Nike lost Stephen Curry; the church is losing a generation.
Last week the sports site ESPN ran an article by Ethan Strauss on the events that led current NBA MVP Stephen Curry to leave the shoe and athletic apparel company Nike. I was first made aware of the article through a summery written for Bleacher Report by Kyle Newport.
Strauss’ tells the story of Curry’s shoes. In the NBA shoe endorsements are a HUGE deal. Companies pay athletes millions of dollars (sometimes even more than what they make playing basketball) to wear (and therefore entice the public to buy) a certain brand of shoe and clothing apparel. Since Michael Jordan the pinnacle of the shoe brand has been Nike.
Back in 2013, Stephen Curry was an up-and-coming NBA star. His stardom hadn’t yet exploded but he was a player that was definitely on the way up. He was a Nike athlete and when the time came to re-up his contract, it seemed that Nike had the deal all but done- but then they blew it.
Strauss tells that, according to Stephen’s father who was present, the Nike executives made several huge errors that caused Stephen to ultimately leave Nike and sign an endorsement deal with Under Armour. The first was they mispronounced Stephen’s name- and no one corrected it. Second, they used a Powerpoint presentation (which was out of date even in 2013) that was prepared for the sales pitch to another NBA star. Stephen’s father said the presentation still had the other player’s name on it along with material specific to that particular player. Third, Stephen wanted to participate in the Nike basketball camp program, since he went to them often as a kid, however the prospect of a camp wasn’t on the table as far as Nike was concerned. So Stephen Curry left Nike and went to Under Armour.
What does all that have to do with the church losing a generation?
The mistakes that Nike made in their sales-pitch to Stephen Curry are the same mistakes that churches are making today when it comes to the largest yet most religiously apathetic generation ever- the Millennial generation.
First, far too often the church is speaking to the wrong audience. This is like the Nike executives mispronouncing Stephen Curry’s name. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where someone calls you by the wrong name. Maybe you understand the first time but if you correct it and it continues to happen you know that the other person just isn’t listening to what you’re saying and you, in turn, tune them out. The same thing is occurring in our churches today. Millennials see the church speaking to audiences other than them. Or if the church does attempt to speak to them, many times it’s mispronouncing who they are, what they value and what they are seeking out of life.
Second, the church can’t simply repackage what its done before. Just like it’s inexcusable for Nike to repackage a presentation obviously created for another athlete, the church cannot repackage it’s old “presentations” and hope that Millennials don’t notice. Details matter. One of the main points in Strauss’ piece is that Nike failed to play to Stephen’s ego; they failed to show that he was going to be a major piece in their company and not a second tier athlete. This generation doesn’t need it’s ego stroked but it does need to know that it deserves something new, distinct, creative and to know that they are not second tier.
Third, the church isn’t providing for the deepest desires. For Stephen Curry, his desire was to give back to aspiring basketball players through Nike camps and when it appeared that Nike wasn’t sharing that desire, he went to a company that did. What are the desires of Millennials? Being a Millennial I can speak to some of our desires. We desire relationship and community with each other and across generational lines. We value being involved in something bigger than ourselves, especially if that “something” is trying to make a real difference in the world. We want to be connected to the past, as well as, to the future. We desire to be challenged to do big things. Most of all we desire to be loved and accepted.
I’ve written this post about how the church is making a sales pitch to the Millennial generation but the church isn’t trying to reach only them. The church is making a sales pitch to Baby Boomers, African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. The church is making a sales pitch to people with graduate degrees and those with no education. The church is making a sales pitch to the highly spiritual and the atheist. No matter where your church is located or who you and your church are in position to reach, the truth is if you haven’t thought about the ways and the message you are communicating, then you’re probably driving people away, not from Nike, but from God.
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