5 Lessons Churches Can Learn from a Pop Star
I was reading a blog post this morning about Justin Timberlake and how he successfully transformed his career from his boy band days to solo artistry. The post points out five things Justin Timberlake did right in marketing his image. It struck me that the lessons Justin learned as he matured as an artist apply to churches.
Here are the five points from this article that churches should consider. There is an important common thread. As he changed and the world changed, Justin Timberlake recognized that his audience changed.
1. Constantly Adapt
If the Church had made a habit of changing centuries ago, the need for change today would not be so traumatic. Sadly, the Church continues to bank on its ability to stay the same while the world around them spins off into
- new social structures,
- new family structures,
- new economic structures,
- new educational structures,
- new leadership structures, and
- new communication structures.
Those seeking comfort and stability can count on Church being the same—same music, same robes, same imagery, same language, same message. Unfortunately, it is increasingly directed at the same people—and they are growing fewer.
2. Engage Your Audience
This, I think, may be the Church’s biggest challenge. Even today, with communication so easy, the Church relies on top/down communication. Preachers preach. People listen. There is one preacher, at least, per church. There are hundreds of lay people. But the voice of the laity is filtered—first within the parish and certainly at every other layer of church involvement. That creates a structure that resists change. Change agents are rarely accepted and approved to have a voice within the established structure. These structures show no signs of willingly changing on their own.
We still rely on people coming to us—Sunday morning is best. Online forums are “pay to play” or carefully monitored. Assemblies are rare and participants are vetted. The old will accept this. That’s the way Church has always been. The young will say “huh?” and move on to organizations that allow them a voice.
3. Don’t Work Alone
Here’a another challenge for the Church. The Lutheran denomination, for example, is purposely structured to be interdependent. Sounds good. But it doesn’t work very well. Congregations tend to be isolated, working with the interests and talents of their one senior leader. Other leadership must complement the top leader. To cooperate with leaders from other denominations or service agencies would challenge the authority structure.
This is also true at the regional level. There is no true collaboration with other denominations or nonprofits. There is the ceremonial trip to Rome and endless councils for this and that with no real results. What we can do alone is good enough. But with waning support, we can do less and less. True, many congregations latch on to popular causes such as Habitat for Humanity. They, along with religious social service arms increasingly reach out to be part of government-supported causes. When we do this, we play by their rules—and lose our Christian identity, influence, and congregational support. After all, congregants know they can go directly to these agencies. (The agencies know this, too, and regularly bypass their regional bodies to court direct support from members.)
4. Differentiate Yourself
Church leaders comfort themselves as they go about closing churches with the rationalization—“There are four other churches in that neighborhood. They don’t need this one.” (One pastor actually wrote that to our church.)
It is probably a failing of all neighborhood denominational churches that the only difference is the regional body to which they report.
So how do congregations stand out?
They can provide a different worship experience, service experience, or educational experience. But then they have to communicate it—not just to their members but to the rest of their community.
Which brings us to the last point.
5. Make Yourself Consistently Visible
Consistency should be easy for congregations. We base our entire existence on the Sunday morning worship and fellowship experience. Many churches follow a Church Year which tells us what scriptures we will be reading on what Sunday every three years. We aren’t as good about making our strengths known. And yet, today it has never been easier.
If you have a web site, use it consistently.
If you have an email list, communicate regularly (with good content!)
If you choose to advertise, do so regularly.
Congregations must now evangelize to a generation (or two) that have not grown up in church. But they have grown up in and embraced the communication age.
Don’t expect them to come to you on Sunday morning. Find a way to go to them—consistently and regularly with information and spiritual offerings that resonate to the world they live in today and foresee living in tomorrow.