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The Walmart Factor for Churches

Here's one that will get you thinking. I live in the midwest. Typical small town. I remember years back when Walmart came to town. It's a battle that has taken place in communities all over the country. Small local merchants tremble. How will we be able to compete? I've recently watched with interest in my small town when the new, improved SUPERWalmart opened (they tore the old one down). Now, in our town, we can purchase FOOD at our Walmart as well. This made the local grocery store chain across the street change the way they do business. They remodeled their store. The spent a ton of money on advertising telling everyone in our town that they've lowered their prices on thousands of items. We want your business, they said. And it almost came across at times as begging... please don't go there, please keep shopping here. The end result in our community is that we now have two stores, and lower grocery prices (which is important to many people).

Well, yesterday I was reading over at Don Chapman’s Worship Ideas blog; and he asks what will happen if the Walmart Factor ever hits your small town.  Of course, he’s talking about the multi-site movement that is finding more and more larger megachurches branching out and opening new locations all over the place.  How will your church respond when and if it happens in your town?  Don asks…

What will happen if [or when] Rick Warren [Todd’s insert… RW probably isn’t a good example for MMI readers!  Let’s say Ed Young instead!] plants a church in your town? Suddenly, I’ll bet the battles over the color of your carpet, or whether you do enough hymns will matter that much in the face of fierce competition by a megachurch on the move.

Which church do you think your average visitor would rather go to: a church that allows off-pitch Aunt Sally to sing solos, or a mega church with standards? [By the way, you don’t have to be a megachurch to have standards.]

In other words, churches, get over your dumb, ingrown habits and start getting serious about your mission. Or you’re going to go out of business.

I think Don has a point… the status quo for churches in your community may be changing.  I know that Don’s remarks will probably spark alot of controversy… but before you start tapping on your comment keys, consider what he’s saying.  He’s saying (not to put words in his mouth) that competition may be coming to your area.  My thought is… is that such a bad thing?  If more people are coming to Christ in your community, is that a bad thing?  If another church moves in across town and causes your church (and others) to make changes so that your communities’churches are more effective; aren’t there really two (or more) more effective churches in your community rather than one that isn’t effective?

Isn’t that ultimately great for the Kingdom?

What are your thoughts...?


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This post has been viewed 5404 times and was added on October 24, 2006 by Todd Rhoades.
Filed under: Innovative Church Models  Megachurches  Multi-site Churches  
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  There are 94 Comments:
  • Posted by

    This should be a challenge that everything that is done in ministry is to be done with the utmost of excellence.  Like the post says:  you don’t have to be a mega-church to have standards.  But I think it is vitally important that the church set its mission, pursue it, and develop an identity.  Some churches are smaller in number but can still be effective if they are sold out for the mission.  Don’t look at it as an invasion.  It’s a challenge for you to take it up a notch and do better!

  • Posted by Ken

    Churches in Oklahoma City have been dealing with this for a long time with Real Life Church.  They have serveral campuses and do dynamic stuff.  The church I spoke with about how they felt about this kind of thing was kind of indifferent.  People did leave thier church for Real LIfe Church.  And people have come to thier church because of Real Life Church.  The good thing is that Real Life Church is reaching lots of people who have given up on church or who never thought of attending.

    The guy I spoke with said that some churches really don’t like the guy who runs Real LIfe church because he sees them as stealing sheep.  The fact remains, that if a church chooses to stay irrelevent out of pride and/or indifference, they shouldn’t be surprised that people are going to want to test drive the shiny new church they’ve been hearing about.

  • Posted by

    People are looking for a meaningful vision to follow--something bigger than themselves.  Tough luck for the churches that aren’t offering that.

  • Posted by

    Ultimate good for the Kingdom, as long as the Wal-martesque churches are truly Christ-centered. Our church has already taken steps over the past couple of years to become more relevant to our community. That said, there’s a part of me that would still like to see a Northpoint Community (Andy Stanley) satellite in our town...hey, maybe they could hook-up with us?

