For years, the key to growth for many churches and other organizations (think media, conferences, etc.) has been to create great content.
In the case of a church, great preaching often (not always, but often) has been synonymous with growth.
In the case of conferences, media and other organizations focused on messaging, the same thing has been true: Generate great content and you grow.
Church leaders, media and live event organizations (we’ll focus on those three for now) have all noticed something over the last decade: It’s been harder and harder to get people in the room.
People are attending church less often. Conferences are finding it harder to fill venues and stadiums.
Great messages that used to guarantee growth don’t any more. What used to attract people now gets a shrug of indifference instead.
Don’t get me wrong: Bad content (bad sermons, articles, talks or events) can still kill a mission. But great content (including great, faithful preaching), in and of itself, doesn’t naturally generate the kind of momentum it used to.
The question, of course, is why? And, what can you do about it?
I realize this is a bit of a strange framework through which to view the work of the church. But, as you run through this post, my guess is you’ll see the trends described playing out all around you.
And if you’re trying to reach and equip people in the church or any other organization focused on gathering people around content, you’ll see the patterns.
So…hopefully this post can give you a new framework for moving forward.
1. Scarcity Drives Value
Scarcity drives value. The more scarce something is, the more value it has.
When something is scarce, it’s worth something. Conversely, mass availability drives down prices and perceived value.
Take a look at how scarcity has changed the way we communicate using phones in the last few decades.
In the era of landlines, local calling was included at a flat rate. Local was inexpensive and unlimited. Long distance was scarce and very expensive. Your parents and grandparents spent a lot of time agonizing over long distance bills and whether they could afford to make that call to a friend in another state or country, let alone another continent.
Then, cell phones came along and suddenly, sensing new competition, phone companies made long distances calls on landlines free or almost free, trying to prevent people from ditching their home phones.
Cell phone service service providers underwent a similar evolution, creating scarcity for things as long as they could.
At first, cell phone service providers made their money by charging more for weekday minutes than evening minutes or weekend minutes. 15 years ago, it was still common for people to say, “Can I call you after 6? I used up all my day time minutes.”
Then, texting came along and phone companies started to include evening and weekend minutes as part of basic plans and, instead, focused on limiting the number of texts you could send.
Early text messaging packages ‘included’ things like 400 free text messages or 1,000 text messages. Most of us couldn’t imagine sending even close to that number of texts. Until, of course, we did.
Now, text messaging and voice calls are almost all unlimited.
Which moves us to a more recent frontier: Data. And, after years of people worried about going over their monthly data allowances, you and I are now watching, before our eyes, as almost all providers are now pivoting to unlimited data.
Things that used to be scarce and valuable, even a few years ago, aren’t any more. And, it changes so quickly.
You don’t need to think much past toilet paper in a pandemic, Bitcoin or Tesla shares to understand how quickly value fluctuates.
Value, fundamentally, is about perception. If people perceive value, they are happy to pay for it or line up for it. If they don’t, they won’t.
2. The World is Now Drowning in Content
While no one was really paying attention, the exact same thing happened to content.
Fifteen years ago, you paid registration fees, flights and hotels to hear a keynote speaker deliver a message because you had never heard her before, and that’s where she shared her ideas.
Then, the internet exploded, and suddenly you’ve probably heard every message from your favorite thought leader/writer/preacher via YouTube, social media or a multitude of other sites.
So, what’s a conference’s competitive advantage now when TED Talks you can watch for free garner tens of millions views, and two million podcasts on Spotify and Apple Podcasts that serve most listeners for free?
A very similar thing happened for church leaders in the last decade.
Go back a generation, and the only way to hear a preacher was to attend that local church. Maybe if you had a relative in a church who told you how awesome a preacher was, you might subscribe to the cassette ministry and get tapes sent to you.
But, that was about it. You essentially listened to the preachers nearest you, and that was it. Radio and television offered you a slightly wider menu, but even then, none of that was available on-demand unless you subscribed to that particular cassette ministry.
Messages, in and of themselves, were scarce, time limited events (you had to assemble at 9 or 11 to hear one).
Fast forward to today, and sermons from incredible communicators are anywhere and everywhere. They’re also free and available on-demand.
The Disruption of 2020 accelerated that trend even more. Almost every church moved online, and more people than ever realize they have access to the top communicators in the world anytime, anywhere, for free.
The challenge is that many churches are still primarily communicating a message designed for another era:
Join us for our new series Sunday at 9 and 11.
Don’t miss last Sunday’s message. Available online, on-demand.
I can’t wait to share a brand new message with you.
Preachers will often tell themselves and their church that this is different because they’re preaching the Word of God.
And, that’s true.
But, so are a thousand other pastors. And, their messages are available just like yours. Some of them sound just like yours. And, some of them (let’s be honest) are more compelling than yours.
Please hear me. I am NOT insulting your preaching. I know how hard you work and how sincere you are.
I’m a preacher, too. I’m just realizing things have changed—in my lifetime and yours.
What moved people to hear local preachers in the past will not move them to hear you in the future.
That may not be right. But, it is real.
So, what do you do?
Well, the first thing is to realize that what you’re pretending is scarce isn’t. At least, not anymore.
When you behave like something is scarce or has tremendous value when it doesn’t, you not only confuse people, you lose people.
Then, you come up with a new strategy.
3. Meaning and Insight are Rare
Is it possible to grow a church or organization with great content?
You bet. It’s just harder.
With the explosion of digital options for content, there are more and more communicators and preachers who will draw followers and views in the millions.
But, they’ll be the outliers…the charismatic communicators who have exceptional gifts, talents and skills (and with it, hopefully character to match).
But, what about the rest of us?
While there’s no shortage of information in our culture, there is a shortage of meaning and insight.
It’s one thing to know something, it’s another to know what it means or why it’s significant.
The more you can help people cut through the noise and get to the heart of why things matter, how they matter and help them integrate the insights into their lives, the more people will value your content.
This is true both for preachers and any content creator.
This is particularly true of the next generation. They have more access to information than any generation who’s ever lived.
They just don’t know what to do with it.
Any and all help you can give them is both needed and valued.
Meaning and insight are so scarce these days that people almost immediately see the value when they find it.
4. Community and Connection are So Scarce
So, does all this mean you should abandon content?
Nope. Not at all.
Great preaching is needed and required. So is meaningful content. But again, everyone you’ve reached or are trying to reach has access to more content than they can possible process.
Providing meaning and insight will help, but it’s rarely enough.
What is deeply scarce right now are community and connection.
A year into the pandemic, people are more isolated than ever. That’s playing out the crisis in mental health, rising addictions and new (and dangerous) tribes are forming (we are the most tribalized we’ve been as a culture in generations).
Authentic, loving and genuine community are more scarce than they have ever been in our lifetime.
The competitive advantage of the local church isn’t content, it’s community and connection.
Every church should be running to fill that hole.
If you think about the future of any live event…the power will not be just in the content, because almost everyone in the room will have heard the content or content like it before. It will be in community and connection—the ability to connect people to each other around a common cause.
Moving forward, make the goal of digital content connection and community, not consumption.
Sure, absolutely produce the best content you can, but make the end goal connecting people to each other.
What used to be scarce—content—isn’t. What’s truly scarce is community and connection. So build the future on that.
What Do You See?
I realize this is a completely different way of thinking about what’s happening, but I hope it can connect some dots for you. Not everyone will get it. But if you get it, it will move your mission forward like few other things.
What are you seeing about scarcity and value?
How is it shaping your plans for the future?
Scroll down and leave a comment.