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“Steve Jobs” your church

By Jeremy Steele

iPhones, iPads and iPods are everywhere these days. Steve Jobs, the innovator behind the technology, has become a household name. It's difficult to believe that in the early days of Apple Inc., before Jobs took over as CEO, the company was in peril.

The strategies and techniques that Jobs employed to make Apple Inc. such a success offer three inventive lessons that churches can use to thrive in ministry.

Lesson 1: Simplify and focus.

When Jobs stepped into the Apple CEO slot for the second time, he had a clear plan: simplify. He walked into the board room and drew a giant "plus" on the board and said, "We are going to make four products." (The company had more than 100 at that point). Above the top columns, he wrote: "consumer" and "pro," and beside the two rows he wrote: "desktop" and "mobile." He told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, "'Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That's true for companies, and it's true for products." It's also true for churches.

It starts by deciding your rows and columns. The columns are your potential audiences, and the rows are main program-types (education, worship, etc.). Then, list everything you do by placing each program in the appropriate square. Not only will it show the number of different programs you have; it also will show where you have, intentionally or not, placed your priorities. Then, it's time to ask the question: Who is God calling us to be? From there, you can start new programs or pare them down.

Lesson 2: Focus on the end user.

The Apple store is another success story and source for ministry insight. Before the launch of the first Apple store, Jobs had a meltdown because the beautiful floors were covered in scuff marks within minutes of opening the doors to the press. It turns out that no one in the design team had thought about the end user of the store actually having to walk in it. Jobs had the whole design team come in and scrub the floors to help them remember the value of thinking about the end user in every detail.

For churches, this means thinking through what church feels like to the visitor who walks in the door. This goes beyond whether or not anyone speaks to them. Is the reason behind what you do and say in worship clear to an outsider? How easy is your facility to navigate? Do we extend worship to people with disabilities? How about parking? Is your bulletin free from unexplained church jargon? These are the kinds of questions we need to ask ourselves to make sure we keep our "end user" in mind.

Lesson 3: Steal your own customers.

Jobs was not concerned about whether a new, innovative product would jeopardize the existing line. If that were the case, he was all for it because he felt if they didn't innovate, someone else would and steal the market out from under them. When they had the most successful mp3 player ever produced, they introduced the iPod mini which far outsold the original iPod and decreased overall original iPod sales. Now the iPhone has further shrunk the iPod market, but Apple still owns it all and its growing over all.

Most of us have been in church meetings where the existing group is concerned that some new, exciting idea would attract people away from the existing, stalled program. If we are wise, we will take our time planning the new, and then make our move to grow overall even if the older program eventually ends.