Apocalypse How?

3pm (weekend): an American mall

I recently went to a mall that has one of the last remaining Sears stores in the region. It is closing at the end of the year, and I thought I would see what kind of deals I could find. I have only been to this mall once or twice in the 20+ years I have lived in the area, but I was still shocked at what I found – or rather, DIDN’T find.

Other than the folks hauling the deep discounts from the closing Sears store, and there weren’t even that many people there, the mall was empty.

For a weekend, it was devastatingly empty. In another store, a quick tally of the number of employees I saw, and the average sale per customer (I stood in line behind a few folks before checking out) told me they were in trouble too.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to look around at the infrastructure supporting once-bustling businesses and know that there’s a problem.

In another neighborhood, just a few miles up the road from this mall, one Summer weekend I drove my grandchildren around a deserted mall parking lot, explaining the changes that we were seeing. I told them that when I was their age or even a little younger; these shopping malls were brand new and the stores on main streets in small and mid-sized towns everywhere started to close like the malls are closing today.

a (former) American mall

I’m certain that if there was a way to “save” these expensive behemoths (shopping malls), someone would have figured it out by now. The numbers have been telling the story for some time.

The truth of the matter is that like the downtown department stores of the 1960s and earlier, the large shopping malls of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are quickly fading into history.

There are many reasons for the changes – just as there are many reasons for the shifting landscape in church affiliation and attendance in the United States.

A 2019 Gallup survey reported that membership in a church and affiliation with a particular religion fell precipitously over the past 2 decades, noting that “The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999 and more than half of that change occurring since the start of the current decade.”

If the current trends persist (10% decline each decade, and accelerating), churches are in even more trouble than they realize. And if that’s not pause for thought on its own, the patterns and trends in giving show additional data for concern:

  • Tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a (typical) congregation.
  • The average giving by adults … is about $17 a week.
  • 37% of regular church attendees don’t give money to church.
  • 17% of American families have reduced the amount that they give…
  • 7% of church goers have dropped regular giving by 20% or more.

There’s no playbook for this scenario,… or is there?

What can we learn from the Retail Apocalypse?

As Amazon and other online retailers began to dominate the shopping scene, traditional retailers had to make some hard choices. Sixty-eight (68) retailers have declared bankruptcy in the last 4 – 5 years, making it hard to know what is coming next.

According to CB Insights, these retail bankruptcies fall into a few themes:

  • Decline of physical retail – With the shift to e-commerce, fewer and fewer customers are shopping at big-box physical retailers and malls. Additionally, many of these physical retailers have lost the cache they once had as new direct-to-consumer brands with a hyper-focus on specific products have taken off.
  • Digital laggards – Many big-box retailers either failed or were too late to establish an online presence. …retailers that don’t adapt quickly enough inevitably fail to compete.
  • Mounting debt – Crippling debt,…has forced many retailers to declare bankruptcy.

One comment by a successful disrupter struck me as important to ponder:

“…disruption [is] a way to innovate and so blatantly change things for the better that you become an industry standard.”

Harry’s co-founder

What can churches and spiritual centers take away from lessons-learned by the Retail Apocalypse?

I’ll start with the digital laggards issue. Churches and centers are mostly aware of this need, and working at various levels on getting up to speed. There must be digital giving enabled, online access to (just about) everything and the general business practices must come into alignment with the rest of the business world. I’ll give churches and centers, across the board, a letter grade of C+ on this.

Next is the issue of money. In the retail space it was crippling debt, while for most churches and centers I suspect the issue is likely that of poor cash flow. Either way, it’s a money problem. Here I think the model of how churches and centers manage their budgets needs to change.

Full-time ministers with benefits and housing payments may need to fall to the pages of history, and multiple part-time ministers may need to be considered. Part time ministers can work another job for benefits and other necessities (like a salary that supports them and their families).

Before anyone gets angry about this, consider that most of the congregants in your pews are working multiple jobs to keep their heads above water, so… yeah. I’ll give churches and centers a B- on this one. It’s higher than the digital issues because some denominations (Methodists for one) have been assigning ministers to multiple churches and the Catholic Church has been combining parishes continually over the past decade or so, seeming to understand this as an option.

The last point that we can consider from the retail apocalypse data is the issue of disruption – also know as innovation.

The problem with innovation in churches and centers is that most belong to organizations that write all the rules. This hierarchical structure type is slow to move and slower still to accept and adopt change. The cynic in me says this is because the people writing and enforcing the rules have the most to lose if things change. Overall I give churches and centers a failing grade here.

The success stories emerging from the Retail Apocalypse show that the businesses that narrowed their focus and stepped way outside of the norms are the ones making news, profits and strong leaps forward.

Churches and centers aren’t looking to make profits, but they are businesses – and need money and customers (congregants) or they won’t be around for very long.

The takeaways from the “winners” among the crash and burn of traditional retail have some common themes:

  • Simplicity (easy access to their products/services)
  • Narrow focus (not trying to be everything to everyone)
  • They connect directly to their target audience, using the tools that audience wants (e.g. eCommerce)
  • They didn’t listen to the “we can’t do that!” chorus (I’m sure Warby Parker founders heard a few of those statements when they wanted to sell prescription eye wear to people online)

It remains to be seen whether the demographic and societal changes outlined in the Gallup poll (earlier in the blog) ultimately impact church/center attendance and membership or there will be a pivot point that starts to change the trajectory. What is clear is that doing things “the way we’ve always done it” or making only the changes we are comfortable with, is a death sentence.

