The Industrial Age of Churches and Ministries Is Over: by Phil Cooke

–Phil Cooke, Ph.D., was the keynote speaker at last year’s convention of the Society of Adventist Communicators. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing” from Thomas Nelson Publishers

While principles don’t change, methods of sharing them should

Written for the Adventist News Network 18 Jan 2011, Burbank, California, United States

Phil Cooke

Marketing guru Seth Godin endorsed my book “The Last TV Evangelist” about why Christians are failing to engage the culture effectively through media. He’s considered by many to be a visionary thinker. Recently, he wrote a fascinating blog post on the recession, and pointed out that it’s made up of two important things: 1. The financial recession, which is cyclical and will bounce back, and the 2. Recession of the Industrial Age, which will continue forever. Here’s some of what he said:

“The other one, (version 2) I fear, is here forever. This is the recession of the industrial age, the receding wave of bounty that workers and businesses got as a result of rising productivity but imperfect market communication. In short: if you’re local, we need to buy from you. If you work in town, we need to hire you. If you can do a craft, we can’t replace you with a machine. No longer. The lowest price for any good worth pricing is now available to anyone, anywhere. Which makes the market for boring stuff a lot more perfect than it used to be.”

Godin is right. There’s no question that industries like movies and TV, music, publishing, banking, and even the automotive industry are going through a profound transformation. The old rules don’t exist anymore, and in the age of social media, how we connect with our audiences or our community is dramatically changing.

But it doesn’t take much of a leap to realize that the same thing is happening to “industrial age” churches and ministries.

In the Christian world, that transformation is happening just as quickly, and in many ways, with more profound results. The Bible says that God’s Word never changes, but the truth is that everything else does. Culture, trends, demographics, styles, technology, education, lifestyles, and more–all are changing at the speed of light. But the question is–are churches and ministries responding to these changes? Or are we still stuck in an “industrial age” of the past?

By “industrial age” I don’t mean old churches. It’s not a matter of age, it’s a matter of thinking. Historically, Christian leaders who made the greatest influence in their generation were also the most aware of the changes happening during their lifetimes. Whether it was the advent of the printing press, political revolution, global transportation, and more–responsive leaders make the most profound impact.

For instance, today, far too many organizations who experienced great success five, 10 or 20 years ago, don’t realize that the age is over. I’ve sat in leadership meetings where pastors are baffled at why they can’t re-create their success from 2005, 2000, 1995 or earlier. Hey, if it worked then, why won’t it work today? But they don’t realize that the era is over. Audiences change. Donors change. Congregations change. Cultures change. The world has changed.

As Godin says: “Protectionism isn’t going to fix this problem. Neither is stimulus of old factories or yelling in frustration and anger. No, the only useful response is to view this as an opportunity. To poorly paraphrase Clay Shirky, every revolution destroys the last thing before it turns a profit on a new thing.”

Today, too many Christian leaders are desperately trying to protect “the way it’s always been done” rather than realize the opportunity that real change can bring. Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day because they couldn’t read the signs of the times. I’m here to shout the same message. The world is changing and yet far too many churches, ministries and non-profits keep on looking back, doing business as usual, and as a result, keep on failing.

Propping up the old method only keeps you from realizing real success. Stop reaching for yesterday. Stop being upset at your team because they can’t replicate past success. Look around you. Those days are over.

It’s time to recognize the future.

Question: The Strategic Plan for Southwest Region Conference of SDA was disseminated to churches two weeks ago. Does this plan align with the theories presented in this article? Why?


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11 Responses to The Industrial Age of Churches and Ministries Is Over: by Phil Cooke

  1. Dolomite9 says:

    Let us all move out of the industrial age!Let’s make it happen for evererybody!Equip each one with the necessary tools and “let those who are experts” help those who are not rather than parade the “frozen chosen” and make them think that everybody else is an idiot or unnecessary!If we can become kinder we can win 100 where we win only 1 by neglecting to be kind.Industrial age or no a little kindness goes a long way.”Christ’s methods alone will bring true success”


  2. Anonymous says:

    forgotten shepherdess I really love and appreciate this blog!Thank you for making it possible!


