The Church of the Palm Pilot (a cautionary tale)

I’ve been a part of four churches in my life: the Hohenwald Church of Christ, Southwest Church of Christ, Maury Hills Church and the Church of the Palm Pilot. Some of you may not remember the last one because it isn’t active anymore, but 10 years ago, that church was rocking.

palm_vMy Dad converted me around 2001. Before that I was writing down appointments with an actual pen and paper like some kind of Neanderthal. But one day Dad said, “You can put away the Franklin Covey Day Planner Son. There’s something new called the Palm Pilot.”

It was basically a mini-computer that did four things. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but in 2001, that was four more things than anyone else was doing. It was about the size of a pack of cards with a dingy black & white screen and a whooping 128 KB of memory. In short, it was incredible! Dad said, “You’ve got to try it!  It will absolutely change your life.”

He was right. The Palm Pilot changed my life. I was an immediate convert and quickly set to work converting my wife and friends. I loved it and keep everything in there. I traveled around with a Palm Pilot in my back pocket and a flip phone in my front. It was a revolutionary product and I quickly became one of it’s biggest disciples. I used it everyday, talked about it with everyone I met, and carried it everywhere I went.

And then…I don’t know what happened…but I quit using it. I don’t remember making a decision to quit. It just happened. The same way it happens when we quit most things–gradually. I’d leave it home a few days and not miss it or misplace it for a week and not notice. I don’t even remember exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I quit the Church of the Palm Pilot and my beloved device ended up in a forgotten drawer.

Last week I asked Dad if he still knew were his Palm Pilot was and he couldn’t remember. Eventually he found it in a drawer stuffed underneath some old iPhones. How does that happen? How do two of the biggest Palm disciples just up and quit? And we weren’t the only ones! In 1999, Palm was on top of the world. They had 563 million in sales and shortly after their IPO, they were worth more than Ford and GM combined. Hailed as the next Microsoft!

Less than 10 years later they’re obsolete.

How does that happen?  How do you go from revolutionary to irrelevant in less than a decade? Easy. You stop moving. Or you move too slowly to stay relevant, and a company that makes desktop computers enters the field you pioneered and does it better than you.

I tell that story because I think it’s a cautionary tale for the church. A decade ago Palm was leading a revolution. They didn’t just change the lives of millions of people, they reshaped the entire culture. Now they’re gone. My kids have never even heard of a Palm. They went from leading a movement to obsolete in less than a decade!

That makes me think I need to revise something I’ve said many times about the church—”the church is always one generation away from extinction.” We have to change and adapt in every generation or we’re dead. I’m now thinking a generation is probably too generous. The church has to do that every decade. The world is changing faster than ever before and if we don’t move, or we move but too slowly to be relevant, we’ll be obsolete before we know it.

Church will become something people quit, but don’t remember when. A forgotten revolution that ends up stuffed in a drawer somewhere. That’s why we must move, and move fast enough to make a difference.

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