Tuesday, February 19, 2008

At the Mall

Last week, on Valentine's Day, my wife and I went on a date (Yes, we still go on dates at age 36). After a nice lunch at one of the chain restaurant's, we took a few minutes to stroll through the mall and do some window shopping. Then we noticed it: Four different jewelry stores on four different corners all facing each other. My immediate thought was how in the world would you choose? As a customer looking for a piece of jewelry for your loved one, how would you ever decide which of the stores to shop at? From an outsider's perspective, they all looked the same. Yes, their signs were different and their carpet may have been a different color, but even these differences were only minute from my view. From a distance, they looked virtually the same. As we walked along, I asked Cara "How do they differentiate themselves from each other?" Without a whole lot of time to think about it, I think we were both puzzled.

In this way, I wonder how many of our churches to an outsider seem no different from a distance. Like the jewelry store, there's one on just about any corner that you come to as you're driving along. In fact, on some corners in West Michigan, there are four of them and they are all facing each other! So, what makes a church different from the church right across the street? A couple of things stand out to me when I think about this.

First, let's start with the people. I could walk into one jewelry store and receive wonderful customer service and a friendly smile. Yet, I could walk into the store directly across from them and get just the opposite. Maybe they are even so busy that I stand there waiting for several minutes before I actually speak to someone. Likewise, the people in the church are undoubtedly a HUGE factor in winning a return visit or not from the first time shopper.

Secondly, let's look at the product being sold. While it may seem like one jewelry store is selling the identical thing as the store across the way, when you really get up close, you begin to see that there are some differences, albeit sometimes very subtle. Likewise, when you begin to examine a church and the "product" they are selling, you begin to see that each church offers a unique product. Some churches offer a great kids program while other churches focus on putting together a dynamic time of worship. Others focus largely on missions and outreach while other spend their time largely and sadly on maintenance alone.

So, despite how similar churches may look from an outsiders perspective, they are all unique in their approach to ministry. Some I would never shop at and others I would definitely return to over and over again.