Maybe the Church Should Become a Little More Like Wal-Mart…

Orginally published on Sunday, June 10, 2007 at 8:41 PM
by Todd Rhoades

What is the price or value of a soul? $215,000. That’s the price that Wal-mart has put on each of their customers. A couple weeks ago, I happened upon a documentary on CNBC about the inner workings of Wal-mart. It was a very interesting program. One of the main things that stood out to me is that Wal-mart has done extensive research into their business. If, for example, I go into my local Wal-mart store and get bad service; can’t find what I need; have to wait in the checkout line too long; or anything else that really makes me upset, Wal-mart knows that they have a lot to lose. In fact, they’ve calculated the value of what I’m worth to them. If I get mad at Wal-mart and never return, I have just cost the company (on average) $215,000. That’s how much sales they have figured they will lose from the average customer over their lifetime if they don’t come back...

Wal-mart puts a high value on me and every other person and family in my community.

Many churches, on the other hand, seemingly couldn’t care less about the people in their community.  Sure, we give them lip service, but when it really comes down to reaching our target, many of us are too busy arguing about carpet color, worship styles, and how much to ‘give’ to missions in Africa, all the while missing the main point of reaching our own community for Christ.

Wal-mart provides diapers and socks and hemorrhoid cream for a profit.

The church offers eternal life and salvation for free.

Shouldn’t our communities know we value them at least as much as Wal-mart?

FOR DISCUSSION: Here’s today’s questions for you: 

--Does your church value people more than Wal-mart? 
--If so, what does that look like in your community?
--Who is better at reaching their audience in your community?  Your church or Wal-mart?
--Does your church even have a specific target audience?
--Does your church have a specific plan to reach that audience?
--If your church shut down today, would your community notice?
--And if they noticed, would they care?
--What is your church offering your community that no one else can or does?

I’d love to hear your response.  Please add your comments below…

PS—Please know that I realize that not everyone is a huge fan of Wal-mart.  And no, I’m not calling for the commercialization of the church or for the church to take the same business tactics as a giant corporation.  I’m also not comparing the church to Wal-mart’s hiring practices, their growth and expansion strategy, or their position on gay workers.  Just to be clear… I’m just saying that Wal-mart knows their target and does everything in their power to reach their target more effectively.  That by itself is something that I think most churches can learn something from. —Todd

This post has been viewed 1590 times so far.

  There are 65 Comments:

  • Posted by

    An interesting idea.  It would be interesting to know how much an “Average” church member might donate to churches over the course of their lives…
    Part of the problem with “Target Audiences” is that (as has been said before) our “Target” is people who have yet been to our church - and that since we have yet to meet them, it is difficult to discover what they want out of, or from a church, or what gifts they may have that they would like to share..
    As I see things, our big problem still is establishing relavency and providing meaning in communal activities in a world that tends increasingly to be made of many solitary individuals, and fewer (and smaller) communities or even families.

  • Posted by

    We target Wal-Mart customers! wink

  • I wonder how much churches could benefit from placing a simple “Comments and Suggestions” box in the lobby.  Seems most churches don’t really have any idea why people leave or don’t “stick” after visiting.  Church leaders could also benefit from receiving more feedback from members and attenders who are committed to the church.

    Not that church leaders are obligated to implement every suggestion, but often the leaders are the last to hear about things.

  • Posted by

    What could be more relevant than providing something that everyone needs - a relationship with God and with other people?

    In many communities Wal-Mart is the “town square” - especially on weekends, the aisles are crammed with neighbors and frineds catching up with each other.

    The church could take a lesson in market relevancy and providing community from the retail behemoth.

  • Posted by Steve Nestor


    I believe that this is the one thing the church misses.  While we read and even preach the great commission, not too many people are living it day to day.  The mega churches of today are driven by programs, concerts, and special events to attract new people.  The smaller chruches cannot compete with this approach of “getting people in church.” Even churches within the same denomination act as if they are in competition with one another.  When it comes to focusing our attention on the lost, there are host of excuse used to why we do not follow through with God’s plan for His church.  Perhaps we need to learn to value each person in the same way that Wal-Mart values its customers.  Common sense tells us that we will never please all the people all the time, but we should be more concern with the lost.  I think it has been said, “if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.”

  • Posted by

    Hi Todd: 

    I thought many churches do treat people with a Big Box mentaility. 

