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5 Things Netflix Is Showing Church Leaders About the Future

Netflix and other on-demand video providers have already changed the culture more than you think.

And they’ve probably changed you more than you think.

Remember the good old days, back in, say, 2007 when people would gather around a set together to watch a TV show live when it was first broadcast?

Barely, right?

Whenever culture shifts, church leaders should pay attention.

Prudent leaders are taking notes now, because while the change will come later in the church (it always does), change is inevitable and it will be unkind to the unprepared.

Five Things Netflix Is Showing Church Leaders About the Future

So what can we learn from this? Plenty.

While it’s hard to say exactly how things will play out, the shifts are significant enough that you can begin to craft a strategy now. All of which serves the larger purpose of reaching your community with the message of Christ.

Respond, and you won’t be left wondering what happened.

Ignore the change, and you’ll be like an encyclopedia salesperson wondering why no one wants to answer the door anymore.

Church leaders who see the future can seize the future.

So, here are five things the changes Netflix (and the like) have brought about that will impact the future church:

1. Live, simultaneous viewing is waning.

About the only thing many people watch live now is sports, particularly if you monitor the viewing habits of people under 40.

Even regular shows people track with are often DVR’ed so people can skip through commercials. Personally, even though I’m over 40, I rarely watch network television, but when I do, I’ll record a show and start watching it 15-20 minutes late so I can skip through the commercials.

A few implications for church leaders:

1. Will once on Sunday seem strange? People are increasingly used to listening to your content on their schedule. If your main draw on Sunday morning is the message, offering it only once live on Sunday will not resonate as much in the future as it has in the past. While this might not mean adding more services (extra services with 12 people attending each is not compelling), it does force you to reconsider what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

2. Relationships and mission will be more powerful than singing and speakingThe gathering of the church at its best has always been about more than just a service or even a message on Sunday. The church is community on a common mission in which relationships with insiders and outsiders are central.

Churches that elevate relationship—both for new attenders and regular attenders—will see far more effectiveness in the future than churches that don’t.

In fact, you might even see more people drawn to your services not just for the services but for the relationships and for a chance to make a difference working together on a common mission that makes a difference.

If all you do is sing and speak on a Sunday, it will become harder and harder to gather a crowd.

If you want to read more about the importance of relationships on Sunday and how to respond to declining attendance, this post on 7 Ways to Respond as People Who Attend Church Attend Less Often can help.

2. Watching is becoming personal, individual and portable.

Like you, I now consume content on multiple devices. I can watch TV, movies and Netflix on my phone, iPad, laptop, desktop or TV.

And, like you, I simply pick up where I left off. Stop a show at 33:23 on one device and pick up at 33:24 on another, whenever you want. Start at the gym, finish in the car or on the back deck.

Recently, Netflix began to allow subscribers to create individual users on a common account so your kids or spouse can watch what they’re watching and you can watch what you’re watching without messing up each other’s feed. As a result, various members of a household may be watching the same series, but will be at different places in a series.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.