Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lesson from a Grocery Store

When I taught marketing at a number of colleges a few years ago I came across a story about a grocery store in Miami that I think the church can learn a lesson from. It is a true story and really illustrates the importance in paying attention to what is going on around us.

The store, owned by the same man for around 40 years, had a history of profitability and had been a positive part of the community. Over the past decade there had been a steady decline in sales and therefore profits.

One day the owner was wandering around the store bemoaning the loss of business and wondering if he should think about going out of business. It was hard work to run the business and he just was not sure that he knew what to do or had the energy to turn it around. As he walked through the produce department, he began to share his frustrations with one of his long-term employees. She looked at him and asked “Do you really want to know why your business is declining? I can tell you.” He looked at her with shock and said “Of course I want to know.”

She told him “Most people cannot read your signs in the store.”

The shocked owner responded, “What are you talking about? Look at these beautiful signs! I spend a fortune to have them all professional painted and printed. They are done by the best in the business.”

She responded “But they are all in English. The people in our community that we want as customers no longer speak English and therefore cannot read our signs.”

The shocked owner went to his office and began to contemplate what his employee had told him. He was a smart businessman and began to study the demographics of his community. He realized that he had been out of touch with those around him. He called his sign company and had every sign in the story redone at considerable cost to the store. There was great risk in making that kind of investment and he was not happy about the need to make this kind of change in the way he did business.

The next week his business was up 40%. He didn’t have to change what he had to offer, just how he delivered the message.

Many of our churches are just like that grocery store. The communities around us have changed and we have failed to change the way we communicate with those around us. We want to use the same old signs, the same media that we have always used, and we want to deliver our message in the way that worked for many years. That has lead many of our churches to a long history of decline and put their future at risk.

The truth is, if we do not do what it takes to communicate the gospel to our community God will find someone else to bring that message to the people that he loves and cares about. A new store (church) will move into our area and we will continue to decline. We need to carefully examine how those in our current culture are reached with a message. And we need to learn to speak their language.

Changing the way we communicate often makes us uncomfortable, especially when we need to learn a whole new language to make sure people understand what we have to offer. We have the most important message in history to tell and there is a tremendous market for a message of hope.

The question is “Will you be willing to make the changes in the way the message is delivered? What costs are you willing to pay so that the people in your community will know that God cares about them and loves them?”

    4 comments:

    Sheila said...

    Jeff... AMEN! I have recently decided to purchase for all my leaders a copy of the book by Paul Nixon I REFUSE TO LEAD A DYING CHURCH. It will be interesting to hear their reactions *grin* Sheila in NC

    Sheila said...

    Jeff... Amen! I have recently decided to purchase for all of my leaders a copy of Paul Nixon's book I REFUSE TO LEAD A DYING CHURCH. It will be interesting to hear the comments. Sheila in NC

    Jeff Vanderhoff said...

    Does this mean I have to retake Spanish? I already had 4 years of Spanish 1 in High School, man! What signs or ways of communicating would need to change in our churches? Does the average joe on the street know what a 'Gloria Patri' is? We scoff at the idea that Catholics used to (and in some cases, still do) deliver the mass only in Latin, yet we retain parts of it in our own liturgy that only a churchgoer would understand. Do we print things like the Lord's Prayer, the Apostle's Creed, etc., in our bulletins or put them up on the screen, or do we just expect those who don't have them memorized to stand uncomfortably while everyone else says them? Or, worse yet, do we not have anyone in our church that doesn't know all these things? How can we change our signage to be more open to the world around us? A great post indeed, Jeff!

    Jeff St.Clair said...

    Hey Jeff,

    I still get this now that we are 9 months into our Alternative Service. "Why do we need another service?" That book Sheila talks about sounds awesome.

    I am praying for your family.