The Industrial Age of churches and ministries is over

While principles don't change, methods of sharing them should

Commentary | Phil Cooke

While principles don't change, methods of sharing them should

Marketing guru Seth Godin endorsed my book "The Last TV Evangelist" about why Christians are failing to engage the culture effectively through media. He's considered by many to be a visionary thinker. Recently, he wrote a fascinating blog post on the recession, and pointed out that it's made up of two important things: 1. The financial recession, which is cyclical and will bounce back, and the 2. Recession of the Industrial Age, which will continue forever. Here's some of what he said:

"The other one, (version 2) I fear, is here forever. This is the recession of the industrial age, the receding wave of bounty that workers and businesses got as a result of rising productivity but imperfect market communication. In short: if you're local, we need to buy from you. If you work in town, we need to hire you. If you can do a craft, we can't replace you with a machine. No longer. The lowest price for any good worth pricing is now available to anyone, anywhere. Which makes the market for boring stuff a lot more perfect than it used to be."

Godin is right. There's no question that industries like movies and TV, music, publishing, banking, and even the automotive industry are going through a profound transformation. The old rules don't exist anymore, and in the age of social media, how we connect with our audiences or our community is dramatically changing.

But it doesn't take much of a leap to realize that the same thing is happening to "industrial age" churches and ministries.

In the Christian world, that transformation is happening just as quickly, and in many ways, with more profound results. The Bible says that God's Word never changes, but the truth is that everything else does. Culture, trends, demographics, styles, technology, education, lifestyles, and more--all are changing at the speed of light. But the question is--are churches and ministries responding to these changes? Or are we still stuck in an "industrial age" of the past?

By "industrial age" I don't mean old churches. It's not a matter of age, it's a matter of thinking. Historically, Christian leaders who made the greatest influence in their generation were also the most aware of the changes happening during their lifetimes. Whether it was the advent of the printing press, political revolution, global transportation, and more--responsive leaders make the most profound impact.

For instance, today, far too many organizations who experienced great success five, 10 or 20 years ago, don't realize that the age is over. I've sat in leadership meetings where pastors are baffled at why they can't re-create their success from 2005, 2000, 1995 or earlier. Hey, if it worked then, why won't it work today? But they don't realize that the era is over. Audiences change. Donors change. Congregations change. Cultures change. The world has changed.

As Godin says: "Protectionism isn't going to fix this problem. Neither is stimulus of old factories or yelling in frustration and anger. No, the only useful response is to view this as an opportunity. To poorly paraphrase Clay Shirky, every revolution destroys the last thing before it turns a profit on a new thing."

Today, too many Christian leaders are desperately trying to protect "the way it's always been done" rather than realize the opportunity that real change can bring. Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day because they couldn't read the signs of the times. I'm here to shout the same message. The world is changing and yet far too many churches, ministries and non-profits keep on looking back, doing business as usual, and as a result, keep on failing.

Propping up the old method only keeps you from realizing real success. Stop reaching for yesterday. Stop being upset at your team because they can't replicate past success. Look around you. Those days are over.

It's time to recognize the future.

--Phil Cooke, Ph.D., was the keynote speaker at last year's convention of the Society of Adventist Communicators. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That's Constantly Changing" from Thomas Nelson Publishers