What The Church Can Learn From Apple

'Apple Store Regent Street' photo (c) 2007, Squinty Bastard • Bald by choice. - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/


Apple has raised a few eyebrows and drawn a fusillade of flaming arrows of late, what with the update of FinalCut Pro and recent release of Lion. Critics are calling those huge mistakes, and predict Apple’s customers will be leaving in droves. On the other hand, according to the recent earnings call, they have some $76 Billion in the bank and posted another record quarter. So there you go. Clearly they are doing something right.

Now it may seem sacrilegious to suggest the Church could learn anything from a company that priced it’s first computer, the Apple I, at $666. Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting pastors adopt Steve’s notoriously dictatorial leadership style, or even trying to become like Apple. On the other hand, I think those of us in leadership should always be scanning the horizon for principles we can integrate into our lives that will help.

I have followed Apple since 1986, and have been fascinated with their rise, fall and subsequent rise. Here are few things that I see over and over again, and I believe have been key to their success. Perhaps these principles will be helpful.

Apple Doesn’t Care What You Think

I should rephrase that; Apple doesn’t care what critics think. You can look back over their history, particularly since Steve returned in the late ’90s and it quickly becomes obvious that they blaze their own path. People complained long and loud when they deleted the 3.5” floppy from Macs; but they were right—it was dead technology. Anyone seen a 3.5” floppy lately?

They obliterated SCSI in favor of FireWire, then dropped FW400 support in favor of FW800. But again, does anyone miss SCSI? And with a $3 cable from monoprice.com, you can always connect your FW400 stuff if you need to. I could go on citing examples, but you get (or already know) the idea.

Whenever change is required, a certain percentage of the people affected will be upset. That’s OK. We need to hear those people, let them air their concerns, love and care for them, and then continue on with our plans. If we’ve made a decision based on prayer and input from the Holy Spirit and others, we need to stick to that plan with confidence, even if a few people are upset. The minute we start catering to every upset member is the minute we become ineffective as a church. 

The reason that we can move forward confidently is the next main point.

Apple Has a Clear Vision of Their Future

Apple doesn’t look at what computing needs are today. They look 3-5 years down the road. They try to predict (often with frightening accuracy) what we’ll be doing in 3 years, then give us that technology today. Sure, we’re often way out there on the leading edge (eg. ThunderBolt), but my guess is that in 2-3 years you won’t be able to buy a computer without ThunderBolt.

Apple has never been reactive (at least not with Steve at the helm). They don’t look at the computing landscape and say, “Hmmm, what is Dell doing, we should copy that.” Instead, they blaze a trail, based on what they think is needed. Now, you can agree or disagree with their conclusions, but you can’t deny this is how they operate. Love them or hate them, they know where they’re going and aren’t afraid to go there.

Many local churches are often very reactive. They wait to see what the mega-church down the street is doing, then copy that. Or they look at the church across town and try to guess what that church is missing and fill in the gap. As soon as the winds change, it’s off to another thing.

Again, I think we need to seek God in prayer; ask the Holy Spirit to show us where He wants us to go as a church and as a tech ministry. We should be asking Him where we should be going, what we should be doing and to give us a clear picture of the next few years. Once we have that, we should pursue that with all we have. As with Apple, people can agree to disagree, but we cannot be held captive to the naysayers.

Apple Strives for Best, not Biggest

Apple has never been the biggest computing company, at least in terms of market share. Last I checked, they were still hovering around 10%. Even the revolutionary iPhone seems to be being eclipsed in the smartphone market by the plethora of Android devices. But honestly, I don’t think Apple cares. 

They want to build what they believe to be the best computing devices on the planet. They sell them at a premium and have quite well for themselves. And regardless of market share, Apple is the brand to beat in terms of industrial and UI design, and everyone knows that (even the Apple haters will admit it if they’re honest). Everyone else copies Apple. Again, you are free to not like it, but you can’t deny it. Along the way, being the best has been very, very good to them (consider the aforementioned $76 Billion in the bank!).

At the local church level, and in our tech ministries in particular, I think we need to strive to be who God has called us to be. I don’t need my tech department to look like Saddleback’s tech department; the world already has one of those. My audio system doesn’t need to look exactly like Northpoint’s. We need to be who we are.

As a church, we need to strive to be the very best church we can be. We don’t have to be the biggest, we just need be the best Coast Hills we can. Your church needs to be the best your church name here it can. Your tech department needs to be the best tech department it can.

Don’t go crazy trying to be something you’re not; be who God has called you to be, and be the very best you can. Out of that, growth will come. 

Of course, all of these analogies are not perfect. As I said at the beginning, I don’t want or expect the church to be like Apple. But I do feel we can learn a few things. When we are operating our of the Holy Spirit’s playbook, we can stop worrying about the results, and simply do what we’re called to do. The results, God’s results, will follow.

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