What the Church can learn from Apple stores

mac vs pc

The Mac vs. PC debate continues to surge. We’ve all seen the brilliant commercials – so brilliant that Microsoft’s counter-marketing campaign came off as weak and defensive. But nonetheless, the debate continues…and I’m not sure why. There is just no comparison. Macs are simply amazing.

My skeptical PC friends remind me that Macs are pricier. There’s a reason: you pay for what you get. I tell my PC friends, “Once you go Mac you will never go back.” Trust me. I used to be a Mac hater…until I tried one a few years ago. And the rest was history. No comparison. Few companies have created an ethos of innovation and creativity as good. Few brands are as powerful and recognizable. No company in America has created such a loyal, passionate, committed fan base.

A few months ago Megan and I were visiting good friends of ours who live in New York City. During the weekend we visited one of the Apple stores. apple_store_new_york_city_fifth_avenue I’ve been in a few Apple stores before (including the Apple store on Fifth Avenue next to Central Park, which is one of the most innovative, creative and bold modern architectural structures I’ve seen) but for whatever reason the visit to that particular store was inspiring.

As I walked around the store and took it all in I began to think, Wow, there is so much that the Church can learn from Apple. Here are several things I noticed during my Apple store experience that I found extremely helpful and challenging as I thought about the role of the local church.

  1. 1. Accessibility + Presence: All employees at the Apple Store wore turquois T-shirts with a name tag lanyard. Apple intentionally hires more employees in each store – more than is needed (but not too many) so as to have a ‘presence’ in the store looking to help people. The Genius Bar is just, well…genius. It says, “How can we help?” You drive the agenda. We help you.
  2. People come first. I asked one of the employees if he was on commission. He said no. The question his boss asks him at the end of the day isn’t “How much product did you sell today?” but instead, “Who did you talk to today and what were their stories?”
  3. Honesty: I asked an employee about a certain product. He asked me about my job and how I might use that product. And he simply and politely said, “If I were you, I wouldn’t buy that product. It doesn’t seem like it would be the right fit.” Wow. How refreshing! It communicated that he cared more about getting me the product that would fit me than about making the sale.
  4. Innovation + Creativity: the technology and the design of each product – and the beautiful marriage between the two – is always amazing. Sleek. Beautiful. Intuitive. Powerful. Bold. It’s enough to take your breath away…
  5. The melding of old +  new: the physical building itself, an old building with exposed brick walls and stark cement floors was met with cutting edge technology. Tradition meets innovation. (Jesus had something to say about that, too).
  6. No cheap frills or gimmicks: the store isn’t cluttered. In fact, if anything its so simple. No shelves stacked to the ceiling. Little furniture. No maze to walk through. No announcement over the loud speakers. No overwhelming blinking neon lights announcing “SALE!” Just…simplicity. It communicated “We’re comfortable with who we are. We’re not trying to impress you with mere appearances.”
  7. Experience is important: Apple stores and their employees encourage you to play with their stuff. Surf the web. Hold it in your hand. Sure, listen to music – maybe even crank the volume up a bit. Sit down and try it out. Ask questions. You don’t shop at Apple. You experience it.
  8. Laid back environment. No suits and ties – not even in New York City. T-shirts, jeans, tennis shoes. It’s chill. And somehow the dress code sets a chill mode to the pace of work, too.
  9. Fun: The Apple store had an area for kids to explore and try new products. I asked a 20-something employee named Malcolm on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being low, 10 being very high) how he liked his job. “It’s a 12.” Why? “I’ve never had a job where I get up everyday and think, ‘I can’t wait to get to work today.’ I love my coworkers, the customers, the environment and the products I get to sell everyday.” Dang.
  10. An environment of learning: I saw a schedule of workshops and classes that the store offers. There are several every single day. For free. Workshops like How to make a podcast. How to set up iChat. How to work an iPhone. How to use Garage Band. Its a space for education, empowerment, creativity and learning. Equipping, equipping, equipping.

I shared this experience on Friday night with good pastor-friends Tom Ward and Laurence Tom. LT pastors Chinese Christian Church and Center applein Chinatown in Center City Philadelphia. He used to be the head employee trainer for an Apple Store in New Jersey several years ago. He told me he was hired by Apple to train the employees by and large because he was a pastor – they believed he was wired to inspire, equip and shepherd people into a certain direction – not for Jesus, but for Apple products! Here’s what he sent me regarding The Apple Way, straight from the handbook.

Our People
At Apple, our most important resource is our people.
We are an intelligent and passionate team on a mission to engage and educate our customers in surprising and delightful ways.
We behave with integrity and respect toward our customers, each other, our competition and our surroundings.
We celebrate our diversity, our unique talents, and our united drive to strengthen the Apple brand globally.
Steps of Service – APPLE
A: Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome
P: Probe politely to understand all of the customer’s needs
P: Present a solution for the customer to take home today
L: Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns
E: End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

* Profit is our reward for delighting our customers
It seems that based on my reflections from my visit to one of their NYC stores, the employees are embodying the Apple Way…
So, let me ask you: Are there other things the Church can learn from Apple? If so, how? And why is it that so many churches function like a PC?

11 Replies to “What the Church can learn from Apple stores”

  1. Hey J.R. – Great Post,
    Have you read Shane Hipps – Hidden power of Electronic Culture? In the last bit he explains some difference between a PC vs. Mac Church, some rich stuff in that!

  2. By deciding early on not to open their platform to countless competitors Apple has been able to keep things simple, determine the trajectory of their innovation, and remain truly unique in a flooded industry.

    Meaning for the church? On first glance maybe we learn that not selling out is hard in the short run, but has the potential for making us much stronger in the long run. Makes me think of low expectations for becoming members in churches, and the desire I have to set the bar higher…

  3. Brilliant post. You’re preaching to the choir here. But one more point on the topic of cost. I actually argue that Macs are cheaper because they last twice as long (without slowing down, and without crashing several times a day). They don’t cost twice as much. Therefore, I spend less money on computers in the long run. Good bye.

  4. Wondered when you were going to post that list! Awesome. Always appreciate how thoughtful you are!

  5. Wasn’t Mac saved from bankruptcy in the mid to late 90s by someone? It happened right about the time they started using Pentium chips, if I remember correctly.

    Personally, I like Macs.

  6. I admire Apple for its advertising and marketing scheme as much as the next guy or gal (after all, I live in NYC, so there’s no getting around the craze of it here). But, there is something that is admittedly manipulative about the company.

    The problem that I have with Apple is that it intentionally (and subtly) makes you dependent on its product. The following two examples are illustrative: (1) if you buy a song from iTunes, that song has code that prohibits you playing it on any other MP3 other than an iPod, and (2) the new shuffle has its entire control system on the headphones, which means that – should I lose them – I am forced to get the Apple headphones rather than getting another type (either cheaper or more sophisticated, e.g., Bose).

    I suggest that this is where the analogy breaks down. And, unfortunately, it’s a fairly fundamental point.

  7. Went down to the city last weekend and one thing that you might consider adding to your list, at least for the NYC store, is transparency. There was a stark contrast b/w the mac store and it’s surrounding buildings. The church as a body desperately needs to become more transparent!

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