Christian Retailing

Leaders R Us Print Email
Written by Staff   
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 09:06 AM America/New_York

andybutcher_cropped2Finding new leadership for the Christian retail industry isn't just about appointing a replacement for Bill Anderson at CBA.

Finding the right person for that position is important, for sure, but doing so will not make everything all right. What is needed isn't about an individual, it involves all of us.

We need to step back and take a broader look. We need to recognize that during Anderson's tenure at CBA there were some fundamental changes not only in the industry, but in the business world in which it operates, the church it is part of and the culture it seeks to address.

Failing to consider these shifts is like expecting a new quarterback to turn a team around single-handedly. It takes more than one player, however good they may be.

For starters, as we have noted before, CBA is no longer the exclusive hub of the Christian products world. The days when "CBA" and "Christian retail" were synonymous are over. The trade association still has an important role to play, but it needs to be redefined.

That is a reflection both of the rise of sales channels outside traditional Christian retail and the changes that have occurred within it—with the growth of the chains, the emergence of church-based stores and the reduction in the number of independents.

But those developments have in turn taken place against a broader backdrop. Think about how Internet shopping has impacted consumer behavior and customer loyalty, driving down price and pushing up breadth of choice. People can get most Christian resources pretty much anywhere.

What makes Christian retail distinctive and vital in this new world of choice?

The Web has not only impacted how people spend their money, but also where they find things out. No longer is information disseminated by a few big gatekeepers. It is leaking out all over. Businesses have begun to recognize that, trying to shake the stuffy old corporate images of the past by embracing social media. Executives tweet about their pets and their social lives to humanize their "brands."

How can Christian suppliers offer a distinct and persuasive voice in the midst of all the babble and hype?

At the same time, the church as a whole is different. Though doctrinal differences still exist, certainly, there is far greater blurring of the lines than there used to be. Unity in essentials is more important to many than division over secondary issues. Congregations may read from different translations and hold opposing views on the end times, but chances are they are singing most of the same songs.

What does this shift mean in the way important issues of church life should be presented and discussed?

In addition, there is a transition in the world of many major Christian ministries that were significant in shaping our industry. Some of those founded by high-profile figures are seeing their originators come to the end of their days and are looking to refashion themselves for a generation less impressed by big names and buzzed by words like "organic" and "authentic."

How do we make room for—and enough money to support—new voices?

Then there is the wider world. It's much more acceptable—fashionable, even—to be "spiritual" than it was 20 years ago, but it is less so to be evangelical. Being vague is vogue. Being particular is considered peculiar.

How can we be distinctive without being seen to be vindictive?

I don't pretend to be an expert, but it seems to me that the very nature of leadership has been changing, too. It's no longer just about instruction—do this, don't do that. It's more about information, inspiration and influence—enabling others to be and do all they are called to.

While all this raises important general questions about the shape and nature of the new leadership in our industry, it also leaves you and I with a personal question, too.

With leadership to be in the hands of many rather than just one or two, what is our individual role and responsibility in this new era?

For our part at Christian Retailing, we remain committed to providing news on issues, products and trends that will help others make informed decisions and a platform for insightful comment, discussion and debate. How about you? What can you bring to the rest of us?