Why should the holiday sales sag matter for your church? Consider this headline, "Holiday Sales Sag Despite Blitz of Deals." That was the front-page headline of Monday’s Wall Street Journal. If the headline did not get your attention then the first sentence should have. It said, “Retail spending over Thanksgiving weekend dropped for the first time in at least seven years.” They then made this quote, “Sales spiked on Thanksgiving Day and online, but at the expense of business on Black Friday itself, according to the early data. Estimated total spending over Thanksgiving weekend fell to $57.4 billion, down 2.7% from a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation.”
What is driving this decline? In part, the reason for the decline is that consumers still feel stressed by the economy. Note what one retailer said in the article, “Consumers are stressed. They’re still under a lot of pressure from things like high unemployment,” says GameStop Corp. Chief Executive Paul Raines. “We see that in our business.”
OK, but how does that impact your church? When consumers out on Main Street are stressed and spending less, people in your pews feel the same and thus give less. This is one reason that giving has suffered for many churches across America. What can and should the church do about this?
Strategies to implement
Take a Page From the Retailer Handbook - Here are some key concepts retailers are using that [the church needs] to consider.
First, they put a strategy and plan in place before the holidays. Smart retailers don’t just open their doors and hope that customers find them and then come in and buy their wares. They have strategic plans based upon solid research that they implement for sales and success.
Does your church have a strategy and plan for meeting budget for the next year? The vast majority of churches have no plans when it comes to stewardship. Should we wonder that giving is in decline?
Next, they don’t put all their eggs in one basket. The Wall Street Journal article reported on not simply foot traffic into stores but online traffic, as well. In today’s increasingly digital world you must have multiple levels of strategy to be successful. Walmart, Best Buy and others have both an online strategy and an in-store strategy. A Best Buy customer who bought online summed it up well by saying, “Why wait in line when I can get it for the same price?” he reports. “Online is just so much easier.”
Sadly, the church typically puts all its eggs into one basketthe offering basket. [It] has failed to adjust to the changes in how people transact financially. If [churches] don’t adapt and adapt quickly, we will continue to see giving decline.
Retailers track their results. The same Wall Street Journal quoted above contained up-to-date, real-time statistics of buying habits that were only hours old. It quoted data from one market research firm that has 60,000 cameras in stores across America tracking the volume of shoppers. Retailers pay millions of dollars for up-to-date data about the trends of consumers. They don’t hope things are going well; they know how things are going.
Compare this with most churches that are clueless of how giving is actually trending. This. Sadly, is even [more true] for pastors who remain aloof to the trends of how giving is going at their church. How can we ever reverse the decline in giving if we don’t know what our immediate results are?
Adjust as necessary
Finally, retailers review and adjust their plans as needs arise. Read this key quote again from the Wall Street Journal about Walmart that says, “Merchants with its e-commerce unit were planning to work through Sunday night to incorporate data from the weekend shopping blitz into its online offers for the week, adjusting prices and changing deals displayed on its home page to reflect what customers are looking for.”
Once again the church fails and fails badly here. We do so in part because we don’t have a plan to begin with. What plans we do have are not tracked and if we adjust our plans, it is typically after we are so far behind budget that it is virtually too late? Holiday sales are not what retailers wanted, but they are not lying about doing nothing.
Giving to the church is in decline. The question for your church is what are you going to do about it? It might be time to take a page out of the retailer's handbook.