What do JCPenny’s and the Church have in common?

by | Mar 5, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

Giving Up Grief for Lent: A Lenten Blog Series that explores the things the Mainline church needs to grieve in order to embrace a new Easter reality …

As an elementary school-aged child in the 1980s, I can remember the JCPenny’s store being THE destination for back-to-school shopping. We’d arm ourselves with a fist-full of coupons and a strong resolve not to leave until we’d purchased everything we needed. We’d stock up on back-to-school necessities — clothes, basic shoes, maybe even a fancy dress for holidays and special events. Those clothes would easily last the whole season, purchased at a reasonable price.

I’m pretty sure that once I hit high school in the late 80s, we stopped shopping at JCPenny’s. Not that they didn’t have good clothes at reasonable prices, but peer pressure and my newfound sense of style lured me into the edgy “boutiques” like The Limited and Express filled with overpriced neon couture, “high-top” tennis shoes in trendy pinks and purples and satin dresses with lace gloves. I’m pretty sure I haven’t entered a Penny’s store in any of the ensuing decades.

JCPenny’s new look that is alienating loyal customers. Sound a lot like the church?

I’m apparently not the only one who turned their back on the practical basics and coupon-driven sales. In a feature story on NPR’s Planet Money, JCPenny’s, now using the hipper acronym, JCP, has been trying to recreate their image and their pricing strategy to appeal to younger customers. This strategy has not only alienated, but caused emotional distress, to their few remaining loyal customers who treat Saturday shopping excursions as nothing less than religious ritual. Carol Vickery, a Florida shopper interviewed for the story, said, “I come home and I cry over it, and my husbands’s looking me like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Penny’s doesn’t have sales anymore. I need my store back.’”

Replace the words “sales” with “worship” and “store” with “church” and you could have a phrase uttered in the narthex of any number of mainline churches after a “contemporary” or “blended” worship service that attempts to attract the long-lost younger folks. Like those familiar Penny’s sales, a “traditional” worship service provide a comfortable, familiar ritual on Sunday morning to those who have been been attending for years.

The reality is that long-time Penny’s shoppers and churchgoers alike are disoriented by these changes. They yearn (understandably) for the familiar, for anything that makes sense to them. Lent is a time however, when we, often painfully, let go of old habits, sacrifice something beloved and familiar for the good of ourselves or the community.

What can you give up this Lenten season to help you and your church community move forward? What can you help your congregational grieve so that they can move into a new Easter reality?

To help a congregation mourn the loss of the familiar, make your sermon or intergenerational Sunday School time a conversation about losing what’s familiar. My resources suggestions and discussion starter can be found in the Giving up Grief for Lent: Resources section of the blog.

1 Comment

  1. Deb Downey

    Great insight. Thanks, Nicole!

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