What the Church Can Learn From the Circus

Edwin Copeland Church United Director

Similar to much of the western church trends of today, the circus business was (and still is) in long-term decline. Facing fierce competition from alternative forms of entertainment, shifting interests of its once core audience along with increasing pressure from animal rights groups, culture was simply leaving the circus behind. In the face of their declining market, the circus tried as hard as it could to increase ticket sales and grow participation through highlighting star performers whom Ringling and the other circuses relied on to draw crowds. However, these star performers came at a high cost which only continued to hurt the circus’s business model as steadily decreasing audiences were now coupled with increasing costs. 


Enter Cirque de Soleil 

Staging productions that have now been seen by over 50 million people in 90 cities across the world, in twenty short years Cirque de Soleil achieved revenues that the words leading circus – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – took more than a century to attain. What’s curious about the rise of Cirque de Soleil is that it occurred during a time of rapid decline in the circus industry. How’d they do it? I believe their tagline says it all: “We reinvented the circus.” You see, Cirque de Soleil found success not by competing with the existing circus industry or by stealing customers form Ringling, it created something new. It created a new market, a new customer base, a whole new experience – it redefined the circus. 

1 Chronicles 12:32 speaks of the men of Issachar as men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. Cirque de Soleil understood the times (the current market realities of the circus) and knew what they should do. Cirque looked at the current realities of the circus world and knew the competition well. They knew that if they wanted to compete with Barnum & Bailey head to head, they’d have to outperform them in order to grab a piece of the market. They understood that if they entered into the market as a traditional circus, it would only add to the noise as their product would end up as another commodity, which only made the wheel of decline turn faster as competition ramped up. However, because they understood the times, they took a risk and charted a course for entirely new waters.


Moving from Generals to Explorers

circusPart of what made Cirque de Soleil successful was the mindset behind their strategy. Not only did they look for an uncontested market, their management had to shift from a mindset of War Generals to that of Explorers. Much of corporate strategy finds its roots in military strategy. We have corporate “officers,” executive “officers,” a “headquarters” and call a large segment of employees “front line troops.” Here’s the thing: much of this language lends itself toward and fuels competition. Cirque de Soleil, on the other hand, took the mindset of explorers, looking for new land and creating new land – not dividing up existing land.

Our unbelieving friends, neighbors and coworkers are the uncontested market share for the Church and the greatest Cirque de Soleil opportunity awaiting the Church. For too long we’ve been competing against one another – we’ve been competing for Christians and fishing in crowded waters. We’ve been trying to outperform each other in areas of preaching, hospitality, programming and Sunday morning experiences in hopes to capture our piece of the market share. This mindset has gotten us to where we are today with only 3% of our population in South Florida identifying as committed followers of Jesus Christ. Not only is this strategy not working, its exhausting and it’s killing the voice and prophetic witness of the Church. It’s time for a little Cirque de Soleil disruption. It’s time for us to link arms together as explorers as we, together, discover and create new land. 

At the end of the day, Cirque de Soleil understood that head-to-head competition worked against them. If they wanted to save the circus industry, they’d have to chart a course for an entirely new, uncontested market. They had to understand the times, risk, and do something no one else had done before. In order to see their vision for the future realized, they had to change their mindset and fish in an entirely new pond. 

In a similar way that is what Church United is all about. It is an invitation to join a movement of explorers – pastors and church leaders who have exchanged their general stars for compasses as we chart a new course for the Church in South Florida – a course that rejects head-to-head competition and goes after the uncontested market share of the 97% non-believers in South Florida.


Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida. To learn more about Church United, visit churchunited.city

Read more articles by Edwin Copeland at: goodnewsfl.org/author/edwincopeland/

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