First there was Amazon.com. How we purchased things changed forever. First, we had the ability to shop for books from our home computer. Soon, their inventory exploded. I still remember the day I ordered my father a chainsaw from Amazon. Amazon grew and developed. Suddenly we could buy nearly anything from our computer, tablet or phone and have it shipped for free or, for a cost, incredibly fast.
Then came Amazon Prime. Critics were flummoxed. Why would someone pay a yearly fee to be able to buy things from Amazon? But people signed up in droves for free shipping with no minimum order and low cost, next-day shipping. Then there came the Kindle. People would no longer need to buy physical books from Amazon, and they could start reading new books instantly. Critics said that no one would give up physical books, though, in 2010, e-books began outselling paper books on Amazon. Then came streaming video and the ability to buy or rent a movie instantly or watch it free for Prime members.
When Amazon lifted the veil on drone delivery, the world pretty much freaked out. Some were concerned about the safety implications of such a thing. Others were asking, “why do we need to get stuff so fast?” Others said, “How long before I can have my order delivered via drone?”
While we were all debating the merits of delivery drones, Amazon prepared what is now called “Amazon PrimeNow.” Prime customers in select cities and delivery areas can now place an order via the Prime Now app and have their order delivered in two hours for free or one hour for a delivery charge.
As soon as I got the app, I started price shopping. It turns out that some of the items that we buy on a weekly basis were available and for prices comparable to what we usually pay. But who in the world would needs a half-gallon of almond milk delivered to their house in two hours? I mean besides the parents of two growing boys – two who are allergic to milk and one who is allergic to soy – who don’t have anything for breakfast in the morning. And since I am ordering, my dogs start scratching themselves constantly if I don’t buy them a certain kind of dog food that is difficult to find. Amazon can deliver that 30-pound bag at my door for about the same price I usually drive across town to buy.
This is all kind of crazy. This new model has serious implications, especially for small, local businesses that are already struggling. It has implications for the economy, for jobs, and for the environment. But that is not what this post it about. This post is about the question, what can the Church learn from Amazon Prime Now?
Filling a Need
Amazon has an uncanny ability to create services to fill needs that people didn’t know they had. I didn’t know that I had a need to order nearly any book on the planet from home and have it delivered. I didn’t know that I really needed it in two days or the next day. I didn’t know that I needed to be able to carry all my books around with me on one device and get new ones instantly. I didn’t realize that I needed the ability to order nearly every kind of product and have it delivered the next day. I certainly didn’t know I needed someone to bring me frozen yogurt within an hour. But yet, services like these from Amazon have become a part of daily life for many, many people.
The church has the way to fill the needs that many people don’t know they have. People who know they need Jesus may go looking for a church. But most people who don’t have a relationship with God don’t realize that God can fill their deepest needs and desires. When people go out searching for what is missing in their life, many things are primed and ready to answer that need now. The modern world has created a demand for instant gratification and filled it.
Need a ride? Open their app and Uber will be at your door in a few minutes. Hungry, hit the Dominos logo on your smartphone and your pizza will be on its way with real-time tracking of its progress. Want to watch a show on television? No need to wait until primetime, watch it right now on Hulu. Want to watch a movie? No need to drive to the theater and wait in line or even drive to the rental store, just fire up Netflix. Want more information on a product you are considering purchasing? You don’t have to wait until tomorrow when the store opens, just go the website, research and even chat with a representative in the middle of the night.
Meanwhile, if you are searching for something deeper, you can wait until Sunday morning when the church is open.
The World We Live In
This is all kind of crazy. Our faith may have a word to speak into this instant gratification, 24 hour a day availability, heavily-discounted world we have created. But, in the meantime, this is the world we live in. When we are thinking of how we reach out to people who are seeking meaning in their lives, we can’t expect them to adapt to the patient rhythms of our faith. We need to meet people where they are or, they will just find someone who is willing to come to them.
Claire Cain Miller had a piece in the New York Times this morning called, “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family.” It was a glimpse into the modern, working parent family. Work seems to be getting more stressful and the workday, for many, no longer ends when they leave the office. Expectations of parents to expose their children to every last possible educational, sporting and arts experience has become, for many, unsustainable. And the church has an answer: give up a couple of hours on the one day you might have to sleep in to come and see if what we have will speak into your life.
Okay, don’t cancel Sunday morning worship. It is an essential part of who we are. But, think for a moment, if there is a way to be present to people in the instant, online world we have created? Doing so isn’t necessarily endorsing the need to be always connected, always on, always available. It is meeting people in the reality the currently inhabit and inviting them into something better.
So what might this look like? Say I am a 33-year-old single mom. I am doing my best to raise two kids with not enough money and not enough time. I am drowning. I am drowning, not just because my time, energy and money don’t go far enough. I am drowning because I feel completely alone in the universe. Sure I have friends but there is something severely lacking. You see I don’t know that the creator of the universe, the one who brought life to my precious children and me loves me with a love deeper than I can ever fathom. It’s the middle of the night. My kids are asleep. Here is what I can do: watch one of million of television shows and movies at my fingertips. I can download a new book. I can adjust my insurance coverage because I know Jake from State Farm is awake.
What if the church was awake as well? I am not talking about a 24/7 helpline. I am talking about using technology to make the church available 24/7 in ways that meet people in the craziness of their lives? What if, as people went looking to fill a deep need or desire, we were ready to answer a question they didn’t know they were asking? What if our standard answer wasn’t the time we meet on Sunday or an email address that might respond in a few days? What if the church was ChurchNow? In many ways, our faith is about community and personal connection. But what can we do to meet people and introduce them to Jesus right now, no matter when right now is?
What if we saw a shift in the website of churches, annual conferences, and denominations that saw their websites doing more than offering information about the church. What if there was instant access to resources for single parents, couples struggling in their marriages, young adults without hope, people struggling with addiction, or people dealing with grief. What if these resources were more than pat answers and an invitation to church? What if our brightest minds could develop articles, videos, and information that could actually help and introduce people to our God who wants to bring hope and healing into their lives? That may just be a beginning. What if we made it our goal to continue to find ways to use technology to connect people in this always-on, interconnected world?
The Church does not need to become “like Amazon.” The church doesn’t need to give into the impulsive need for instant gratification. But the church does need to offer to fill a need many people don’t know they have. Jesus often ministered at the places people gathered. The apostle Paul preached in the marketplace of ideas. We don’t need to become Amazon, but we do need to learn to reach people who live in an Amazon world.
I have to go, PrimeNow is delivering my ice cream.