  • Posted by DanielD

    Not to rant here but should “competition” and “church” really be in the same sentence? I know the point of the article is about change and being open to change but it’s far more concerning that this even has to be an issue to be highlighted. Perhaps this exact mindset is in part why tithing per capita is down, or why attendance trends are in question. Operating the church like a business from a standards, functionality, and accountability perspective is certainly good but when the church begins to operate like a capitalistic engine then I personally get concerned. I can’t speak for all but I know in my own community I have tried to organized multi-congregational events, etc., only to be met with resistance from the churches to work together. They have no problem sharing internal resources with each other by way of putting on paid conferences for church leaders, etc. but when it comes to reaching out to the lost in our community as a whole… as one unified body of Christ… well that is where this competitive nature seems to take hold and blind. This is just my opinion looking from the outside in but I think churches today really need to be less worried about other churches stepping into their turf and more worried about being effective and relevant in their communities to bring people to Jesus and teach them, engage them even, to grow rather than just show up on Sunday. If an Ed Young type plant pops up and people are moving to that then great, it should show you where God is moving and you should adapt. You should also support the movement in some way versus letting the EGO create division and competition. I just see a visual in my head of two pastors playing golf… one saying “well, my church is bigger than your church.”

  • Posted by Leonard

    Bring it on, we’ll kick their…oops I thought I was at a Raider game, My bad.  In my Zip Code there are about 44,000 people.  On any given Sunday less than 5-6,000 people attend church in this zip code.  So let’s start 25 new churches, bring Ed Young, RW, Bill Hylbes, Andy Stanly and anyone else that wants to come.  Our church sent 40 people to another church plant before we were a year old and the plant is 5 minutes from us. 

    Too many pastors and churches spend their time worrying about what some other pastor is doing instead of listening to God and developing a clear vision for what they are to be doing.  So Wal-Mart, come on in and we will welcome you with open arms!

  • I am on the other end of this debate. My church is sending me out to plant a church in a neighboring community because we have so many families from there attending our church. We felt there is a reason they are attending our church so we need to give them their own home church. It has upset several churches in that area and there is even a church from our fellowship in that town.
    The funny thing is that churches start every year in that town and get no attention but because our church is doing it we are getting all kinds of comments.

  • Posted by Rich

    In Northern California, this would be a great problem to have.  There are so few churches per person and competition from other religious groups.  For instance, in our county (Shasta) we have more religions than any other place in the US.  So, it would be great to shake things up and compete for the sake of winning more people.  Most churches struggle, even the going ones, out here.  So, I welcome the Super Walmart church to come to our homestead.  Maybe my church will be that church?  We are working on it.

  • Posted by

    Our church was planted a decade ago in a small town where pretty much nobody is doing “contemporary worship” and “relevant messages” except us. So… we became the biggest church in town pretty quickly. I ACHE to have another church “competing” with us so that more people will come to know Christ… We’d be happy to help them get started any way we can!

    Kingdom mindset!

  • Posted by Don Chapman

    Please do put words in my mouth! I’m Don, the guy. That is exactly what I’m saying, and yes, competition is a wonderful thing if you use it to improve your ministry.

    The issue here is not to be afraid of megachurches - just realize the days are soon to be over when people will just show up to your church because it’s there. A church that’s one of the only games in town can afford to be lazy, not missional, and waste energy fighting over carpet color and worship wars. I hope the blog will indeed shake some churches and remind them of the Great Commission: reaching out instead of pampering cranky Christians.

    The WalMart effect has been happening in the Christian bookstore industry for over ten years. As big-box retailers like Sam’s Club and Costco have discovered there’s a market for Christian books and Bibles, many small mom & pop Christian bookstores have gone out of business.

    This sounds sad, but these mom and pop stores often don’t have the sense to stay open past five o’clock and don’t sell contemporary Christian music because it’s “too worldly.” They’re fixated on petty things instead of being concerned with the big issue: how to compete with the big-box.

    However, independent Christian bookstores that have their wits about them can thrive. Here in Greenville and in nearby Spartanburg are two of the most successful independent Christian bookstores in the entire country. They realize they can make a go of it by doing at least two things a big-box can’t:

    1. Provide customer service (ever try to find someone to help you at Sam’s Club? Forget it!)

    2. Offer a depth of products (Sam’s Club only stocks the top, best selling Christian books and Bibles, but a Christian bookstore might have 100 times the product selection.)

    Likewise, small churches can thrive in the shadow of a megachurch by doing what the megachurch probably isn’t too good at - a sense of connectedness and family, offering a true worship experience instead of the brief “3 songs and a sermon” format of many seeker megachurches, etc.

    It’s all about… dare I say… marketing. Hmmm - sounds like a good article for my next blog entry : )

    God gave us brains. Let’s creatively use them instead of simply opening the church doors and hoping people walk in.

