Blockbuster and The Future of Your Church

block-busterWith little fanfare, John Antioco resigned as the CEO of Blockbuster in June of 2008. Though the official reports said Antioco left Blockbuster because of disagreement over his salary, something far more problematic had occurred.

Back in 2000, Anitoco and the Blockbuster board located in Dallas had heard the ambitious Reed Hastings suggest that Blockbuster, the king of movie rentals, should merge with Hasting’s fledgling mail-order DVD company. The Blockbuster executives laughed at the proposal, viewing  on-demand rentals to about as certain as Biff’s casino empire. The executives sent Hastings packing.

Sadly for Blockbuster, Hasting’s financial delorean wasn’t as crazy as it first seemed. The businessman would go on to establish a quite profitable little company that now flashes an N every time it loads up on our screens. Yep, Hastings offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster. In turned out that Americans do like watching movies and T.V. shows on demand. 

Anitoco did not need twenty years to realize his mistake. By 2006, Anitoco knew he and not Hastings had been the fool. To keep his company from disappearing from Wall Street like Marty’s family which appeared head for oblivion, Anitoco began searching for ways to charge Blockbuster’s flux capacitor. He eliminated late fees and invested $200 million in developing an on demand video platform. 

Though things seemed promising, not all of the Blockbuster board and shareholders were happy. The company lost an estimated 400 million dollars in 2006 because of the new ventures. Though the company still turned a profit that year, many around Anitoco thought their CEO was making about as much sense as Doc Brown. Were their kids really in trouble?

Jim Keyes, one of the Blockbuster’s executives, and Carl Ichan, a prominent board member, believed Anitoco’s warning were a bunch of nonsense. After a few months of secret campaigning, the two men convinced the board to kick Anitoco to the curb and to install Keyes as the new CEO. Unlike Marty McFly, Anitoco never got the chance to slug Biff.

Keyes took Blockbuster back to its original timeline. Blockbuster killed its digital platform and reinstated late fees. Revenues boomed in 2008. In December of that year Keyes would boast that “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” Six years later, Hastings and his competitors would land the fatal punch. 

As we already noted, people liked getting DVD’s in the mail, driving to the local Redbox, and opening up streaming services. They also hated late fees. In 2014, Blockbuster who had bullied the movie-rental business for decades went bankrupt and sold its remaining holdings to DISH. Anitoco wasn’t so nuts after all and Keyes wasn’t such a knowitall.

Before the last Blockbuster store closes, churches should rewind the Blockbuster story and watch it one more time, seeking to learn from the company’s collapse.

What Churches Can Learn

Blockbuster stores aren’t the only thing disappearing these days. Churches are closing at a rapid rate. To regain their lost market share, evangelicals have begun popping out church plants in every available community space. Mark Dever has noted that church plants abound because many established churches refuse to change. I concur with this assessment.

When the Hastings of the evangelical world stop by the traditional church for a Sunday visit, they posses hearts loyal to the gospel and passionate about missions. Though the established may church grant the evangelical entrepreneurs an audience with their deacon board, the board has little time for their ideas. They laugh at the new pastor’s plan to divert the recreation budget to missions. They mock the thirty something guy for not understanding the glories of 1955 hymnity. And, they refuse to change the church’s schedule for the purpose of reaching young families. The established church rejects the hopes of gospel growth, preferring the familiar comforts of now. Discouraged and rejected, the evangelical leaders of tomorrow often take their worn leather satchels down the street to the local gym and form a church plant.

Thankfully, some churches tentatively embrace the next generation of church leaders, knowing it is ok to move on from that black cup of decaf coffee. Theses congregations know the Hastings of the world are onto something. Cultures change over time; vest-jackets become a thing. These churches recognize that the unchanging gospel can be shared with new music styles and applied with the help of Facebook.

These congregations welcome the new pastor pastor to their slightly dysfunctional family meals. For the first time in years, the man shares the gospel afresh, preaching faithful expository sermons. Other changes begin to follow. The church changes its schedule to increase attendance. The congregation votes to reallocate money from trips to the buffet to trips to India. The deacons freshens up the nursery that looked about as organized as Doc Brown’s workshop.

The result prove positive. The singing becomes more passionate, new members trickle in, and the budget stabilizes. Involvement in outreach projects grows. Excitement returns.

But the old power players, the Keyes of the local church, still remain doubtful that the present changes will lead to sustainable future gains. Moreover, they dislike sharing their influence with the new members; mourn the loss of their social outings, and find the focus on doctrine to be about as helpful as Marty’s guitar solo.  They long for success but for the success of yesteryear. 

Their angst leads them to action. The Keyes scheme and plot, calling through the directory, holding secret deacon meetings, and sending covert Facebook messages. Once they get the needed votes, they shoot off down the road at breakneck speed only coming to a stop after they have removed the pastor and turned back all the changes. 

At first all goes well. A few old faces pop back in for a few weeks. They sing all the typical songs. They forget the mission projects and start going on those lunches they loved. Everyone feels happy. The angst is gone.

But within a few weeks, the new members also disappear. The budget begins to shrink. They church stops being able to pay its pastor. Within 3-5 years, the church ceases to exists, becoming one of Marty’s forgotten memories. The actions that promised success through a return to yesteryear produced bankruptcy shrouded in the despair of Biff’s casino empire.

What should we do when we experience the angst of change?

We should trust our pastors and elders and talk with them.

The author of Hebrews writes:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you – Hebrews 13:17.

This is not a blank check of trust. Elders and pastors are to be men of character and men above reproach (1 Tim 3:2). Christians should not follow elders and pastors who bully the church members like a bunch of outlaws in the Wild West. Pastors who deny the Scriptures by their words and deeds should be removed through church discipline. 

But Christians should extend elders and pastors who walk faithfully with the Lord the benefit of the doubt as they lead their church towards the future. When members have insights that could help their pastors lead well, they should share those thoughts with their leaders. Like Doc Brown, good elders will read the notes that their members stuff in their pockets, knowing that the Holy Spirit empowers the whole church. But at the end of the day, members should trust godly leaders and submit to their authority even when they make secondary decisions that go against the member’s preference. 

Blockbuster imploded because it refused to follow its duly appointed leader who was taking steps for future success.

That’s all folks; it’s time to pop the video of of the VRC’. No late fees here.

What will you do? Will you and your church cling to the familiar and die? Or will you trust your leaders and reach 88 miles an hour so that you can reach the future? Or will your congregation disappear into oblivion? The future is waiting!