What can you learn as a church leader from the astounding rise of Uber, the ride-hail company born in San Francisco just a few years ago?

Quite a bit actually.

Uber has disrupted a century-old industry (taxi cabs) in a little over 5 years. The City of Toronto has seen a major battle emerge between cab drivers who want Uber banned, the city and Uber itself.

Ditto in New York City and many other cities.

At the heart of Uber’s story (and the controversy around it) is the massive change an industry can undergo in such a short span of time, and how rapid change can spin old models into almost immediate chaos.

If there’s one thing too many church leaders struggle with, it’s change.

There are at least 6 things you can learn as a church leader from the recent rise of Uber.

rise of uber

1. Owning a great taxi cab is no longer enough

In an age where everyone used taxis, having a clean cab, or a slightly less expensive cab, or a larger fleet of cabs that provided quick service was a competitive advantage.

Not so when an industry gets disrupted.

Uber uses ordinary people’s cars and allows users to rate drivers for their friendliness and cooperation. And they offer price that’s meaningfully below a typical cab ride.

In the age of Uber, you can have the best taxi cab in town and still be out of business.

What can church leaders learn from this?

Polishing a current model of ministry to make it better often comes at the expense of true innovation.

And, as I indicated in this post outlining 5 disruptive church trends for 2016, church online will continue to morph into an advance of the church’s mission rather than just a supplement to what we’re already doing.

2. Innovation doesn’t ask for approval

Uber innovated in three primary areas that the taxi industry never did: they lowered the price, enlisted anyone who wanted to drive as a driver and gave consumers the ability to instantly call a car via their phones.

Are there problems with Uber? Sure…many think Uber needs some regulation.

But that’s not the point.

The point is they already won real marketshare before most people even knew what was happening.

Uber is a great example of how innovation changes things rapidly.

Cities and the taxi industry are catching up with Uber long after the love affair between many consumers and Uber began.

This is a note to denominations and even churches with large bureaucracies.

Innovation doesn’t ask for approval.

It just happens—much to the annoyance of existing power structures, which tend to be about preserving what has been.

3. Fighting change doesn’t stop change

It’s rather surprising to see how angry and opposed taxi cab owners have become in their opposition to Uber.

Their opposition has even spilled to violence on the streets.

This is nothing new. The Luddites famously fought the invention of motorized textile looms, smashing and burning the new technology.

They lost.

Fighting change doesn’t stop change.

The best leaders see change and adapt to it, never compromising the mission but reinventing the methods (which is exactly what Uber is doing).

Complaining about change doesn’t change anything either.

What change are you uselessly fighting?

(By the way, here are 7 signs your church will never change.)

4. When you confuse method with mission, you lose

Taxi cabs have been a method of temporary transportation for a century.

But the mission behind the taxi industry is transportation.

Uber never mistook the method for the mission. It appears that the taxi industry has done just that.

We all get wedded to our methods.

As I outlined in more detail in this post, the church is seriously in danger of confusing method with mission.

The cab industry could have become innovative and pioneered Uber-like service and innovation. But it didn’t.

When someone came along with a more popular method, they grew defensive.

Now it looks like the cab industry is far more wedded to their method than they are to their mission.

Know any churches like that?

5. Your past success is no guarantee of your future success

Having the best cab fleet of the 21 century may not matter as much as it did 5 years ago.

Your past success is no guarantee of your future success. Not in the face of innovation and disruption.

The best way to ensure future success is to keep experimenting and keep innovating.

When was the last time your church innovated?

6. Innovation spawns more innovation, while defensiveness spawns death

Very little has changed in the cab industry in the last few decades. Sure, payments have become mobile and now there are TVs in some cabs (but again, TV is hardly a new invention).

Uber was only an idea as recently as 2009. It launched its first service in 2010.

But as young as Uber is, it has introduced black car services, car pooling, transit and is experimenting with fresh food delivery, package delivery and so much more.

That’s because an innovative culture spawns more innovation.

Meanwhile, as outlined above, the taxi industry’s main response is not innovation, but a demand that Uber go away.

Uber isn’t going away any time soon.

And even if Uber disappears, innovation won’t.

Church leaders, take note.

Innovation spawns more innovation. Defensiveness spawns death.

So start innovating.

7. Self-interest will inevitably lose to public interest

The church should be the least self-interested organization in the world.

When we behave this way, the mission will grow.

If you watch the taxi industry’s response to Uber, you can’t help but conclude that the stance they’ve taken seems self-interested. I realize these are people who need jobs and money to feed their families, but their arguments come across as self-motivated.

Ever notice that selfishness and defensiveness are only attractive to the person being selfish and defensive?

Through lower prices, friendly service and convenience, Uber’s winning the PR war because it feels like it’s on the consumer’s side.

Uber has problems for sure (its drivers have already gone on strike), but the difference between the vibe Uber emits and the vibe the cab industry emits is significant.

Self-interest will always lose to the public interested.

Ask yourself: does your church come across as self-interested?

See Anything Else?

I wrote more about the changes the church needs to make in my recent book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

If you want more on how to navigate the change around us, you can download a free chapter of Lasting Impact here or pick up a copy here.

In the meantime, what is the sudden rise of Uber teaching you?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

What The Church Can Learn From the Astounding Rise of Uber


  1. Friday Finds – Face Time, Chipotle, Uber | Posts on February 13, 2016 at 3:02 am

    […] What The Church Can Learn From The Rise Of Uber via CareyNieuwhof.com […]

  2. David Murrow on February 10, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    Uber broke a transportation cartel – allowing individuals to enter the market. So what’s the religious analogue? What cartel will be disrupted? Will traditional congregations face competition from home churches? Individuals who gather small groups for discipleship, in the mode of the Jewish Yeshiva? Tell me more…

  3. […] also written about what the church can learn from the rise of Uber and […]

  4. MikeeK on February 6, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I’ve read a few of your blogs and I’m curious, do you ever quote or apply the Scriptures or is this just your observations sort of like management consulting?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 7, 2016 at 7:54 pm

      Although I’m a committed Christian, generally I don’t. I assume people read their bibles and so I generally post leadership principles people wouldn’t normally encounter.

  5. RWilliams on February 6, 2016 at 8:16 am

    3. Fighting change doesn’t stop change.

    Love this! I wonder how much this “digging in our heels” mentality has led to the closure of so many churches over the past decade. Ministry isn’t about taking members from other congregations, but about reaching those in our neighborhoods who are far from God with the Gospel. Culture will absolutely change. I’m reminded of a quote from Dr. Elmer Towns

    “Methods are many, principles are few. Methods may change, but principles never do.”

    Keep the message and change the methods, or you’ll find yourself shutting your doors and losing sight of the mission.

  6. […] What Can The Church Learn From The Rise of Uber  @cnieuwhof […]

  7. […] What The Church Can Learn From the Astounding Rise of Uber –Carey Neiuwhof “The cab industry could have become innovative and pioneered Uber-like service and innovation. But it didn’t. […]

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