By Dr. James Emery White, Crosswalk.com
Yes, there is one thing that is arguably the most important thing a church can do if it wants to grow—besides pray, that is. And yes, I will tell you exactly what it is.
When Michael Dubin started Dollar Shave Club, it seemed insane. A start-up razor blade business? A giant global corporation (Gillette) already controlled 70% of the country’s sale of razors.
But Dubin clung to one simple fact: most men had to buy razor blades, but hated doing it. They hated the high prices. They hated having to go into a store to get them. They hated how difficult it was to purchase them once you were inside a store due to closed security cases requiring an employee to open them. So Dubin offered something different: quality blades at cheaper prices, purchased online and delivered to your door.
Dollar Shave Club succeeded beyond all expectations, with annual sales approaching $200 million when it was bought by Unilever for $1 billion in 2016.
As an article in the New York Times noted, the “direct-to-consumer brand revolution is one of the most dominant forces in the retailing business today. It began with a handful of start-ups, then grew to dozens, then hundreds – from mattresses (Casper) to bras (ThirdLove) to electric toothbrushes (Quip) to vitamins (Ritual) to tampons (Lola) to luggage (Away) to sneakers (Allbirds) to makeup (Glossier) to hair color (eSalon) to pet food (Farmer’s Dog) – and even thousands, counting the brands ﬁlling the endless digital aisles and shelves of Amazon Marketplace.”
There can be little doubt that technology and globalization have leveled the business playing field. Entrepreneurs like Dubin demonstrated you “didn’t need to start with a big advertising budget to get the attention of consumers. You didn’t need a manufacturing plant. You didn’t need to spend millions of dollars on research and development. You didn’t need a retailer to carry your product. By targeting a corporate giant’s weakness – high prices or inconvenience or a stodgy image – a clever start-up with the right strategy, the right message and the right product value could create a new national brand virtually overnight.”
But the real shift in strategy is “an obsession with connecting with the customer.” It’s not uncommon for every employee at such companies to be required to pull a shift in the call center as part of the customer experience team. The highest levels of management spend hours every month listening to customers’ complaints or suggestions.
This brings us to the #1 thing every church can do to grow.
Determine who it is you want to reach, who you want to connect with, who you are hoping walks through your front door, and start listening to them. In my previous blog, that you can read HERE, I mentioned that since Meck’s beginning, we have sent every first-time guest we have record of a questionnaire that asks four things:
1. What did you notice first?
2. What did you like best?
3. How could your experience have been improved?
4. How did you hear about Meck?
The answers are compiled weekly and sent to me and several others on staff. As I mentioned in that blog, we are less interested in the comments from those who are obviously “churched” than we are those who clearly hadn’t darkened the doorstep of a church in quite some time, if ever.
When a church listens, it’s not to create a consumer culture that gives people whatever they want in the hopes of increasing attendance, as in abandoning orthodoxy to get warm bodies. That strategy doesn’t even work.
No, listening is about hearing what they hate about buying razor blades and doing what can be done to change that experience. For a church, it’s finding out what people do not like about attending a church – or just church in general – and then reflecting on what might be done in response. Most churches would find that the average person is not asking us to change our beliefs, but our behavior – how we actually do church.
When Meck started, we took a survey of unchurched people and found that the reason they were unchurched was because they hated the experience of attending a church. Specifically, they said there was no value in attending, churches have too many internal problems (divisions), churches ask for money too frequently, church services are usually boring, and churches hold no relevance for their life. The answers that came in last – dead last – were “I do not believe in God” or “I am unsure God exists.”
Does it take anything away from being true to the Christian faith and message to have there be value in attending, practice unity, handle money with integrity, not bore someone with the message of Jesus and be relevant to their felt needs?
Take a cue from the Dollar Shave Club—just as most men want to buy a razor, most people do, or want to, believe in God. They just hate the experience seemingly attached to it. There’s only one way to change that experience: find out what they hate and, if biblically allowed, address it. Remove every barrier between them and the message of Jesus except the message of Jesus itself.
Do this and you will grow. Period. But don’t forget what taking this step demands.
James Emery White
Lawrence Ingrassia, “They Changed the Way You Buy Your Basics,” The New York Times, January 23, 2020, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.