What can church buildings learn from the retail sector?

All Saints' Church Hereford - view towards cafe

All Saints’ Church Hereford – view towards cafe | Photo Andrew Mottram

Learning from Retail

There are similarities between the Church and the Retail Sector. Such a view may be a surprise to some readers, but think about it before dismissing the notion out of hand.

It may not be a consumer product that we are selling but we are in the business of attracting people to take an interest in Christianity. As the Church, we have a ‘product’ (the Gospel) that we wish to promote and we want to attract people’s interest in the life of the Church, in the hope that these newcomers may make a long term commitment to Christ. There are considerable similarities with what shops and businesses are seeking to achieve in promoting their goods and services to the general public. We have much to learn from the retail sector about how to promote what we are offering and how to attract and keep people’s interest.

The church building is the ‘business premises’ for the Church community. In the various contexts of Church life (parish, diocesan and national), our buildings and property serve as our ‘shop windows’ and they have an enormous effect on how what we are offering is perceived.

Similar to shops, our premises can attract, serve and retain people or, conversely put them off from coming near, let alone inside. Cold, dirty, closed, uncomfortable and unkempt church buildings are a significant barrier to all three Diocesan Priorities. Rather than serve the Mission of the Church, church buildings can hinder it.

Sometimes, it is the building which is not ‘fit for purpose’; more often, it is the way that we manage the building which results in it being a hindrance and barrier.

If a church building acts as a significant barrier to any of our three priorities for action, then it may well be necessary to either make changes to the building and its management or relocate operations to more suitable premises.

All Saints' Church Hereford - view towards cafe

All Saints’ Church Hereford – view towards cafe | photo Andrew Mottram

The Moment of Truth

Many non-Church people have anxieties about and fear of church buildings, what goes on inside them and the people associated with them. For some people churches are virtually alien territory and are viewed with apprehension.

Church members need to have an awareness of a retail principle ‘the Moment of Truth’. This is the moment when all the advertising and promotional claims are measured against what the retailer actually delivers. The person doing the measuring is the customer and if the gap is too big between what is claimed and what is delivered, the customer may well be lost forever.

The Moment of Truth applies to the Church as well. In the case of the Church, the Moment of Truth is when all the claims made in the name of Jesus Christ are measured against what the Church actually delivers. If the gap is too big then, similarly, this too can result in the person never coming back.

Both Church members and church buildings have a big part to play in the Moment of Truth.

‘It is the form of the Church in the West which has become the biggest barrier to the Gospel. The broad sweep of ecclesiastical life does not bear witness to the grace, passion, radicality, authority, tenderness, anger, excitement, involvement or acceptance of Jesus. Unfortunately for us, the medium has become the message. The popular image of Christianity is formed by encounter with the church; and so Christianity is regarded as reactionary, oppressive, conservative, moralistic, hypocritical, boring, formal and judgemental.’ Michael Riddell, ‘Threshold of the Future’ SPCK 1998 – p39

So how far should the church go in learning from the retail sector? Please leave a comment.

[Editor’s Note: Andrew Mottram is an authority on the adaptation of church buildings. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1979 and had nearly 30 years experience of parish life, including many years of making church buildings work for people. When he was Priest in Charge of All Saints Hereford, the church building was re-ordered and opened up to the community in 1997. Café @ All Saints has proved to be a successful business venture.

The ‘new’ All Saints generated numerous enquiries and requests for help which led Andrew to set up Ecclesiastical Property Solutions Ltd (EPS). From 2004 to 2009 EPS helped over 500 individual Church communities with their buildings and provided training and support to clergy and laity in 23 Dioceses. EPS also worked at a national level with English Heritage, The Church Buildings Council, The Churches Conservation Trust and The National Churches Trust.

Andrew is currently Heritage Buildings and Community Development Officer in Worcester Diocese.]

 

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