Let me start by saying that the church should not learn theology from The Home Depot. They sell home improvement stuff.
The Old Becomes New
So, what can the church learn from the world’s largest home improvement retailer? The first Home Depot stores were opened in 1979 in Atlanta, Georgia. They celebrated the opening of their 100th store in 1989. Their first foray into eCommerce was in 2000. They were among the first brick-and-mortar retailers to roll out mobile apps; in-store, connected mobile devices; and in-store pickup and return of online purchases.
Home Depot, in general, sells some low-tech stuff. The last thing I bought there was solder wire and flux for soldering copper pipe. That is not a new, high-tech item.
What is new and something that the church can learn from is the way The Home Depot has adopted a strategy that has embraced the new digital world while allowing their brick and mortar stores to thrive.
Home Depot is mastering the omnichannel strategy. And, that is what the church needs to pay attention to. There have been many doomsday warnings about the future of brick-and-mortar stores. Online is taking over the world. Home Depot is among a number of companies that are leveraging their physical stores in a new online world.
A Brick and Mortar Institution
I am relatively sure that this wasn’t what Jesus had in mind, but the church has become a brick-and-mortar institution. There are some exceptions, but churches have buildings. Most church growth and marketing strategies (for those who have them) involve trying to get people to come to a place.
As I wrote about in my post, “Virtual Church, Are Online Digital Spaces Real Places,” the church has recently been rethinking what the “place” of church can look like. However, the thinking is still limited when it comes to embracing the new digital realm. It is still seen as a way to get someone to come to a place, even if the place has changed.
It’s All About Engagement
There is nothing wrong with inviting people to come to a place. However, as The Home Depot has learned, the physical place is not the only place to engage with people. They have also learned the physical space and the digital space are different. There are things you can do in the physical space that you can’t do in the digital space and vice-versa. A true, effective strategy in this new digital world, embraces both and lets them work in harmony.
An Omnichannel Experience
Let’s say I am thinking of redoing the tile in my bathroom. (Which I am not. I have tiled a bathroom before and my knees told me to hire a professional next time.) I go to homedepot.com and type “tile” in the search bar.
Let’s look at the screenshot of this results page.
- I go to this website a lot, so it remembers me. I can buy online but it is keeping me connected to my local store so I can check to see if something I want is in stock.
- It reminds me that I can buy online and pick up at the store. If it is already in stock, I can usually pick it up the same day. If it is not in stock, they can usually get it within a couple of days.
- Their online chat is always present and I have used it to ask questions about a product or get help finding something in stock nearby.
- Oh yes, if I am new to this, and I want to do it myself, they will show me how.
If I scroll down a bit, I can see some examples of modern tile projects. This is a way to allow the website to expand upon what is possible in the store. It is also an attempt to attract people who are just looking for ideas.
Some more scrolling and we get the installation tutorial.
The Home Depot offers a four-part video series on prepping, setting, grouting, and caring for tiles. What is really great about this is that they offer this same training, but hands-on, in their stores. Think about how that is taking a “both/and” approach to brick-and-mortar and digital. The Home Depot wants to be the go-to place for home improvement whether you want to engage online or in-store.
The symbiotic relationship between physical and digital is apparent in the store as well. Signs remind customers that there are additional items available on the website. Announcements encourage visitors to download the app. The app, in addition to offering an online inventory, includes an in-store inventory. If I can’t find or don’t feel like talking to an associate, I can use my app to see if they have what I need and the exact aisle and bay I can find it.
What about the church?
From what I have seen, the church that has come closest to modeling the omnichannel approach is Life.Church. A clear indication of their commitment to this approach is their name. Life.Church is also their web address. Let’s look at their website.
Here is what I see:
- The website immediately points to the church online.
- This demonstrates the omnichannel approach featuring all physical locations and the online option as equals.
- The online component is featured again through videos and podcasts.
- The physical locations of the church are available right next to the online options.
A quick click of the “Menu” button in the top right corner drops down an even larger selection of resources.
You might want to go to Life.Church and click on some of these offerings. You will find a mix of resources and events that happen at physical locations alongside online and downloadable features. The objective is not simply to drive people to a church location but to encourage engagement and spiritual growth.
That is Great, But…
I know what you are thinking. Life.Church obviously has financial resources far beyond the average local church. But remember, they didn’t start out this way. Life.Church started with 40 people in a garage.
The point of featuring The Home Depot and Life.Church is not to overwhelm you. This type of complex omnichannel presence is not something you can do overnight or even this year. But if your church is going to thrive, you need to begin thinking about the way the world is changing. The Home Depot has. Toys ‘R’ Us did not.
Most of our churches have buildings. They are usually seen as a luxury or a burden. What if they were more? What if they could be a part of a strategy that embraced the brick and mortar and the digital?
What is the First Step?
What could be the first step for your church? What about the small step of making audio recordings of the Sunday sermon available? This would acknowledge the changing attendance patterns and allow people to stay connected even when they are not physically present. What about live streaming services? The pricing is no longer out of reach even for small churches. It is becoming less about finances and more about the desire to do whatever it takes to reach the mission field? How about the idea of putting introductory Bible classes online so people could start learning on their own terms? What about finding ways to free up resources including money, staff, and volunteers to start thinking about and acting on strategies to move beyond the single channel of Sunday morning church?
It may feel like a giant leap into the future. But, what about one tiny step?