February 12, 2018

What Business Are We In?

The last Blockbuster in Texas has closed. Which got me thinking (reminiscing) about the Friday nights of my childhood.

I remember it was a madhouse! I saw people get in a fistfight over the last movie rental (My pick was usually Rad - don’t judge me!), and children (maybe it was me…) throwing a tantrum until their parents bought them the overpriced candy so prominently put on display at eye level for them.

But then came the late 2000s.

It’s pretty interesting to track the decline of Blockbuster (and physical video rental in general), mapped over the decline in church attendance. This graphic shows some parallels (while also playing with the numbers a bit to make it seem worse than it perhaps is).

Looking at that graph of Blockbuster revenue, it is easy to assume that Netflix is what single-handedly killed Blockbuster. But the thing is, 2011 - the year the Blockbuster closed - is also the year that Netflix almost shut down.

That year, Netflix lost 800,000 customers, its stock price tanked almost 80 percent, and their management team got turned into a Saturday Night Live sketch.

The real reason why Blockbuster lost their huge customer base over the years was one thing: Pride. Put simply: when the whirlwinds of change swept through the movie and video industry, Blockbuster stuck to their guns.

So how did Netflix survive, turn things around, and flourish?

They started listening.

Netflix listened to the changing culture around them, and saw that individual rentals were a thing of the past (hence their unlimited rent-by-mail operation). Then they listened when consumption patterns changed and people wanted digital content (hence the creation of Netflix as the video-on-demand monopoly we know today).

But the other thing Netflix did was realize what business they were in.

Blockbuster was in the business of offering video rentals. Netflix ultimately realized it was in the business of providing movies and entertainment.

So when culture changed and people stopped renting physical VHS and DVD, Blockbuster didn’t know what to do (or, perhaps figured it out too late). Netflix was able to shift and figure out a new way to provide movies to consumers.

So, what does all this have to do with the Church?

I’ll just go right out and say it: the way we do ministry, worship, and community in the Church today is not the same thing Jesus did. Nor is it what the early Church practiced.

They worshipped in the customs of the day, and gathered in community according to the customs of the day. And so do we (thanks be to God for padded seats and air conditioning, among other modern innovations we take for granted).

But at the core, the early Church was in the business (I know, it’s not actually a business, but work with me here...) of introducing people to the love of God in Christ Jesus, and building community flowing out from that love.

Are we in the same business?

Or are we in the business of fair linens, incense, projection screens, or coffee bars? (I’m an equal-opportunity instigator.) My point is this: are we more willing to cling to the trappings of our institution (“traditional” or “contemporary”), rather than to the cross of Christ?

Are we more interested preserving a model of Church that we grew up with (or that we just frankly see as “better”), or do we want to introduce a new generation to the love of God in Christ Jesus?

P.S. If you want a laugh, follow The Last Blockbuster of Twitter. I particularly appreciate this one.