Ed. note: This is a sequel to my note titled “Ekklēsia sardeis (a church pathogen)”. This is yet a pivotal tangent to the subject matter. Many thanks to Thom Schultz of Lifetree Café, Author of “Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore”.
“Kodak” is not an unfamiliar name in filming. But theirs is a pathetic case of the sardeis pathogen. Their nearly empty, formerly flourishing manufacturing plant is now, at its best, a monument of history. The plant manager, a friend to Thom Schultz sadly described how Kodak plants had been downsizing and closing ever since the advent of digital photography.
“We have a wish here,” he said. “We just want to be the last one standing.” Kodak had since abandoned most of its space on that campus. Last month, the company announced the latest job eliminations.
Even Thom Schultz’s friend is laid off. And I wonder. Is the church the next to go the way of Kodak? I see some chilling parallels.
Kodak dominated the photographic scene for over 100 years. It commanded an 89 percent market share of photographic film sales in the United States. Almost everyone used the brand. And the company’s advertising language of a “Kodak moment” became part of the common lexicon.
What happened since then has become a colossal story of failure and missed opportunities. A gigantic casualty in the wake of digital photography—a technology that Kodak invented.
That’s right. Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera in 1975. He later said, “But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘That’s cute, but don’t tell anyone about it.'” And the company entered into decades of agonizing decline, unable to perceive and respond to the advancing digital revolution. In 2012 this American icon filed for bankruptcy.
How could this happen? Where did the leaders of this once-proud organization go wrong? And how might the Nigerian church, which has also set her feet on this path of decline, resemble this story?
SYMPTOMS OF E. sardeis INFECTION
1. A misunderstanding of mission.
Kodak’s leaders thought they were in the film business—instead of the imaging business. Their clutching of the traditional methodology clouded their ability to think about the real objective and outcome of their work. The same is happening in churches that confuse their methodologies and legacies with the real mission. Many church leaders believe they’re in the traditional preaching business, the teaching business, the Sunday morning formula and ceaseless “prayer revival” business. Clinging to the ways these things have been done diverts the focus from the real mission of helping people today develop an authentic and growing relationship with the real Jesus.
2. Failure to read the times. Kodak’s leaders didn’t recognize the pace and character of CHANGE in the culture. They thought people would never part with hard prints. They derided the new technology. They assumed that people, even if they wandered off to try digital photography, would return to film-based photos for the perceived higher quality. People did not return. Similarly, church leaders who assume that the current church’s blind steadfastness to traditions is the most apt interpretation of “remove not the ancient landmark”, may be left to sweep out the “empty factories” of “20th Century religion”.
3. Fear of loss. A central reason Kodak chose not to pursue digital photography in 1992 was the fear of cannibalising their lucrative sales of film. Kodak had become a hostage of its own success, clinging to what worked in the past at the expense of embracing the future. The same tendency befalls churches. A pastor in an upcoming documentary titled “When God Left the Building“ (coming in Springs 2014), said his church will not make any changes to become more effective because someone will inevitably object and get upset. “We abdicate every time,” he said. “We just can’t lose any more members.” That congregation is already dead. They just don’t know it.
The Kodak story didn’t need to take such a dismal turn. And neither does the story of the Nigerian church. (The American church is already experiencing this…and it’s just a matter of time for the Nigerian church to be there “in full”). The times call for proactive steps for a brighter future, if we’re willing to learn from others’ mistakes. Some thoughts to consider:
1. Accept and understand reality.
Even though some of the decline is slow, it’s real. The Nigerian church, by the trends and decisions of today in most denominational circles, is fading. If you could, get books like “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”, or “So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore” and see the cold facts for your self. Work through the data and the realities with your church staff. Do not be misled by anecdotal glimmers of numerical growth in isolated examples. Examine the overall trends in the country. And look past the easy measures numbers, and ask deeper questions about true spiritual vitality. And, resist the temptation to defend the status quo.
2. Don’t just tweak. Revolutionize. Once digital photography began to take off, Kodak tried tweaking their old models. It was a case of too little too late. Many churches today are tweaking with cosmetic changes–in music, church names, and pastoral hairstyle…lol. It’s too late for tweaking. It’s time to re-examine everything we’re doing and re-evaluate. Ask big questions. Is the old Sunday morning formula of half fund raising and half boring lecture what works anymore?
3. Take some risks. Experiment. Act now. I was at an Executive Training of Church Administrators last year with a number of Church Leaders—General Overseers and Senior Pastors from in and out of the country, and after our course titled Church and Technology, one of the of pastors said, albeit jokingly, “very soon, at the rate at which technology is advancing, most pastors will soon run out of business”. He has a point! Go for those changes that might try to enhance your ministries. Stop asking “What if it doesn’t work?” My question—”What are you afraid of?” It’s time to have some faith—faith that God will walk with the faithful who are willing to step out and risk a little love on his behalf. Try something. Experiment. Let your people experiment. Be bold. Don’t delay.
Kodak failed and squandered tremendous opportunities because its leaders chose to defend the status quo. We can learn from their mistakes. And we have an additional resource on our side—God. He’s not giving up on his church. He’s already moving into the future. We need to muster the courage to move with him.
May we do this.
Pastor Sam Adeyemi and the entire Daystar Leadership Academy Team. My experience at the Executive DLA two years ago is still ever-fresh! (I congratulate those who are presently undergoing the programme).
Pastor Seyi Oladimeji of Church Management Consult and his team. Thanks for that explosive seminar on Church Administration for G.O.s and Senior Pastors.
Thom Schultz, thanks for your priceless resource. (Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café.)