"Sports Illustrated, Blockbuster, and Your Church" By Marty Duren
Years ago there was a world-beating sports magazine called Sports Illustrated. It was the one thing that every football, baseball, basketball loving person could not wait to see weekly in the mailbox or on the newsstand.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the throne crumbled. An upstart cable TV network called ESPN became the must-watch channel for sports fans. ESPN provided sports updates all morning so people getting ready for work could catch up on the scores and highlights from the previous night. No more having to wait a week for Sports Illustrated. Fans did not even have to wait until the sports segment on the evening news.
Now ESPN boasts multiple cable channels, a partnership with ABC Sports (via parent company, Disney), its own Olympics (the X-Games), its own magazine, and a host of other properties. ESPN is now THE undisputed leader in sports. Sports Illustrated still exists, but its once dominant foothold is long gone.
What is the difference? Sports Illustrated mistakenly thought it was in the magazine business. ESPN correctly understood itself to be in the sports information business. If Sports Illustrated had understood its true position and leveraged its talent base, reach and influence, ESPN might still be a channel.
Remember when there were Blockbuster stores? People got into their cars, drove miles to a brick building (or strip mall) to rent movies on VHS, and later on DVD. Remember when Blockbuster dropped their late fees even though it made up a large portion of its revenue? Why would a company willfully drop revenue?
This other out-of-nowhere company called Netflix had arrived. A Netflix membership allowed you to order DVDs online and have them sent directly to your mailbox! There were no late fees. Instead, you simply had to return the movies you had rented before ordering more. No driving in the snow or rain, no penalty for being forgetful—and no need to rewind. Netflix was a game changer.
As if that were not enough, Netflix was an early provider of online streaming movies and TV shows enabling subscribers to watch on their desktop, laptop or tablet. Now Netflix produces its own shows and movies.
What is the difference? Blockbuster mistakenly thought it was in the movie rental business. Netflix correctly understood itself to be in the entertainment content delivery business. Blockbuster had both the market share and the leverage to do everything Netflix did. They simply did not have the understanding of the times or vision of the future.
Unfortunately many churches are like Sports Illustrated and Blockbuster. They rightly see themselves are repositories of truth with a responsibility to get truth to others. Unfortunately, they hold to a singular content delivery system—the Sunday morning service—as ultimate. This is a time when people expect multiple delivery systems as the norm. For churches, the content will not change; the gospel is the same. But our delivery systems and touchpoints with “customers” must change both for the sake of our members and those who need Jesus.
One way to make our content (the gospel) more readily available is for churches to re-evaluate everything about their online presence from the website to use of social media. People who live in your area do not reach for the Yellow Pages or the church directory of the county newspaper. If they are looking for a church at all, they will use a search engine or the search bar on Facebook. If you have a website that looks like a template from Geocities or a middle schooler’s 2006 Myspace page, you have blown it.
Websites need not have elaborate image sliders and be covered in HTML5 moving parts. They simply need to be clean and easy to navigate. Remember: the landing page needs to be friendly to non-attendees, so service times and contact information need to be prominent. Members—those who visit the website regularly—know where to look for other information. Ease of use is for non-members, not for members.
Additionally, make sure your social media is just that: social. Do not make announcements on your Facebook page then neglect to answer related questions. Social media is a conversation, not an info dump.
So much content can be provided via a church website it is hard to cover it all in such a short article. Podcasts of the sermon, videos of the entire service, new member training, a pastor’s welcome, bulletin downloads, student ministry permission forms, and so much more are all content pieces just waiting to be added to your church website.
Churches should learn from Sports Illustrated’s missed opportunity and Blockbuster’s failure. Do not isolate yourself into a single content delivery system. Put the Internet to work for you and your church for the sake of the gospel.