It’s indisputable that Apple is one of the world’s most successful companies. Not only are they financially stable, but their customer base is one of the most loyal among brands of any kind. They didn’t get there on accident. The philosophy they held to back when they were still operating out of a garage has shaped them into the great company they are today.
While reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, I came across the three philosophies that have shaped Apple into the brand they are today. I believe that ministries of every sort could learn from these three philosophies:
From the beginning of the company, Steve Jobs was determined to understand and meet the needs of his customers in a way other companies wouldn’t. This is why Apple refuses to survey customers to see what they want in a product. They follow the thinking of the late Henry Ford, “If I had asked the customer what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”
The trend of the business world to survey customers has leaked into the church world. Many who read this blog would be familiar with churches who base their philosophy, service structure, and even doctrine on what people want.
Yet, shouldn’t church leaders, of all people, know what church goers need even better than the church goers themselves? We have the Bible, God’s Word, that tells us what people need: they need salvation through Jesus. They need to be baptized. They need to be taught how to live a life that reflects Jesus. Yet, even conservative churches can veer away from their mission by focusing on programs that meet a want, but neglect meeting what people truly need. That’s where the next value comes in.
In the business world, it’s common to diversify—to spread sources of income across a bunch of different products so that the company can handle bad turns of the market. On the other hand, Apple has decided that, “in order to do a good job on those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” Steve Jobs was relentless about killing off projects that were not core to who Apple is as a company. His focus on the important has paid off, making Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.
Churches are very susceptible to a lack of focus. It’s common for churches to miss out on opportunities to do gospel-centered ministries well because they give attention to unimportant opportunities. Too often, a fellowship event at church receives more attention than discipling new believers. Too often, big budgets are granted to pet ministries of long-time church members while giving token attention in the budget to actually fulfilling the Great Commission. Consequently, churches have many “ministries”, but do very little that fits within the bounds of the Great Commission.
People DO judge a book by its cover. That’s why Apple made sure that their standard of excellence didn’t just apply to the product, but to every aspect of the customer experience. Could Apple save millions of dollars if they packaged their phones differently? Sure, but they knew that nobody would ever pay attention to the quality of their product if it was packaged poorly.
As churches that declare the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have something of excellence to offer the world. Those who have tasted of the goodness of Christ have never regretted it. Jesus didn’t have to give a return policy for salvation because it’s never been needed. Yet, how often are churches guilty of packaging something as excellent as the transforming gospel of Christ in an unattractive way? What does it say about the gospel when people selling clothes have cleaner facilities than churches do? What does it say about our message when people find a more friendly, authentic community at a coffee shop than they do at church?
The message of the gospel deserves to be marketed with excellence because people do judge a book by its cover. That doesn’t just include making sure that church invitations are attractively designed and look up to date, but it also includes having a church campus that reflects how serious you are about representing the gospel. It includes how church volunteers treat guests every week. This doesn’t have to be costly. For some, it could be as simple as making sure the chairs, hymnals, and offering envelopes are straightened and the floors are perfectly cleaned. In some cases, it might mean a cosmetic remodel project at the church. It might require some to pay a small cost to get a new design for their church invitations. The cost and time is worth it because the world will judge the gospel by the way it is marketed.
Jesus Himself said that there would be areas in which the children of this world would be wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8). It’s perfectly OK to look at some traits that have made Apple successful and apply them to our ministries, making them more gospel-centered and more effective at reaching people than ever before.