A Radio Shackled Church

1016506-13599259717702885-Capital-Traders-GroupIt’s overcast and snowing; the gorgeous sunshine won’t redeem this wintry wonderland for a day or so. Hunkered down beneath a deepening blanket I might be warm and secure enough to consider this article:

5 Mistakes that Doomed Radio Shack 

All that follows is based on it, but don’t worry, if you aren’t inclined to read all Aimee Picchi‘s sobering and insightful assessment from Moneywatch. I will choose a select pericope (no, that word isn’t “periscope”  – ask your pastor) make a synopsis and, much more painfully, a further interpretation and application of the original text for our faith communities today.

(opening illustration):

I remember loving to walk inside Radio Shack as a kid and youth. At the mall it was one of my favorite stores; full of interesting, colorful, impossibly cool and compelling products. But in the past 30 years I entered less and less frequently; pretty much only (seeking stocking stuffers) at Christmas. Damn that sounds familiar from somewhere…

91o1979nAdL._SX425_Aimee says these five mistakes led to the once great store’s going out of business: and pay attention as you read, cuz it will save me time later on and we can get to fellowship hour sooner.

#1) The cell phone kiosk

“…RadioShack failed to keep up with the personal computer revolution (my emphases throughout) that was coming out from competitors in the 1980s and 1990s…when (they) stopped making computers in 1993 (they) turned to an emerging technology to ride to profits: Cell phones. While that initially drew consumers into the stores, it also led to some serious problems…

RadioShack’s stores essentially become cell phone kiosks, but signing up customers took about 45 minutes per person, tying up store employees…that frustrated the store’s core customers, electronics enthusiasts, and weakened the brand.

Then, mobile carriers shifted away from relying on RadioShack and started operating their own competing stores, which caused RadioShack’s revenue from mobile phones to drop…”

This feels like the rise of non-denominational competition for mainline churches too slow to adapt to cultural change and alienating long-time “customers” along the way. Others have learned to do what we are trying to do, and often better; only they have none of the baggage by way of traditionalism, property, and denominational superstructure to deal with.

#2) Failing to ramp up on e-commerce

“RadioShack made motions toward e-commerce efforts, including a ship-to-store model. But that program, which allows customers to order products online and pick them up at their local RadioShack, started in 2006, when Amazon was already a giant force in Internet retail.

In the late 1990s, while other companies such as Best Buy and Walmart were running early e-commerce sites, RadioShack’s website didn’t allow consumers to shop. Instead, it offered store locators and press releases, but customers couldn’t buy anything.

RadioShack never plunged into e-commerce the way its competitors did, partly because it was dealing with store problems…”

I think many of our churches are making huge strides in being on-line; web pages, e-newsletters, video clips and streaming…but maybe we have been a bit slow while focusing internally rather than outwardly? (just kidding!…obviously this is the case. There are entire schools of theology and literature around being more missional as a way to re-invigorate the church. We are  too slow to reach those beyond our doors in ways they would recognize and utilize rather than ways that we happen to be comfortable with.)

#3) Marketing confusion

“Remember “The Shack”? This was one of the confusing marketing decisions coming out of RadioShack as it tried to find its way in a rapidly changing retail environment.

The company wanted to seem cool by referring to itself as “The Shack,” but the move was widely ridiculed, with critics pointing out that the company had problems far deeper than its name. On top of it, tech website The Technologizer wrote in 2009, “The Shack is a lousy name,” failing to create any connotations with the brand and sounding like “ramshackle.””

Any church can, and does, make mistakes. It is a really hard thing about ministry in this century that advertising, publicity, and especially marketing who we are in clear terms are utterly essential elements for survival. There is a great deal of noise in the air, and very few churches I have seen do this well; let the culture know what they have to offer that every other “shop” in town doesn’t.

#4) Weird mix of inventorypRS1C-2077825w345

“RadioShack has an issue that big box stores don’t have to deal with: Limited store space. With many of its stores crammed into smaller strip-mall locations, the retailer has to be careful about picking the right mix of inventory to draw customers inside and keep them buying.

But RadioShack’s inventory was often just, well, weird. Aside from the basics that enthusiasts came in to buy, RadioShack would push glitzy-looking products at the front that often failed to win over consumers.

Take this account from Jon Bois, a former RadioShack store employee, who wrote about having to sell “unsellable crap.” Once, his store was required to stock Brum cars, which no one in America had ever heard of. That’s because they are based on a British children’s television series that only aired on Discovery Kids. It also tried selling a CueCat, which was an infrared scanner that read barcodes, but no one wanted it.

RadioShack’s demise is “like retracing the steps and doings of a drunk person: okay, here’s where he keyed the cop car. Wait, why’d he do that? I don’t know, but his pants are lying here, so this is before he stripped naked and tried to rob the library,” Bois wrote in SB Nation.”

