Kodak’s Lesson for the Church: Change or Die

By Matt Steen

KodakThe recent announcement of Kodak’s bankruptcy is a sad ending to the story of a once great company.  Kodak, the innovators responsible for all the bad pictures that your parents showed your high school girlfriends, has gotten to the point where they need to sell off patents in order to stay solvent over the next few months.

While it is easy for people to shake their heads, point fingers, and snicker at this “old fashioned” company, I think we need to take a closer look at what is going on in our own organizations and learn from Kodak… before the same thing happens to us.

Several months ago I was at the Cultivate Conference… a gathering of church leaders aimed at walking through new media and communication.  Two quotes were shared during that conference that I think are highly applicable here:

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.
-General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

The ROI of Social Media is Your Business Will Still Exist in 5 years.
-Uncertain of source (help me out?)

Add to that a recent post by Seth Godin:

It’s painful, expensive, time-consuming, stressful and ultimately pointless to work overtime to preserve your dying business model. All the lobbying, the lawsuits, the ad campaigns and most of all, the hand-wringing, aren’t going to change anything at all. In fact, instead of postponing the outcome you fear, they probably accelerate it.

While many of us will read this and nod our heads in approval, how is it that so often companies, non-profits, and churches miss this… and ultimate die rather than change?  How is it that so many organizations, rather than embracing new realities, new technologies, and new paradigms redouble their efforts to make the old way of doing things work?  I believe that Jim Collins’ book How The Mighty Fall does a phenomenal job of unpacking this, and is something that EVERY church leader, needs to read and learn from.  Collins’ book talks about the five stages of decline that he has seen in every formerly great company:

  • Stage One: Hubris born of success.  The risk that any successful organization runs is developing a sense of being entitled to that success.  This stage is marked by a focus on maintaining the status quo of the programs and tasks that made it successful, instead of asking why the organization was successful in the first place.
  • Stage Two: Undisciplined pursuit of more.  In this stage an organization begins to engage in activities outside of it’s core values and passions in order to chase a trend, keep up with the competition, or maintain the facade of “cutting edge”.  This undisciplined, and unplanned for, growth causes cracks to form in the foundation of an organization as it quickly outgrows its leadership capabilities.
  • Stage Three: Denial of risk and peril.  Stage three organizations have enough positive external results to give an impression of organizational health… yet internally are in disarray.
  • Stage Four: Grasping for salvation.  This is where things quickly get better, or much worse.  Having long since set aside the organization’s core values, leaders will either return to them, and slowly begin to dig themselves out of their decline… or will grasp for straws in an attempt to frantically save the organization.
  • Stage Five: Capitulation to irrelevance or death.  I doubt you need me to explain this one.

Time for a reality check. You can not drive through a major urban area in this country without coming across a church building whose congregation experienced this… and many current churches are neck deep in decline right now.  I would challenge those of you who are thankful that this post doesn’t describe your church to look behind the attendance and offering numbers to make sure that you are not in stage three.

What stage is YOUR church most at risk of being in?

Source: ChurchThought.com

Matt Steen

Matt Steen loves seeing the church thrive.  Currently serving as a Church Concierge with Church Simple, Matt has served as an executive pastor, youth pastor, and planted a church in Baltimore.  Matt lives on Long Island with his wife Theresa where he secretly leads a resistance movement against the New York Yankees (this might be the Orioles year... or not).  You can follow Matt on twitter (@matt_steen) or at ChurchThought.