How to Disrupt Your Church Traditions

In the past few days, we’ve spent some time and have read a lot of commentary about Steve Jobs. One of the primary strategies of his vision was the idea of disruption. Jobs did not invent music or digital downloads; he just saw an opportunity to disrupt the landscape of downloading music by making sense of it. He didn’t invent the smart phone but disrupted the industry by making a smart phone that solved problems and freed communication. He didn’t invent the computer again; he disrupted the market by making computers that made sense and were intuitive, freeing the user. 

Look around at the companies, organizations, and products that have exploded and experienced phenomenal growth. Netflix disrupted entertainment. Facebook disrupted the landscape of social media. Apple’s digital newsstand will disrupt the publishing industry. Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, YouTube, Google, etc. It almost seems as if you want to change constantly and disrupt and undermine your own progress in order to make progress, right?

Disrupting a cultural norm of how things are received, shared, purchased, viewed, given, told, or organized is not really brilliant. The results are brilliant but not the disruption. Disruption requires common sense ingredients that in themselves are what makes the disruption brilliant. Think about the kinds of questions that lead to disruption.

What is broken about this aspect of focus? How should things be so this will actually work? What’s not intuitive or natural about this function? What is the core motive and best means for accomplishing this purpose?

When answers come to those questions, the next brilliant ingredient is courage. Jobs had the audacious tenacity to call something broken “broke” and even more courageous vision to apply the fix while pushing through the barriers that resisted adoption.

In religion, spiritual community, the church, or whatever you want to call it, we’re facing a dire need for disruption. Look at the operating system of the average method of delivering, sharing, telling, and participating in the life-giving message of Christ. The North American church is on the Blockbuster video end of a potential Netflix disruption. We’re facing a Borders Book’s end if someone doesn’t step up to create a new Amazon for this day and age.

I want to warn you that because I’m using corporate examples and metaphors, I am not at all condoning corporate minded church; that’s replication and not innovation. I’m instead inviting you to consider how predictable and narrowly, wall enclosed, agreeable the North American church is. Whether we care to admit it or not, we tend to gravitate toward comfortable and controllable systems that go for decades without change. Some would raise their hands and say my church is so relevant and creative. Truthfully though, the creativity is focused on how to perpetuate the system with creativity. It’s more rewrapping than it is disrupting. If our churches were disruptive to the system, I wonder if it would become less common for a community to have vibrant active churches who actually owned buildings or met on the same day each week? Is there anyone who, when they see Barna Research about the next generation bailing on the church, thinks to themselves that the current system of how we do church is the actual problem and that the customers are looking for spiritual depth and meaning from places, spaces, and people who are meeting them where they are at in a way that makes better sense?

Take for example online church. Sounds creative, and except for a handful of churches who are trying to disrupt the content delivery, most online experiences are just a conduit to perpetuate the current system. It’s not at all disruptive to stream a service. Is the North American church service even a close kin to its early church beginning in core relevancy? It seems as though the bride is being blocked by the system and wants to be bothered, disrupted, and courted in an escapade filled with adventure and courage that she deserves.

Everything right now is dependent on the current church system. Disruption will be hard for the church because in general every linchpin is focused on the same thing; make the issues and problems within the system organized and program treated rather than questioning the operating system, delivery, and scope of the way it is working. I love the church and to hate the church is to hate His bride. 

I think about what it’s like for my wife when I don’t get into her head, hear her words, and move her spirit by stretching myself romantically, emotionally, and relationally. She loves it when I try new things, take her to new places, and court her as if I would lose her if I didn’t. I want to disrupt things because even if I fail it is a way better alternative than becoming numb or trying to convince myself and others that it’s okay having presence but not purpose.

Possible disruptions to consider.

Don’t meet at a building any more if the building has become the system.

Don’t hire any more staff and work the ones you have out of their role and into the community if staff dependency has become the system.

Don’t attend church conferences this year and instead attend a non-church related one in a real world context if chasing conference ideas has become your system.

Don’t start another campus or ministry but look for an organization in the city that is meeting a real time crisis need people are desperately flocking to and support their efforts if trying to compete with organizations has become your system.

Don’t file for a 501c3 and organize your community “the church” around what the church is prayerfully being called to do and contribute to in their city if meeting a budget has become your system.

Don’t preach any more; have conversations that preach the Word within them and teach people how to do it if the preacher is the system.

Support a church already in the community that your suburban church feels called to reach instead of starting a new one or vice versa if the next place has become the system.

Teach people the priesthood of the believer and how to organize the church already around them where they are at in their neighborhood if nobody doing anything has become the system.

Don’t count any more because you’ve grown comfortable with being bigger as your system.

Whatever you’ve been doing as a system, disrupt it. Disrupt all systems, as much as you can.

Again:

What is broken about this? How should things be so this will actually work? What’s not intuitive or natural about this function? What is the core motive and best means for accomplishing this purpose? How is God leading us to break this system so it can really share, really communicate, really accomplish the purpose that He intended?

*Be careful as you attempt to ask these questions. People in the system rarely see or want to disrupt the system. They are more inclined to want to have a square wheel than see what needs to be done or is right in front of their faces.

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Chad Swanzy
Chad Swanzy has served in youth ministry for 15 years and currently works as the student ministry director at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. Learn more from Chad and ask him your questions at ChadSwanzy.com.