Paul Simon and I are in mourning for Kodak Kodachrome. It used to be my favorite film. Until the mid-1990s, Kodak was a great stock to own. Jobs at the Kodak plant in Rochester seemed totally secure. The advanced emulsions and darkroom chemicals that Kodak produced were respected worldwide. I don’t shoot much film today. I have begun transferring my favorite Kodachrome slides to digital files. Kodak, itself, is in bankruptcy. Digital photography came along shortly before the new millennium and ate their lunch. This happened even though Kodak was one of the most innovative and best run companies in the marketplace. Good management isn’t enough to save a company that no longer produces what people need.
People no longer need film. Do people need what your church produces?
That depends. Not upon what your church says it produces, but upon what it actually provides.
Good sermons, well produced music, and diligent pastoral care, are like the good management that Kodak did before it went belly up. If we live now in an era when, like film, people no longer need to fill the Sunday morning segment of their week. When they needed a worship service (funny that word ‘service’ isn’t it?), then a well managed church was going to do ok. The arrival of postmodern culture has changed the religious landscape every bit as much as digital image capture changed photography.
People still stand in need of salvation. Jesus is still calling people to be disciples in today’s world. Young people still need Christian Education. All of us still need rituals for life’s passages, disciplines for spiritual formation, and weekly times of Sabbath and worship. Above all, our world still needs to be transformed by God’s love.
Now here is something you may not know, Kodak owned most of the major patents for digital photography. They entered the last decade of the 20th century posed to become leaders in this new field. The trouble was, they couldn’t stop doing what they had always done and transition to this new form of business. A lot like the Church, isn’t it?
Yet, when I read the Gospels, I hear Jesus saying things that most postmodern people want to hear. I look around me and see young adults who want to do mission work, who want to experience salvation, appreciate relevant biblical teaching, and who want genuine spiritual formation. The Church just has to offer what people need.
How successful any congregation is at negotiating this new reality depends upon three things:
• Do they really know what their neighbors want, or are they just repackaging what they already have on hand?
• Do they have sufficient spiritual passion to let faith in Christ guide all things, or are they driven by guilt, tradition, and the need to pay their bills?
• Have they discerned God’s will for their particular congregation, or are they expecting clergy and other outsiders to bring that vision to them?