What Netflix can teach us about church.


In 2004, Blockbuster video was worth 5 Billion dollars. It was the largest video rental store in the world. They were an empire. No one came close to threatening this company’s territory. So when a man named Reed Hastings approached Blockbuster in 2000 offering for their new startup to be purchased for only 50 million, Blockbuster laughed them out of the room. They had the name. They had the brand. They had the money. And even though there were some changes in the air, Blockbuster didn’t feel the need to adapt. The company that they could have bought?


Now, 16 years later, a modest estimation of the value of Netflix is worth 30 Billion dollars - 6 times the worth of Blockbuster at its peak. If Blockbuster could have seen beyond the present moment - they could have shared this success.

What does this have to do with reaching millennials? Everything. Blockbuster actually had the opportunity to adapt to changing times—but it couldn’t bring itself to adapt. Both companies provided movies to customers. The difference was how. Here’s the interesting thing. If you used Netflix back in the day, it wasn’t a streaming service. It was a DVD-mail service. The attractive thing? No fees. Just one simple payment a month. Blockbuster had built an empire out of punishing their renters with late fees. They benefitted from people’s busyness.

Netflix, however, helped people watch movies in the middle of their hectic lives.

Do you see where this is going? Blockbuster profited from a system that made people come to them. Netflix profited from creating a system that went to people.

Think about this. Are millennials done with movies, film, and TV? Heck no. In fact, television shows are becoming more and more an art form. But the format in which they consume this media has changed drastically.

In the same way, millennials are not done with God. But like Blockbuster, churches often punish young adults with the equivalent of late fees. The music isn’t for them, it’s hard to connect with others, the sermons are hard to relate to, and they aren’t lifted into positions of leadership.

Why would they want to be part of a church that punishes their youthfulness?  

MIT professor and “global expert on strategy and execution,” Donald Sull, writes about a phenomenon called “active inertia.” He explains that this is “management's tendency to respond to the most disruptive changes by accelerating activities that succeeded in the past.” Or in other words, when an organization needs to change the most is when it tends to dig itself even further into past patterns and habits.

The solution, he proposes is something companies like Netflix are great at. Sull calls it “active waiting,” and defines it as “anticipating and preparing for opportunities and threats that executives can neither fully predict nor control.” What this means is that when the world changes, we shouldn’t just keep doing what we are doing. That’s the Blockbuster approach. We need to observe, anticipate, and then act with flexibility and creativity.

Many of Jesus’ best teaching moments were interruptions. He traveled and waited and built relationships and read his environment. And then, when the time was right—he spoke with exceptional insight and power. What he didn’t do was wait for the world to come to his Sabbath service. Or his video rental store.

Now the question is—where do you need to wait, listen, and adapt?