    We pay people minimum wages.
    We encourage ovetime without putting it on the clock.
    We rally the staff to keep morale up when income is low.
    We notify staff that floggings will continue until morale improves…

    Sent in a light hearted spirit...any resemblance to real churches or Big Box stores is purely co-incidental.  smile

  • Posted by

    My husband is the pastor of a church in rural southeastern Colorado where there has been a drought for 5-7 years and an economic down turn as a result. Our church is reaching out in the community to help people with their emergency basic life needs such as electricity, gas, food, rent/mortgage, prescriptions, trips to the doctor’s to other cities and other emergency needs. We provide free budgeting classes and have an opportunity to present the gospel apart from the emergency assistance we give. We become advocates for the people in need to help them receive services from other agencies, assist them where needed in filling out any applications or assisting them in any way we can. Changes here are very incremental, but we do by God’s grace see changed lives.

  • Posted by

    Why do people go to Wal-Mart in the first place? They have a need that the store can meet. Many times a store will advertise a product that they are selling below cost just to bring in customers and sell them the other products that they may not have even known that they needed,
    In order to bring in the unsaved we must find a need that they have and meet that need and they will come. They do not know that they need salvation or they believe they already have it. What other need might the church help them with ? Fellowship, at times even entertainment, support for: divorce,grief, single moms etc…
    I looked back on my unsaved life and found that when I had a need I searched for the solution. Let’s take fellowship for example. I went to the bar of my choice. I met friends, made new ones and spent my money. If I missed a week ,the bar tender did not call me nor did he visit me. I wasn’t offended nor did I vow never to return. I went back because I wanted to, they fulfilled a need I had.
    If we could meet peoples perceived needs and then introduce them to Jesus, the one they really need, they will come back no matter what color the carpet is.

  • Posted by

    First thing that caught my eye in your musings --
    “Wal-mart puts a high value on me and every other person and family in my community.”
    What planet did you just drop in from?
    Wal-mart has proven over and over again that they put a high value on one thing, and one thing only, higher profits! Everyday low prices? Only to the extent it yields greater sales of more and more stuff people may or may not need, stuff purchased from vendors increasingly pressured to cut their own workers’ wages (and/or out-source to foreign vendors) so that Wal-mart can make more and more money. 
    My preaching prof in seminary told us to avoid having the sermon point lost in an inappropriate illustration.  This is a great example of what she was talking about.

  • Posted by Leonard

    Wal-Mart does not just meet needs it does so at a value.  It is it’s greatest strength that you can meet your needs for less.  It is now becoming one stop for many people because what people values is time.  One of the lessons we can learn is offer value at a value.  I know Jesus said unless we take up our cross and deny ourselves… and this is critical to the making disciples, but unless we demonstrate that there is indeed values here they will ship for intimacy in sex, community in clubs and sports, friendship in co-workers and soft ball leagues, acceptance in the WWW and other communities in which acceptance is based in a certain level of denial. 

    As a youth worker to students for over 18 years I never tried to match what the world, MTV or any other group could offer, I simply focused on what I could offer and how to make that offer as clear as possible.  Wal-Mart does this.  They get in trouble with competitors because they are focused on what they are building and offering without regard to competition.  The churches dfficulty is that we are focused on other churhces as competitors and not on the enemy.

    I have always said, the largest youth group in any city is the one that Satan has.  The largest group of people in any city is the unchurched, who shop for their needs in money, success, sex, addiction, isolation… This is why I now plant churches, to go get those people.

  • Posted by

    P.S.  Just read your P.S. which seems a little like me saying at the end of a sermon… I know many of you women worshiping here are offended and/or bored to death by male-dominated imagery and that my entire sermon has been about how the Christian life is like two-a-day football workouts in August… but never mind that… I still think you can learn something from it.

    Besides, a better example of real communitiy would be the small town corner bar and grill. At least their profits are reinvested in the community.

  • Posted by

    And one more thing, Todd.
    Your paragraph--- “The church offers eternal life and salvation for free.”
    Is that really what the church offers?
    A neat little gift card which reads, “Get out of hell.... FREE!”

    Your statement is technically correct. But most lay-readers and too many pastors have a limited vision of the meaning of “eternal life” and “salvation.” So I think you need to be more clear.

  • Posted by

    Jim, your bartender analogy is spot-on.  I am from the Bible-Belt and most of my older family and friends still hold to the same mentality of “the preacher should come visit me if I have my tonsils removed or cut myself shaving...” And, of course, the same old “I was out 2 Sundays in a row and nobody called me...”

