This past Christmas shopping season was unlike any before it. The proliferation of the iPhone and Android-based phone, as well as the apps from leading online retailers, created a unique comparison shopping environment. Mashable linked to a study from the Wall Street Journal that showed over half of holiday shoppers used the brick and mortar buildings of retailers as showrooms. Instead of purchasing items there, they would get to touch and feel products before buying them for a lower price on an online retailer. In some cases, they even purchased it from the same retailer – just at a discounted online price.

I have done this kind of comparison shopping for years, but it never occurred to me to actually do it in the store. For example, when we bought Ariel her first “big girl” Bible, we went to our local Christian retailer so she could check them out. But there was no way I was going to pay their unbelievably high price for the Bible. I bought it online for half of what the local store was charging. But doing this online, while in the store? That’s genius.

Think of how much of a deterrent this kind of shopping is for the impulse buy? You see that flat screen TV you have been coveting (shame on you!) on sale at Best Buy. So, you jump on the app on your phone and see that they have the same model at a 5% savings, including shipping. No brainer!

As always, Apple has been ahead of the curve on this. They have had their online store and retail stores integrated for some time. Since no one can sell Apple’s products below their own store prices, there is no competition. Other retailers need to stop complaining and come up with an approach to selling their products that will allow them to do the same thing.

We live in an ever more connected world. You can’t get away with poor business practices for long.

Churches should take a lesson from this. Isolation simply does not exist anymore. You can’t pretend to have the best just because everyone is ignorant of anything else. All you have to do is look around a little bit, and you can see the flaws in that argument. The threat to your ministry isn’t that church down the road. People are willing to drive a little further, spend a little longer if they can hear a more applicable message or be more engaged in their worship.

The answer is not to commercialize the church, but rather to 1) seek greater unity in the Church as a whole and 2) be honest and realistic about your congregation. We have to stop being lazy about what we can do well, and stop trying to do the things we can’t do well. Otherwise, people will just come to shop and then find something “better”.

Do what you do, and do it well. Drop pretense and program in favor of relationship and intimacy.

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