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The Model for “Church” is Changing. The Question is: How Are We Responding?

Thanks to the incredible team at Alpha Australia, over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to teach about communication and media to nearly 200 pastors and church leaders in that country. During two sessions, one of the most interesting conversations we had is how pastors and leaders are exploring new models for church as we emerge from the pandemic.

In a similar way, marketing guru Seth Godin recently dealt with the changing markets as it relates to business:

The model for TV in the 1960s was three major networks supported by mass advertising. And so the shows that were produced were banal, reassuring and fairly inexpensive to produce. The goal was simply to keep someone from watching the other two channels.
The business model in the Netflix age, with multiple streaming channels racing to gain market share among affluent consumers with a surfeit of choice, is fundamentally different. And as a result, so is the content being produced.
It’s not that the TV people wanted to watch suddenly changed, it’s that the economic model for delivering it did.
The business model for news has changed, and so the news has. Not what’s happening in the world, but the way the internet reports it.
The business model for all the lifestyle (health, gossip, etc.) filler we see has changed as well. And so it goes…
And for many people, the biggest change is this: the business model of social networks has replaced the simple act of being in community.

The idea of “church” is going through a similar shift as millions of people were forced to find ways to worship during the lockdown. After all, church services have been about the same for hundreds of years. Sure we’re now singing more contemporary worship songs, but when you consider the order of service, the scheduling, the location (in a building) and more, church hasn’t experienced much change in a very long time.

Church communication consultant Dawn Nicole Baldwin made a good point on the subject when she said, “When we organize everything around events, we get people who primarily attend events.”

We’ve spent the last few centuries organizing “church” around events. But now, the pandemic, and digital technology has revealed there are other ways to experience God. And remember Seth’s last line:

“And for many people, the biggest change is this: the business model of social networks has replaced the simple act of being in community.”

YOU may assume “community” only happens in person, but for anyone 40 and younger, what happens online is just as powerful and compelling as what happens in person.

This isn’t to say we should abandon the building. But the world is changing, and the question now is how do we respond?

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  1. Hey Phil, thanks for the thought provoking article. My observation is that the golden age of social media is over. Most people have more or less moved on from posting about their life to the entire world. The “new” social media is group texts and group communication apps like WhatsApp. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, these forms of communication are private, free of advertising, and not filtered.

    I lead a church life group, and I would say our group texts are as important to our community as the Sunday service or when our life group meets together. In fact, for those with scheduling conflicts, illness, etc, it’s the glue that keeps our community together.

    1. Great point, although WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, so there’s that… Also, chat apps are a closed community of who you decide, whereas social media allows you to reach far more people. But BOTH types are platforms that are important for the future. Thanks for adding that about texting Paul – it’s a great point.

  2. Phil, you make a great point too – because group texts and group apps are a closed community, they are poor for outreach. In many ways, social media is comparable online to what the Sunday service is offline (public, open, but not as deep relationally), while group texts/apps are comparable online to what small groups are offline (private, closed, facilitate deeper relationships).

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