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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

In his book Good to Great, and in a subsequent monograph, Jim Collins talks about “turning the flywheel.” His research on companies that went from good to great revealed that there was “no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment.” 

What did mark the great companies? They kept pushing at things as if they were pushing a giant, heavy flywheel. Collins writes:

Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You don’t stop. You keep pushing. The flywheel moves a bit faster. Two turns... then four... then eight... the flywheel builds momentum... 16... 32... moving faster... a thousand... ten thousand... a hundred thousand. Then at some point—breakthrough! The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum.

Applying this concept to Amazon, Jeff Bezos and his team determined that their flywheel, that which powered their business, was low prices. As Brad Stone outlined in The Everything Store, the lower the prices, the more people visited their site. With added customers, you add sales as well as third-party sellers. This enabled Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers, not to mention the servers needed to run the website. All this in turn led to even lower prices. “Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.” So the principle is clear: push the flywheel at the points that power your business, and keep pushing. 

Over and over and over.

So what is the flywheel for the church? What “business” are we in? Where do we push? It has been the same for two millennia: We are in the business of evangelizing the lost, assimilating the evangelized, discipling the assimilated and unleashing the discipled. Yes, we are called to worship, engage in community and practice the “one-anothers,” serve the poor and so much more. 

But in terms of mission, the flywheel is clear:

And Collins is right. If we keep pushing at this, over and over, making it turn more and more times, at faster and faster rates, it becomes unstoppable.

One note: while the flywheel can and should be “pushed” at all four junctures, there is – as there are with most flywheels – a place to start. If you do not evangelize the lost, you have no one to assimilate. If you do not assimilate, you have no one to disciple. If you do not disciple, you have no one to unleash. 

So push the flywheel—just don’t forget that for us, the “low prices” of Amazon are the “lost people” of the world.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jim Collins, Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great.

Brad Stone, The Everything Store.

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

It was a startling admission to hear, even though it was not truly news. In his Christmas address, Pope Francis starkly stated, “We are not in Christianity, not anymore.”

He’s right.

For the first time in human history, we now live in a post-Christian world. I say the “first time” because there have only been three eras in relation to the Christian faith: pre-Christian, Christian and now post-Christian.

(And please don’t confuse pre-Christian with post-Christian; they’re really quite different.)

The idea of anything being “post” means that it follows something that existed before. So to speak of it being “post-Christian” means that the world that existed before was a Christian world. In another work, Serious Times, I took time to outline the historical and cultural progression – from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment – that set the stage for this new reality in the West.

It has been a startling progression.

For example, during the medieval era – arguably the beginning of the history of Western culture as we have known it – it was a Christian world. As historian Johan Huizinga contended, the “life of medieval Christendom is permeated in all aspects by religious images. There is nothing and no action that is not put in its relationship to Christ and faith.” Or as medieval historian Norman Cantor put it, “Medieval culture was a culture of the Book, and in the Middle Ages, the Book was the Bible.”

In the intervening years, the distant echoes of the medieval culture upon which the West was built could barely be heard. As Christian Smith notes, “Something real at the level of macrosocial change... has actually happened in history.” The most visible manifestation of this seismic shift was the French Revolution, though an outlier at the time, where a religion of man was established. A process of de-Christianization began, so much so that Alexis de Tocqueville would later write, “In France... Christianity was attacked with almost frenzied violence.”

One of the more symbolic events took place on November 10, 1793, when Notre-Dame de Paris, the great church of France, was formally declared and transformed into the Temple of Reason, with busts of Rousseau and Voltaire taking the place of the saints. During the ceremony, a hymn to “Liberty” was sung with the following words:

Descend, O Liberty, daughter of Nature:
The people have recaptured their immortal power:
Over the pompous remains of age-old imposture
Their hands raise thine altar....
Thou, holy Liberty, come dwell in this temple;
Be the goddess of the French.

But the post-Christian nature of the Western world has not been keenly felt. While the subculture resting at the top of the epicenters of society – the educational system, the media of mass communication and the upper echelons of the legal system – have been largely secularized, the late sociologist Peter Berger still argued that people were “as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever.” He even famously quipped, “If India is the most religious country on our planet, and Sweden is the least religious, America is a land of Indians ruled by Swedes.”

And at the time he was right.

But times have changed. Now we are keenly feeling the post-Christian nature of our world, and not simply at the top of cultural epicenters.

We are encountering it in our neighbor.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Francis X. Rocca, “ Pope Francis, in Christmas Message, Says Church Must Adapt to Post-Christian West,” The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2019, read online.

James Emery White, Serious Times (InterVarsity Press).

On this, see Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400-1400, The Yale Intellectual History of the West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

Johan Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages, translated by Rodney J. Payton and Ulrich Mammitzsch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages (New York: HarperCollins, 1993).

