Only a slim slice of the population pie is drawn to the typical health club. It’s a small slice and not growing. Yet a new line of clubs, Curves, has become the fastest growing in the industry. Rather than competing within the confines of the existing industry or trying to steal customers from rivals, Curves reinvented the health club. They created what some have called a “blue ocean.”1 This might remedy some of Christianity’s modern day irrelevance – reinvent itself as a blue ocean faith.
Businesses that keep using the same language are fishing in red oceans – where the market space gets more crowded, the lines get tangled and the competition turns the water bloody. Curves, on the other hand, recognized that clubs only need machines and to make money. They don’t necessarily need men, TVs, loud music and showers. Curves created a female-only club with equipment in a circle (for conversation), changing booths (no showers), no TVs and low fees. They’re reframing what a health club looks like – and reinventing the health club industry. That’s a blue ocean company.
Southwest Airlines is also a blue ocean company. They agreed that airlines need planes, petrol and passengers (profits wouldn’t hurt either). But Southwest reinvented the industry with point-to-point travel as opposed to the standard hub-and-spoke system. Now it’s planes, petrol, passengers, point-to-point… and profits.
Over the last thirty years there has been a long-term decline in the circus industry, with one exception – Cirque du Soleil. They have profitably increased revenue twenty-two-fold over the last twelve years by reinventing the circus. Rather than competing within the confines of the existing industry or trying to steal customers from rivals, Cirque reinvented the circus industry.
Over the last two hundred years there has been a long-term decline in how Europeans and Americans imagine Christianity. The gospel today is largely “a truth widely held, but a truth greatly reduced. It is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized, and rendered inane.”2 It’s been there done that. Or, as Theodore Roszak bluntly puts it: the Christian faith has become “socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.”3
This does not mean people no longer attend churches and Bible studies. They do. But Christianity is relegated to a day called Sunday and a place called church. It’s pretty much incoherent and inconsequential Monday through Friday. People still convert, yet “to have a conversion experience is nothing much,” writes Dr. Peter L. Berger. “The real thing is to be able to keep taking it seriously; to retain a sense of its plausibility.”4 A way to measure plausibility is to record how many times a Sunday’s Bible message contributes to Monday’s board meeting.
Several years ago Harvard Business School professor Laura Nash surveyed eighty-five CEOs who identified themselves as evangelicals. She applauded their emphasis “on self-discipline, hard work, thrift, and delayed gratification.”6 But Nash was surprised to discover evangelicals were as unschooled as the general public about how Sunday connects to Monday – if it does at all. Welcome to the red ocean. It’s a continuous film loop of sermon series covering worship, family, fellowship and evangelism. As one friend puts it, high predictability, low impact. Or, as Dallas Willard says, our system is perfectly designed to yield the result we are getting.
Albert Einstein said we could never solve a problem in the framework in which it was created. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Talking about Jesus, church and faith in the same old way and expecting things to get better is a red ocean faith. The “brutal reality” – as Jim Collins puts it – is that American church growth has stagnated. The fastest growing churches do so largely by transfer growth (people leaving one church to join another) rather than new folks coming to faith.6 We’re fishing in the same small red ocean.
Curves, Southwest Airlines and Cirque du Soleil all saw the wisdom in reframing an all-too-familiar message. How about Christianity? In the blue ocean, we reframe the historic gospel in language that connects Sunday to Monday. Speaking of Monday, we’ll begin to get our toes in the blue ocean next Monday.
1 W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant, (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 2005)
2 Walter Brueggeman, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), p.1
3 Roszak is a Professor of History at California State University, Hayward. C.f., Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), p.122
4 Peter Berger, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City: First Anchor, 1967), p.158
5 Laura Nash, Believers in Business: Resolving the tensions between Christian faith, business, ethics, competition, and our definitions of success (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1994), p.4
6 William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep: The Hidden Problems of Transfer Growth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001).