I look forward to seeing (perhaps to being a part of) the disruptive force that will lead the change that is needed in this still-important corner of American life.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path

Related blog posts:

A Gift of Healing

Thank you for coming along on the 30 days of healing path this past month. I hope that you found the verses, accompanying pictures, and the origins of each to be insightful, inspiring and more.

Please be sure to check out the book with all 365 days of the year annotated with a quote, verse, poem or other reading.

With the holidays coming, I can think of no better gift to give someone, whether they have everything or need everything.

Invited to Thanksgiving or other holiday celebrations this year? The hard copy version of this book (~ $8) would make a perfect host/hostess gift and will last long after the wine, cookie tray or pumpkin bread!

Available at Barnes & Noble

Peace & blessings!

Blessings in Passing

When I first began to study what I refer to as “larger spirituality” – spirituality not confined within a single dogma or worldview – I got a mental picture in my head when someone would use the phrase, “daily practice“.

I envisioned a room or at least a corner dedicated to their “practice” and often I immediately moved to the many barriers I had in my life that would prevent me from being able to sit in an incensed room in yoga pants for an hour every morning.

That’s not what they were saying – that was my filter. I learned down the road that while some people may have something like that going on, many others do not. A daily practice is as unique as each person, and requires no specific accessories.

In studying the works of Joseph Murphy and Neville Goddard, contemporaries in the early part of the 20th century (Goddard passed on in 1972 and Murphy in 1981); I am always struck with the sheer simplicity of their approach to prayer, or “knowing the Truth” about someone/something. It was from this perspective that I began, unintentionally, an extension of my own daily practice.

I live in a suburban neighborhood, and as I drive to work, I pass many people walking along the streest: school children, with and without parents; dog walkers; commuters walking to public transit and others. One morning I noticed a teenaged boy walking along the street. He was alone, and did not look happy. He was on the heavier side, and walked as if he dreaded arriving at his destination.

I immediately felt compassion for him – middle school and high school can be challenging places to exist – and so I held the thought for him that today was a much better day than usual. Driving past people, even on a neighborhood street, doesn’t leave much time for a long, complicated blessing. Plus, I have no way of knowing what each person would need: so my thought that day was a knowing that the blessings of the Infinite were upon him.

I am particularly moved when I see school kids walking alone and appearing to be sad; dreading the day ahead or trying to recover from whatever they experienced at home before walking out the door.

I think of the following from one of Joseph Murphy’s prayers:

I know that (individual’s name) is surrounded by the sacred circle of God’s eternal love, and the whole armor of God surrounds her/him and s/he is watched over by the overshadowing Presence of God.

Joseph Murphy
(Archangel Michael)

Since I don’t know the names of the people I drive past each morning, an easy technique is to simply accept that they are accompanied by the holy Presence and watched over in all they do.

If I am stopped in traffic I may add a visualization of a grandmotherly angel or two if the child/children are small, or a warrior-like archangel if they are teens.

Skeptics will roll their eyes (& aren’t likely to be reading this blog), but readers across the New Thought canon know that many of the teachers whose work form the foundation of the movement taught and lived this Truth: a thought held in the human mind is connected to the Infinite Mind and will demonstrate or manifest.

Over time this simple teaching has evolved into an organized religion (at least 3 versions at last count), each of which has added dogma, regulatory guidelines and complications that are unnecessary for the process to work, but that are understandable in the world of Caesar. And yet, the truth remains that the Good that is possible requires no prescribed order of words or official interventions.

In one of his most beloved talks, “Live in the End“, Neville shared the following:

“Do you know a friend who is unemployed? Well, then, see him as gainfully employed, and don’t tell him, that you may brag tomorrow. Don’t boast. Just see him gainfully employed.”

Nevill Goddard, “Live in the End”

Neville’s life work was a testament to this process. Many have studied and applied this process – some within, but I suspect most outside of formal religious or spiritual organizational structures.

There will be those who say, “How do you know it works? What if you’re just deluding yourself and wasting your time?

I know that this works when I use it for myself, and for the people around me who seek out my knowledge on such things. For the people I pass on the street, I may never know if my simple blessing thought was helpful or not.

But let’s consider this: at one point, a VERY long time ago, everything that we see (and much more that we don’t/can’t see) was part of an infinitessimally small, dense and hot singularity…and then BOOM!

An explosion and rapid expansion, heating and cooling of matter…13.7 billion years later, here we are. The fact remains that the preponderance scientific inquiry to date suggests that we all come from the same stuff. We are indeed, all connected.

I can’t single-handedly fix all the problems carried around by the people I meet or encounter each day. There are days when I’m not sure how I’ll manage my own issues, and those within my inner circle. But I can apply the principles I’ve studied and learned and used with success in my own experience.

If nothing else, my own knowing of peace and Good for the random people I pass on my commute helps to put me into a better space, which means I show up at work in a positive and beneficial (to me and to others) state of mind. I also believe that there is Good to be planted and blessings to be harvested when we know peace, joy, healing, love and more for those we meet along our way.

And so it is.

(C) 2019 Practitioner's Path 

Day 28 (Healing)

Christian Science
Practitioner's Path
Healing
Wellness
Faith
To ignore God as of little use in sickness is a mistake. Instead of thrusting Him aside in times of bodily trouble and waiting for the hour of strength in which to acknowledge Him, we should learn that He can do all things for us in sickness as in health.

~ Mary Baker Eddy, Science & Health
with Key to the Scriptures

#30 Days of Healing

Taken from the book, “Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems, & Meditations from Around the World