THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE DECLINE OF THE SHOPPING MALL TO THAT OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
by Wayne Proctor
Perhaps because of my own age, I have enjoyed both the shopping mall and the local church experience virtually all my life. The sad reality is that both are experiencing a decline in American life, even to the point of death. It is a reality I don’t like to think about or even talk about, but some reputable people who analyze churches say that in one decade, by 2030, one-third of existing churches will exist no more. Of course, I hope they are wrong and that churches figure out ways to either re-invent themselves, or something else that is “healthy.”
I recently had a conversation with one of my church members who had recently been to Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake. Her comment: “It was dead!” Whereas in past years the parking lots would have been overflowing three weeks before Christmas, not so this year. Obviously, part of the reason is COVID, but there are many other factors at work, the most significant being the popularity of on-line shopping. Brick and mortar stores are daily losing ground against the Amazons of the world. I told the lady who cuts my hair, “I will not be going to a shopping mall this Christmas season. I’ve made on-line purchases with Amazon, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and even J.C. Penney, and they all worked fine.” Slowly, we are being conditioned to “shop” with our phone or computer, and frankly, are getting a better experience.
So how does this compare and relate to local churches? For the most part, America is experiencing a decline in church attendance and financial support. Church declines and closures seem to be on par with the decline and closure of traditional shopping malls. Further, one thing COVID has taught us is that we can exist without a building, or at least with less brick and mortar; not that “livestreaming” and other internet-based connections are the complete answer. However, they are certainly part of the change taking place in how people access their faith experiences.
It seems clear to me that in order for the traditional in-door shopping mall to survive, it must “reinvent” itself, meaning diversification, a new line of tenants – maybe partnerships with community colleges and senior centers and . . . Have you noticed that the kiosks (less footprint and less expense) seem to be busier than the stores (at least pre-COVID)?
Could something similar be true for local churches? Are most of our “shoppers and tenants” over the age of 60? What percent of our giving comes from people under that age of 50? How successful will the local church be providing on-line giving as an option? Will churches in small communities be willing to “join forces” to ensure the viability of at least one local church presence? Will churches with “unused space” be willing to share it or lease it or provide some way that it can bless others?
Think about it. What does all this mean to you? If changes are needed, we need to begin making them before it is too late.