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Sam Davidson's blog

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Why Churches With Pipe Organs Will Soon Be Condos

Once, I was consulting for a church. They wanted to get more young people in the doors (who doesn't?). When chatting with a group of young people who currently attended the church, one person piped up (get it?):

I came here because I really enjoy the sound of a pipe organ. I couldn't find anywhere else in town that had such a great one.

I told him he was the only person in the world with that viewpoint under the age of 30.


You won't find pipe organs in many places today. You won't find organ music in many songs, either. Suffice it to say, the organ as a sought-after instrument is fading. So what do churches do that have invested millions into a grand pipe organ?

After all, you can only put a pipe organ in a building. It's not portable (like a guitar or keyboard) and hasn't seemed to have stood the test of time in terms of appeal. In other words, a pipe organ locks you into a time and place, leaving a church unable to be versatile enough to offer meeting space and theological ideas that appeal to a rapidly changing world.

That's why I'm all for churches that don't want to build a building. That's why I'm all for nonprofits that do want to collaborate with others to extend their reach. When you lock yourself into an ideological framework, you become bound by external parameters that constrain – instead of grow – your business, movement or revolution.

It's when the movement becomes the establishment.

It's like what Seth Godin says about beauty.

I'm a third of the way in to The Black Swan. The lesson so far: We don't know much. Events and things happen that are completely unexpected and forever change the way we work and think. But since we can't predict the future, can we at least be ready for it when it crashes into us?

My advice to new organizations is this: plan for surprises.

I didn't go after a book deal, pitching to publishers day and night. My first book happened by accident. So did the entire concept for CoolPeopleCare. Most of my speaking engagements (check the right sidebar) happen because people find me. I strive to keep my life and schedule and dreams flexible enough to accept valuable opportunities as they occur.

Come up with a vision statement. Dream big and have a goal of where you'd like to be. But, make sure anything you write down is malleable enough when hit with the hammer of opportunity, able to morph and bend until the previously impossible is as real as that time you hit your thumb when trying to hang that picture.

Most churches that have pipe organs are old, in (possibly) redeveloping areas where trendy condos just might take root. For many churches, the pathway to sustainability of their organization will be to get rid of the very thing that made it competitive in the past. I believe that many organizations could be well positioned for short- and long-term growth if they'd shed their previously held dreams and instead embrace a dynamic and flexible type of vision and organization.

Sell the church and toss the pipe organ in for free. Then, take your money and get some real work done. You only meet in that building a few times a week – is that worth the investment?

Get rid of your revenue stream that's holding you back. Yes, you say you sell widgets, but your widget isn't that great. However, you've figured out a way to better price widgets across the board, so it's time you offer that as a consulting idea to better widget companies.

Your nonprofit does the same thing that two others do in town and they do it better. Stop competing with them and join forces to serve more people together than any of you did apart.

What's holding you back? Your building? Your letterhead? Your embroidered golf shirts? Too bad. The intangible – that great idea you had – would be awesome if you hadn't planted your feet so firmly in one area that now makes movement in any progressive or meaningful direction impossible.

The future of organizations will be in their ability to change.

Previous posts about change: