The list of retail chains planning to close all or a portion of their stores in 2015 is staggering. Sears, the holy of holies in retail and catalog business for so many years will close 500 locations. Staples a whopping 225. Radio Shack will reduce their retail presence by 20%. Barnes and Noble is shutting down 218 stores. In what some financial analysts are calling the retail apocalypse, Office Depot, Albertson's, Best Buy, teen magnet Wet Seal, Denny's, Ruby Tuesday, and Macys, will join Blockbuster, Circuit City, and Linen and Things as companies that used to be.
Oh yeah! Did I mention that 4,000 evangelical churches will close in 2015 as well. While you're at it, put this on the tote board too. Of the 350,000 estimated Christian churches in the USA 80% of them, 280,000 if you like round numbers, are barely maintaining the statistics to fulfill mission in thier settings. When all of this information started flooding the little desk in my home office, the old commercial loan and marketing officer in me began to connect the dots. When I mentioned it to another pastor friend he gave me a quizical look that asked, what's that go to do with me? Indeed. What does the world around us have to do with our church anyway? It's not a rheotrical question either, or asked to be cute. That my friend seemed clueless moved it up a notch or two on my personal importance scale.
Far too often Christ's church is totally disconnected from the world around it, or at least, it appears so. The church in America has been called a fortress, an enclave, a club, cruise ship, and a lot of other names that portray his church in a less than biblical manner. One writer referred to the Christian bubble, meaning the protective shrink-wrap in which the church exists day to day, secluded from the means streets and horrible secular influences that are ruining culture. Today there's an added fear of the business models that seem to be creeping into the organizational systems of the church---branding, mission statements, marketing plans, leadership training objectives, evaluations, balance sheets, corporate resoultions, by-laws, and, you know the drill. Part of this distance is often a segregation plan, a formal program to keep that stuff out of his church. So, while the world is going to you know where in a hand-basket, we're isolated, a bastion of hope separated from the nasty stuff of the business community.
Of course, what happens in the mom and pop store on the corner, or in the mega-store down the street may actually be happening to the people on our rolls as well. We're certainly not selling anything, but there are some supply and demand dynamics that affect the ministry of the local church too. Human beings move, change their purchasing priorities, and make all manner of personal decisions every day. Something has made people shift their buying habits, the retail stores they frequent, or their needs for certain goods and purchases. When people stop coming to them, they close. Church people should wake up to the dynamics of these systems.
Companies fail because the buying public is so fickle. Soemtimes theres more. Take Sears, Roebuck for example. Their decline began when they closed their catalog sales department. Their market people thought catalog buying was a dead issue. Of course, nobody told the people over at L.L. Bean, Lands End, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrell, and forty-eleven other new guys in the catalog business. Many of the closers ignored the on-line options thinking busy people still preferred going into the store to make their purchases. Some of them paid scant attention to the competition, thinking they had the market captured and loyalty would keep them connected.
Yes, the coprorate giants have to keep up with the times too. When they slip behind, or miss a strategic initiative, or make a wrong move, or remain unchanged in a world defined by it, they lose their connection and edge to the world around them. Then they are passe, out of touch.
Jesus commissioned his church to be in the world, not of it. Being in the world means keeping pace with it, reaching into it, being relevant to what is happening out there, not a hide-away cave sheltered from it. What is happening in the retail world is a reminder that everything around us is in a state of flux, and even untouchables like J.C. Penny are affected by it. Nothing and no one is sacred in the markets of this world. If church people keep crusing along, thinking we have a pass from market movements, or from the moods and swings of a fast-paced world, or the after-effects of rampaging technology, or what is happening at the strip shopping center down the street, then our list of closures will grow too.
The gates of hell cannot prevail against his church. But, his people can become disconnected from the world around them, and lose their mission in the process. It's time to wake up, smell the coffee, and be missional. Especially if the coffee shop is across the street.
It has everything to do with us.