The Church Is Not Apple, But…
The Church is not Apple. I know that. I wasn’t trying to suggest it was with last week’s riff on Guy Kawasaki’s post about learning from the Apple store. There are plenty of things about Apple that I don’t want to emulate (and, truth be told, plenty of stuff in the church – historically and presently – that I’m not proud of, either, but that’s for another post.) And there are lots of places where even a metaphorical comparison between Apple and the Church breaks down. So, let me say again: The Church is not Apple….
And of course here’s where it gets interesting. Because while the Church is not Apple, and our congregations are not Apple Stores, I still think there’s a lot to learn from Apple. And of all the things we might learn, of all the things Guy Kawasaki and Carmine Gallo point out, here’s the number one thing I want us to learn from Apple: design matters.
Sound simple, even superficial? Let me explain.
Steve Jobs was, above all else, a designer. He cared, and cared deeply, about aesthetics – the way things look, the way they feel, the way they work. He didn’t just make things, he made things work beautifully, and in this way made work more beautiful.
Indeed, one could argue that Jobs didn’t make anything in the sense of inventing something new. He didn’t invent the home computer, he made it truly personal. He didn’t invent the mp3 player, he made it cool, simple and useful. He didn’t invent mobile phones, he made them indispensible and beautiful.
I’d suggest that Jobs’ emphasis – and genius – was two fold. (Warning: what I’m going to say may sound initially contradictory, but I’d invite you to entertain it as a paradox. ) 1) Beauty and simplicity are valuable as ends in and of themselves because beauty and simplicity create delight, pleasure, and enjoyment. 2) At the same time, beauty and simplicity are not the ultimate point. Or, perhaps better, beauty and simplicity reach beyond themselves and so they are not simply ends in themselves.
While I want to affirm the former – beauty and simplicity have integral value on their own – I want to elaborate on the latter: they also serve another end, which is why design matters.
What Jobs understood about design, I think, is that design – and aesthetics more generally – is about experience. The way you design something – in terms of functionality, appearance, feel, and all the rest – shapes the kind of experience you’ll have using it. And what Jobs brought to computing was the desire and intention to shape the experience of those who might use Apple products. Or, even more, Jobs wanted to create a particular experience for users and he started with that experience as the goal and then brought everything he and others knew about design to work backward from that experiential goal to the critical components necessary to create that experience.
This kind of “backward-design,” or “outcomes-based design,” is something I think congregations could benefit from tremendously. What kind of experience do we hope people will have in our congregations, at worship, when (if) they come to education? What should our bulletins and newsletter look like? How should we construct our sermons and worship services? What shape should our youth outings and outreach programs take? What should everything we do look like and feel like and work like in order to create the experience we hope people in our faith communities will have.
The great barrier to this kind of approach, I’ve found, is that we believe we already know what we’re doing. That doesn’t mean we’re know-it-alls, but that we accept as a given that certain things are just the way the are. For example, if there’s one thing the church knows how to do it’s preaching and worship, right? Except it doesn’t seem to be working anymore, at least not in the sense that people are leaving our services confident of their own ability to read and understand the Bible or share their faith. But because we know what we’re doing – the unassailable assumption – we keep doing it over and over again – or maybe with more flash (video clips) or power (power point) – instead of wondering whether we should rethink the basics of preaching and worship in light of our desired outcomes or the particular experience we want to create.
In a documentary on Jobs life, I heard him say that the single most important moment in his life was when he realized that a) reality is not a given, it’s something that is created; and b) that the people who created it were no smarter than he was. That insight gave him the permission and passion to rethink how things are put together, to focus on design that creates experience, and to transform both the experience of users and the entire industry.
Design matters, and I’d love if more congregations were willing to ask design-oriented questions – what do we want the outcome to be? how do we put things together to get there? – in order to give faithful witness to the Gospel in this day and age.