Churches: Take a Lesson from the Postal Service
Good news: The U.S. Postal Service lost only $1.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012. Yes, $1.3 billion. And yes, it is good news because it represented a major improvement over the fourth quarter of 2011, when they lost $3.3 billion.
It's easy to understand why the beleaguered institution recently announced it will soon discontinue Saturday mail delivery. While reactions are mixed, emphasizing generational differences, for many of us, the Postal Service faded to a place of limited relevance a long time ago.
Although the U.S. Postal Service is unique in many ways, it serves as a perfect example of what happens to businesses of all kinds when they fail to adapt. History is full of similar cases. Kodak failed to adapt to a digital world. Sears and Kmart stopped keeping pace with consumer trends. Blockbuster Video couldn't to see how their business could (and would) be done with far more convenience to customers. As Christians, we hope the church never makes it on this list.
Perhaps if the Postal Service weren't so constrained by outdated regulations, political limitations, and financial commitments, they could have made the necessary changes. They could have stopped thinking of themselves as a mail-and-package-delivery entity and redefined themselves as an organization that helps people communicate with one another. They could have stopped to think about what needs they meet for people and how they could meet those needs in new ways for a new age.
For businesses to survive as times and consumer needs change, it's absolutely necessary for them to understand the unchanging nature of who they are. What is it about them that will give them a purpose beyond the present moment?
Just as a company needs to define itself by its core mission, the church must define itself by its central calling: being the body of Christ, the living and tangible representatives of his presence on earth. We are called to live out that mission in many ways, through expressions that change over time. The point of our institutional existence really is that simple.
Unfortunately, many individual churches define themselves by what they do (singing, learning, serving, hosting potlucks) or what they produce (good sermons, helpful programs, more churchgoers). They focus on welcoming people who come through their doors without investigating why so many don't. They work to perpetuate traditions, some of which have limited relevance to life in the 21st century. They pine for a different place and time, when people seemed so much more enthusiastic about what they did. And they're dying because so few are looking for what they offer.
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