How to Find the Purple Cow for Your Youth Ministry

Posted on Posted in Strategy

There’s a church in my area that just can’t keep up.

They try. They really do.

But they lack the resources to do what the bigger churches are doing.

Instead of carving out their own path, however, they insist on playing the “us too” game.

Oh, that big church has a coffee bar?
“Us too!”
(Even though it’s not staffed by anyone and the coffee is scalded in the brewing urns because it’s left over from the first service.)

Oh, that big church has a playground?
“Us too!”
(Even though it’s dirty and falling apart while the other church has one that is state-of-the-art.)

Oh, that big church has a band with lights?
“Us too!”
(Even though our band isn’t really very good and our light guy doesn’t show up every week to program the lights.)

You get the point.

Let’s talk about Purple Cows…

Seth Godin coined the phrase, Purple Cow. He explains, “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 light, but they’re still boring. A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting” (Purple Cow, p. 2).

Imagine you’re driving down the road. You pass a pasture. You see brown cows, black cows, and maybe a few milk cows. You barely even notice. They’re all the same.

But then you spot a purple cow.

Wait. What? A purple cow?


purple cow in a field


You would pull over. You would stop and get out. You’d definitely take a picture, maybe even a selfie.

And then what would you do?

You’d tell everyone about it.

That’s the point.

Godin says, “Something remarkable is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting. It’s a Purple Cow. Boring stuff is invisible. It’s a brown cow” (Purple Cow, p. 3).

Is your ministry remarkable?

Your ministry probably isn’t remarkable. I’m just being honest. Most youth pastors are content playing the “us too” game. They’re terrified of carving out a new path. They’re nervous about charting their own course.

In the same way, Godin observes, “Most companies are so afraid of offending or appearing ridiculous that they steer far away from any path that might lead them to this result. They make boring products because they don’t want to be interesting” (Purple Cow, p. 71).

They don’t want to stand out; they want to fit in.
They’re not afraid to fail; they’re afraid to succeed.
They want a brown cow, not a purple one.

Here’s the truth:
If your ministry isn’t already the biggest in your town, or if you don’t already have a major infusion of momentum underway that will get you there, then you need to call the butcher. Tell him you’re bringing your brown cow in for slaughter because you’re going on a hunt to find a purple cow.

Why?

You’ll never catch up if you’re playing the same game as everyone else. You’ll never be remarkable when you’re playing the “us too” game.

Let’s talk about paint cans…

Silver, heavy, hard-to-carry paint cans have been around for a long time. You know the kind. They’re hard to open, hard to pour from, and hard to close.

But why are they like that? Does it have to be that way? Is there a better way?

Those are the questions that Dutch Boy (a paint company) started asking. Their answers? No, it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, there is a better way.

So, they created a new paint jug that is easier to carry, easier to open, easier to pour from, and easier to close.


Dutch Boy paint jug


The result?
Sales went up, even though their paint didn’t change.

That’s the power of a Purple Cow!

What keeps others from doing the same thing as Dutch Boy? A combination of fear and familiarity, a laziness and complacency.

In Godin’s words, “The status quo appears to be safer, cheaper, and easier” (Free Prize Inside, p. 53).

How to find your Purple Cow…

The process of finding your Purple Cow is what Godin calls “edgecraft.” He says, “Most companies focus on creating average products for average people. The goal in edgecraft is figuring out what some people really want to buy, what they want to talk about, and then giving it to them” (Free Prize Inside, p. 130).

You won’t find your Purple Cow when you’re busy doing what everyone else is doing. You’ll find your Purple Cow when you push out from the safety of the center and head to the edges.

Here are a few ideas…

Edges that create conversations
Examples:
Host a breakfast on Saturday morning for small group leaders to meet students’ parents.

Invite a student or leader from another faith to come and talk about how he views Christianity.

Edges that disrupt expectations
Examples:
Instead of preaching a sermon, turn your message time into a series of 3, 5-minuted TED-style talks about faith that are delivered by 3 different speakers, including a student.

Have your band play after the message instead of before it.

Edges that attract overlooked people
Examples:
Host a Boy Scout night where you invite local troops in to teach your students about survival skills and other cool tricks. This could be replicated across various topics from exercise and health to relationships and money management.

Position your ministry as the place to be for students who feel called into ministry.

Edges that change the tone
Examples:
Emphasize the contemplative aspects of faith by creating prayer stations and other experiential activities in your youth room.

Do six games in your program instead of only one.

Edges that affect time
Cancel your in-person, on-campus program and do a 30-minute online, interactive program on Facebook Live instead.

Meet only once per month instead of every week.

What will you do?

Some of these edges will work for you, others will not. Don’t get hung up on my examples. Those were just written off the top of my head. The point isn’t the example that I included; the point is the edge, the Purple Cow for your ministry.

What will help your ministry stand out in a way that’s worth talking about? That’s the real question.

Godin advises, “The goal of edgecraft is to pick an edge and go all the way with it” (Free Prize Inside, p. 140). Don’t go halfway. No one will notice. No one will talk about it. It won’t be “remark-able.” Go all the way to the edge.

Being predictable is safe and boring. Poke the edge of the box. Shake things up.

What can your ministry do that is unconventional and unexpected? What can you do that will get students talking about your ministry (in a good way)?

The answers will vary from place to place, but the answers are there if you take the time to look. There’s a Purple Cow grazing in your church’s parking lot. You just need to invite it inside.

Your Move

If you’re tired of playing the “us too” game, and always being a bit behind, then you’re ready to go on a hunt for your Purple Cow.

If you can’t keep up with what the bigger ministries are doing, then stop trying to do what they’re doing. Stop settling for being a smaller, more generic version of the bigger ministries in your town. Create your own version.

If you’re smaller, you have the advantage of speed, agility, and flexibility.

When they zig, you zag. Find your own unique way to reach and teach students in your town.

When you’re ready to find your Purple Cow, it’s time for edgecraft. Get out of the middle. Go for the edges. Change the game.

According to Godin, “To be Purple, you have to be more than different. You must be extreme. You must live on the edge” (Free Prize Inside, p. 141).

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Trevor Hamaker helps youth pastors create momentum, reach students, and grow faith in their ministries. He has over a decade of ministry experience, along with degrees in business management, organizational leadership, and religious education.

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