It’s Time to Change. No, Really. It Is.

December 6, 2012 in Featured

I recently read an article in one of the national broadcast publications I receive that made me stop and consider its relevance in the Christian world, most specifically, to the church at large.  It was about how larger, successful companies understood the danger of status quo and what they do to avoid plateauing. It spoke about how they remain relevant in an ever-changing world. In short, the article said that great companies and organizations know the importance of cannibalizing themselves before other companies eat them up. Not really “church speak,” but allow me to share the association I made from this article.

First, let me say this; while many church leaders avoid publicly speaking in these terms, most of them understand that their church is absolutely in competition with the church down the street. It may not be crafted in an “eat you up” strategy, but make no mistake, churches that understand how to compete for the available demographic will put churches that don’t into financial stress – to a point where the lack-of-money will end up dictating their ministry decisions. The very place from which the devil wants us to operate -  on earthly terms, not heavenly.

Here’s what the article made me realize most vividly.  Change for the sake of change is important if you want to remain relevant and grow the value of your organization. Simply put, if the culture you’re trying to attract is changing (and they all change) then your method of reaching those people must change. Notice, I did not say the church’s message must change. But if we do not aggressively seek change and mold-breaking ways of operating and delivering our message, the decline in churches will continue at a faster and faster rate.

Working in the broadcast and marketing industry since the age of 12 (wow, 38 years can fly by when you enjoy what you do) I have seen companies launch, re-launch, and re-launch again. Often, because they’d fought change and fell behind, making a re-launch necessary for all the wrong reasons. But the MOST successful business re-launches were birthed from a conscious, intentional and singular purpose. They wanted to shake things up in order to be noticed by the new generation that was now in the bulls eye of their demographic profile.

One of the most famous re-launches was the New Coke project. Not only did Coca Cola have the vision to see the end result of their well-crafted hoax, but they had the sheer guts to change the very product that made them the #1 brand in the world. They re-launched it as something completely different. And while many people today argue that it wasn’t as much a vision as it was a mistake, it’s probably safe to say most of those people are not risk takers or visionaries. Coke calculated the benefits of change for the sake of change, in order to gain a larger share of the marketplace. And since taking that risk, has never relinquished their hold on #1.

Another truth from the business world that the church needs to consider is that revolutions, or large scale shifts in success, don’t happen with small, safe, incremental change or by making things only a little better, a little at a time.  Positive and successful revolutions happen by upsetting the status quo to the point of upsetting some of their core consumers who helped them get to the top, even though everything is currently working and productive. The author of the article puts it this way: “Revolutionary businesses seek ways to deliver their product to customers in better ways, and work to disrupt… to make their offer more attractive.”

What this means to the church is clear. We must stop trying to satisfy the traditions of our past at the expense of reaching the future.  Instead, we must start growing at the expense of those who resist growth, if that’s what it takes to reach the new generation. Too many pastors and church leaders are confused. They believe that traditions are equivalent to the message. Some have even blurred the line between traditions and the very Message of Jesus Christ. But God warns about this too often throughout scripture and his promise for demise is clear. We simply cannot worship tradition and expect to satisfy God.

I’ll conclude by saying that the traditions I’m speaking of are not always the same as Doctrines and tenants of faith. And we should continue to support the traditions that help us uphold the precepts of God, like: giving, taking care of widows and the hungry, observing the Sabbath, worshiping in spirit and truth, etc. But if we’re afraid to change how our message is delivered or packaged, then we will become to the lost what the Edsel became to the automotive consumer – irrelevant and more-of-the-same-ol. As most economists agree, Ford’s aim was right at first, but when the target moved, the company failed to move. Even though our message inside the church offers a better ride than any car on the market, no one will ever know unless we meet them where they are and entice them to open the door and step inside.  And that takes change, and the courage to make it. Whether you think it’s necessary or not, chances are, it is.

Side note: Anyone who knows me knows I’m a proponent of change. I have never fought it and try to always welcome it. I find it keeps me honest and on my toes. I used to have a boss that would say, “Smith, we’re not going to make a change just for the sake of making a change.” Notice I said, “used to have a boss…” :)