Over the last few months, controversy has surrounded movie provider Netflix. Netflix allows members to rent movies via traditional mail as well as provides streaming content. In many American households Netflix gets its own line item in the budget. I have had their service off and on for almost 10 years.
Starting this summer, the company drastically started lost membership by increasing subscription fees. Then earlier this fall, the company announced it was starting an additional company to handle its mail order DVD service, and Netflix would only concentrate on streaming content. Multiple problems arose and Netflix took a pretty heavy loss, with half the stock value dropping last month.
Yesterday they announced they are not moving to the two company structure and are going back to the previous model, as well as not changing pricing structures again. While some agree that this change back was needed, others see it as an attempt to cover their bottom line and hopefully regain capital and their momentum as a market leader. Serious street cred has been lost.
The situation can really speak into how churches make shifts in their various services/offerings and programs.
1. Major shifts cannot be made behind closed doors with a select group.
While we can't expect a company to announce, "Hey we will be raising prices...what do you think is fair?", a certain level of transparency is expected today. Certainly the folks at Netflix thought this was all a good idea and would provide a better experience. But ultimately, they assumed a value that simply wasn't true.
In churches we often make some pretty major decisions with just a couple of people. A few years back at Willow Creek's leadership summit, Bill Hybels surprised the crowds by openly admitting his previous idea of leadership was flawed. Where in the past he felt folks needed him to come up with these dramatic plans and then implement them, in fact the church themselves wanted to be part of visioning process.
Current younger generations feel a level of ownership inside their churches and calling them to leadership means making them involved in the process of leadership...not just shoring it up. Innovation implementation should go through the hands of the people. After all, it is their community we are trying to impact.
Don't drop major shifts in peoples laps.
2. Cultural patterns inform shifts.
Netflix was attempting to read a hole in the market. Their new split program allowed them to rent video games as well as movies. While this move did provide a new service, it did so at the expense of many other things. Namely, for folks who wanted to both get content by mail as well as by stream, two accounts would need maintenance. For an increasingly mobile world it doesn't work. This one positivc change didn't override the other negative changes
Any sort of shifts we feel are important for church must take cultural patterns seriously. Things have changed!
Years ago, the only movie rental option was your local Blockbuster. No matter if the movie was in, if it was in good shape or quality of customer service, almost everyone had a Blockbuster card. You couldn't get around it. You dealt with the negatives because you wanted to rent Ernest Goes to Camp.
Now there are options. You can stream through several places, you can rent through Redbox, you can drop by a brick and motor or you can use Netflix by mail. We aren't that loyal either. Whatever is the quickest way to get a movie usually is the option we take.
Church is the same way. We need to take in account for contextual shifts. This might mean worship at a time beyond Sunday morning, small groups meeting in non-traditional locations or exploratory looks at worship music. The local context shapes how the local church worships.
Remember that people LOVED Netflix before these issues. Loyalty is a increasingly relative concept in our times. When church begins to no longer make sense, it will show and people don't have emotional attachements as strong as in the past.
When investigating a shift remember culture matters.
3. Shifts always lead to better culture.
In the past, single provider business could make these sort of monumental decisions. That is why we have monopoly laws. Netflix could have assumed people would just roll with these changes because they needed the product that much. Netflix, as a company embraced by new media and business, acted very much with an old and outdated model. They neglected to bring what consumers now value the most; a better culture.
In church, we have to consistently be thinking about how our shifts lead to a better expression of the gospel of Jesus and the proclamation of the in-breaking Kingdom of God. If our shifts do not provide a better expression of this, we aren't being faithful to our mission.
By drawing into "butt cover mode" these new recovery shifts by Netflix also failed to provide better culture. A bad taste was left in the mouth of the customer.
When having these discussions in a church context we have to remember the fine line between prophetic voice and worship consumption. We aren't selling a product, but we are in the business of gospel transformation. We have a different set of rules we play by. Sometimes what we do doesn't make fiscal sense...but it makes kingdom sense.
Shifts in our churches must always lead to a better vision of Jesus.