In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company decided to relaunch their flagship drink. With great marketing fanfare, they released New Coke, a sweeter version of the original formula they had sold for years.
As it turned out, this was not such a good choice. While focus groups had suggested that the change would be a good one for the company, it ended up being a flop. Within only three months the company resumed selling the original formula, dubbed “Coca-Cola Classic” and eventually retired the New Coke altogether.
There are times when a relaunching of an organization is appropriate. What Coca-Cola’s experience teaches us, though, is those times should only come when the core of the organization is failing.
Coca-Cola had been losing market share, and the company concluded that it could regain it by changing its central product. In fact, the change showed that what they needed to do was double down on that core product, not try to modify it.
There are no small number of local churches, and even denominations, that are in the midst of deciding whether they need to relaunch themselves to the larger world. Like Coca-Cola, they feel like they are losing their market share as fewer people attend. Perhaps they should do a radical revision of themselves in hopes of getting people interested. This could include new music, new worship styles, getting involved in more social activities, or voting to brand themselves in some way or another.
In fact, none of this is a serious relaunch. This is all just changing the window dressing of a church. A genuine relaunch occurs when we revisit the core existence of the church and engage in it again.
The story of New Coke reminds us that the only reason for this sort of relaunch is if we are failing at our core business. For the church, the core business is making disciples of Jesus Christ.
If we are not failing in this core mission, chances are that we will not be having any difficulties attracting people. Making disciples is a many-pronged activity that almost always involves growing our congregations as we launch new people out into the world. In this case, we may change our outward presentation of ourselves to be relate to the world around us, but we will not need to relaunch ourselves because we are being faithful to the core work that God has given us. To relaunch would actually be to move away from our source of power – from the Holy Spirit who goes with us to make disciples.
However, if we are constantly finding ourselves behind in our outreach, struggling to keep people in our congregations in spite of all the different changes we adopt, then we may need a relaunch. We need to focus again on the core mission of the church, building out from Christ’s commission for us to make disciples. Based on that, we can enter back into the world with the assurance that we have our core mission right.