Wednesday, 26 September 2012

New Models of Church - as Retail Destination

My previous models of church have generally had a common assumption, I realise. The Church  Service Provider and Book Club have both taken "the Church" to be the whole group of people that are gathered together. The provision of baptism and burial services required specialists within that group, but otherwise the group as a whole is taking its part as active players.

And then there's the Heritage Society - which is likewise fundamentally about active membership as well as leadership. Take the Sealed Knot. I'm not sure why, when discussing the Church, a group of people who wear odd clothes and like to pretend they live in the past should spring to mind. But let's go with it. They have officers and organisers. But the re-creation of the Battle of Naseby is a clearly group activity. Together they stand and fight. Collectively they pretend to die. Almost as one man, they wonder why they can't seem to find girlfriends.

The Church as Heritage Society I perceived as, likewise, a group-based activity like that. But it can shade into something else. Let's go from Civil War recreation to a Railway Restoration society. Sure, they let the punters sit on their trains. They drag you up and down between Minehead and Taunton, or - as near here - between Chapel Brampton and Chapel Brampton. But actually get in the cab and drive it along yourself when they're not looking, and they get all humpty with you. There's a firm demarcation between the Society Specialists and the punters. Likewise, some theatres are a kind of Heritage Society. The keenies keep the place running, while the rest are relegated to well-wishers and customers. You jump onstage and start to sing a part in "Oh Calcutta" and they'll call the rozzers. Especially if they're putting on a JB Priestley at the time.
When the Church fades across into this model, it stops being in Heritage Society mode and has started adopting the model of Church as Retail Destination.

So a common assumption - explicitly in some comments on my "Not going to church" post, but normally implicit in Worship Planning meetings - is that if a church provides hard seats and boring worship, then it should be unsurprised if Christians don't attend. They'll all be up the road at the Church of the Exciting Jesus, where the seats are plush to the bottom and the coffee is nice.

I would like to refer you at this point to the spectacularly inappropriate and uncharitable comment I found on a curiously - almost synchronistically - pertinent post from Vic the Vicar.

And so the definition of roles shifts. The Vicar, Minister, Father, Archdruid, Pastor, Deacon, Local Preachers and an unspecified number of other leading lights are the board and employees of a retail organisation. And the rest of the congregation, like the great floating mass of punters "out there" (whereever "out there" is) are all just customers - actual or potential.

And so the question becomes - is our brand significant? Do eight out of cats owner's prefer BCP or a hymn sandwich? Where the Church as Heritage Society sticks to BCP, Calvinism and holes in the roof because they're authentic - should I be adopting a Vineyard approach? Should I try to discern God's will, and try to stick with I have received - or should I assume God's will is whatever people "out there" do?

Do I adopt that old retail adage that it's more effective to keep your existing customers than to grow new ones? It's cost-effective - but if I were a wheelwright, for example, or the Guardian, I'd have to recognise that the product I offer will eventually leave me with no customers. So do I try and persuade the Government to subsidise me - effectively become a Heritage Society again - or do change the product?

Do I adopt a different marketing technique? Do I recognise that it's easier for Marks and Spencer, for example, to steal customers from Waitrose than from Lidl, and work out a strategy to nick punters from the fellowship up the road? If they've a modern band, let's get into hip-hop. If they just think they're modern, like most "modern" church music, let's get into the Carpenters. If they're Goth, let's get Goth-er! Buy the minister a tattoo and a tongue piercing! Sure, he's 71, but you're never too old for a new experience.

And so the Beaker Folk have embraced this attitude whole-heartedly. Our chairs are plush as a sofa in a lounge in Purley. We have snake-handlers, scented chandlers, chainsaw-jugglers, Holy Clowns and weight-lifters. Gay rights, women's rights, wheelwrights, tea lights and, in the group that meets very quietly on Sunday afternoons, complementarianism and the need for women to be quiet in church. Amazing how popular that is for women, oddly. I don't go, but it's got its place in the market. Sorry, I mean it meets a need...

Our four-worship-format on Sunday morning means you can "drop into" Celtic, Beaker, Extremely Primitive Methodist or Grime services.

Our spiritual souvenirs run from pebbles and doilies, through rosaries, to our Holy Piercings shop, where you can also be tattoed with your favourite quotatons from the Bible, Marx, Robbie Williams or Teilhard de Chardin.

You can buy the Beaker Common Prayer in calf-bound, half-bound, parchment, papyrus scroll, real vellum, fake vellum or download.

We're working hard to be become the perfect one-stop destination for all your spiritual needs. And at some point, when our Focus Groups tell us people want that kind of thing, we'll probably see if we can introduce some kind of references to God.


  1. Have you considered creating a special 'album' bringing together all the "New Models of Church"?

  2. I was thinking that our Churches could do with an injection of retail flair. But do we go for the Harrods' M&S, John Lewis or Tesco/Sainsburys/Morrisons/Lydl model? Or do we opt for the fair trade/fluffy/tree hugging Waitrose or Coop Model? There is always the alternative of the McDonalds or Poundland model :(

    Realistically, I like the John Lewis model where staff participate in decision making and are share holders giving them a reason to perform, to sell quality merchandise and to attract the upper middle class or guardian readers.

    What I tend to get is the Lydl model :( Pile cheap stuff high and sell it cheap. Our staffing is paid at workfare rates and all claim working tax credits and work an average 60 hours a week for 15 hours pay, to include sermon preparation and Sunday working and occasional offices which pay extra. The good thing about this model is that we don't have to worry about employment legislation or equality, because all staff are casual or office holders and can be moved on at a whim.

    Harrods model appeals but I wouldn't want to be associated with the Tory elite who camp out there, or be considered a Pleb because I don't wear a cravat or play polo.

  3. I bought a packet of Polos, but couldn't work out how to play them


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