Lessons The Church Can Learn From Toys “R” Us

Lessons The Church Can Learn From Toys “R” Us

Toys “R” Us was a staple for many children’s lives for 61 years. That all changed earlier this month. Toys “R” Us closed the last of their physical stores. What will happen next to the business is still up in the air. For now, no matter how much you don’t want to grow up there is no chance in remaining a Toys “R” Us kid.

One can’t help but think of the implications for the church.

It’s estimated that somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches will close their doors this year. At one time the thought of the church in America being irrelevant seemed impossible. And yet, here we are.

So, what are some things the church can learn from Toys “R” Us? After all, if we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.

Three Lessons The Church Can Learn From Toys “R” Us

1. Online experiences have changed the game.

Similar to Blockbuster, when culture changes it is difficult for some companies to adapt. Growing up in the 80’s I loved the experience of going to Toys “R” Us. Today, my kids have an Amazon wish list and update it often. With access to toys via online shopping, Toys “R” Us became less of a priority.

Today, the majority of churches have podcasts. Many have online experiences. A friend of mine at one of the nations largest churches shared with my how their church’s numbers are dropping at their physical campuses, but their online experiences are growing through the roof.

It does not matter if you like or dislike online church. It’s here. When we don’t wrestle with the implications of online services we are behind the 8 ball.

I personally believe that we need to figure out ways to incorporate both online and the physical church building experience. It does not have to be either or. It can be both and.

People still go shopping for Toys. My kids love Target. We need fresh approaches to the Sunday experience.

I personally think this has less to do with programming services and more to do with connecting with people. As great as an online experience is it is difficult to be missed if you do not watch. One thing we are wrestling with now at the church I pastor is how to make sure people know they are missed.

If people feel like it doesn’t matter if they show up or not then often they won’t show up. This is why volunteering is so important. Many people will show up to volunteer because they have made a commitment.

Now, I know the pushback is “People should just want to be at church. Church is about Jesus!” I agree. The reality is as humans people are often unmotivated, fragile, hurting etc.

If Sunday at church is all about a sermon and some worship songs the online experience will continue to grow, but the physical church building will have less and less attendance. That can change when people feel like they matter. How we do this is something we need to wrestle with.

2. If you wait until you are struggling it’s too late.

Success is often the greatest enemy of success. When things are going great we rarely think about how to maintain success. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we will always have momentum. Like Blockbuster, Toys “R” Us at one time was a massive success. In the church world, when there is a crowd, money is coming in, and bills are paid it can become easy to become apathetic. If we wait until people are complaining, attendance is dwindling, and money is declining we are behind the 8 ball.

It is easy to be so consumed with getting ready for Sunday that we work in the ministry and neglect to work on the ministry. As a leader we must look down the field. What’s coming? What needs to be worked on? Where does God want you to go next? Healthy things grow. If we are not growing we are dying.

As leaders we have to be looking toward the future. One way to do this is to schedule time to get away with God and do some seeking. What is the next promise land? What is the next vision? Where does God want you to go next. We cannot predict everything, but working on the ministry will help us continue to improve.

3. Nostalgia must be flexible.

Nostalgia is at an all time high. Millennial love the classics. You know, things from the 80’s and 90’s. Entertainment like Stranger Things has introduced the under 30 crowd past generations.

When Toys “R” Us announced they were closing lots of people reacted online. There was genuine sadness from seeing a part of history close down. What’s interesting is that people are sad to see it go, but weren’t sad enough to keep it in business.

It’s the same with church.

People that grew up going to church have the nostalgia of going to church with their family. But that nostalgia does not motivate them to go week in and week out. Often overcrowded schedules, tiredness, or laziness causes people to miss out on attending church on Sundays. According to one stat the average church goer attends 19 times a year. In an average church goers mind they are plugged into a church and attending regularly. The numbers never lie. It’s brutal to be faced with actual numbers. The stats can help us to face the honest truth. People are attending church less.

Not everyone is giving up on church, but most are not prioritizing it like they once did.

With Toys “R” Us what was once new became familiar. Once something is familiar we tend to take it for granted. It’s not until we can no longer have it that we realize the importance of it in our lives.

Could this be the same with the local church?

30 years ago contemporary church was new. Today, contemporary is the new traditional. It once was a big deal to have a band instead of a choir at church. It once was edgy for a pastor to preach in jeans instead of a suit. Today it’s pretty normal. Sure there are still more traditional churches. We need them. Today however just having a contemporary service is no longer new. We have had generations who have grown up with contemporary church.

We must keep some of the traditions (nostalgia) of the past, while at the same time we must push toward the future.

Being at church every week is important. It becomes less important when Sundays are the same old same old. We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to change lives. We cannot force God to move. All we can do is set up dates. The challenge is to make sure we are doing everything we can while we wait for God to do what only He can do.

At Toys “R” Us there were very few changes. Today, it’s not that people don’t buy toys. They just buy them in different ways. For us, as church leaders, it’s not that people don’t worship God…they are just doing it in different ways. Today many feel comfortable missing a Sunday service as long as they listen to the podcast. As church leaders we have to wrestle with how we can bring a fresh approach that honors God.

Questions For Applicatione:
1. What else can we learn from Toys “R” Us closing?
2. Is your church growing, stagnating, or declining? Do you know why?
3. What can you do to help people value Sunday services?
4. What is the vision God has for your church in the next year, three years, and five years?

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