How Your Church Can Leverage Five Trends in Retail

I am currently helping a large, non-profit Christian retailer go through a visioning process. Last week a retail consultant led two hours of dialogue in a meeting I attended. These points are heavily adapted from that conversation with some additional thoughts on how they relate to the church.

Trend #1: Tweets and Seats- Provide free wifi and places to sit.

This is fairly simple to apply at church. Don’t wonder wether you should have wifi or not in any church space. Provide it! Retailers understand this is not a distraction for their customers but is a part of how their customers live (constant mobile connectivity). In addition, its an opportunity for customers to engage the retail space itself in deeper ways like getting more product information, validating lowest price or seeing creative applications and outcomes of certain products.

In church, the connectivity that wifi provides can translate to deeper engagement to everything that matters for the mission. Examples:

  • “Can I download the music I am worshipping to right now for personal worship on tuesday morning?
  • “Can I sign-up for a group while I am listening to a sermon on biblical community?”
  • “Can I use my preferred digital copy of God’s word while following the sermon?”
  • Can I take notes in way that will be automatically accessible in a cloud before I leave the service?”

The possibilities are endless.

Trend #2: Big Data- Know my wife’s birthday—and remind me—before it comes to my mind.

Big data is used to describe the massive amounts of data that retails are able to gather, configure and use to better serve their customers. As connectivity, social media and technology accelerate, big data will yield mind-numbing implications for how people are served. For example, imagine Hallmark cards reminding you of your wife’s birthday at the right time, the right place in the right way (device & medium) for you.

Today at Elevation Church, every attender was strongly urged to tear off a response card and answer three questions. The first question is “What year were you born?” The big deal is the appeal that was made in the moment of asking. The creative pastor shared that, “We want to do everything possible to design the best worship experience for you and this information will help us.” This is Elevation’s way of building their data.

There are a few big players out there in the church information space (I recommend checking out CCB). Be sure to select the one that is most usable and relevant for the future possibilities of big data. More importantly, think creatively of the umpteen ways that you can collect and use information to serve people. For example, I was recently scolded by my church’s student ministry assistant for missing the cut-off of camp sign-up. (Okay, it was my fault). But there’s about 3-4 different ways that this ministry could have reminded me of this info, if they used the data they already possessed. Is a simple text reminder asking too much?  Think of the implications way beyond event sign-up, like daily discipleship tools, digital missions and social story-telling. Quite frankly, the possibilities are amazing if church leaders wake up to this opportunity!

My prediction: the pastor of digital engagement will be the fastest growing new church job of the future.

Trend #3: The Back Story- Sharing why you sell what is you sell is more important than what you sell.

If you look, you will see many retailers returning to their roots and telling their creation story to emotionally connect you to their brand. Johnston & Murphy wants you to know they have been making shoes since 1850 and, it just so happens, they are the shoe provider for U.S. Presidents. While we see this all the time with creative upstarts and social entrepreneurs, more and more big for-profits are going there.

The simple lesson for the church is that values are important— a practice we are constantly trying to help church leaders advance at Auxano. This trend should be the church’s constant centerpiece, at least with regard to the biblical ideal. Why we do what we do is the heart of any ministry. The relevant application of this is pushing your ability to articulate—and then integrate—how your unique creation story and ministry values help people see, experience and engage the vision. The first step is to communicate the difference. Why does your community need your church anyway? (And don’t give me with generic answers.) Here is an article just posted on the Vision Room that will help.

Trend #4: Store within a store- Speak to specific segments within your tribe.

Stores like JC Penny or Best Buy are leading the way. At Best Buy you can make a purchase at several different stores within the big store. For example, you can buy standard cables for your new TV in the standard Best Buy aisles or you can go to Magnolia section, with a distinct in-store look and feel, and pickup higher-end cables. You will pay more, but you will also get customized service, like a follow-up phone call, to see how your TV installation went.

This is a harder point of application for churches, because of the pre-existing problem of fragmentation. In other words, if your church already has too much stuff, creating another sub-ministry logo won’t help. (Here is a post on that challenge.) The best way to apply this principle is not with a sub-ministry program in the traditional sense, but with an equipping feature in the “tools and resources” sense. For example, Mountain Park Community Church has a “Home Team” area in their lobby with tools for families based on specific family issues and life stages. The resource center does not clutter the church’s programatic offering but provides a “value-add” to certain segments of their congregation. The key question is “How can you add specific value to specific groups in your church?”

