What a Grocery Store Taught Me About Church

August 09, 2013

What a Grocery Store Taught Me About Church

My wife and I live in the perfect grocery storm. What I mean is we have almost every major grocery retailer within blocks of our house. Don't know if we've won some kind of retail lottery but there isn't a major sale happening in our city that isn't minutes from our doorstep. At least in terms of groceries.

The competition amongst the stores is fierce with us being the beneficiaries. It has become a game when the weekly flyers arrive to chart out the route we will take to snag the best deals in the shortest amount of time. Because of the competition in our community, the stores are constantly upgrading or remodelling. One recently closed for months and did a total overhaul, inside and out.

We were there for the grand re-opening. It was pleasant to wander through the new store while we checked out all the deals being offered. Pleasant that is, until it came time to check out. I'm not sure if you share this pet peeve but this newly minted store had check outs that were narrow and congested.

Here was this brand new and modern environment and the check outs made me want to scream. In an age when you have to manage a cart, put them on the conveyor, bag your own groceries, and pay for them, why do these stores insist in making you do so with no room to move?

Every store in our community is the same, not one gives any consideration to the customer. I can't believe there isn't some engineering genius out there who hasn't created a system that doesn't involve you feeling like you are standing on top of another human being just to bag your groceries? I can think of only two reasons for this:

  1. The grocery chains are intentionally frustrating customers for some marketing reason that I can't fathom.
  2. They are so entrenched in their store model that they are unwilling to change or unwilling to spend the dollars to correct it.

This got me thinking about the church. Recently, I've been hearing a lot of doom and gloom. Young people leaving, culture drift, lack of doctrinal stability, the list goes on. Is it possible that we are just like the stores in my neighbourhood?

Now the church is much different than a grocery store. For one, a person doesn't have to go to a church that frustrates them, whereas they still have to eat! People will have a higher tolerance towards a store than the church. There isn't a well-meaning pastor in all of North America that doesn't desire the church to have greater impact in their communities.

And yet we seem to be spinning our proverbial wheels without getting the kind of traction all our efforts deserve. So to that end, I put together a number of questions I believe we need to consider.

1.  Is church planting as effective as it could be?

I'm a big believer in planting new churches. But are we really reaching new demographics with the same methods we've used for years? Find a school, community centre, or movie theatre, advertise, put out a sign, and target Sunday mornings. When I was doing my doctoral research I surveyed the churches in our area that were new and asked them the percentage of new believers.

Overwhelmingly the numbers showed very little true conversion growth. What was really happening was the pie was just getting sliced into smaller pieces. Only one church of the dozens I surveyed had a conversion rate of over 20%. No other church came remotely close.

2.  Is Sunday the best day to reach non-believers?

I know this wanders into theological waters but its still a valid question. Could there be other days or times in a week that would be more or less conducive to the non-churched? Or, rather than starting new works on a Sunday morning wouldn't they be the best venue for trying a new day or time? What would we lose in trying?

3.  Do we even care about the non-churched?

Ask yourself a question. How much of your congregational, staff, and leadership meetings are focused on strategies to reach non-churched? How much of your budget? One of the easiest ruts to fall into is the self-focused one. And before you know it, you've become irrelevant and outdated. Another question to ask. How much of our prayer lives involve our pleading with God for the salvation of souls?

4.  How many of your members are inviting people to your church?

I call this the ""ouch"" question. I know that there are certain acquaintances of mine that I would have trouble inviting to church. And I'm the pastor!! If I feel some hesitancy I can imagine what others may feel. That's not to say that our churches have to cater exclusively to outsiders, but there has to be some give and take.

I know there is some tension here. There is a place for believers to gather and to worship together as the church. But I've personally been uncomfortable when that is seen as the exclusive purpose for gathering together. I know some would argue but that is my perspective.

5.  Are we creating venues for real dialogue and real engagement, especially with our youth and people of other cultures?

What happens if someone really wants to find out more about the Christian faith? Is it an easy step for them to find the answers they are looking for? And what about our youth? So much of the traditional church appears out of step with the rest of their world. Are we taking steps to keep them engaged in a real way.

Another group is the ever growing immigrant population. Are we creating touch-points between these communities and our churches? The list of questions is endless. In each situation the questions will likely differ but I think it's important that we continue to challenge ourselves.

Otherwise we will be like the grocery stores in my neighbourhood. Fancy buildings with lots to offer, but when it comes time to do real business you're left feeling frustrated and stressed.

Perhaps it's just me but I think the grocery chains are missing a golden opportunity to make some long needed changes. And maybe its a lesson the church needs to take to heart as well.

Photo Courtesy of Stockphotosforfree

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