Monday, 24 January 2011

The Poor Selling of Salvation 2

I wrote a piece on my views about how we set our stalls as churches, and drew the parallel between church life and how that translated into a retail experience. My hope was that it represented a poor experience for the visitor, born of far too much presumption. If you fancy a read, here is the link.

In a comment made about the post (to my face), it was said that it closed too early, and I acknowledge that there is more that can be said, and perhaps should be. Thanks for to Stuart over at eChurch Christian Blog for inspiring me today with his article on IKEA and the mean means that they use to get you to buy their buyable bits and bobs! Again, visit him here - it is a good read!

Retailers have a fairly complex science that is designed to get you in, make you stay, buy more and then come back. Terms like 'units per transaction [UPT]', 'average transaction value [ATV]', 'key performance indicators [KPI]', 'loss-leading lines', and so on. Add to that background music that is not at all accidental, and is, in fact geared to mimic the desired heart-beat of the 'desirable' customer, and you have a Palace of Manipulation. That is retail, it always was, do not be upset. 

In short, a retailer's best endeavour is to convince their customer to increase their UPT. They achieve this by arranging their stores in a very specific way (IKEA being a fine example of this done well). You do the work for them - you pick up items you didn't come in to buy. In other establishments, the more sales-orientated ones (furniture, flooring, electrical, vehicle), it is less likely that serendipity will increase their UPT, so a KPI for the sales-staff (and often a way that they are rewarded) is simply to ask you to buy something else as well as the thing to came in to buy. You will not buy a carpet without being asked for your underlay needs. You will not buy a car without being asked about warranties. And so on. In increased UPT will drive up the ATV, and with add-on sales being the more lucrative for the retailer (and what we really want you to buy if we are honest), the margin (profit) increases exponentially. In my retail life, I was the expert at maximising gross-margin - a less than noble claim, perhaps!

If I remove the language of commerce and profit, I believe that there is some mileage in this mindset being applied to the prize on our own stalls: The Lord Jesus Christ, son of God. We are not in the business off selling, of course, but we are in the market (in part) for making disciples and hoping that they stay and become loyal. We are here to enhance the experience, meet needs with the benefits on offer, commend the experience - and we always hope to know if that was a worthy experience and learn from failures. The same as retail in any form.

If we take the 'belong, believe, behave' model of Christian discipleship - there is a direct parellel between discipleship and commercial enterprise. When we open our churches, they should grab people off of the streets - and this can be done in many ways. Darkness, closed doors, no 'staff', emptiness - all these things are barriers. Locked doors can never be entered, if it indeed it needed saying. Many people will come into our churches without a 'master plan' to do so. Life brings them in to our communities and places of worship - so we have to be focussed on what enhances the experience and encourages a lengthier stay. Then the next visit, and then the third. Increasing the quality of the experience will add value to the visit for the person in question (their transaction value,in other words?). We meet their needs, by the way - not tell them what their needs are! If we are blessed, and they identify a reason to stay and not frequent the competition, they will become more and more involved in the life we would then share (doing more, units per transaction, perhaps). 

This is not intended to be a needless contortion of two distinct worlds. I have learned much from retailing, and believe it has much to offer church life. If all Christians paid the same quality of attention to newcomers as sales-staff do in stores (irrespective of motivation), then our churches would be filled to capacity, and then some. I could write more, but this post is ample enough!


  1. I once tried talking to a PCC about a sales funnel (here) - most didn't get it but those with a business background did!

  2. A helpful model, Alan - thank you. I shall keep that for another day!!!

  3. Should the church be grabbing people in or going out to where people are? The example of Jesus is outreach but in the church we've turned that into in-grab. I'd be interested in any further comments/posts from you about how retail models could offer useful insights on outreach.

  4. As you rightly point out, there is centripetal as well as centrifugal. Shops are only half of the retailer's efforts ... more happens away from the building than in it.

    Thank you for reminding me of that distinction. It is a very important one!



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