I loved Borders Bookstores. I loved the variety of books they had, the CD’s they carried, I loved everything about it. I could get lost in there for hours on end, never to be found. Sadly, Borders doesn’t exist anymore. It went bankrupt and is no longer in business.
What happened? Simply, Borders did not keep up with the times or adjust to the trends in how books and music were consumed. They expanded their buildings while their competitors got smaller and offered more content in the up and coming digital formats.
A 2011 NPR article describes it this way:
“It made a pretty big bet in merchandising. [Borders] went heavy into CD music sales and DVD, just as the industry was going digital. And at that same time, Barnes & Noble was pulling back,” says Peter Wahlstrom, who tracks Barnes & Noble for the investment research firm Morningstar.
He says Barnes & Noble also invested in beefing up its online sales. Eventually, it also developed its own e-reader, the Nook.
Borders did not. Instead, it expanded its physical plant, refurbished its stores and outsourced its online sales operation to Amazon.”
Borders fundamentally misunderstood the changes taking place around them. Books and music were being purchased and delivered to people where they lived but Borders invested substantial resources to build and refurbish buildings as if people were going to come to them.
As one customer put it,
“I’ll go to Borders to find a book, and then I’ll to go to Amazon to buy it, generally,”
While not a perfect parallel, there are many similarities about the downfall of Borders and the struggles of the church in America today. Too many churches in the US are still building-centric. If the “product” we have for people is the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, people will not necessarily come to our buildings to get the Gospel. We have to take the gospel to them. We not only have to take the gospel to them so they can hear it, we also have to disciple them where they are at once they receive it. It is not realistic to go the them with the gospel and then assume they will be willing to come to church to be discipled and fed.
If it is indeed true that the fields are white unto harvest, we have to realize that the harvest will not be gathered if we stay in the farmhouse. If we are safe and comfortable and warm, the harvest never gets gathered, and we end up starving for lack of food. The church will starve for lack of the harvest being gathered in. So, churches have to decide whether we want to be more like Amazon or more like Borders. Refurbishing buildings when we fail keep up with the changing culture with an unchanging message of hope in Jesus Christ will lead to empty buildings and closing churches.