The Church and the Upside-Down Apple


I’m super-late to the party and am only now watching The West Wing on Netflix. Good stuff.

About the 4th or 5th episode I noticed something: the Apple laptops that the staff were using had their glowing apple logos upside down. I remember those couple of years when they were upside down (1999-2001, in fact), and it was funny to me that for the first two seasons, shot during this time period, the logo was upside down. You can see similar shots from that era in Sex and the City…or so I’m told. o_O

It’s so blatantly a design error, but why did it take two years to correct it? And 1999 was Jobs’ triumphant return to Apple–this was his genius idea?

A year or so ago, a former Apple employee blogged an explanation of why this upside-down chapter in their lives came about and ended:

Apple has an internal system called Can We Talk? where any employee can raise questions on most any subject. So we asked, “Why is the Apple logo upside down on laptops when the lid is open?”

We were told by the Apple design group, which takes human interface issues very seriously, that they had studied the placement of the logo and discovered a problem. If the Apple logo was placed such that it was right side up when the lid was opened then it ended up being upside down when the lid was closed, from the point of view of the user. (If you’re currently using an Apple laptop made in the past eight years, then close the lid and you’ll see that the Apple logo will be upside down from your point of view, but right side up when opened)

Why was upside down from the user’s perspective an issue? Because the design group noticed that users constantly tried to open the laptop from the wrong end. Steve Jobs always focuses on providing the best possible user experience and believed that it was more important to satisfy the user than the onlooker.

Obviously, after a few years, Steve reversed his decision.

It’s an interesting question from a marketing and design standpoint: what is the balance between pleasing the user and marketing the product to potential new users?

Too often, however, I wonder if the Church fails at this balance. If it makes the Apple upside-down in order to please its members instead of turning it right-side up for the sake of those outside its walls.

Aren’t we focusing more on those inside our walls rather than those outside our walls in these situations?

  • When we use churchy language in our marketing
  • When we tell potential visitors on the phone “look for us in the narthex by the vestibule for someone with a stole on.”
  • When a pastor turns away a gay couple to escape congregational wrath
  • When new Methodist pastors tell people “I’m not clergy yet, I’m provisional, but I guess I’m a clergy…yes, I’m an unordained clergy, but that’s the same level you are, so…yeah, I’m a commissioned clergy. Yes, just like ordination, but not.”
  • When we offer worship styles that please our church members and not branch out to reach new communities
  • And so on…

It seems to me that many times in a church’s history, they go back and forth between wanting to satisfy the users and wanting to reach new communities. It’s like every generation has to learn the language of the one that is just behind it, but only when they have to. And even then, it’s easier to focus on those closest in generation to us than those 30-50 years later (which are the growing need, right now).

But to focus on churchy experience is often the wrong path as it turns out, most churchgoers can adapt to change (shock!) after a short amount of time if it is done well.

Back to the Apple logo thing, the reality was, as the Apple employee’s blog post concludes,

Opening a laptop from the wrong end is a self-correcting problem that only lasts for a few seconds. However, viewing the upside logo is a problem that lasts indefinitely.

The simplest error corrects itself after a short amount of time. So it is with churchy focus instead of a missional focus. All that is needed is the will to get it done, the endurance to get through the transition time, and the inspiration to get the congregation to forget there ever was an upside-down apple.

What do you think? Are most of our “presence” problems a conflict between focusing on those in our pews rather than those outside? And at what price?

Discuss. And no, I don’t watch Sex and the City. Really.

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  1. Jenn says

    This is a great question (and the WW is one of the best shows ever written.) The question for me, at least, is, what is the “simplest error” we can fix that would make a world of difference?

  2. Amanda Lunemann says

    Hello Again :)

    As Christians and the church, the “going on to perfection” goal in this circumstance would render the Apple laptop as needing a logo that is both rightside up AND upside down….side by side. In other words, I see the problem with the church today (and probably on and off again throughout it’s 2000 year history) as one being where the apple logo is EITHER upside down OR rightside up. As the “body of Christ”, we are called to seek the balance of both existing simultaneously on one geometric plane :)

    And if you won’t confess, I will: I watched and continue to watch re-runs of Sex and City. Don’t judge 😛

  3. Vera says

    OK, I will bite. I agree that congregations need to be open to change, including worship style change, to attract new populations. But in my experience what often happens in the UMC is the folks at the conference and ordained clergy level too often have some idea of changes they *think* are going to work for individual congregations—maybe based on demographics of the area or current wisdom in church growth. And then those ideas are imposed on congregations, which often do go along with what they are told is the way forward, what honors God, etc. I say imposed, because these are ideas from the outside that congregations are asked to accept. Unfortunately, too often the changes both drive away folks who have been in the congregation for years AND do not attract the people they’re intended to attract. So then the local church is worse off than before.
    It seems to me there’s got to be a better way than top-down imposition. Something more organic and participatory and customized for the specific local church at hand. Something where the current congregation helps craft ideas it can get behind and that it believes will work, and that are right for it. There’s not enough partnership in the way things are done now. There’s “we know best” from conferences and clergy, and when it doesn’t work the local congregations always seem to get the blame.
    What I am trying to say is, it’s very easy to get into a mindset where the current congregation is completely discounted as the goal of bringing in the elusive new people is sought. That’s kind of the opposite of your point. IMO there needs to be a middle ground, a shared vision that doesn’t kill off what’s already there. It’s harder to do, but in the end it’s the only thing that will work.

  4. Brett says

    Pardon my hijacking the comments to respond to one of your tweets in the side feed. Yes, when Helen Thomas was born on August 4, 1920, she could not vote (Interestingly, when I was born in 1964, neither could I), as her family lived in Kentucky, which was one of the 20 states that restricted presidential suffrage on the basis of gender. Of course, by the time she was four, her family had moved to Michigan, which was one of those 28 states. Michigan women could vote in any election.

    The issue was moot in any event, as the 19th Amendment which caught federal elections up with a number of states and recognized a woman’s right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920, a mere 20 years, 50 weeks before Ms. Thomas attained the age of majority and could register.

  5. David Brashear says

    An opera singer friend noted that some churches he visits, hearing him sing in the congregation, invite him immediately into the choir, or want him to do special music, once, even lead a fund raiser. Other churches he visits inquire how they might serve him and his family. He feels much more welcome at the latter. If we’re going to face the apple outward, then let’s focus on serving, not being served.

    • says

      I almost missed this but thanks for the comment. That’s important as I have an accountant who resented being out on finance but has excelled in other non-financial committees at the church.

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