Trend #5: Generational Training- Teach a millennial how to greet a boomer.

Retailers know that age-segment values and practices can make people feel like arrived on a different planet.  You can’t just expect a 23 year-old woman to know how to great a 63 year old woman. Tight-niche retailers worry less about this because they will hire to mirror their demographic target.

But most churches don’t have this tight-niche luxury, so this trend is particularly appropriate. When was the last time you trained your first-impressions team or welcome ministry in generational preferences? Beyond greeting, imagine the rich implication for all of discipleship. In many churches with history over 30 years, generational viewpoints on walking with God may be your greatest under-utilized asset. How are you leveraging the variety of perspectives, convictions and practices of generations for the sake of the mission?

I would love to hear of any practical applications along these line at your church!

Read more from Will here.

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Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of and the author of Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision and Create Movement.

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They feel very big and hard to get my hands around- for one, how do I hear from God? Prayer. Scripture? "And puts it into practice" allows for misplaced motives right? Becoming like Jesus feels so "mountain top" it is overwhelming. Seems like there is more needed in identifying wins in this journey but love the effort and intentionality
— David bartosik
Priesthood of all believers....I believe it, but if its not, in your unhelpful words, the "talented leader who explains the Bible" who does? Who is explaining the bible to the priesthood? If its not the pastor, then fire him and hire the other guy.... You may answer, "the priesthood should be reading the bible for themselves"..."the priesthood is able to go directly to God"... TRUE, BUT many, including many clergy, aren't interested in God or if they are feel stupid that they cant read the bible or know how to see and hear from God for themselves thru his word. Where does that leave us? Who helps these people? Thats what discipleship is...clergy leading a deliberate pursuit of a few and helping them see God for themselves in scripture and see it transform their lives...and multiply into the lives of others. But you seem to argument against that..... 1. You hate Centralized Spirituality saying its Unhealthy: The big idea you seem to be driving at was the "de-centralizing" of clergies role while simultaneously asking for a discipleship system to be constructed....who is responsible to construct this system if not the clergy whom the church has entrusted with that role? 2. You dont think that "God planned for one person to disciple an entire church, and He didn’t design us to grow via mass discipleship." So if not one person ( a church that budgets for one pastor) or a staff of vocational pastors (a church that allocates rescues for multiple pastors) who drives this? of course there are other leaders but who is at the center? 3. Seems obvious, but you said Discipleship Thrives in Spiritual Small Groups...yes but how is this small group system managed? There is no way you say, just go do small groups and see what happens right? Study what you want, who cares who leads, who cares who comes, figure it out by yourself...youre a priest good luck! There is a checks and balances system that would be helpful right? There is support, there is direction....Who is the gatekeeper determining the quality of the group and supporting, encouraging and driving its health? all questions that I hope are helpful for the church, the article seems like its trying to give easy answers to an incredibly challenging idea. It seems to be attacking clergy rather than helping them see the enormity of what the people of God and God himself have entrusted to them. Help pastors step into the role of discipler, being supported by the elders, and investing their lives and conversations into helping people see God thru scripture deliberately and consistently...unwavering to any fad or program that may distract us.
— david bartosik
This resonated strongly with me. My pastor, a strong, wise, intelligent, and compassionate woman in her 40's, made the decision to take on my church almost 3 years ago. We were a very small, struggling congregation, facing closure. In our interview with her, we were very clear about the reality of our situation, and offered her an interim position, thinking that we would be closing very soon. She chose, instead, to be our called pastor, despite the odds facing her. She has gone over, above, and beyond in helping us stay afloat, but this has come at a great price, emotionally and physically. Because most of our congregants are older, they have limited energy and resources, and so many of the things which could be delegated by our pastor, she ends up doing herself, and so she faces burnout regularly. She has gotten better at taking personal time off, but I can still see that her spirit and energy are frequently flagging. And, even though we are relatively stable financially - due to renting our spaces to others - the added issues that come with renters occupy a lot of her time and energy. As her assistant, I do what I can to help ease these burdens, but I have limitations, as well, which prevent me from taking on more responsibilities. My fear is that my pastor will one day reach the end of her pastoral rope, and we may lose her. I will be sure to pass on this article to her, and continue to encourage her in her self care. Thank you for your frankness and insight.
— Monica Spangenberg

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