July 3, 2023

The Purple Cow Principle: How to Swap Predictable for Remarkable in Your Weekend Experience

purple cow weekend experience

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How are you avoiding dull spots in your church? 

As our main front door for people exploring faith, church leaders know that our weekend services must be engaging, relevant and amazing every Sunday.

However, pulling off amazing weekend services at the end of each week is a relentless reality. By definition, “relentless” means never-ceasing, continual, existing without interruption or end: around-the-clock, constant, continual, endless, incessant, nonstop, ongoing, perpetual, persistent, unending, etc...

When I was the executive director of weekend services at my church, that pretty much described my life. 

Get to Know the Purple Cow

One of the most impactful books I read years ago is The Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Godin writes:

“When my family and I were traveling through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on the picturesque pastures right next to the highway. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling about how beautiful everything was. Then within 20 minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what was once amazing was now common. Worse than common. It was boring. Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful lights, but they’re still boring.”

A Purple Cow, though: that would be interesting. The essence of the purple cow is that to avoid becoming invisible, what you offer must be “remarkable,” because, Godin continues, “Something remarkable is worth talking about.  Worth noticing. It’s interesting. It’s a purple cow.  Boring stuff is invisible. It’s a brown cow.” He goes on to say that “We’ve created a world where most products are invisible.”

Going to Pasture

Now, this is a book on marketing, but as I read it, I couldn’t help but think about the church. How do we keep our churches from being or becoming brown cows?

In other words, how do we keep our churches from being invisible? How do we keep our services from becoming predictable, uninteresting, or boring? Godin says, “In almost every market, the boring slot is filled.” Do you think that’s true of the church—Are our boring slots filled? 

So, how do we keep our churches out of the brown cow, invisible, category? How do we create purple cow experiences that are “remarkable and worth talking about?” I think there are three actions we can take to morph from brown to purple:

How do we create weekend experiences that are remarkable and worth talking about? Check out these three action steps. Click To Tweet

1. Choose Excellence

I assume your weekend services are still one of the biggest front doors to your churches—they’re where seekers in your community come to give God a try.  So here’s why I think excellence is so critical:

  • Seekers are hard to get to church. Like all of us, they’ve got a limited time.  They won’t tolerate things that feel irrelevant or out of touch, and they won’t put up with or invite people to anything that has a cringe factor.  
  • Seekers are consumers (so are believers). They’ll typically give you one chance to win them over.  
  • Our competition for their time is not other churches, it’s the culture. It’s hockey games, soccer practice, Netflix, and summer cabins… The list goes on. Culture is filled with many choices. We need to acknowledge that culture offers many options and understand that seekers are making choices based on those options. 
Our competition for people's time and attention is not other churches, it's the culture. It's hockey games, soccer practice, Netflix, and summer cabins. Click To Tweet

I think most people still have the opinion that church is boring and out of touch.  So choosing excellence for anything we do, is in and of itself the beginning of a Purple Cow. Pursue it, value it, strive for it, mandate it. Don’t allow mediocrity to rule. Our purpose, the purpose of the local church, is too important. We’ve got the best cow out there: the best message out there.

2. Simplify

If our goal is to create purple cow experiences, we need to make sure that we have the capacity in our creative and planning processes to do that—time to keep the main thing the main thing.

If our schedule and priorities are jam-packed, we leave a lot of great ideas undiscovered. To make room for both excellence and creativity, we all need to be masters at knowing what we should keep doing, and what we should stop doing. In other words, we need to simplify.

To make room for both excellence and creativity, we need to be masters at knowing what we should keep doing, and what we should stop doing. In other words, we need to simplify. Click To Tweet

Andy Stanley once said,

“There is a natural tendency for organizations to drift towards complexity… and instead of being strong somewhere, they are weak everywhere.  The shift toward complexity is usually subtle, and it’s rarely intentional. Passionate leaders introduce innovations, persistent members promote their agendas, new ideas are added to old programs… Years of adding and never subtracting have created layers of programs that all feel necessary.  Churches may be doing more, but they are not reaching more people.”

There are so many good things to do! There are so many good ideas out there! But as Stanley said: if we try to do too many things, everything just ends up mediocre—a bunch of brown cows. Our mission is too important to lead and manage brown cows.  Brown cows are invisible—a waste of time and energy. It’s better to have one purple cow than 10 brown ones. 

If we try to do too many things, everything just ends up mediocre—a bunch of brown cows. Click To Tweet

3. Have a Purple Cow Plan

If we want to have moments that are outside of the box, moments that take us beyond our normal weekend experience, we need to look ahead. This means dedicating some resources to plan ahead. Purple Cow moments usually require more time and energy than we can create in the Monday – Saturday time frame.  So give someone the job to look and plan ahead.

The weekend process will consume any resource you throw at it.  So if there are 4 people around, it’ll use up 4 people’s time and energy. If you throw 6 at it, it’ll eat up six. So my take is, throw 3 at it, and save one resource to look out and get ahead. 

People want to experience remarkable things. Thinking of your church as a cow may be a stretch, but it may also be the key to creating a successful weekend experience and growth strategy.

Amy Anderson

Amy has served as the Director of Consulting at The Unstuck Group since 2016. During this time she has served over 150 churches, helping them design ministry, staffing & multisite strategies that aligns and fuels their mission. Prior to joining the Unstuck team, Amy served as the Executive Director of Weekend Services at Eagle Brook Church in the Twin Cities, helping the church grow from one location of 3,000 to six locations with over 20,000 gathering each weekend. Her husband is a Teaching and Engagement Pastor at Hosanna Church in Lakeville, MN.

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