Christian Smith, “Introduction: Rethinking the Secularization of American Public Life,” The Secular Revolution, ed. by Christian Smith (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, trans. Stuart Gilbert (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955 [orig. 1856]).

As cited by Emmet Kennedy, A Cultural History of the French Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). The hymn was composed by Chenier, with music by Gossec.

Peter L. Berger, ed., The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

Huston Smith, Why Religion Matters (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Rodion Kutsaev

More than 3.2 billion people worldwide are active on social media every day. It has become the way we communicate, relate and learn. As such, it is simply indispensable to the mission of the church. This means that keeping abreast of the biggest trends within social media is critical. 

Here are eight trends being forecast for 2020, gathered by Deep Patel at entrepreneur.com, that are the most relevant for the church:

1. Video story content is king.

Among all of the trends in the social media world, video dominates in terms of importance. According to Social Media Today, video will make up 82% of all internet traffic by 2022. Beyond prioritizing video content, have “an emphasis on creative, engaging storytelling that captures user attention in seconds.”

2. TikTok is disrupting social video.

“The emphasis on video means that video-driven platforms such as TikTok, Lasso and byte will continue to grow in popularity.” Of these, TikTok is the leader, particularly with Generation Z. As Patel notes, “TikTok is the antithesis of your mother’s Instagram account because it shuns the overly curated and filtered view of life Instagram has become known for.” The point is to think beyond YouTube or simply hosting videos on your website, and keep abreast of all things video. 

3. Social media audience segmentation.

The myth is that social media is a shotgun approach instead of a rifle. It is, after all, “social” and available to the masses. In truth, all social media posts should have an audience in mind. Specifically, who we want our audience to be. Get “one size fits all” out of your head. Instead, “strategically divide your audience into meaningful groups based on individual preferences.” 

This is more than demographics (age, sex, income). Instead, think about how to “build rapport and a sense of community.” Patel argues, and I would agree, “Segmentation will be a defining line between the savviest social media strategies and those that are just winging it.”

4. Personalized video marketing will become a thing.

If you add up the first three trends, this fourth one should be considered a given: video content that is “customizable and hyper-relevant to specific segments of your market.” 

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are already pushing brands to produce video content through Story Ads. Twitter is also getting in the game with six-second video ads. 

5. Less public, more private interactions.

More users are turning to private groups and messaging apps to connect with others. Think messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Messaging. All allow the creation of more intimate groups “where we can feel secure in sharing intimate and detailed information with others.” As Patel notes, this is really a return to more direct communication—and it’s a huge trend. 

A new report from Pew Research has found that messaging is the most popular form of digital interaction in emerging markets. So look for the continued rise of messaging apps over social networks as the connective tool of choice.

6. Audiences want meaningful connections. 

As people shy away from public postings and tend to connect away from public view, those trying to reach people will have to find ways to “create more private, intimate connections” without becoming overly intrusive. Think building “brand communities, or groups where your brand message is relevant, but where you are also receptive to direct messaging.” 

A 2018 Facebook survey found that 69% of all respondents said directly messaging with a company makes them more confident in the brand itself. The goal is to “give audiences more meaningful connections and a feeling of being in an exclusive and intimate environment.”

7. Authentic content is key to social selling.

It’s no secret that social media users are more skeptical than ever. So when it comes to social media and shopping, they want to hear “insights from real people.” User-generated content (e.g., customer reviews) are key. 

For a church, think testimonies.

8. Social media is the place to nurture trust.

This may be the most significant trend for churches (or at least the most important for churches to understand). Social media “isn’t just a platform for marketing and advertising; it’s truly the best place to nurture trust and build a relationship with [your] audience.” Social media offers the best opportunity to convey the value of your message or community, and to engage with others on their level. Doing this will require finding ways for people “to have a free flow of dialogue and let their hair down”—not something most churches are experienced doing, much less comfortable doing. 

But showing your “human side and increasing transparency,” focusing on “fun, simple engagement,” being responsive to communication, and finding meaningful ways to show “social responsibility and a deeper level of social interaction” will be key to building trust and confidence.

So there are the eight trends for 2020. Most will know they need to get social—the key is getting good at it.

Sources

Deep Patel, “12 Social Media Trends to Watch in 2020,” Entrepreneur, December 20, 2019, read online.

Erica Perry, “2020 Video Marketing and Statistics: What Brands Need to Know,” Social Media Week, October 30, 2019, read online.

Andrew Hutchinson, “New Study Shows that Text Messaging Is the Most Popular Form of Digital Interaction in Emerging Markets,” Social Media Today, August 27, 2019, read online.

“Why Messaging Businesses Is the New Normal,” Facebook for Business, June 14, 2018, read online.


James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.    

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