The Church isn’t the product. The Church is the platform.

The Apple Watch will be a huge success or a grand failure, but which one it ends up being doesn’t depend exclusively on Apple. That reality is a bit of their genius. The thing that sets Apple apart from competitors like Microsoft, at least in the mobile space, is its ability to inspire, and generate platforms to support the creativity of, a robust developer community.

Now of course it’s a bit disingenuous to underestimate the company’s impact upon the imminent success, or failure, of the upcoming Apple Watch. The unique engineering of the hardware, the features they choose to offer and those they exclude or wall off from developers; each decision will help to shape the Apple Watch platform. If they are too lax in setting the parameters, they’ll undermine the usability (and battery life) of the device. But if they are too rigid, or not ingenuitive enough in their hardware design, they’ll stifle the potential creativity of the developer community.

Of course, with the watch not even on sale yet, it is far too early to tell whether it will be a success.

Regardless, the rampant speculation about the Apple Watch’s potential success got me thinking about the church. Too often we look at the church as if it is the product rather than the platform. But this is to mistake the vehicle, as important as we might find it, for the message.

When we understand that the church is a platform, we realize that it, like Apple’s Watch, will only thrive if its hardware and software are aligned to support God’s vision. Christians, called to share the good news that the kin(g)dom of God is near, need a resilient platform capable of amplifying this message of hope and supporting its implementation.

Now I’m sure we can all think of churches that suffer from having hardware and/or software shortcomings. In fact, sometimes it may be the the only thing we can think of. After all, we made many of our investments in buildings and denominational structures a long time ago; and some of these sacred properties, which truly blessed previous generations, limit us dearly today. We also are prone to encounter deficiencies and cultural incompatibilities in our church software, the inherited theology and polity, that isn’t as innovative or adaptive as it once was.

The challenges presented by our inherited platform, the church, are worth addressing. Without our work, the platform will limit our ability to function and decrease the efficiency of any efforts we put into the system. That said, it is also true that we need to reach, educate, and properly equip a developer community. This again, is something Apple dedicates energy and resources to.

We could have the best hardware and software in the world but if we do not have people who are eager to use it, there is absolutely no point. As some of Apple’s fiercest competitors have discovered, just because you build it doesn’t mean people will come. Microsoft, with billions to spend, has been creating solid mobile devices in recent years but the lack of a large developer community has stymied the company’s ability to gain traction or any significant marketshare.

There is nothing wrong with working on our hardware and software. But we can’t do that at the cost of ignoring the requisite time, energy, and resources needed to reach, educate, and equip a robust developer community. In some ways, our efforts to support a healthy developer community on our platform (instead of the usual energy spent placating the grumbling community), may be exactly what is needed to inspire the necessary updates our platform needs.

When we think about the church of today, we need to envision a platform that is ingenuitive and well defined enough to inspire the creativity of the people of God. This is no small task but it is the kind of work that can lead to new life.

So, what might look different if your ministry platform embodied more of Apple’s consideration for the developer community? What can you do today to ensure that your church is ready for support ministry tomorrow?

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