Sears—Where America Shopped

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

When i was a kid, my parents both worked, and since my grandparents lived about a mile away, i stayed with them during the day. I was the youngest grandchild on that side of the family, and an only child to boot, so,  needless to say, i was spoiled rotten.Sears Wish Book

Their little house was in walking distance to my elementary school, my piano lessons, and even White Rock Lake, the couple of times my grandfather and i felt really adventurous. My grandparents didn’t have a car, which seems odd now, but somehow didn’t at the time. My mom would pick us all up after work every Wednesday and cart us to the grocery store, and either she or my dad would take off work to take them to doctor visits and those sorts of things.

They collected Green Stamps at the grocery store and got a few things at the Green Stamp Store, but just like their parents and grandparents, most of what they bought came from the Sears Catalog. You’d get this 2 inch thick catalog mailed to your house a few times a year, figure out which refrigerator, screwdriver, shirt, or pair of pants you wanted, and, best i remember, write the numbers down on a form that was removed from the middle of the thing, mail it in, and a few days later, a delivery truck would drop the stuff off at your door.

Sounds like a super slow-mo version of the way we shop online today, huh?

Once a year the “Wish Book” came out. It was a catalog, with clothes and appliances and stuff, but unlike the others, a huge portion of it was dedicated to toys. Kids all across America would sit for hours and look at the thing, dreaming of what they might get for Christmas. Sometimes we’d be really sneaky, and circle things we wanted, in case the folks happened to get lost in the toy section of the catalog looking for a new bathrobe or something. In my case, it was these big yellow Tonka trucks—backhoes and dump trucks that you could play in the dirt with. ‘Cause that’s what kids did before video games were invented…we sat around and played in the dirt.

And for all my ‘only-child, youngest grandchild spoiled-ness,’ i never got the big yellow Tonka trucks. The disappointment and bitterness that lingers had to be worked out in re:gen.

Sears had stores as well, not like the ones at the shopping malls today, but gigantic, multi-story things in a few places around town, and one enormous store/ warehouse/ distribution center on South Lamar Street in South Dallas. (It’s been renovated and converted to lofts and is known as South Side on Lamar these days.) 

For some reason (maybe it cost less money) my grandparents and i would sometimes walk to the bus stop, take a series of city busses to the ‘big Sears,’ wait in a line to pick up an order, then catch more busses and make it home a few hours later. If i was lucky, i’d get a little bag of chocolate covered peanut clusters at this candy counter in the middle of the store.

Amazon is the modern day Sears. You scroll through the ‘catalog’ online, place your order, and it shows up a day or two later. It’s really just a fast-paced version of the way my grandparents went shopping. 

So why, at the dawn of the Internet, did Amazon see the potential, and be willing to suffer millions of dollars in losses the first few years on the hunch that online shopping would become a big deal? How did Sears not see that this was a 21st Century version of the business they had invented in the late 1800s and be the innovator once again?

Truth is, they got set in their ways, saw their brick and mortar stores as places people would continue to shop, and missed a huge opportunity to be relevant again. To be honest…their last shot. The former 800 pound gorilla is the 24th largest retailer in the country nowadays, still losing market share, hemorrhaging money and closing stores every time you turn around. 

There’s a lesson for us in that, church. The minute we stop being innovative and start saying ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ we start dying.

At Stonepoint, we’ve spent seven years doing things ‘differently.’ We have used music, testimonies of the amazing things that God has done in the lives of our members, and maybe even knocked you in the head with a beach ball on Family Worship Sunday…really tried to be innovative in the ways we’ve shared the gospel. 

We’re far from a traditional church in our look and our presentation, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t developed some ‘traditions’ of our own as time has gone by.

We do tend to get stuck in a ‘two or three songs/ announcement video/ welcome/ big ballad before the bumper and message’ rut from time to time, and i’m really the one to blame for that. It’s a good ‘formula,’ my budget is still a bit…shall we say, limited on some innovative things we would like to do, and i’m really not all that creative when it comes down to it.

So, here’s what i need you to do. If you ever see us becoming Sears, assuming that people are just going to show up, simply because they’ve been showing up all this time, let us know. We never want to take the gospel for granted, and never want to come up with fresh ways to present its unchanging message to people.

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus instructed his followers to go into the world and make disciples. This little area of Texas is where He has placed us to do just that and fulfill our part of that ‘Great Commission.’

That calling on our lives is too important for us to become set in our ways.

Please don’t let us become Sears.