Welcome to the Wal-Mart Church…

Wal-Mart = Success

Wal-Mart = Success

The Wal-Mart phenomenon has had a tremendous impact on our culture.  In the beginning, the Wal-Mart business model was to avoid competing with other large stores by placing their stores in under-served communities.  Instead of going into busy, high-population areas, Wal-Mart built its stores in small towns and suburbs where the main competition came from small businesses and Mom & Pop stores.  The theory was that the smaller stores located in these areas would not be able to compete with a large store’s ability to offer a huge variety of products and services at such low prices.  The result?  Well, if you look at the small towns across the country where Wal-Mart exists, most of those small stores have closed up shop because they were unable to compete.

In our culture, the Wal-Mart name has become synonymous with success.  We desire efficiency in everything that we do.  Give us a large variety of options from which to choose, give us great service, and give it all to us at one convenient location at the lowest price possible.  We even place these same demands on the church.  We often choose our church based on how many ministries are available for us, how many activities we can take advantage of, the quality of the “product” being offered (bigger is usually better, right?), and how much it is going to cost us (think time and effort and emotion here).

I am not against large churches that offer a large variety of programs and that strive to offer the best product possible.  I think that churches should do the best that they can with what they have.  My question is, should churches have as their primary goal to become large churches that have bigger and better programs to offer so they can get more people and offer bigger and better programs?  Should we, as churches, adopt the Wal-Mart model of success?  If so, should we go into areas that are lacking large churches and plant a large church that can out-compete the smaller churches in the area and absorb their people?  It would be more efficient, right?

We have already discussed in previous posts that small churches are uniquely positioned to minister in ways that large churches cannot.  Small churches seem to have their particular strengths and offer vital ministry needs to their people.  If this is true, why does it seem that every small church desires to abandon its smallness and become a large church?  Do we really believe that the small church has a unique place in God’s plan or have we defined the mission of the church as “growing in size and in number”?  I wonder if some small churches are missing out on their unique calling because they are so consumed with a desire to get “big.”

What are your thoughts?

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6 Responses to Welcome to the Wal-Mart Church…

  1. Kelsey says:

    Interesting thoughts!
    In my class on the theology of mission, my professor calls this “sheep stealing”- when a new church purposely tries to attract the members of existing churches. We’ve been studying this in the context of denominations. Is it right for a new baptist church to come in and try to attract members of the existing methodist church, just because the existing church isn’t a baptist one?

  2. Tim Farley says:


    Or how about a Baptist church of a certain stripe coming into a town with other Baptist churches that are from different stipes and trying to attract members? When do we say a town has enough orthodox churches, even if it does not have one just like us? Or do we always evaluate based on if there are other churches just like us? For instance, since I come from a GARB church, do I look at a particular location and say, “I think they have enough orthodox Protestant churches?” Or do I look at a town and say, “They have churches, but they do not have a GARB church, so we need to plant a new one?”

    You raise a good question. When is it OK for a church to “compete” for members? Is it ever OK?

  3. Ben A says:

    Sometimes a little competition is needed. There are many diseased churches out there that are on their way out. Their members are at a significant disadvantage b/c they are working overtime for their church just to stay afloat.

    There is a church that I visited about a year ago that had a mission statement: “Reaching out to others for Christ.” They had not missionary budget and they never had outreach events. It was a group of 50-60 old folks who were struggling just to pay the bills for the church. And their time was spent helping the church, not their world.

    Sometimes it’s okay to open your doors to other Christians.

    That said, we don’t want to drop in and start stealing away members from little churches (“we” = megachurch Christians or any other Christians). We can offer programs, good theology, and better assistance. If folks come on over, it’s their choice. Right?

    I hope that Megachurches don’t become the predominant church setting. But having them around can be very good.

  4. Tim Farley says:

    Ben A:

    I think you make some good points. There are churches that are hurting and “diseased” that are on their way out. Bringing another healthy church into the mix can be a good thing. There are also many small churches that struggle with finances and having enough people to run the ministries of the church. However, I wonder if part of the reason that some of the smaller churches struggle with finances and having enough people to run programs is because they are trying to be a “big” church. They desire to be just like a large church in being able to offer a large number of programs and options. Of course, the expertise is not there to run the programs at a quality level, so they struggle. Also, all of those programs and activities take money, which the church has much less of than a large church.

    I just think that a small church would better serve its people by recognizing its limitations and captializing on its strengths rather than trying to be like the large church down the road. If God blesses the church and it grows, it can then begin looking at growing the ministry to fit its specific needs.

  5. Ben A says:

    Right on Tim. Small churches and big churches have to practice a little self-identification in order to know what their strengths and weaknesses are.

    Remember our old Spiritual Formation class? We talked about 4 quadrants:

    What I know about me | What others know about me
    What we both know | What none of us know

    I think the individual’s psychology kind of works in the corporate environment. If we’re more self-aware, we can do so much more and do it more effectively.

  6. Tim Farley says:

    Ben A:

    Thanks again. I did not remember that from Spiritual Formation class. I was probably sleeping that day. 🙂

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