Brand loyalty is dead.
The so-called good-old-days when a person committed to a church, then stuck with it no matter what, have come to an end. But many churches don’t know it yet.
The same goes for denominations. Today, even fully committed believers are unlikely to limit their church options to a specific denomination.
Maybe that’s why I keep hearing ministers harping on the same old complaints. “My church can’t get good volunteers any more!” “People aren’t as faithful as they used to be.” And, my personal [ahem] favorite, “What’s wrong with this generation? You can’t count on them for anything.”
If those complaints sound familiar (as in, you’ve heard them come from your own mouth) please take this in the way I’m giving it – with all the love in my heart.
Stop whining about people’s lack of commitment to your church and give them something worth committing to!
After all, people shouldn’t commit to something that isn’t worth committing to.
The Death of Brand Loyalty – A Real-Life Parable
For too many years, brand loyalty allowed mediocrity to survive and thrive. And not just in the church.
For example, brand loyalty nearly killed the US auto industry.
In my grandfather’s era, if dad was a “Chevy man” he wouldn’t drive anything else. Later, as German and Japanese imports started arriving, that brand loyalty broadened to all American vehicles.
Domestic auto manufacturers were aware of that loyalty. It made them arrogant. So they rejected crazy new “foreign” ideas like smaller cars, fuel-efficiency and lower prices. They kept making cars the way they’d always made them – big, expensive, inefficient and ugly.
When the next generation of car buyers came of age, they felt no brand loyalty and bought whatever worked for them – including the smaller, cheaper, more reliable, fun-looking, non-US cars.
American car manufacturers lost massive market share and nearly killed an entire industry because they relied on brand loyalty instead of doing their job better.
Sure, there are still people who love particular brand names. But it’s not what it used to be. Companies like Apple and Starbucks know that today’s loyalists will only stay with them as long as they keep one step ahead of the competition. Otherwise, even the most devoted customer will be gone. Fast.
Don’t believe me? Ask the folks at Blackberry and Yahoo! what happens when you assume customer loyalty instead of working hard to keep them.
Why I’m Glad Church Brand Loyalty Is Dead
The institutional church today is like the US auto industry of the 1970s in many ways. We’re relying too heavily on people’s loyalty to a church format.
A format that is already DOA. And, like the US auto industry, many of us refuse to see it.
When we hold on to the false notion that people should want to do church the way we do it, we fail to offer them a better, more valuable church experience.
What Will People Be Loyal To?
While people’s commitment to brands has changed, human nature hasn’t. People will commit to a church for the same two reasons they’ve always committed to anything.
1. Something Worth Committing To
Loyalty to a worship style, a building, a denomination or a pastor is a poor substitute for being committed to Jesus. But, too often, one has been mistaken for the other.
We need to stop asking people to commit to things they don’t care about (and probably shouldn’t care about) and give them something and someone they want to care about.
People want to be challenged. Believers want to be discipled. Everyone wants a cause worth living for and a person worth dying for.
Jesus is worth committing to. Anything less, and you might as well stay in bed.
Doing church better isn’t about serving people’s every whim and reinforcing the unbiblical, consumer-oriented church paradigm. That’s a big part of the old-school model that is dying out.
It’s also not about adding an additional burden to my already overworked peers in pastoral ministry. Quite the opposite. Doing this won’t add an additional burden, it will relieve and re-energize us.
There’s nothing harder on a pastor than a congregation that’s more committed to methods, music and facilities than to Jesus. Whether its older traditional ones, or new, trendy ones.
On the other hand, nothing will encourage and energize our calling more than a church full of passionate, worshipful, ministry-oriented Jesus-followers.
2. A Reasonable Path to Commitment
Companies like Netflix have figured this out. A couple years ago they shocked the entertainment industry when they offered original TV programming one season at a time instead of one episode at a time. People can watch an entire season whenever and wherever they want to now. Including all in one sitting if they feel like it. And they often do.
Because of this, a younger couple is more likely to have a Netflix account than cable TV. Their loyalty is just as strong, but it’s changed.
If Netflix can get people to commit to marathoning a TV show, the church should be able to get people to commit to something of eternally greater value. But we’re missing out on this opportunity for one simple reason.
People can’t see the church’s true value when we keep emphasizing our methods over our content.
We need to understand what Netflix has figured out. People in your neighborhood commit differently now than they did 20 years ago – even 10 years ago.
We need to find out how people in our communities make commitments, then give them the chance to commit to something of value in a way that matches their new reality.
A Church People Want to Commit To?
Do you know the people in your neighborhood? No, not just the church people. The non-church people. Do you have any idea what they commit to and why?
If you don’t, it’s past time to find out. This is not a church numbers game we’re playing. People’s lives and eternities are at stake.
This subject is important enough to keep the conversation going in my follow-up post, 7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To.
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