Target announced yesterday that it is pulling out of Canada, closing the 133 stores that it has opened here over the past few years. The problem? There’s no prospect that the company is going to make any money; the Canadian operation has been gushing cash from the outset. So the US-based retail chain is going to cut its losses in Canada and get out before they lose more money.
Most of us, if we went into a Target store in Canada, know why they lost money. We walked in expecting to see something very much like the Target stores in the US that we have visited, only to find that they are not. In fact, they don’t look a great deal different than the Zellers stores that some of them replaced. The prices were not bargains, and the selection seemed quite ho-hum compared with other options out there on the Canadian retail landscape.
In short, Target didn’t understand the culture into which it was coming, nor that culture’s expectations of what it would be. It came in with assumptions that were incorrect, and the purchasing public made it clear by keeping its collective wallet shut. (A Toronto Star article yesterday suggested that Target’s failure in Canada was almost orchestrated, but I will leave that for more knowledgeable pundits to address.)
I will say this, though: the church can learn a lesson from Target Canada.
It is important for the church as a living organism, and the church as individual followers of Jesus, to have an understanding of both the culture and the target (if you’ll pardon the term) audience being sought. As was once wisely said in a George Harrison song, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
When church leaders say, “We want to reach everyone,” what often happens is that we reach no one, because our circle is drawn too widely. Of course, it’s not wrong to want to reach everyone with the gospel; it is difficult, though, to do so through one source or by one means.
As individuals, when we share our faith (you do share your faith, don’t you?), we can’t use the same approach with all people and expect the same results. It just doesn’t work that way. People in sales understand this. Trying to sell a mattress to an insomniac doesn’t happen the same way as when trying to sell it to someone with back trouble. In sales, they know to know the customer.
Trouble is, in the church, we often think that we’re the customer. Oops.
No, we’re in sales. And we need to know to whom we are pitching the offer of Jesus if we’re going to have any success at it. That’s why friendship evangelism works so much better than handing out tracts on a street corner – there’s a relationship. And where there is a relationship, there is a bridge already built toward ‘closing the deal’, as they say in sales.
Of course, we’re talking not about hoisting the bottom line; we’re talking about investing in eternity. But our friends at Target remind us that knowing how to reach the customer is an important part of helping others enjoy a personal relationship with the Lord. And seeing the light come on that leads a person to faith is more richly satisfying than any commission we might make on a sale.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise” (Proverbs 11.30, ESV).