Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Meeting people's needs

Churches and ministry organizations are often accused of being out of touch with the needs of the culture, and rightly so. We can go along for years being totally ineffective and be content in our own little world. But big commercial organizations can make huge mistakes as well.

Take cell phones as an example. Motorola demonstrated a handheld portable cell telephone in 1973. The press made a big deal out of it stating that the completely portable wireless telephone would change the way people lived and that the world would never be the same.

Unfortunately nobody at Motorola, AT&T, or the FCC believed it. Little effort was put into developing it and little bandwidth was assigned. AT&T was so convinced that there was no commercial potential that it gave away the technology it had developed. This was in spite of the fact that pop culture had forecast, and the public longed, for such a device for years. Dick Tracy had his wrist two-way radio in the 30’s and Adam Smart had a telephone in his shoe in a 1960’s TV show. If there was ever a demand for a new technology, this was it.

A consultant for AT&T predicted that the world-wide market for cell phones would be about 900,000. They missed it by a factor of 1,000s. There are now billions of cell phones in use. For that reason we now suffer from overcrowded frequencies due to not enough bandwidth, highly compressed signals, and a confusion of standards, resulting in poor sound, weak signals, and dropped calls. All because demand is far greater than the major players ever expected.

Even a casual observer of culture can see that there is little need for wired telephones or broadcast television, yet billions of dollars have been wasted on these technologies. People stay home to watch TV, but they need a telephone wherever they are, not the other way around. Looking at a picture of the radio spectrum it is easy to see that huge chunks are given to broadcast television while only a few slivers are designated for personal communication.

I am sure there was a reason for this at the time. Television just followed the model of radio even though radio is a portable device and portable TVs have never caught on. Who knows why portable phones were so long in coming? I tried to get a car phone in the 1960’s only to find that there was a long waiting list due to the fact that there were only a few frequencies available. Doctors and emergency personnel were given priority, so the chances of a photographer getting one were slim.

The point of all this is this: we need to be aware of people’s needs and wants and work to supply those needs. Just providing what we want to provide or what is easy is not the model demonstrated by Jesus. He met people’s needs whatever they were.