Just recently I heard on the evening news that three retailers-Macy’s, K-Mart, and Sears-were making the decision to close a large number of their stores. The rationale was based somewhat on low sales in comparison with a high volume of shopping being done online. The day after those announcements were made a story appeared on the morning news. The title of that piece was, “Is this the Death of Department Store?”
There is a clear reality facing stores that do business in a traditional fashion. People are choosing to stay at home and getting exactly what they need from their computer screen rather than going out, facing traffic, and having no assurance that they will find what they want at the price they want to pay.
At just about the time that this news story broke, Sally and I were looking for a particular item to purchase. We found out that we could buy the exact item we wanted for one half the price online rather than the price being advertised in the store. We also discovered that we could get the item within 24 hours of pressing the “purchase” button. What we wanted, what we needed, when we needed it, and how we were going to acquire those wants and needs were being satisfied without ever having to go into to a store to make a purchase! And, it all could be done at a cheaper price!
All of this has got me to thinking about the product that we offer as a church. I frequently argue that, as a church, we are the best-kept secret in our communities. We, who offer the opportunity for someone to embrace faith as their own. We, who provide an alternative word of hope and joy in the midst of the current rhetoric of fear and anger. We, who provide the consistency of relationship and the reality of love as the best “products” on our shelves. Yet, we are consistently being beat to the punch by those who are selling their products better than we are.
If you browse Facebook or Twitter, you discover that the dominant message on social media has little to do with what we are selling in our churches. If you turn on the television, you become aware that there is a different ethic and motivation in the stories being told. If you even descend into the basement of some of our homes, you quickly encounter a generation of young people sitting at a computer screen with the ability to engage with others, play games, socialize, and find “meaning” without ever having to leave their home.
All of that is to say, that it is harder today than ever to sell the product that we are advertising. We have to ask ourselves whether or not we believe enough in our message to be able to communicate it effectively in the world around us. And, if the manner in which we advertise our message is not getting the results we desire, how willing are we to change our approach so that people really, truly, deeply want what we are offering?
I am convinced that we have the best, most relevant message and theology for the world today. I am not
convinced that people in the world realize it. And I’m not convinced that we are doing our best job in marketing the message of what we sell. Could it be that we are turning out just like Macy’s, K-Mart, and Sears?
In the fourth chapter of Matthew, the gospel writer used one word in the span of two verses. One word that signaled that the product was needed. One word that demonstrated that the message about that product was convincing.
What was that one word? Immediately.
Jesus offered four people a chance to change the direction of their lives when he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”(Matthew 4:19 NRSV). We don’t know the specifics of that invitation nor do we know the deep histories of the four fishermen. What we do know, however, is that the invitation struck a cord and the product being advertised met a need. What we do know is that they believed they could follow that invitation and access the product with one, quick, simple action. We know that because the scriptures say, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”(Matthew 4:20 NRSV)
What would it do to Macy’s, K-Mart, and Sears if the news reported, “Immediately they left their cars and entered the store?”
What would it do to us if we could say the same, “Immediately they left their homes and came to the church?”
Market the message. Believe in it enough that people will encounter it whenever they meet you. And find a way to make it the most undeniably needed thing in a person’s life.If you do, the stores will remain open. And so will our churches.
May it be so.The Journey Continues, .