When is the last time you thought – deeply, as a leader – about delivery systems? If you are in the world of commerce, you probably answered, “Today.” It’s one of the most pressing concerns facing the marketplace.
But if you are a church or a seminary?
You probably don’t have an answer.
But you should.
A delivery system is simply the way you deliver a product or a message. Leadership is often phrased as getting from “here to there.” But a delivery system is how you get “this to there.” One might think that delivery systems don’t require much thought, but that would be tragically wrong, and for one simple reason:
The way people want and need things delivered changes.
For example, news recently broke that Best Buy is going to stop selling CDs at its stores. Today, the primary way Americans listen to music is through a streaming service. So much so that Ford Motor Company just rolled out its first car in 25 years without a CD player. If you insist on trying to deliver your music through CDs, you will deliver very little.
Now think about something like a seminary. They can deliver theological education through a three-year residential program at a bricks-and-mortar school as they have for almost all of their history, or they can offer online education and degrees. There is little doubt that the three-year residential program has many benefits but, like the CD, it isn’t how people listen to their educational music.
Today, graduate students are often older and, due to family and economic responsibilities, need to pursue graduate degrees on a part-time basis. Which also means they are not able to uproot and relocate to another city. Yes, a seminary can go “multi-site,” but as Fuller and Moody have recently learned, this is just an extension of the residential bricks-and-mortar model, not a truly new delivery system. Online is simply how and where most people want to learn. It dominates every other educational tributary into their life, from TED Talks to Google searches, online DIY tutorials to YouTube instructional videos. All to say, if seminaries don’t rethink their delivery system, they may not have anyone to deliver their education to.
This is also true for churches. Increasing numbers of people are experiencing community online. They are downloading and listening to podcasts, watching online services and taking online courses. Are you “delivering” discipleship and instruction, community and care, in solely antiquated ways? No need to remind me of the importance of “touch” in a high-tech world, or that the true nature of biblical community can never be achieved virtually. I am in full and total agreement. But what about the steps taken to enter into that community? What about offering aspects of discipleship online?
My point is not to “deliver” the answer on how to deliver. It is to prompt you to think about delivery. After all, didn’t someone once say: “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14, NLT)
Sounds like a call to “think delivery.”
James Emery White
Emily Sullivan, “Best Buy to Pull CDs from Its Stores, According to Report,” NPR, February 6, 2018, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.