproaches his congregation at The Summit Church for arriving late, leaving early, and being generally unfriendly. “It’s one of the things, honestly, that irritates me,” he says, looking straight at the camera and taking a “real talk” tone. “You treat church like a religious show.” Then, pointing at his online viewers, he says, “When people say that the church … feels like a big production, you’re the problem.”
The video cuts to a wider camera angle featuring him standing on a large, well-appointed stage, in front of an audience sitting in movie-style seats and flanked by at least two massive hi-def screens, one of which features the pastor himself. The subtitled clip adds the supposed audience reaction—“uh-oh” and then, “whew”—a seeming attempt to soften the blow.
The clip appeared on Greear’s Twitter account before it was taking down, but not before another user reposted it with the comment, “Bruh. Look where you’re standing.”
The implication was obvious: The pastor’s surroundings didn’t match his story. The platform on which he stood preached a different sermon than his tough love talk. The medium seemed to contradict the message.
In essence, I agree with Greear’s spoken message that the church is not a show—I think most Christians would. But when the camera zooms out, a different nonverbal message comes across: The church is a show.
Greear’s church, like many others in the US today, has multiple campuses, hundreds of staff, and thousands of weekly attendees. The church probably has a team dedicated to producing the service—a producer directing video cuts, camera operators zooming and panning.
The sermons are almost exactly 45 minutes on the nose and are swiftly uploaded to a landing page that includes resources like a kid’s sermon guide and a podcast link. And Greear almost certainly didn’t cut the 27-second clip and post it to Twitter himself. There’s likely a social media team devoted to that.
Sure, there are valid reasons for many of these organizational decisions—it takes a lot of staff and funds to manage a megachurch. But when critics complain that the church feels like a big production, maybe some of the above elements have more to do with sending that message than anything else.
And we haven’t even gotten to the controversy on Twitter yet. The clip was originally shared with Greear’s 115,000 followers, perhaps hoping to emphasize his original message that “the church is not a show.” It was supposed to be a message everyone would agree with. But the comment on the repost (“Look where you’re standing”) revealed a very different message—something closer to “Look how hypocritical this pastor/church is!”
The pastor in the clip was mad at his congregation, and now the public is mad at him. And much of this anger is because we fail to see how the medium shapes the message. Yes, the church is not supposed to be a production, but those big screens sure make it look like one. And yes, Greear may not be as provocative as he sounds, but that video clip certainly makes him look like it.
Every pastor and social media user would do well to consider the mediums we use and recognize any unintentional messages we might be sending. As believers, we must be careful to ensure the gospel message is not distorted by the medium through which it is preached at every level—from the sermon to the sanctuary, from staff structures and budget-spending to the church’s social media presence.
There’s a better way. And the video clip itself offers us some hints.
Contrary to what the subtitles suggest, the audience isn’t really saying “uh-oh” or “whew” at the end of the clip. What you actually hear is some laughter, and then applause. It could be uncomfortable laughter, but maybe it’s because the audience knows their pastor’s personality. They know how he can get fired up about things—and maybe he uses hyperbole more than he should. Who knows? I certainly don’t. I’ve never been to his church.
After encountering the clip on Twitter, I went to the Summit’s website and listened to his larger point surrounding the clip (which starts around minute 39). Doing so revealed that the clip is, in some ways, taken out of context. It seems Greear was trying to make a deliberately rhetorical point with his abrasiveness, concluding the segment by saying, “Hey, James is punchy. I get to be a little punchy too.” (He’s not wrong. James and Jesus both said things that offended their hearers.)
Nonetheless, just like seeing the clip’s broader context, we need to understand the contexts we create—the buildings, the features, the staff, and the systems. They all can communicate messages that we may never have intended, but which we are sending nonetheless.
What everyone seems to agree on is the larger point Greear was trying to make in his sermon: “The church should be hospitable.” While this clip featured the sharp edge of Greear’s point, his deeper desire is for his church to demonstrate radical hospitality that goes out of its way to connect with people, especially those who are alone. This is something I would applaud too.
If churches want to be known for their hospitality, then we must ask ourselves: How do we build buildings, install features, design systems, and organize staff to send that message? Many faithful pastors and churches are wrestling with this exact question.
Perhaps we’ve unintentionally built churches that sometimes send the wrong message. But if we want to start building more hospitable ones—what should we do differently?