  3. Jonah_77 says:

    To quote Ronald Reagan, “Here we go again”. Before you start the implementation of any plan, you must identify what you want to accomplish at all levels of organization otherwise, it is fluff. This organization has multiple levels not two as stated by a member of the Strategic Committee. Strategy also has to address current issues or concerns. If it does not do this, then your initial implementation will be bogged down by issues instead of collectively working a plan for everything.

    With all of the learned professionals out there I am amazed that what I have seen so far is as one movie put it, “Words On Paper”. What’s more, if you accept a strategy that breaks up your issues or problems and moves them out 5 years then you are not BLIND, but the other two. Can someone please send me the strategic plan. I have seen only bits and pieces.

    Question? Is it the best we can do? Can we do better? Was two weeks enough for churches and pastors?

    Answer? NO. YES. and NO.

    However, once again, a political system that puts forth one plan and then says choose. We must stop planning in a vacuum. What else is on the table.

    What Say You?


  4. ZERO says:


    Once upon a time there was a Kingdom called Zero. The Kingdom was known throughout the earth because everybody got zero. One day they called a strategy meeting to figure out how they could get something.

    Now the inhabitants of the Kingdom lived in total darkness and desired only one thing, to live on top of the earth, where if they could get there, they could enjoy real light. At one of the great council meetings Royalty decided to employ the services of some of their skilled subjects, Blind, Stupid, and Dumb. So Royalty called all three together for an interview with the purpose of seeing how they could get all the people to the light.

    The Interview went like this…

    Blind’s Idea: “Since I have never seen light and experienced it, follow me to the top. I know how to get there by hugging the walls and following my markers.”

    DUMB’S IDEA: “Follow me” he said… “I will plant dynamite at Blind’s markers, and at an exact moment in time I’ll press the button and instantly light will be revealed.”

    STUPID’S IDEA: “Follow me and when we get to Blind’s final marker I’ll set the land on fire and we will all see and feel the light.”

    So Royalty didn’t know who should lead because their ideas seem so convincing to them. After an Executive Session, Royalty made a decision, to employ all three strategies. Following this decision an announcement went out through all the Land of Zero that every inhabitant would gather at one location, to meet at a certain time where indeed all citizens of the Land of Zero would for the first time see real light.

    What a great gathering it came to be, friends, relatives and all the leaders were assembled. There was music, singing and cheers in the land. It was a day of great celebration. And then the great moment arrived.

    Blind started leading, and after several hours his followers looked around and found that they were back at the same spot they started from.

    Next, Dumb planted the dynamite at Blind’s markers and at a specific time press the button and blew up the Land of Zero.

    And finally Stupid, in his last moments, set the kingdom on fire.

    CONCLUSION: Because the citizens believed Blind because they believed Dumb and believed Stupid, they all got ZERO.

    MORAL OF THE STORY: ZERO plus ZERO always equals ZERO; and don’t believe blind, stupid and dumb ideas.


    From Zero


    • Anonymous says:

      Blind, dumb,and stupid always seem to get the edge amazingly please don’t end up in zeroland!Can sommebody help us please?The Lord will let us make a choice and we will be responsible for what we choose!


  5. Ain't too proud to beg says:

    I have to agree with ANONYMOUS. I don’t want to be pessimistic but what I have seen looks the same, from the articles point of view.

    The problem I see is that everybody wants something for themselves. I don’t see the “how”.

    It would be helpful if someone could come on the forum and explain what the mean. CAN THIS BE POSSIBLE?

    I hope we don’t get ZERO!


  6. Anonymous says:

    I am still ruminating on the strategic plan to see what is fluff and what is really practical because every strategy has to be tailored to the local situation or we end up back at zero!I am encouraged because when we first started talking about the strategic plan,we needed dictionaries ti figure out what they were talking about.Now at least , it is in a form that everyone can understand.Now the concern becomes spreading it out in such a way that every church in the entire conference can benefit from it.That way it will be our strategic plan!


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