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    Excellent, Don… couldn’t have said it better myself.  Thanks for the stimulus to help us think and talk through these things.  I think it’s vitally important.  And I agree… it is coming to your town; it’s just a matter of who does it and when.


  • Posted by kent

    I remember a speaker at the Leadership Summit a couple of years ago spoke about Wal-Mart in his presentation. He said they went from selling no food years ago to selling more food than anyione else. he pointed that Wal-mart is incredibly clear about who they serve. Their store is geared towards families who live pay check to pay check. Any one is welcome but they do everything with those families in mind. They are increbily clear about who they are serving. Are we that clear? Ed Young is, RW is, Hybels is. If a mega church comes into our area - and we are literally surrounded by them - will that stimmulate up be to very clear about who it is we are serving?

    BTW, there are 428,000 people who live in a 7 mile radius of our church, 20% go to chruch, anyone is welcome to come and start any Christ centered church.

  • Posted by Randy Ehle

    Like DanielD, I have a real hard time with the idea of churches competing with each other.  Sometimes it’s the smaller ("mom-and-pop") church that may cry foul when another church moves into the area and starts making an impact, and that’s not much of a kingdom mindset.  But sometimes it’s the new church that moves in with an arrogance that just screams, ”we’re coming here because the city needs Jesus and you (the ‘mom-and-pop’ church) aren’t giving him to them.” That is no more a kingdom mindset than the other.  Arguments over carpet colors don’t do much for the kingdom but frankly, neither do turf battles centered around methodologies, music styles, or seating capacities. 

    I’ve been around long enough to know that a lot of people have a lot of the same feelings about another church going in on the corner as they do when a big-box retailer moves in; they ask, “Why do we need another church?  We already have plenty to choose from.” I think as church leaders, that’s a question we need to be well-prepared to answer, because how we answer may make an eternal difference in someone’s life.  And if our answer is focused on methodologies and styles, I don’t think that’s good enough. 

    Whenever I see a new church spring up near an existing one (especially if the new one is “big box"), I wonder if the leaders talked with the existing church leaders before they made plans to move.  Did they consider the impact their arrival might have on the ministry of that existing church?  And don’t be too quick to give me any Darwinian “survival of the fittest church” crud, because often that’s just a smokescreen for someone’s arrogance that they know best how to reach the community.  Did the leaders stop and ponder what the people in the community might think about the WalMart church moving in?  There’s a reason that stores like WalMart and Home Depot often face strong opposition when they want to move into a new area: they have a reputation for not being concerned about the impact on the community.  I’m not at all opposed to megachurches, but I wonder if the church isn’t earning itself a similar repuation when the Big Boxes move in next door to Brother Ben’s church.

    Remember, the world is supposed to see our good works - not our fancy buildings and well-lit parking lots - and glorify God.  (Matt. 5:16)

  • Posted by

    This summer we traveled a bit in the rural and semi-rural mid-west (is that a real demographic?).  Last fall I did some training in similar regions.  These excursions triggered some reflection about ministry in this kind of environment (I live in an urban community in central CA with over 1,000,000 pop.) I wondered about making a community impact in an environment with 20 or 30 thousand people and 60 or 70 churches already existing.

    I think I agree with Randy’s observations and thoughts. In environments like this, I wonder how it would feel for pastors (usually solo) who have been tirelessly slugging it out (in collaboration not competition), who love their community and really want to make a kingdom difference . . . to have a Walmart church move in next door, with all the bells and whistles and resources they would have given eye-teeth for.  I think, were I one of those pastors, I might struggle with some resentment (though I would know better) if no one had ever called me and asked, before deciding to move in, how they could help us do a better job of reaching the community we’ve been loving and serving already for many years.  The presence of the new church might cause us to sharpen our ministry skills and might make us all better, but perhaps attempts at collaboration with existing ministry should precede the start of something new in a given community.


  • Posted by Leonard

    Are you saying someone should call and ask for permission?  Both times I started a church, when I called I was poorly recieved, told we don’t need any more churches around here and such.

  • Posted by

    Leonard asks:
    [Are you saying someone should call and ask for permission?  Both times I started a church, when I called I was poorly received, told we don’t need any more churches around here and such.]

    You have more experience at this than me (which is none).  But I have worked with pastors of small churches in mid-sized communities who labor hard for the kingdom.  I guess I’m thinking that questions like: what is working and what is not, what kind of kingdom dreams do you have for your community, or what would you need to realize those ministry dreams . . . . might be welcomed and appreciated.  But maybe not . . . you’ve done it before and I haven’t.


