The other day Sarah and Iwent along with our next-door neighbors on a road trip toward Philadelphia. We didn’t have any particular agenda other than to enjoy the King of Prussia mall and celebrate with Dan (our neighbor) when he finally procured a new iPhone 3Gs—a special reward for kicking the nicotine habit. But while we were there participating in North American consumerism, I was struck by the way a few places did business and how some of the principles which seemed to drive positive experience (and those that brought about a negative experience) have a great deal of value to those of us pursuing relevant and engaging ministry. Yes, I know some of you will have a problem with using consumer-based observations to talk about effective ministry… that’s okay: don’t read this post.
So, here are four more positive principles I caught on our little journey (I’ll post a couple of ‘no no’s’ after the next ‘Joshua’ post…):
Accept that People May Come with no Intention to ‘Buy [In]’ to Anything: Let them browse.
One of the first in-mall stops we made was at Tiffany’s.
I am an unemployed minister and my wife is a part time administrative assistant. Let’s just say we’re not rolling in the dough.
Dough is something you need to buy most of the stuff at Tiffany’s. It was obvious that Sarah and I aren’t really ‘Tiffany’s’ kind of people. Something that struck me was the level of comfort the staff had with a group of four people who came in just to look around. They understood that people would come and go having not bought anything. There were no high-pressure sales techniques, but there also wasn’t any sense that we were some kind of nuisance. We were welcome even though no one was going to close a sale off of us.
I would guess they were okay with us taking up space because the good folks at Tiffany’s know that if we’re going to buy something, it may not be on the first or second or third visit. I would also guess they know that what they offer isn’t for everyone. There will always be those who come in and leave without making any kind of commitment.
There are times we’re driven to ‘make people buy’ what we’re selling—our vision for the future or some little project. Accept that people may come to see you burn with passion, they may enjoy what you say, they may even like what you have to offer… but that doesn’t mean they’re going to buy. And that’s okay.
Understand that Different People Have Different Expectations: Not everybody will like/approve of/applaud what you’re doing.
I really enjoy Apple products. In fact, I’m a huge fan. I like seeing other people who use a MacBook while at a coffee shop and talking about their ‘Mac experience;’ I enjoy discussing the latest and greatest innovation headed our way… and I especially enjoy spending time in an Apple Store. When we finally made it to the Apple Store, the place was packed. I had to squeeze in past people and was struck at the kind of noise a bunch of people can make in a small area. AND I LOVED IT. It was part of the experience. Getting hands-on with products, asking questions, considering options… in a place where each aspect of the shopping experience is designed to be exactly the way it is (it didn’t seem anything was ‘accidental’ about layout, service, or care). Again, I loved it.
But it was a little too much for my wife and our neighbor friends. For people who are unfamiliar with ‘the brand’ it likely seems chaotic and overwhelming. For people who prefer to browse quietly or anonymously, the Apple Store would be a little scary. Those people may not buy from an Apple Store… and as of yet, I don’t see Apple changing their stores to try to reach them—they have other points-of-sale which will allow more private people to engage the brand in another way: online, over the phone, or through retail partnerships. Not everybody enjoys an Apple Store, and Apple’s okay with that.
When it comes to churches, not everyone will enjoy your environments (too big, too small, too noisy, too quiet…)—but hopefully they will help you reach your focus group; are you okay with that?
Do One Thing and Do it Well: We don’t have to major in every experience.
Next to the Apple Store was the Bose store.
Know what Bose does? Sound.
The only thing you can buy at Bose is sound stuff. Sound components for home theater systems, speakers for computers, audio hookups for mp3 players, even whole-house systems. But it’s all sound related.
They believe quality sound enhances just about everything—and that the enhancement is worth a premium for quality of workmanship and technology. For entertainment, they promote the premise a high-quality TV needs high-quality sound. And you can’t buy the TV from them.
Sound is what they do.
It seems they feel if they can just get you to experience what they do best, you’ll be convinced of the value of it. (This works, by the way… my wife could care less about sound components, but after experiencing the Bose demonstration, she told me she secretly would enjoy the system we experienced—hefty price tag and all (of course, this is assuming my whole ‘unemployed’ situation were to be rectified)).
We can’t possibly do everything well, and that’s okay… but are we doing something very, very well?
It’s Okay to Focus on Experience More than Expediency: Faster isn’t always better.
Our last stop before leaving town for the day was IKEA. Those Swedes know a thing or two about enjoyable, affordable design. They also set up their store on the premise that people need to experience the product before they buy it—so, the unsuspecting shopper is confronted with a seemingly endless supply of showroom displays with each component noting where it’s found for pickup and how much it costs. The veteran IKEAphile isn’t so much ‘confronted’ with the style of the store as much as they have come to savor it.
While we were there, I didn’t notice anybody in a hurry. They walked, browsed, and enjoyed. Now, if someone HAD been in a hurry, I’m sure they could have rushed through without too much difficulty… but much of the experience is wrapped up in not being a slave to the clock. There’s nothing wrong with getting things done in a hurry or maintaining focus, but I think it’s important to make sure we’re not pursuing expediency at the cost of experience. It’s okay to slow down.
Now, of course, these observations only go so far before they break down; not to mention the obvious fact that they’re my observations… so, they come from my [flawed/geeky/strange] perspective. It’s also really important to note that all of this comes with the mindset that these are principles for helping to impact our world with the truth, power, love and presence of Jesus… not for the benefit of institution, bottom line, or brand… which is definitely something we can’t just learn from the mall. And I’m okay with that.