Evangelization Making Church Matter

From Mall to Mission: Three Lessons from the Retail Industry for How Not to Do Church

January 7, 2016

Where did you get your Christmas shopping done this year? For the first year, I didn’t set foot inside a single retail store or mall to find exactly what I wanted. You guessed it: online shopping. Not only that, but by shopping online I actually had access to more options, spent less time, and avoided dreaded holiday traffic.

It’s no wonder then that, as recent trends show, the “brick and mortar” retail store has been in sharp decline for some time now.

So where’s this going?

As a starting point, unchurched people always approach your church as consumers. They get to you through “church-shopping.” As a church, you can’t change that basic fact. That’s the culture. But as a church, what you don’t have to accept is that the unchurched must remain there. Our mission is to change consumers into contributors, on their way to become fully devoted disciples.

But it begins as a consumer exchange and the point is that retail…as we know it is changing. And if the church isn’t changing its approach to retail we’re headed in the same direction as the defunct mall down the street.

The difference isn’t that people no longer want what the Church offers, but the way of doing church no longer engages the real situation of people as they are. Here are three important lessons church leaders can learn to begin reversing this trend.

Experience Overcomes Inconvenience

Getting out of bed, wrangling children into the car, driving twenty minutes, and then sit still on a hard bench for 40 -50 minutes of an exercise that is boring and badly done…on a weekend when you finally, for once in the week, have a chance to relax. Can you really blame people for opting out? Unfortunately, like many retail stores that perpetuate a consumer mentality, there are still many church leaders who simply assume people want what they have and their “religious product” simply sells itself, no questions asked. It is a long-gone illusion.

We need to focus on what we call the “Sunday experience.” Through excellent music, relevant message, and vibrant ministry, it’s about helping people connect with God at church in a way that will equip and inspire them to face the rest of their lives. As one pastor writes, “the reward of attending your church has to overcome the inconvenience of attending it.”

Be Alive Online

When you hear about a new product or service you’re unsure about, what is your first move? You look it up online. When it comes to your church unchurched people do exactly the same. Is your church equipped with the tools to reach this ever-expanding way people approach the church?

From an operating perspective, online presence is effective, efficient, and actually saves on administrative time and expense. But more important, an online presence has the real power to communicate a welcoming experience that actually connects with seekers. Our goal is absolutely to move seekers from online to our gathered church so that they too, one day, can participate in the sacraments and ministry of our community. But our online presence is now our front door.

Good Service is Irreplaceable

Once they do get to your campus, there is no replacement for personal encounter.

As an experiment consider: is it possible in your church for someone to park, walk through the doors, sit, leave, and then drive away, without a single person from your church greeting, let alone have a meaningful exchange, with them? Such an experience mirrors the halls of a mall- endless church options for the “unchurched,” and yet few going out of their way to provide the kind of experience that attracts them to the Gospel.

Small steps have a surprisingly powerful effect- make parking ministry, greeters, and a host team a priority. Good service will make evangelization that much easier, personalized, and effective.

Retail is changing and so is how we do church.

For another take on this check out CareyNieuwhof.com

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