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Redux Part 2 on Walmartization of the Church

August 18, 2010

2. The Cost is Really Hidden: As I mentioned in the comments on the last posting, WM does pass on low prices to consumers. But what it gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. In the case of wages, WM barely pays minimum wage in many places to its employees. The benefits they had a decade ago are almost all gone now. According to a number of studies, 40% of their employees must supplement their WM wages with social assistance programs. Compare that to K-Mart with 20% and Target with 8% of their employees. What happens in smaller towns is that Walmart ends up pushing the other retailers out of business and thus the average income in that town goes down. This is not true in a place like Sacramento because our work force is more diverse. But it shouldn’t surprise us that many medium-sized communities in America are banning WM from entering their towns unless they clean up their wage discrepancies.

And it isn’t just WM. It is also the other companies assigned to them. Sam’s Club is the major competitor with Costco. Yet Costco pays their employees up to 50% more than Sam’s Club (when you include benefits) and is mostly able to keep their prices competitive. They give their employees shares in the company, something WM used to do but does not any more.

Therefore, the lower price is actually not that much lower, it is just spread out. This applies in the same way to the Megachurch.

Over the last ten years, pastors in medium-sized churches note a curious trend. They are getting more and more Christians from Megachurches coming for counseling, ministry and care. Yet, when we ask them if they would be willing to attend our churches, considering the ministry we are offering, they just laugh. They know what will be expected of them in a smaller church. But they love the benefits they get from personal care. One guy I talked to said that he had never had a conversation with a single pastor on a staff of 45 in the three years he had been there. I asked why he still attended. He liked the singles fishing trips, the Starbucks coffee in the lounge, the worship band that produces new albums every year and the right to take off for a month without having the membership committee breathing down his neck.

But notice where he went when his life was falling apart. To the smaller church. What will he do when the smaller church no longer exists?

Here is the hidden cost. The Megachurch likes to boast that they can do things more cheaply than the costs of a hundred smaller churches. But is that true? Let’s do the math. Let’s take a church of 10,000 members and 100 churches of 100 members. Which entity will have more salary? Actually, it is the Megachurch. The megachurch will have (for 10,000 people) somewhere between 10-25 janitorial/building maintenance people. Small churches rarely have janitorial staff. The Megachurch will have full-time paid professional counselors. With a few exceptions (such as our church community) all the smaller churches will rely on pastors or volunteers. The Megachurch will have somewhere near 100 people being paid part-time or full-time for Administrative services. The smaller churches combined might have 50. The Megachurch pastoral staff will have annual salaries exceeding the combined salaries of the 100 smaller churches… by my estimate, about double the amount. What about their buildings? Surely that is where the Megachurch saves money. In American cities, a church requires 300-400 attenders to build a church building for its members (this figure is based upon what buildings cost in a city and what the average person gives to a church). Therefore, few if any of the churches of 100 or less will have their own building. They will be paying rent, but it will go to schools, community centers, landlords. The average church of 10,000 or more members is carrying tens of millions of dollars in building debt. The average church of 100 is carrying no building debt. The amount of interest on a 30 million dollar debt annually is approximately 2.4 million dollars! That is 2.4 million that the churches of 100 members will never spend.

Adding this all up, it is obvious that the church of 10,000 people spends much more money than100 churches of 100. But actually I just mislead you. If current trends hold true, the church of 100 will not exist for much longer outside of small towns.Very few cities in America will have churches of 100 in the near future. 20 years ago, the average size of a church was 75 members. Now it is between 350-375 (I get that figure from dividing the amount of churches in America with the amount of people who attend church regularly). If you consider that we have one-third less people attending church than 20 years ago in our country, and the amount of churches in America is 25% less, there is only one conclusion. We are going to have less churches that are much larger in size. Hence, the emergence of the Megachurch.

Who will do pastoral care for those churches? The answer is the same if we asked who would fix the bicycles from WM that break down, the toasters from WM that break down, the shoes from WM that last for a month and the golf clubs from WM that break on their second usage: No one will be left to fix them. Who will do pastoral care? If by pastoral care, we mean personal, one-on-one discipleship, then the answer is “No One.”

Do people need pastoral care? That’s like asking if consumers need help with the products they buy. I recently had a problem with a piece of audio equipment that I bought at a specialty store here in town. When I went in to ask them about my problem, the store clerk knew exactly the problem I was talking about, knew the solution and spent another ten minutes telling me about a product that was coming on sale in just a few weeks that would really enhance my objectives with this equipment.

Just this week, I read they are going out of business.

Who will help me with this kind of equipment in the future if all we have left is WM? Their employees don’t even know what brands they carry, let alone anything about the product. I don’t blame them; the products fly off the shelf and land at the check-out. In the same vein, who will visit someone in the hospital when they are dying? A Megachurch pastor? Who will provide counseling for a child who had nightmares? A Megachurch children’s activities director?  Unlikely.

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