Friday, March 24, 2017

Dying Malls and Dying Churches

She left a comment in response to mine in agreement with what I said and yet it changed my point of view. The original post was about a mall that like so many is dying. Once the crown jewel of the community, only a few retailers remain to keep the lights on. The article was talking about the owners of the mall looking for ways to innovate. My comment was that all malls are dying and that it is because of online shopping, but I don’t think brick and mortar is dead because mixed use properties that combine living, retail, entertainment, etc. have advantages that even thirty-minute delivery from can’t compete with. Online retail will never be able to compete with the spontaneous purchases made by someone walking past a store window. But her comment added something to the list that I hadn’t really considered, churches.

We all know that churches are struggling right now and those of us involved in church leadership spend a great deal of time thinking about how we can get more people involved at our church. Even though it is a similar problem to what retail stores are experiencing, we don’t link the two because we know that is the problem for retail stores and doesn’t have a church (yet). So even if we accept that retail stores shouldn’t be asking this question, we keep right on asking the question, “How can we get more people to drive to where we are?” We think retail stores shouldn’t ask that question because people don’t have to drive at all if they order online. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking that concerning churches either.

Imagine you’re a lost person. You believe there is a God. There must be, right? Church seems like the place to figure this out, but you couldn’t care less about whether the church is Baptist, or Catholic, or Presbyterian, or non-denominational. You don’t know about these things. Who cares what they put on their church sign? And who really cares what kind of songs they sing? You don’t know the songs anyway. It’s all strange to you. So here are some things you probably aren’t going to do. You probably aren’t going to follow sign on the highway that points off down a gravel road toward a church. You probably aren’t going to show up at this big huge building that looks kind of like a shopping mall that is only open on Sunday. And those smaller buildings? Why would you just show up? Do people do that kind of thing? Is that considered okay or would people look at you funny?

Churches are actually dealing with the same thing that retail stores are. The problem isn’t The root of the problem is that people don’t want to deal with the hassle. has just found a way to provide a solution. People don’t want to sit in traffic getting to the store, then have to fight their way through the aisles looking for a product, only to discover the store no longer has it in stock, then wait in the checkout line to purchase the things they did find, and then fight the traffic going home. Just order online and the problem is solved. But we are asking people to do some of these same things when they attend church. Sit in traffic getting there, deal with a crowd of people they don’t know, sit through songs they don’t know, then sit through a sermon that has no content, and then fight the traffic going home.

What if we put a church in one of these retail/residential developments? Now we’re not asking people to drive anywhere. Their car is already parked on the property, or maybe they show up while on their Sunday morning jog or bicycle ride. They walk past our front door on the way to breakfast or on their way to dinner. We’re going to put a greeter outside the front door ready to hand out flyers, invite people inside, and answer any questions they may have. We’re going to have big plate glass windows so that people can see what we are doing. It may look strange at first, but after a few Sundays of walking past, it’s going to seem normal. We’re going to put up big signs telling about the various activities and those activities are going to be age appropriate for the community we are in. We might even offer them free donuts and coffee. And what about the rest of the week? If we’re smart, we’ll keep the doors open during the times the retail shops are open. Maybe we have some classes or small groups that meet onsite during the week. Maybe it’s just a couple of staff members part of the time. But people living there or visiting the shops should be able to expect that when they need answers that only God can provide they need only show up, open the door, and they will find someone who can point them in the right direction.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this would work? Why or why not?