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Why churches need blue-ocean strategies

| by Bob Whitesel

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne analyzed 150 years of strategic decision-making and concluded that every strategy could be described as either a “red ocean strategy” or a “blue ocean strategy.” A red ocean strategy is where you go after the same people as your competitors and try to meet the same needs that your competitors are meeting. Therefore you fight over the same fish and, as sharks feeding on the same fish, the water becomes red with blood.

A blue ocean strategy, however, finds new segments of the market that are not having their needs met and begins to meet those needs. Therefore you are not competing with your competitors, but rather you are meeting needs in a segment of the market that the other competitors have overlooked.

This is very important for the church. Most churches typically try to have a better children's ministry, a more professional worship team or a more visible/attractive facility in hopes of attracting people to the church. Typically this attracts other Christians looking for a better experience.

And, my observation has been that over the past three decades more and more churches have tried to grow by focusing on attracting other Christians rather than meeting the needs of non-churchgoers.

Many years ago when the airline industry was suffering from too much competition, many carriers tried to increase their number of routes giving their customers more choice but creating too much competition. They wound up overly competing with each other and creating a red ocean of blood as they fought over over the existing flying public. Stalwart and storied carriers couldn’t keep up and merged or disappeared.

At the same time, a young start up company called Southwest Airlines focused on making flights cheaper, increasing customer service and reaching out to people who did not take short flights but instead drove their cars. Their early motto was “everyone flies first class,” and they made flights cheap enough for the non-flying public to opt for air travel over driving a car.  

The result was meeting the need that a flying public. This meant that Southwest Airlines wasn’t competing just for the existing market, but they were reaching out to people who typically didn't fly. 

A red ocean vs. blue ocean strategy for the church means reaching non-churchgoers [need-meeting] rather than just reaching church-goers [attraction]. Take a look at this comparison between the two strategies published by Sage Growth Partners.

Here is a helpful comparison:

 

 

 

 

For more insights, see W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (Boston: Harvard Business Review Books).

Photo source: istock


Bob Whitesel

Bob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is a sought after speaker, church health consultant and award-winning writer of 13 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth. He is founding professor and former professor of missional leadership of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. He also holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary where he was awarded “The Donald McGavran Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Church Growth.” His website is ChurchHealth.net.



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