The New York Times paywall used to make me angry, however, I’ve grown to appreciate it and I think churches can learn to appreciate it, too.
First, a little history of how the NYT paywall came about.
When I was a teenager I devoured our local paper every morning before school and I subscribed to a print edition of a newspaper throughout college. As I got older, though, and more and more news was available, for free, on the internet, I stopped paying for a print subscription. Over time, as online consumption of news has went up and print subscriptions plummeted, even the big newspapers, like the New York Times, began to wonder about their future.
The NYT quickly realized that a “freemium” advertising-based model for their online content wasn’t going to cut it as a profitable model. They realized they still needed both advertisers AND subscribers. In search of a solution to this problem, The New York Times erected one of the first major “paywalls,” meaning that online-only readers (such as myself) would get to see a certain amount of articles for free, per month. However, once they hit the limit, they would need to pay for an online subscription to remove the “wall” that was blocking them from reading further content.
Seeing that they were getting close to a profitable model, NYT Digital recently announced that they were building a higher paywall – there would be less free articles, including those that were navigated to through social media.
When the new paywall went into effect, I noticed it in a few days, because I hit my article limit pretty quickly. But I also noticed that I wasn’t really a casual and occasional reader anymore. I had quite significantly increased the amount of content that I read from NYT. Honestly, the quality of the journalism and the breadth of content they covered was so good that it had drawn me in further and further into the NYT experience. This made the decision to pay an easy one and I am now a very happy digital subscriber to the NYT.
Everyone loves to get stuff for free, however, free still does come with a price. I think of a lot of free news and opinion sites and how awful the content is. I hate sifting through terrible content to find something intelligent and thoughtful. I don’t really care about celebrity gossip or cute pet photos, but since those things drive so much traffic, you see them prominently displayed on the home pages of news sites. They’re just gimmicks to get more clicks so advertisers will pay for more advertising. Under these models, hyperbole, partisanship, and shock value take precedence over good, solid, quality content.
What does this have to do with your church? Well, churches aren’t necessarily about what people will “pay” for, but about what people will commit to and immerse themselves in. Should churches seek growth through clicks and hits from flashy advertising campaigns, gimmicks, and shock value? Are people part of your congregation because of the latest advertising campaign, the gossip, and/or because it aligns with their politics? Or are they there because of they’ve been drawn into a deeper commitment through meaningful, quality, life-giving, transformational experiences?
If you want to offering something beyond Sunday morning, beyond the flashiness, beyond the gimmicks, you have to be ready to allow for space where God will create and curate something deeper. You have to be ready to connect people to discipleship formation groups, neighborhood engagement opportunities, opportunities to serve the community, opportunities for apprenticeship, leadership and mentoring, and opportunities for people to be creative. Are you ready to do the work to make these things so high quality and transformative that they bring people back over and over again and draw them deeper into the faith community and the community at large?
Some people will still just want to stop by for an hour on Sunday morning and they’ll be turned-off by invitations and challenges to go deeper, but if you commit to quality and breadth of content, you’ll see more and more long-term commitments and deeper engagement in the long-run.
They say people don’t want “memberships” to anything anymore. I think that’s true, for the most part, unless you create something that transforms people, something they can’t get enough of or live without, something that makes them better and helps them make the world better.
Sure, advertising and gimmicks have their place, but if that’s what your church lives and dies on, then it’s time to take a hard look at how deep your community goes and how people are engaging at every level below the surface. Don’t be afraid of the paywall, but only if you’re ready to allow for some amazing content and life changing experiences.
This article was originally posted at The Blue Yarn
Photo Credit: Robert Scoble via Compfight cc