Coaching

Apple is Shifting to Services (and Youth Ministry Should Be Too)

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Apple Just made a huge pivot in its business.  For years they have been a company that has primarily been about generating money off of top-quality, brilliantly-designed physical products that they sell at a premium.  In their March 2019 event in the Steve Jobs Theatre they have indicated a shift in their business model from product-centered to service-centered.  

In non-geek terms it means that they are projecting that their growth (and therefore focus) will be on selling ongoing services like their news, game and t.v. subscriptions rather than their physical products.  They are not planning on neglecting the iPhone, but this shift sees the iPhone as a tool to sell and deliver services rather than their services making people want to buy more iPhones.  I think most youth ministries need to make the same shift.

Products serve the services.

The products we produce are the events that happen once and are done.  Like Apple selling you an iPhone in one moment and being finished with the transaction, our retreats, lock-ins (ugh), mission trips, scavenger hunts, etc. happen in a moment and are done.  These programs are often turning points for students to start coming to your group or make major spiritual decisions, and we spend a lot of time and money on creating them (much like apple does on creating the iPhone). 

Far too often our ongoing relationship programs like weekly worship, small groups, attending students’ sporting events, Sunday school, etc. are used to serve the events.  Every time we are in those “services” we promote the next “product.” Don’t forget to register!”  we remind.  “It’s almost full!” we plead. “Invite a friend!” we repeat.  And once we are at the retreat, lock-in (ugh), or other event, we give only a cursory mention of our ongoing “services.”

We have to flip this on its head.  Our events have to become all about pushing students into regular, ongoing discipleship opportunities that meet them where they are and support them in their desire to move forward.  At our events there should be a constant drum beat from registration to emotional goodbye of “Have you joined a small group?”  “You will love worship on Sunday nights,” and “You should volunteer with our media team!”

Ongoing relationships are where the power is.

Apple understands that the real power is in an ongoing relationship with their customer.  If they only see you once every two or three years to upgrade your phone, there is a lot of time for your loyalty to drift and for you only experience to be frustration when the product doesn’t function correctly (because we all know no one notices when things are going well). The real power is developing a regular interaction between you and Apple.

Though the flashy event is impressive and it’s easy to show a “win” with a bunch of students in the youth ministry humble brag picture at the end (look at how many students God brought to our product launch!), every youth worker knows that real life-change happens when the rubber meets the road back home.  That means that we have to start prioritizing those services as much as we do the splashy products. We need to do the same level of planning, recruiting, and creative thinking on our ongoing services.

Don’t underestimate the smallest transactions.  

Apple released a credit card.  Think about that for a minute. The company that spends billions on design and tooling and even employs metallurgists to create new alloys for their physical products launched a credit card. Credit card companies are uniquely awful, but they make tons of money off of tiny fractions of every transaction.  They may only get four cents off your latte, but multiply that a hundred billion times and you have a ton of money.  If apple can make the credit card business less hostile towards users, they have the chance to get in on those tiny transactions (and a lot of money).

Some of the smallest things you do can have a major impact, but they are often the first things you ignore.  When you comment on a student’s photo, or send them a birthday text or write a prayer in a comment on a post where they asked for prayer, you are making a real impact.  It’s not a major one, but it is WAY outsized for the four seconds it took you to accomplish.  

Now multiply that and do it ten times over a month.  That turns into 120 times in a year, and those tiny seconds of effort turn into MAJOR relational ministry tools.  Those students end up feeling like their is someone in the world who truly cares for their soul and wants to be there for them when things get tough.  

Coming this fall

Many of the things Apple announced aren’t coming out today or tomorrow.  Making the shift from focusing on products to services in your youth ministry can’t happen tomorrow either.  Today, you need to take stock of where you are, and begin to figure out where you need to be.  Then, start talking about the changes “coming this fall.”  Explain it to volunteers, parents, and students.  Then, talk about it again.  After your next event, ask volunteers that will need to be different next year when you are focusing on services rather than products.  Then when it comes time to make the shift, you will have paved the road with expectation rather than springing it one everyone like a dad who walks out clean shaven after years with a beard.  

When he's not with his four children and wonderful wife, Jeremy Steele is a teaching pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He is passionate about engaging people with the movement of God and speaks across the US. He's also the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry. For more about his other books, articles, and resources, see JeremyWords.com.

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