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Creating Church Experiences Worth Experiencing

Church and the Experience Economy

Welcome to the experience economy. Actually, we’ve been living in it for a decade or two, even if you and I haven’t realized it. Most of us are old enough to remember the previous service economy. The economic progression away from the service economy has been evolving for quite some time and has real implications for your church.

Let’s chat for a minute about this economic progression to better understand how it affects our churches.

The Evolving Economic Reality

There have been four distinct stages of the US economy: Agrarian, Industrial, Service, and Experience. In a way, the history of economic progress can be illustrated in the four-stage evolution of the birthday cake—which sounds weird, but hang with me.

During the AGRARIAN economy, mothers made birthday cakes from scratch, mixing farm commodities (flour, sugar, butter, and eggs) that cost a few dimes. As the goods-based INDUSTRIAL economy arrived, moms paid a dollar or two to Betty Crocker for premixed ingredients. Later, when the SERVICE economy took hold, busy parents ordered cakes from the bakery or grocery store for $10 or $15—ten times as much as the packaged ingredients. Now, in the EXPERIENCE economy, parents neither make the birthday cake nor even throw the party. Instead, they spend $100, $200, or $500 (or even more) to “outsource” the entire event to a business that stages a memorable event for the kids—and often throws in the cake for free!

The Experience Economy Fundamentals

Several years ago, I was in LA visiting a friend. As we walked down the street to grab lunch, we passed by a store that charged people to pet puppies and kittens by the hour. I assumed I had read the sign wrong. This must be a pet store or a humane society. But no. At this establishment, people could pay to pet puppies and kittens by the hour.

And it was packed, by the way.

I thought that was insane. Turns out, it’s brilliant. That’s the experience economy.

Conceptually, the experience economy defines the shift in economic value from products and services to experiences. In this economy, businesses focus on creating memorable and engaging customer experiences as a primary offering. These experiences go beyond the functional aspects of a product or service and aim to evoke emotions, connect with individuals on a deeper level, and provide a sense of personalization and authenticity.

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore coined this term in their book “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage.” Here’s how they describe the experience economy:

An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event.

Several companies have thrived in the experience economy by effectively leveraging this concept, such as:

Disney: Disney is renowned for its ability to create immersive experiences in its theme parks. From the moment visitors step into a Disney park, they are transported to a world of magic and wonder, with attention to detail, storytelling, and customer service being central to the experience.