Back to Basics a New Trend?
Years ago I interviewed a cutting-edge pastor for a feature story. When I spoke to him again later for another publication, he had left traditional church ministry to lead open discussion groups. He wanted to encourage Christ-followers to engage in active reflection instead of relying on one person to dispense spiritual insight.
While I appreciated his desire to develop more disciples and fewer spectators, I had to chuckle over the outcome of his experiment. After tinkering with various days during the week, the group had settled on the traditional day to meet. The reason was simple: Sunday is when most people had time off. Even the cutting edge ended up back to basics.
I thought of this pastor recently when I saw a blog written by Trevin Wax, a visiting professor at Cedarville University.
Titled “Lesson for the Church from the Barnes & Noble Turnaround,” the piece commented on how a new president had reversed the book chain’s fortunes since 2018 with a back to basics approach.
Quoting from a report by “The Honest Broker,” Ted Goia, Wax noted that among other things, B&N’s James Daunt had:
- Stopped heavily discounting books because he didn’t think they were overpriced
- Ceased giving books away because in doing so the chain had devalued them
- Rejected the common practice of accepting promotional money from publishers in exchange for prominent placement in the store
“It’s too simple to say love for books is the primary reason for the Barnes & Noble turnaround, but surely we can acknowledge a key element in those recent wins was the decision to put ‘books first and everything else second,’” Wax said.
Loving to Love
I was cheered by Wax’s blog. For one, before reading it, I was not aware of B&N’s restored fortunes. Before my wife and I moved back to an area without an outlet, a visit to B&NB had been a favorite date night outing.
The other is more essential to our daily lives. I loved how Wax drew a parallel between B&N’s turnaround and the application for churches. Especially those mourning the decline of membership and fading attendance nationwide.
If we keep our eyes on cultural trends, we can be tempted to put our faith on extraneous aspects like coffee, programming or music, Wax said. Over time, pastors can lose any sense of leading worship and become managers of religious dispensaries “as if they oversee a supermarket of spiritual goods and services.”
“Come what may, there’s no substitute for love,” Wax commented. “Loving God. Loving to worship God. Loving to worship God with his people. Loving to hear God’s Word and to feast on his goodness at the table.”
Back to Basics
I have seen the truth of this in our church, which recently started its first-ever Sunday school.
Sunday school? You mean flannel graphs and little old ladies writing on chalkboards? Actually, no. The material we chose includes access to a website and hyperlinks to ever-changing source material. Little danger of it growing stale.
Perhaps most surprising has been the turnouts. After flagging attendance during our Covid-plagued times, it is surging again.
The first day of Sunday school, we had more people than our previous high in early 2020. It remained that way for the next month.
Add to that a newfound sense of unity and purpose and it’s off to a great start.
This all stemmed from our pastor’s desire to instill sound biblical teaching in people’s lives. As he often says, one sermon a week isn’t enough. Sound basic? There’s a reason traditions get started: they work.