    I love your comparison.  If more people “got” that point, we could really shake up some of our “Christian” communities!

  • Posted by

    No question the church can take some tips from business and marketing to help in the cause.
    But it must never take the place of loving others and worship to God.  But if it can help get people in the door, let’s use it as a tool.

  • Posted by

    GR Guy says, “...if it can help get people in the door, let’s use it as a tool.” The end justifies the means?  I don’t think so!

    I wonder if “concern for the un-churched” simply the label church leaders give to their own passion and drive for success which is, in the end, defined by numerically increases in members and staff and budgets.

    “We have been called to be fruitful—not successful, not productive, not accomplished.  Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort.  Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our weakness” (Henri Nouwen).

  • Posted by

    As I reflect on the book of Acts and most of the Epistles, I can’t help but think that the church service is to equip the saints to go out into the highways and byways to spread the good news.  Correct me if I’m wrong (and I realize that Peter added 5000 at a time when he had his street corner messages) but most of the church was built through individuals sharing their lives with other individuals.

    The only thing that makes a follower of Christ relevant is their real everyday life being surrendered to Jesus. 

    The organized church service isn’t depicted as the vehicle for winning people to Christ.  The Holy Spirit is that vehicle.  WalMart is a great marketing genius, but they are marketing cheap, consumable items.  Christians are marketing something so valuable that the truth is though many are called, only few actually discover it.

    Relevance happens when people pray and turn their lives over to the Holy Spirit.  Not when we come up with a better, shinier entertaining program.

  • Posted by

    Coincidentally, Tom over at Tominthebox has a funny, satirical article about just this subject, although I don’t think this is exactly what you were looking for.....

    You can see it here:  http://tominthebox.blogspot.com/2007/06/walk-isle-at-walmart-church.html

  • Posted by

    My take for what it is worth.  O.k. the question does the church care about people in the community like wally world does?  Well, in my 20 years of experience the answer is no.  The reason I give that answer is that evangelism or reaching people seems to always end up in a fight over terms like “numbers” and “what about us” and “reaching people means that we dumb down the gospel” or “that we become and inch deep and a mile wide” the sad part is that in truth the churches that are reaching the community end up getting criticized for doing what is right period.  Reaching people, putting a value on every person is a worthy endeavor.  I woud rather belong to a church that values people outside of its walls as much or more than the people that attend.  “leave the 99 and go get the 1”

  • Posted by

    I believe the point is not whether or not Wal-Mart actually cares for people but rather that they value if they keep or lose them as a customer. However, I believe that most churches including my own until recently spent so much time keeping that we forgot about reaching. Not that we want to lose people but rather reach people who need the message of Jesus Christ. 

    Randy, you must really hate Wal-Mart. Did you have to wait in line to long or something?

  • Posted by

    Josh, I haven’t waited in a Wal-mart line for over three years.  When I moved to a small Minnesota town to begin my first pastoral call, I decided to shop as much as possible at the local grocery store, the local hardware store, and the local lumber yard… sometimes (but not always) spending a little bit more for a particular purchase… but ALWAYS saving the money from the 10 mile drive to the bigger city… and ALWAYS (at least the way I see it) doing the right thing.

    For me, it is a moral choice.  I’d invite you (and others) to take a look at http://www.walmartwatch.com.  Especially their recent article about food imports from China.  I don’t agree with everything at their website, but much of it. 

    About a century ago, the vibrant churches of America were passionately involved in working for social justice.  The “Social Gospel” was inseparable from the evangelistic message.  Today, many of the conservative evangelical churches seem to be on the wrong side of many (most?) significant moral issues… war, torture, gun control, justice for the poor and immigrants, fairness for workers, progressive farm legislation instead of kick-backs to large global agribusinesses, and global warming.  Every dollar we spend is a moral choice.

    How do churches justify shopping at Wal-mart and Sam’s Club?  So-called “good stewardship” (i.e. saving a little money) cannot trump Wal-mart’s consistent history of discrimination against women and minorities, Wal-mart’s putting more value in saving a buck than in their workers’ health care, Wal-mart’s disregard for the environment (God’s good creation!), and Wal-mart’s negative impact on local communities.

  • Posted by IndyChristian

    LOL.  What a big-box topic!  So little time to shop.  This will have to do…

    I disagree.

    Today’s American church already looks more like a big-box faith than the NT Church—we’ve come a long way, Baby.  We’re doing a much BETTER job than Walmart, because…

    * Our consumer analysis showed us that by paying more attention to the ‘felt-needs’ of our targeted high-end donors, we could afford to lose more of our low-end church consumers.  It’s just good business.

