Sears was an American success story surviving for more than 130 years and growing to one of the largest and most profitable businesses. Sears in the first 33 years of its existence didn’t have any brick and mortar stores. They began selling pocket watches and then jewelry. Mr. Sears with the help of Mr. Roebuck at watch repairman built a business with ingenuity and reaching people where they were. In a few short years Sears had a 500 plus page catalog that became known as the “Consumer Bible.” The company even sold home kits. In those early days the company took advantage of the postal service offering free service to rural routes for delivering of the catalogs and products.
In the nineteen twenties as the move to urbanization drew people into cities, Sears took advantage of this new consumer opportunity. In 1925 Sears opened their first retail store 33 years after its start as a company. Within four years Sears had 300 retail stores. They were an expanding company selling a diversity of products and had become an industry standard.
Amazon is now a global company that was a small internet upstart. At first, they only sold books, and then soon began to branch into other areas of the consumer market. They were able to do so using the innovation of the internet to reach more people easily offering a better price. Bringing an unlimited shopping potential to people anywhere at any time. They delivered products to homes and had no brick and mortar stores. In certain areas people are even able to get fresh food and produce delivered to their doors the same day.
Sears and Amazon both began as small upstarts offering a single product in an innovative way. Both within a few short years reached a wide variety of people with a vast array of products and services. October 15, 2018 Sears filed for bankruptcy. Wal-Mart took over the top spot from Sears as the industry leader in 1989, and Sears hasn’t had a profitable year in almost a decade. The company that had become one of the largest and survived for so long through innovation reaching out to where the people were, had now failed to do so in the past decade losing site of what had gotten them there. Not making a correction led them to their downfall.
Amazon so far has followed the same arc. Growing ahead of market and consumer trends with almost the similar method of innovation. Meeting people where they are in this new digital and virtual age. Will Amazon survive as long as Sears? Longer? Shorter? Only time will tell but for certain they must meet people where they are and be willing to explore new and different ways for reaching the masses.
It doesn’t matter what Sears or Amazon have to offer if they are not first reaching the people. The church in many ways is quite similar. There are people who will always pursue brand loyalty and that can cause complacency. Others who are looking for the best deal will lead to competition. They must remember people are their focus.
What can the church learn from Sears and Amazon? For the last 70 years there has been both a boom and decline in church membership and attendance. There are many reasons for the decline, however the mission and calling of the church remains the same. The mission is to reach people with the Gospel, and to develop them into faithful disciples who live for the kingdom of Heaven.
For Sears, Amazon, and the church we must first reach people where they are at. The mission (what we are called to do) and the message (what we are to share) have not changed but the methods must if we are to reach the ever-moving populace who still need Jesus.
Many are far too trusting and rely on brand loyalty becoming complacent, believing people will just seek the church out of a sense of obligation. Others will offer a variety of programs, events, and gimmicks trying to compete with other churches. Competing for a kingdom that is not ours but that we all share makes the Bride of Christ seem like a bargain. Diminishing her value to compete with others who are doing the same. We are here, neither to revel in nostalgia or compete for with others in value and services. We are here to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. To work with others to bring glimpses of his kingdom to earth.
Sears failed to continue to find ways of reaching people and meeting their needs. Right now, Amazon is innovating and adapting to reach people where they are with what they need. Will they continue? Time will tell.
The mission is still the same, so the church must seek new ways to reach people with the timeless hope of the Gospel. God is calling us to be faithful and fruitful in fulfilling the Great Commission. The church must continue to do this work in new and exciting ways to reach people. The church needs to change, adapt, and innovate to reach people with what they really need, Jesus.
Sears, the juggernaut of yesteryear filed for bankruptcy today. Amazon appears to have a limitless future, but will it continue? The church has stood for millennia.
Spiritually, there is nothing that can destroy the true church. Practically, we rob it of its power by living in the past, we diminish much of its hope and value by competing for lesser things rather than pursing loftier intentions. True grace is amazing not cheap.
Will the church survive? Yes! Will it thrive? It can, if it will reach people where they are in new and exciting ways with what they need most, Jesus. The mission remains, the gospel is timeless, the methods will need to change. Are you ready?