  • Posted by Leonard

    When a church has been in a community for 20, 30, 40, 50+ years and has not grown in 25, is that church effective?  Is that church a witness to the community of good works and would that community even know if the church disappeared.  I am not asking because I want to argue I really want to know what you all think. 

    I have found that the churches who welcomed the new churches I planted are the ones who are confident of the mission God has given them. A church could move in across the street from us and we will welcome them and ask how can we help.  Why?  Because we already know what God has asked us to do and we are doing it.  One Sunday morning our parking lot (we rent a high school) was spammed by the church across the street.  By that I mean they put flyers for their church on the car windows of our people.  We were well signed so they knew what they were doing.  What did we do?  Nothing except tell anyone who wanted to go there if that is what God had for them.  We also laughed about it later.

  • Posted by

    What about the church in your town that is doing nothing to attract new members or go out and bring more into the kingdom. Such churches are usually in small towns (not always) and are often controlled by a select few individuals, often a family…

    Such churches need to change or die. The kingdom is too important to be a respecter of organizations that are not carrying out Jesus’ mission… Often these are the same churches that decry the churches that ARE building the kingdom as “social clubs”. Well, in reality, perhaps THEY are the “social clubs.” I don’t know for sure, because I don’t think I’ve ever been in one. But I’ve seen what they are like, for sure.

    When you bring “competition” to that town, often these churches dry up and go away. Perhaps, at one time, they were effective for the kingdom, but not anymore. I submit that it is NOT a bad thing that some of these churches close their doors. They had their purpose, they had their time, but not anymore. I suggest that some day (I hope long after I’m dead) the church I’m in now, if it becomes “irrelevant” (and we plan and hope not to let this ever happen...) is graceful enough to shut its doors and let the next generation do the work of the kingdom and realize that we played our part and now it’s someone else’s turn.

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    I know that there are a lot of pastors struggling out there to make changes in their local church.  But should new churches in our communities be looked at as toxic dumps and (in my community) factory chicken farms?  By that I mean NIMC (not in my community).  Whether it’s a big box or not, should people really have to call and ask permission?

    I really like what Leonard said… if you’re secure in what God has called your church to do; and you’re doing it the best as you can, then you have no worries.  That sounds really healthy to me.

    I sat at a conference at a large church not too long ago; and another local pastor stood during a Q&A session and asked the large church senior pastor something to the effect of:  “I pastor a church 8 miles from here.  You tell us that we need to develop our talent; but how do we do that when you attract all the talent?” You could tell this was the senior pastor’s pet peeve… and he went into a rather eloquent response about how they started with nothing; and it was up to them to make things happen.  And that his church wasn’t keeping them from flourishing; rather they were.

    I think it’s always easy for small merchants to complain about walmart; or small chicken farmers to complain about the factory farms; just like it’s easy for (even hardworking) small church pastors to complain about larger churches in their community.  The other comment that was great in this post was the one about making your church have unique benefits that large churches cannot fill.  That’s a great strategy as well.

    Overall; I’ve been delighted with most of the responses in this thread.  Much more Kingdom minded than I anticipated on this post!  smile


  • Posted by DanielD

    Very true. This has been a great post with a lot of great comments. Thanks to all. The insight has been thought provoking. Would just be great if churches, of any type, could learn to operate in a more unified stance as followers of Christ rather than Church A, Church B, etc. Variety is the spice of life and each church has its own role to fill but perhaps we should be more concerned than we are with how the unchurched view us. I sure would hate to think that an unchurched person might begin to compare a church with a free market society big box retailer. We can’t please everyone but we can evaluate ourselves, our motives and try to make sure that we are kingdom centered and honest with our call.

  • Posted by

    I think it’s clear from my posts on this forum that I have little patience with small thinking, inward focused churches and people who summarily dismiss or criticize the mega-church (Walmart).  I’m thinking here about the guy whose church might have lacked growth for reasons other than these and who might benefit from Walmart as a partner but simply doesn’t have the resources to raise the bar as a healthy competitor.  Here is an example from my community.

