What the Church can Learn from Apple [2of4]

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase, source unknownThis is a four-part series on "What the Church can Learn from Apple (the computer and media company)."  Read the whole series here

We talked last week about the Apple brand and the "branding" of its products.  This week we are going to talk about their focus on simplicity and lifestyle technology, and what insight this offers church programming.

One of the selling points of the Apple products is "they just work."   The focus on simplicity and the user experience means that Apple products generally underperform their Windows-based counterparts in the same categories, but do so with an ease of use that Windows works hard to match.

The primary opponent of Apple is, of course, Microsoft.  As an example of the divide between Apple and Microsoft, here's a video comparing the packaging of the Apple iPod if it were done by Microsoft.

We are tempted to laugh at some yahoo's poking fun at Microsoft.....but this video was made by Microsoft as a training video. There's obviously something fundamentally different in the ways Microsoft and Apple market and develop their products...and the key sticking point, it seems, is simplicity.

There's a reason for that.  Steve Jobs, according to analysts, is driven by the belief that customers didn't just need more powerful technology; rather, customers needed a better experience with technology.  They didn't need complexity; they needed whatever the product was to do its job and do it intuitively.

For almost 30 years, even after being removed from Apple, Jobs has dedicated his life to make technology and our lifestyle seamless. In a world of complexity, a marketing angle like that has reaped million$.  And like the video, it often seems that Microsoft seeks to make our life have more options and more potential, but also more complicated with less focus on the customer experience.

The Hack

We see in the competing business models of Apple and Microsoft the tension that is held in church programming and practical theology Keep in mind these are caricatures in distilled form, not perfectly descriptive.

Programming: How "overwhelmed" are visitors to the church's program opportunities?

  • Microsoft: "We can offer a whole page or two's worth of our ministry opportunities, ensuring by a shotgun blast (wide area) we will hit everyone's felt needs."
  • Apple: "We can offer just a few ministry and mission opportunities, the ones we feel are the most important, and put our resources into them."
Worship Style: How many  angles does worship work?  How many different stories are told each service?

  • Microsoft: "We can focus on intricate theological subtleties, ensure the music has perfect theological resonance, ensure that every possible theological question and viewpoint is addressed and figured out in complex worship."
  • Apple: "We can offer simplistic worship, sing P&W songs that are one word only ("Alleluia" anyone?), focus on one or two points that are relevant to lifestyle if not well theologically-reasoned or biblically contextualized (but they ARE prooftexted!)"
Activism & Missions: Are we a single-issue church or do we have many issues?

  • Microsoft: "We can focus on filling the needs of everyone in our community, spreading our resources thinly over all the area in the hopes that we are fulfilling the call of God to "care for the stranger in our midst.""
  • Apple: "We can focus on one to three areas of need and do them deeply.  We can do a food pantry, which includes drumming up donations and offering nutrition classes for struggling families.  We can do one thing simply and well."
Church Focus: Do we simplify ministry to appeal to one demographic (more or less) or do we offer a diversity that draws everyone?

  • Microsoft: "We can focus on the great diverse tradition of the church, encourage interaction and dialogue with the tradition and history of the church, as what was good for the Saints is deep enough for us."
  • Apple: "We can focus on the individual, tailor worship to him/her (like Saddleback Sam), and let everything hinge on that character's experience." 
I know that simplistic polemics are not good arguments, but the tension illustrates one fundamental challenge of the church:  Do we simplify church or make it more complex and intricate? If we parallel Apple and the Church:
    • Apple seeks to integrate technology into your lifestyle;
      the Church seeks to integrate spirituality into your lifestyle.  
    • Apple sells products that augment a lifestyle;
      the Church offers ways of being that radically change a lifestyle.
    • Apple embraces a brand that "thinks different";
      the Church embraces a Christ who "thought different."
    We can do this all day.  But the fundamental challenge, one that Apple is succeeding in, is how to integrate the "religion" into lifestyle.  Do people respond to multiple complex options that they can self-select into?  Or do people respond by seeing deep and concentrated efforts onto a few areas of focus, missions, activism, or worship?  These are contextual questions, as in any context an Apple or Microsoft-style church may be appropriate (I suspect megachurches have to become complex), but for smaller-to-medium-sized churches, the questions of complexity or simplicity are important questions.

    So what model is your church: Microsoft or Apple?
    • Does it have multiple options of ministry;
      or is there concerted efforts to focus on a few missions?
    • Does it have a strong rather-uniform identity;
      or a complex one formed of many groups?
    • Does worship focus on only one style of worship (traditional or contemporary);
      or are there multiple streams in a single worship service (or multiple services, more likely)?
    I'm not saying one or the other is better.  It's just two different models that ask "how do we integrate lifestyle and the Church?" and answer in two different ways.

    Your Turn.  Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and comments are appreciated!


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