    * Similarly, we can specialize in HOMOGENOUS clusters of consumers—we needn’t try to be all things to all people at all our stores.  That’s just crazy-talk.

    * Our stores are prettier, cleaner, neater.  Why?  By focusing on our target consumers, we found we don’t have to keep ‘em open 24x7… thus saving tons of wear/tear from foot traffic.  More attractive stores?  More high-end consumers.

    * Conversely, to try to do what you’re suggesting, just can’t be done in a big-box.  I think you’re trying to set us back centuries into the era of neighborhood ‘mom & pop’ church-stores.

    CONCLUSION:  The above keys to success are especially remarkable when you consider the overall shrinking (American) market for faith.  Don’t ya think?

  • Posted by adelantopastor

    “The smaller chruches cannot compete with this approach of “getting people in church.” “
    ---SO NOT TRUE, Why do we fool ourselves into thinking that you have to have a big polished perfect gig to attract people.  The most successful attempt I made at getting people in the church door, was simple free, and fun!!! It is something that most pastors could do if they could just pull them selves out of the prayer closet and get into their community (yes prayer is valuable and I do pray but God also told Elijah to get up stop the paryer and see what I am doing) .  I coached with the little leauge football team.  This brought in 33% of our little church.  On top of that this 33% has become some of our most valuable people tothe church.

    First off this is not a sermon set to reach the lost or engage the found, it is a stream of thought ment to draw out new ideas from pastors who are looking to do something signifigant for Christ within their local context.  So sometimes we need to let go of the hard fast “rules” that our seminary proffs gave us and ponder new ideas.

    “Besides, a better example of real communitiy would be the small town corner bar and grill. At least their profits are reinvested in the community”
    ---Okay so using the analogy of a corparate gaint who exploits people is wrong but a better one would be a small town bar that exploits people, then causes them to beat their wives, curse their children and end up in a drunk driving accident.  Wonder what your seminary proff would think of that (not that I think it matters, if an analogy causes people to think then use it, but you seem to not want anyone to “loose the point in a bad analogy” this is another good example of that)

  • Posted by

    seriously… the use of wal-mart as an analogy of how a church can do better for itself is ridiculous. I agee with randy. Wal-mart is more about conquest than about community.

  • Posted by

    Good pint about Wal-mart’s failings…


    The argument about whether or not Wal-mart is evil is beside the point. Of COURSE they’re evil, in many ways. But… to look at their success based on their RELENTLESS commitment to making the customer happy/welcome/satisfied/engaged/whatever is valuable. That was, I think the point.

    I’ll give you a “small” example. I puchased last year a new guitar from a very high-end guitar maker. It cost 5 to 10 TIMES what an “equivalent” guitar would cost form an “average” manufacturer, in fact, it cost more than what many of my friends cars are worth (It was worth every penny by the way). But it’s quality is WAY more than those cheaper instruments, they make as many in a year as the big guys do in a week or something (or maybe it’s a day, I can’t remember)… Plus, I have a relationship and community with a whole host of people who own these, as well as the ones who make them, because that company has a relentless commitment to customer service. I’ve emailed the guy who owns the company several times and he always answers me RIGHT back. (He’s a believer by the way...) They will bend over backwards to make sure the guitar is just right, they actually care. Yes, they charge for it, a pretty penny that most people can’t afford (I saved for a LONG time for this...), but they care about the customer FIRST!

    If our commitment to the people who come in our doors, especially the guests, is very high, we will change the world. I ALWAYS feel welcome in the Wal-mart near my house. I feel they price things to care about the customer (even if it means they treat their employees worse than we think they should...). I think it is an okay comparison. And that very small guitar company makes me feel like I’m part of the team, not just a customer, even if I never buy another instrument from them again… so it might be even BETTER!

  • Posted by phill

    Moving from the business world to the ministry world causes me to think of these things…

    One thing I notice is that some churches have zero idea if what they are doing in marketing is working...and they continue to do the same type of marketing...instead of evaluating their own effectiveness.

    One thing I am working on is trying to discover how much money, time, and resource we invest into getting one member…

    I can do this because I know the entire process we use to attract and involve people in the church. We don’t make a blanket statement but have a high level of membership…

    I think some people would be surprised by how much it takes to get one family to join a church.

  • Page 1 of 3 pages

     1 2 3 >
Post Your Comments:





Live Comment Preview:

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: