What We Can Learn from the Publishers of the Encyclopedia Britannica!

After 244 years the Encyclopedia Britannica is going out of print!  Instead, EB will focus all of their efforts on their online version.  Read the full news story here.  Interestingly, EB officials said the end of the printed, 32-volume set has been foreseen for some time.

Consider, the top year for the printed encyclopedia was 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold.  That number fell to 40,000 just six years later in 1996.  The company started exploring digital publishing in the 1970s. The first CD-ROM version was published in 1989 and a version went online in 1994.  One company official said, “The sales of printed encyclopedias have been negligible for several years.  We knew this was going to come.”  They went on to say, “A printed encyclopedia is obsolete the minute that you print it.  Whereas our online edition is updated continuously.”

Allow me to make two observations here as it relates to leadership and church:

  1. “The times are NOT changing… they’ve already changed!”  Anyone that doesn’t understand that information has been delivered to the masses via online platforms for some time now may indeed be living in the proverbial dark ages.  Technology partnered with the internet doesn’t merely change the way we get and give information, it dictates it!  Leaders and churches that simply don’t get this or refuse to get it, in my opinion are beyond irrelevant, they are stupidly continuing to oil a Gutenberg Press in a Google world!
  2. “The message IS eternal, yes… but the methods must evolve!”  To me, the power of the Holy Spirit, as manifested in Acts 2, when “unlearned men spoke in other languages” isn’t so much about this miraculous occurrence, but more so about the fact that diverse groups of people, gathered in Jerusalem at that time, heard the Gospel message in their own “language!”  Though many make this event a doctrinal basis for being filled with the Holy Spirit with the “evidence of speaking in other tongues”, could it be that it had more to do with preaching the Good News to as many people as possible in a manner or method that was most conducive to their being able to understand and receive it??  Again, to me, leaders and churches underestimate and undervalue the incredible creative dimension of the Holy Spirit to enable and yes, empower us, to share an eternal, timeless truth in a way that best connects with that culture or community we are called to reach!  That may be what it looks like to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Sure, 244 years of printing the Encyclopedia Britannica is a great run.  But what’s even better is that they’re not going to print it anymore!  They’ve found a more productive and profitable means of dispersing knowledge… Hmmm, interesting…


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