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The UMC is not Blockbuster, but we could be?

Do you remember going to Blockbuster? It would make for a great evening, a great date night. You could pick up a movie and a pizza or some Chinese food. These stores were great, at least until they were not great anymore. They were convenient, until they were not convenient anymore. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and we even had a Blockbuster store there.

Matt Phillips and Roberto Ferdman share the story of Blockbuster in a brief outline, with pictures, in their article, “A brief, illustrated history of Blockbuster, which is closing the last of its US stores.” (originally posted November 6, 2013)

The first Blockbuster store was opened in 1985 in Dallas, Texas, by David Cook. In 1992, “Blockbuster is the undisputed video rental leader, with over 2,800 stores worldwide.” In 1994, “Viacom buys Blockbuster for $8.4 billion.” Blockbuster goes public in 1999.

Wait though, Netflix goes public in 2002.

Netflix? All of a sudden it is not quite as convenient to go out and go to a store when the rentals could come to you. Blockbuster would peak around 2004 at 9,000 stores.

Blockbuster files for bankruptcy in 2010, and all of their stores are closed by 2013.

We might think that Blockbuster closed because of Netflix. Dain Dunston shares in a post “When Blockbuster Forgot What Business They Were In,” that Netflix struggled early on and were almost bought by Blockbuster.

What was Blockbuster’s purpose? Were they a retail store or were they an entertainment company? Dunston writes,

The story at Blockbuster was very similar. In its 20 year blaze of glory, from the time Wayne Huizenga took control of the tiny Dallas chain to the 3 year death spiral that lead to bankruptcy and the sale of assets, Blockbuster essentially had six CEOs. Three insisted Blockbuster was an entertainment company, three insisted it was a retail company. The retailers all failed, each in less than two years, each bringing the company to its knees and, finally, its death. Each of the failed “retail” CEOs presented the same business plan, virtually word for word, that had failed the company before. And each was entirely ignorant of their plan’s prior history of failure, as was the Board.

The difference of one word really, entertainment versus retail, resulted in the death of a billion dollar company. They forgot who they were.

So why all this talk about Blockbuster on a church blog? It is hard for me not to wrestle with where The United Methodist Church, specifically in the United States, finds itself today and the struggle Blockbuster went through.

When I think of John Wesley, one of the founders of The United Methodist Church, I see someone focused on asking the question, “How can we take the love of Jesus to as many people as we can?”

John Wesley’s heart was to take the love of Jesus to as many people as he could. Though not comfortable with the idea at first, Wesley even took to preaching in the fields. He started preaching outdoors, going to where the people were. He did not wait for them to come inside the church.

Later, in the United States, the early Methodists would use circuit riders, preachers on horseback, to go around to every community and every person. Again, asking the question, how do we share the love of Jesus with as many people as they could?

Much like Blockbuster, it feels at times our focus is on the “retail”. By retail here, I mean living out of our existing churches and out of our existing structures. And yet, we are not a retail business.

Of course, we are not an entertainment business either. Better than that, we are a community of people who want to share the love of Jesus with as many people as we can.

What is the best way to share the love of Jesus with the greatest number of people now? This is the question we need to keep asking.


Pastor Matt

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