Digital disruption in the spiritual community

Professionally I’m in the thick of it as it relates to the impact of technology on the status quo. As a healthcare leader in the field of information management, I have grown up with technology in this sector and I’m someone who has embraced these changes and continue to appreciate the advancements that technology brings.

I was reading an article on CNBC about how traditional companies are dealing with the realities of the digital disruption created by market forces like Amazon.  It’s a good article (you can read it here) and lays out 4 strategies that brick & mortar companies can adopt to deal with the hurricane force winds that are the digital disruption.

As I read through the strategies, I found myself nodding in agreement with the approach and began to see opportunities for spiritual communities to learn from our counterparts in the business world.

If you’re thinking, “Whoa,… we’re a SPIRITUAL community – not a business” I sure hope you’re not counting on tithes and offerings to keep your doors open. If you have a revenue stream, and patterns of engagement that support that revenue stream; you’re a business. You’re likely a non-profit religious organization, but it’s a business all the same.

If you decide to put your head in the sand about the digital divide, you’ll not be alone: Border’s Book stores, Blockbuster Video stores and Eastman Kodak will be there to commiserate with you.

OK – enough snark – this is a spiritual blog, but seriously: anyone who thinks that the forces that brought former retail giants to their knees and are scaring 21st century retail masters into taking drastic actions aren’t impacting spiritual businesses is woefully uninformed.

So what should you do?

In the article referenced above, 4 strategies are highlighted as ways to navigate the new landscape of the digital divide and it’s as good a place as any to begin.


A defensive strategy, the goal of this strategy is to grow the things in your business that are working. This requires being able to take a hard look at your business model and identify the things that are bringing in revenue. Not the “things you’ve always done” or the things you like: the things that are bringing you a return on your time and money investments.


When the costs of continuing to do “business as usual” are costing more than they are bringing into your non-profit business, it’s time to seriously consider stopping the bleeding and shutting some of those things down. Be sure you’re counting the opportunity cost of doing things that bring in a little money and don’t outright “cost” money, but are taking up valuable real estate (time and space) that other activities might better utilize.

This can be painful in spiritual and religious organizations because there are often “legacy strings” attached to programs and practices.

“This is what Rev. Smith always did, ,…”

That’s nice and I’m glad it worked in 1989, 1999 or even 2009. Here’s the (cold, hard) reality: some of the biggest drivers of the changes we’re seeing today in business weren’t even launched until well into the 21st century. We have experienced colossal change since Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and Twitter (2006) were launched – and there’s been a continued explosion of new technology since these came on the scene.

Successful spiritual organizations must be able to have hard conversations about what works and what doesn’t and be willing to pivot away from old, comfortable models if they want to survive.


My favorite – disruption – is likely the most uncomfortable for spiritual people. Capitalizing on (giving attention to) what is working and minimizing (taking attention away from) what isn’t seems to align with spiritual principles,… but disruption!? That sounds counter intuitive to who we are and what we teach!

And yet the spiritual communities that survive in this brave new world will be those that are willing and able to take advantage of opportunities in the spiritual marketplace that are not being addressed or are being UNDER-addressed by others.

There’s nothing wrong with being a disrupter if you do it with love, and in alignment with the highest good for all.


The occupy strategy flat out rejects the concept that you can “build it and they will come” – which is an approach taken by many churches, centers and spiritual organizations. Here’s some more (cold, hard) truth: figuring out how to post on Facebook, blogging once a month and Tweeting every now and then doesn’t mean you’re safe in this digital tsunami.

There’s a larger story here and lots of folks are missing it entirely.

The digital revolution isn’t just about changing how we order pizza, read bestsellers and access breaking news. It is a REFLECTION of the demographic changes that are sweeping society, and these are the changes that impact spiritual communities most.

If your strategic plan is “the same, and more of the same” and your offerings look very much like they have for the past 5 years (or more!); you’re in trouble.  If you’re reading this and you don’t have a formal strategic plan, you’re in even more trouble (more on this later).

The last paragraph in the CNBC article is a perfect call to arms for spiritual organizations that are interested in surviving past 2020. The question is how many of them will read and act and the answer will be revealed in the numbers, moving forward.

“The pace of disruption is accelerating across industries… Digital transformation requires action. Just talking about digital change, [posting on Facebook, Tweeting and blogging]… or starting an “innovation hub” won’t save your business. A true, holistic change to your business model is needed to survive and thrive in the digital era. The time for strategic action is now – because no one knows what the next two years will bring.” [edited for relevance]

The digital revolution is here.

Are you ready for a “true holistic change” or will you hold on to the way you’ve always done things? You get to choose, but the window on making that choice is closing fast and at a point in the not-too-distant future, it will be made for you – whether or not you’re ready for it.


One thought on “Digital disruption in the spiritual community

  1. Pingback: Watching the trends | A Practitioner's Path

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