    There is this pastor named Tom.  His church (building) is tiny and dilapidated, located in a part of town which has become impoverished and gang infested.  Tom came to this (So. Baptist) church about 20 years ago, just as the neighborhood was beginning to change.  He came when this church was much larger, and as they planted a new church in the suburbs.  Over the years most of the really competent folks moved to the daughter church, which has become a growing suburban mega-church (PTL).  Numerous churches have moved from Tom’s neighborhood to the suburbs and have growing and thriving ministries, reaching many for Jesus (again – Tom praises the Lord for this – I know . . . we’ve talked about it).  Tom’s congregation is now small (about 50 per Sunday) very poor, and their lives are often very complicated.  They are also very transient.  The church works in government sponsored low-income housing projects that are adjacent to the church property and have great outreach with kids, and some with parents . . . but it is tough going.  Many parents are drug addicts, gang members, prostitutes.  The conversion rate is great by any standard (about 25% annually), but because of the transient nature of the people they work with it has not resulted in numerical growth in the church.  The only resource they have to reach their neighborhood is sweat equity (a handful of people) and a run down building.  No money for curriculum, sound systems, or the latest Outreach Marketing tools.  But Tom and his little flock love Jesus and have a collective broken heart for the neighborhood they serve. 

    Tom himself is anything but dynamic.  He is rumpled and slow of speech.  He’s not going to draw any mover and shaker type of people to his congregation.  And a dynamic and strategic pastor wouldn’t hire him.  In fact, I know that he’s had some people like this over the years and they moved on.  If a Walmart church moved in across the street from Tom’s church, I know the resources and dynamic people they’d bring could make a huge kingdom impact on this part of our community . . . and that would be a great thing.  Tom would not complain, nor would he put flyers for his church on cars in the Walmart church’s parking lot.  But the Walmart church would probably ring the death toll for Tom’s church.  Maybe that is just how it works, because the Walmart church would indeed be reaching more people and would have the resources to offer more that could help this particular population (family counseling, recovery programs, etc.).

    I’m just thinking out loud through my keys here . . . would there be a way for Walmart to collaborate with someone like Tom, help him and his church become more effective? I just think there are some like Tom who aren’t resentful or inward focused, but just can’t survive competition from Walmart.


  • Posted by

    Thanks, Wendi

    We in the “wal-mart” churches need to find ways to partner with churches like Tom’s. Actively and purposefully…

  • Posted by

    1. Provide customer service (ever try to find someone to help you at Sam’s Club? Forget it!)

    2. Offer a depth of products (Sam’s Club only stocks the top, best selling Christian books and Bibles, but a Christian bookstore might have 100 times the product selection.)

    In Don Chapman’s post on 10/26/2006, he cited the above suggestions on how to compete.  I am a layperson, academic and businesman, who has a somewhat different paradigm.

    I believe that my work is Holy and that I am to fulfull the “Original Commission” of ‘...multiply, fill, subdue and rule...” from Genesis 1.  I think that the Great Commission complements the Original Commission but there is not evidence that it supercedes it. 

    I have never been able to get a church or its leadership to help me disciple my organization or my nation not just individuals and yet Genesis one is referred by some as the cultural mandate.  If you want to compete with WalMart type churches, then offer not just services but distinctive services that are of value to a constituency in your community.  There are professionals and businesspeople who have never been approached about how we can pray or be involved in making your business or professional organizations more successful.

    see & the Professionals.pdf for a short but more complete arguement for this perspective.

    It not just about depth either.  It is about seeing that the mission of the church is to be fulfilled by the ordinary not the ordained.  And that our work is as holy as the pastors in God’s eyes.

  • Posted by

    Thanks Wendi,
    Maybe we should just leave Tom alone and accept the fact that sometimes struggle is part of the process. I think we often ruin some small churches when we try to change them because most help comes with strings.
    I will be glad to accept the cast offs of the “new or mega” church. Walmart still doesn’t meet the needs of everyone and some place a little more personal where off key aunt susan can still sing in the choir is always needed.

  • Posted by

    I’m a little late to this post.  Wendi, God Bless you.  You bought the “human” element to this entire post. Wal-Martesque, small, mom and pop, marketing...this all brings great concern to me.  We are such like the children of Israel, are hearts can be so divided, we are but a slip away from idolatry,consumerism, bigger is better, relevance, wanting our personal appetites to be satisfied.
    I just take God at his word, Jesus says, if I be lifted up, I’ll draw all men unto Me! Be careful not to dress Jesus up in our latest “trends” so that people miss the human element of salvation and worship.

    God’s blessing to all of you as we all continue to lift the Lord Jesus Christ, before a lost and dying world.


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