Blockbuster: A Cautionary Tale

By Cid Latty
Congregational Development Associate, CBOQ

The story of Blockbuster always reminds me of those Friday nights when we would go to our local store to check out the latest movie releases. Renting a movie with drinks and snacks was the making of a good evening with family. It is amazing to think that Blockbuster now has only one remaining store in Bend, Oregon, USA.

Blockbuster was founded in 1985 in Dallas, Texas and within three years it was opening a new store every day. It employed thousands of people and its estimated worth at its peak was in the billions of dollars. With the rise of personal computers, DVD players and more affordable home entertainment systems, Blockbuster grew to over nine thousand stores world-wide. However, with the dawning of digital media companies, the Blockbuster business model was obsolete by the mid-2000s. By 2013 all the main stores were closed.*

As I watched the demise of Blockbuster, a couple of questions came to mind. Firstly, have people stopped watching movies? Clearly they have not. Today the movie industry makes well over 87 billion dollars in revenue. My second question was, therefore, could Blockbuster adapt its business model to the changing way people wanted to watch movies? Somehow sadly not, and the last remaining store is a monument to the way things used to be.

What has all this got to do with church? In a time when we are told people (Generation Z) are more spiritual than ever, why has the church largely felt unable to avoid decline? A recent Angus Reid survey found that 65% of people new to Canada would look to a religious community for support and 75% would shape their values based on this connection, showing an openness to spiritual things. Why then have we often found it so hard to adapt our expression of church to embrace the present moment?

Let me suggest three challenges we will need to overcome.

  1. Nostalgia
    Nostalgia leads to inertia. Lots of our churches can recount the days when things were different. Churches would open the doors and people would pour into our buildings to shape and form relationships and hear the Word being preached. What is overlooked, however, is the faithful, hard work that went on behind the scenes to make church growth a reality. We will need to become desperate enough again to give sacrificially of our time, energy and money to get the momentum back.
  2. Independence
    We must recover a deeper dependence on God. Whenever things start to go into decline we can fall into the trap of making ourselves so busy that we burn-out. This loss of energy can prevent us from attempting anything new. We need a new revelation of God’s ability to save people and a deeper commitment to the Christian disciplines that can sustain us. As we discover more of God, we might venture beyond our comfort zones in the knowledge that we can trust God to lead and provide what we need for the journey.
  3. Rigidity
    We have a loss of confidence in the delivery and demonstration of the Gospel message. In the Blockbuster story, the problem was not their core mission but rather their failure to adapt to delivering it in the changing culture. The delivery and demonstration of the Gospel is the Church’s mission. To recover our confidence we will need to find new expressions of Church that create  communities of love.

It is in this context that we have developed the Small Church Envisioning Days. These are days when we gather to hear stories of hope, get linked to vital church revitalization resources and renew our commitment to serve God where he has placed us to be. This is an exciting moment for the church because we get to walk in the passionate love that always finds new ways to express itself. It is this expression that will produce a testimony based on God’s empowering presence. Where Blockbuster failed to adapt to a changing culture, the Church has an opportunity to transcend culture and shape new communities of hope, life and faith. Find out more about the Small Church Envisioning Day here!


*Information on Blockbuster taken from wikipedia.com.

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