Ouch. I feel like this is related to the previous point about not knowing who we are, and so trying to be all things to all people. Only we can’t be that. So we make tentative attempts at some things we have no business trying. There is also a point to be made here about how large churches can simply do most everything better than small ones; even be small better. I say this after serving 20 years in smaller churches. I don’t mean to be cruel! I know how hard it is to figure out what you are in the business of doing as a church. I’m not good at it either…

#5) Failing to catch onto the Maker movement

“While RadioShack was peddling mobile phones and selling remote-controlled cars, it seemed to miss a burgeoning movement growing right under its nose: the Maker movement.

This movement is gathering speed as DIYers apply their handiwork to tech- and engineering pursuits, such as making homemade robots. RadioShack has recently cottoned onto the movement, but Bloomberg News notes that it “apparently came too late.” Customers are already going elsewhere for materials…

“I wouldn’t even call this a failure. I’d call it an assisted suicide,” Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern Business School, told Bloomberg. “It’s amazing it’s taken this long for this company to go out of business.”

I find hope here, especially in my congregation where we seem close to knowing that we are not really about preserving the church, but about Making Disciples. Becoming more and more inclusive of decision-making, worship leadership, and preaching and teaching are ways to encourage ownership of all aspects of the church’s life.

This post was too long, sorry. And rather dour. Well, it is Lent after all!

Indeed I do have hope for the church; but in ways that feel like quite a stretch from where we have been. Sometimes I only see the cross. Sometimes that has to be enough. 

Hug your pastor this Sunday. If you aren’t in leadership already make sure your leadership knows you are supporting them.

Your friend in faith,


5 thoughts on “A Radio Shackled Church

  1. Hi Don – interesting analogy. Point #4 really stuck out to me – that weird mix of inventory.

    You mentioned once that we each have a different primary focus in our spiritual lives; for some it is more about learning that God loves us, for others it is more about Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and for other’s it is about allowing the Holy Spirit to move in our lives. For some churches the primary focus is about ceremony and ritual associated with basically knowing that God is with us, for others evangelism and proselytizing regarding the Christ’s sacrifice, and for some, it is about our journey to become closer to to the Holy Spirit and allowing It’s leading in our lives. Maybe that is what directs the “inventory” of a church or denomination, for what each of us needs to find our way in this world. Perhaps a strategy for spiritual guidance within a church, denomination, or whatever, should be to find that “focus” and grow in that direction.

    I’m not saying that we should ignore any of the aspects of the Holy Trinity, just that we understand what helps any given congregation move forward in their relationship with God. People who are seeking the Truth in their individual lives could find their place and grow in God, the Christ, or the Holy Spirit according to their needs, and not try to wander through a lot of other theology to get there.

    Just stream of consciousness there…

    • Kathy, I think going with your strengths has much to say for it! Its’ hard to meet a wide variety of needs in a single congregation yes?

  2. Hey Don…enjoyed your reflection. I always find it interesting when we compare the church to a business peddling goods and services. We all know if businesses don’t create something new or stay a little ahead of the trend they’re in trouble. Businesses sell us things we may need or think we need…they are usually good at creating/promoting a need even if one doesn’t really exist (think pet rock). I’m not sure what ithch a pet rock satified? Business that last a long time seem to sell us things we really need and want…they satisfy some itch..whatever that means. Do it well and you may grow…do it poorly and you don’t. When I reflect on things I buy…alot of the time my decision is emotionlly based I buy because it makes me feel good and it may satisfy a need real or percieved. Thats a confession I’m not always proud of.

    Religion, all world religions peddle and proclaim ideas, theories, theologies, philosophies about the meaning of life…we peddle the Christian message…but whch one? I’m convinced that some Christian messages sell better than others (at least in todays American consumer culture) i.e….the prosperity gospel, theology of glory, moralism, legalism, guns, God and the Bible. What’s the itch these messages satisfiy?…is it a sense of certainty, do these theologies give people a sense of being in control? Is it an emotional buy? Or is it all misguidied theology that happens to sell well? I’m not sure. The peddlers of these messages were born out reactions to the progressive movements that were willing to question all the previous assumptions about life, science, the authority of scripture, the church, tradition, and expeience. And because of these brave souls, in my opinion, we have a better theology than we did 100 years ago.

    I really do sense that the entire world is changing so fast that all the world religions and their various manifestations and messages are being challenged. I certainly lived in this tention of ideas in my last church…humans seem to want certainty (black and white), but it appears to me we live in a gray world where certainty is harder to find.

    So what’s the itch that needs scratching in Littleton…does God create the need (itch) desire or do we…or both and? I know in an affluient society the message that Jesus preached and lived isn’t very popular…who wants to lose their life (the one they have now and live for the sake of others and the gospel? Sacrificial love (not the kind that appeases an angry God) is what saves and gives life meaning…this is the message I beleive in and try to live into but its not very popular.

    So I come to the end…is it the message or the packaging…whats the itch (DESIRE)…is it real or perceived? Church Shack..what went wrong…the people or the product? or both?

    I don’t know…its God’s problem to you know.




    • Kevin, you and I have spent considerable time thinking in business terms as well as theological! I wish we had clearer strategies alas…

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