When I was a young pastor Kodak was nearly as common in the world as water. It was everywhere. For over four decades the Kodak display was the dominant feature in the New York’s Grand Central Station. The six huge color panels, 20 by 60 feet each, illustrated the fact that Kodak was the dominant global provider of photographic paper and was one of the world’s most valuable brands.
In 1975 Kodak invented digital photography. In one of the monumental business fiascos of all time, management decided that if digital went global it would destroy their profitable photographic paper business, and that’s exactly what happened. Within just a few years Kodak was no longer the flagship company in the photography fleet because it continued to focus on selling more paper products rather than enhancing the business that it was really in: story telling.
Kodak stumbled into bankruptcy, then oblivion. At its peak in 1990 sales were above $19B with more than 145,000 employees world-wide. Last year Kodak’s total staff was fewer than 8,000. Company executives would recall: “Kodak failed to adapt to a new marketplace.”
Any lessons here for us? I think so. It might be a valuable topic for a Board discussion. After a time of candid crying out to God for forgiveness and for wisdom, the discussion might begin with something like, What “business” are we in as a church? As the culture changes around us, to what extent should we be prepared to tweak our strategies (though not our basic beliefs) to reach them?
There’s a generation called the Millennials that is a moving force among us. They were born from about 1980 to 2000 and there are about 80,000,000 of them. They are the most highly educated generation in our history and the first generation to be totally buried in technology. Half the students preparing to be physicians are female, and half of all the students in our law schools are female. What else does your Board know about this emerging generation?
You might think about inviting a handful of Millennials to meet with your Board in that meeting I suggested above. Ask them what input they’d like to have in how their church does ministry. What do they like best about their church? Changes they’d like to see. (Don’t be defensive here; you’re asking for their perspective. This generation tends to be somewhat forthright. Listen respectfully. When they raise issues, ask them to help you solve them.)
You’ll likely discover they feel more loyalty to causes than to institutions. Including the church. They tend to be sensitive to issues of justice. Interested in health. Whether their parents’ religion still works. Our goal: To make sure we don’t do the Kodak thing.
By Don Jacobsen