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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Always Learning: What I Learned About Church From Walmart

In John Maxwell’s book How Successful People Think

, the story is told of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, when the store chain was just taking off.  Sam took a couple of his colleagues, regional store managers to visit some of the competition in Huntsville, AL.  Don Soderquist (later, CEO of Walmart) related the story:

“We went into one [store], and I have to tell you that it was the worst store I’ve ever seen in my life. It was terrible. There were no customers. There was no help on the floor. The aisles were cluttered with merchandise, empty shelves, dirty, it was absolutely terrible. He [Walton] walked one way and I’d walk the other way and we’d kinda meet out on the sidewalk. He said “What’d you think, Don?”

I said, “Sam, that is the absolutely worst store I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, did you see the aisles?”

He said, “Don, did you see the pantyhose rack?”

I said, “No, I didn’t Sam. I must have gone on a different aisle than you. I didn’t see that.”

He said, “That was the best pantyhose rack I’ve ever seen, Don.” And he said, “I pulled the fixture out and on the back was the name of the manufacturer. When we get back, I want you to call that manufacturer and have him come visit with our fixture people. I want to put that rack in our stores. It’s absolutely the best I’ve ever seen. And he said next, “Did you see the ethnic cosmetics?”

I said, “Sam that must have been right next to the pantyhose rack, because I absolutely missed that.”

He said, “Don, do you realize that in our stores we have four feet of ethnic cosmetics. These people had 12 feet of it. We are absolutely missing the boat. I wrote down the distributor of some of those products. When we get back I want you to get a hold of our cosmetic buyer and get these people in. We absolutely need to expand our ethnic cosmetics.”

“Now, Sam Walton didn’t hit me on the head and say, “Don, now what lesson did you learn from this?” He had already hit me on the head by looking for the good, looking how to improve, striving for excellence. It’s so easy to go and look at what other people do badly. But one of the leadership characteristics of vision that he showed me, and I’ll never forget it, is look for the good in what other people are doing and apply it.”  (John C. Maxwell, How Successful People Think

, (New York: Center Street, 2009), p. 67-68)

What an insightful story!  How can we practice this as pastors?

1. Watch what the culture is doing well.

I know, the culture is full of sin and wickedness… but that doesn’t mean they haven’t found some things that are good, true, and right.  And you should be aware of those things, and meet those cultural expectations as much as possible, while staying true to the Gospel.  Ask yourself:

  1. How do businesses in my city make people feel welcome?

  2. In my part of town, what is expected for a quality business to look like?

  3. What are some creative ways local businesses decorate? Promote? Move people?

  4. Where do people gather in my city?  Why do they gather there?

  5. Why do people volunteer for that organization?

2. Watch what other churches are doing well.

OK, there’s a huge issue here: Are you able to admit that other churches do some things better than you, without losing your self-respect and giving up your “secret sauce” that makes you unique?

I’ve met pastors who beat themselves up because their church is not as “cool” as the one down the street.

I’ve met other pastors who cannot bear to admit their church could learn from the one down the street.

BOTH are foolish.  If you get hung up on the fact that other churches don’t believe like you, or share your values… then you’ll miss out on what they’re doing RIGHT!  If you don’t use other people’s ideas, you’re missing out on a wealth of creativity!

If you don’t use other people’s ideas, you’re missing out on a wealth of creativity!

I think you ought to:

  1. Find another church in your area that is growing.

  2. Go visit one of their services (maybe a Saturday night?), or another time during the week.

  3. Take pictures of what they do right, anything that gives you an idea

  4. Get a handful of their promotional or other literature

  5. Get a copy of their new believer packet, or guest welcome packet

  6. Go back home and figure out how you can learn from it

If you haven’t read it yet, go download my free e-book, 9 Top Tech Apps I’m Using To Get More Done, and check out Evernote… one of the ways I’m using it is filing ministry ideas.  I think you should have a place to do the same.

Be always learning, brothers.

Share this, or tell me in the comments below: What was the greatest idea you ever got from another church?

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