When the Church Thinks Outside the Box

Some things in our lives and culture are so commonplace and ubiquitous we forget how innovative and “outside the box” they once were. Remember the first time you saw an ad for an iPhone? We all had that “wow” moment.

Reed Hasting thought outside the box too. He got slapped with a late fee from Blockbuster. He was cheesed—and afraid to tell his wife.

“I had a big late fee for ‘Apollo 13.’ It was six weeks late and I owed the video store $40. I had misplaced the cassette. It was all my fault. I didn’t want to tell my wife about it. And I said to myself, ‘I’m going to compromise the integrity of my marriage over a late fee?’ Later, on my way to the gym, I realized they had a much better business model. You could pay $30 or $40 a month and work out as little or as much as you wanted.” [NY Times]

And with that idea, Hastings and Marc Randolph launched Netflix on August 29, 1997. It was so innovative … and yet it is so common now.

Blockbuster, meanwhile, closed its last two stores (in Alaska) last month. Blockbuster tried to change, but it was too little, too late. Netflix didn’t just think outside the box; they redefined the box.

I am not endorsing every new idea in ministry. Change just to change is … well, it’s dumb—and often counter-productive. But we would do well to periodically ask ourselves a simple question.

What if?

  • What if we could reach people who’ve been burned in the past by a church, and we reached them by taking Bible study away from the confines of the church building on Sunday mornings?
  • What if we reached into homes by offering a safe place for their kids to hang out after school, and even helped the kids with their homework?
  • What if we built relationships with outsiders by offering seminars on safety, protection, or guarding against identity theft?

Look for innovative ways to build relationships, because it’s by building relationships we can talk about Christ. Culture does not dictate the gospel, but culture affects how we build relationships and communicate the gospel.

I had lunch recently with a fellow pastor in east Nashville. Over loaded black bean nachos (mmmm), we discussed our churches and the local culture. He shared a great example about hydrangeas. The same hydrangea can be a different color if replanted somewhere else. The color is affected by the pH in the soil. It’s still the same plant, but it can look different in different soils. The message of the church—the gospel—is the same no matter what culture it is planted in. But the church can look quite different from culture to culture.

And since the culture is ever changing around us, the church must be willing to change as needed to communicate the timeless truth of Jesus Christ.

Before David became king, a group of men had gathered around him and gave him support. Men from the tribe of Issachar were particularly helpful because of their keen awareness of the events happening around them. They were described as “men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32).

In those moments when we, the church, understand the times and know what to do, it may call us to think outside the box. And in those moments, we won’t reach people with iPhones or Netflix.

We’ll reach them with something better.


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