By Elder Tan Chin Tiong
Robinsons, founded in 1858, recently closed its shutters for good after 162 years of operations in Singapore.
The news is reporting about it, people are talking about it, business consultants are analysing it and lecturers are making a case study out of it. They are asking questions like “What happened?”; “How did they come to such an end?”; “Did they see it coming?“; “Could it have been avoided?”; “What should they have done?”.
As I read the history of Robinsons, I cannot help but see some parallels to the history and future survival of churches in Singapore. Will we thrive or will we die? If you remember, this was what I wrote about in my last pastoral page.
Today I would like to follow up on this current topic by using some pointers from a blog written by a business strategist that helps organisations connect with their customers and grow their business in the midst of an ever changing and challenging landscape.
1. Relook at your prospects
One of the downfalls of Robinsons, according to some business analysts, was that they were too comfortable catering to only the baby boomers and not doing enough to understand the other age segments of the population. This can be easily verified simply by asking the younger generation when they last stepped into Robinsons. Their prospect list gets shorter as the baby boomers fade off due to natural attrition. At the same time, they faced a shrinking younger generation of shoppers that they have neglected. There is a need for business to relook at the profile of their customer base and constantly adjust their business strategies accordingly.
Likewise, the church must not be a specialist in any specific group of people, be it characterised by age, economic status or education background. We need to cast our nets far and wide. We need to ensure we are not neglecting anyone.
2. Go down to the buyers where they are
Mass marketing through letterboxes and other media platforms without understanding their Individual specific needs will not cut it. Occasional sales events may attract some people but unfortunately, it will not be enough.
As a church, we need to learn from our Lord Jesus. Every encounter He had with the people always hit the bull’s eye because He took the effort to understand their individual needs and spiritual conditions. Oh yes, Good Friday and Christmas services may attract people to come, but it is not enough to convert them to loyal and dedicated followers of Jesus Christ. We need to be more interested in their lives and not be in a hurry to convert them. Perhaps then we may experience more positive breakthroughs.
3. Don’t just look at the bottom line
Businesses that only focus on short term gains through glowing financial figures will not sustain through the long haul. Building long term relationships through customer care is the key. Whilst figures are important because each number tells a story, the soul of the company cannot be quantified.
Yes, any healthy church should grow in numbers but we need to ensure that the figures are substantiated by authentic relationship and vibrant community.
4. Show, don’t tell
No amount of marketing will help your company if you deliver inferior products to your customers.
Church, we don’t settle for telling the story of Jesus. We show them. As Christians, we need to present the gospel truth embodied in our lives. People need to see and feel the irresistible attraction to the church because they sense a deep loss if they are not part of it.
I know it is not a very perfect analogy and may sound irreverent but in some way, the Church is a like spiritual corporation owned by our Lord Jesus Christ and we are all shareholders. We will do all we can to ensure the church remains open to all people, in season or out of season, in good times and especially in bad times. We will do all we can to ensure that the church remains relevant and connected to all people. We will do all we can to present the gospel winsomely and glorify our Lord Jesus Christ!
We are 62 years old now. Will we survive another 100 years and beyond? Well, take a look at churches in Europe and you will know that the casualty rates are high. But if there be any encouragement to us, St Andrew’s Cathedral started their first service in 1837 and after 183 years, they are not just around but still vibrant and active for the Lord! Yes, unless the Lord returns, it is possible, if we be on our knees…. and if I may add, our toes at all times.