“The Walmart Effect” is a term used to describe how “big box” stores, with their ability to undercut local shops and businesses, are able to close down whole towns by opening on a main highway. This happens with many different kinds of establishments – Bass Pro and Target, for example – and it is having a devastating effect on many communities. These big box stores, in turn, are losing business to internet shopping, and everyone is trying to figure out how to compete with that. Walmart has been successful for many reasons – almost everything they sell is made in Asia or Central/South America, they buy cheaper in bulk, and they have everything, including groceries. This convenience has made the Walton family incredibly rich.
A similar, but not exact, phenomenon has happened to churches. Big box churches cater to convenience. They have safe rooms for children to play while the adults worship, everything in worship is about entertainment, they have coffee shops and stores to buy your Jesus trinkets, and they get you in and out quickly, even providing debit/credit card machines to give your offering through. The message is often about how good you are, and how wrong everyone else is.
The rest of us could learn some good lessons from them. I would never say that we shouldn’t expect commitment from our members, or that we should make our message soothing and simplistic. I will say that the quality of worship, especially preaching and music, is something that many of our churches need to improve. We should not embrace trendy worship, but we should strive to make what we say and do interesting. We are not there to entertain, but we are also not there to bore. Integrity and connection are possible in any setting – so why not make it interesting to be a part of?
God is not controlled by time and tradition, and from the point of view of the church, we should not be either. Too many churches are worshiping as if they are still in 1950 or 1850, and the only people who want that are the few who are left. If our mission is to share the Gospel, we need to do it in ways that people understand. We should keep traditions and practices which still makes sense, and we should embrace new ways that have integrity. If we do not, we will got the way of the Mom & Pop stores. We have too much to offer to let that happen.