The End of Christian Retail

This week on my new favorite podcast, the Phil Vischer Podcast, they had an interesting discussion on the end of Christian retail. The part in question is the first 12 minutes of podcast #10.

Skye Jethani made the point via Barna (it’s an arguable point) that the largest differentiator between Christians and non-Christians behaviorally was a market preference for items branded as Christian. He goes on to point to the fact that fear is often a main motivation for market branding of Christian stores, Christian merchandise and Christian radio (“safe for the whole family…”).

Christian Retail Success and Decline

Over the last decade we’ve seen decline in this from both sides. Christians are getting their books and goods from secular channels (Amazon) and Christian properties (Zondervans for example) have been bought up by larger secular businesses, recognizing the market strength of the Christian “brand”.

The discussion is more interesting because of Phil Vischer whose former property (Big Idea) was one of the most attractive “Christian” branded entities. If you want to know what happened to Big Idea you can read it here on Vischer’s blog.

Later in the podcast Phil made the point that all of the major Christian music labels are owned by secular media companies, and the majority of Christian publishers are also owned by secular companies. His lament was basically that the only interest these companies will have will be the bottom line.

Church leadership (and other not-for-profits) always walk the line of their mission and their institutional viability. They do projects that might stress their viability but they do so because of their mission.

What is a Christian?

The discussion obviously opens the door to the question “what is a Christian?” as well as “what does it mean to be a Christian in our cultural context?” The current Chick-fil-a drama circulates around the same discussion. The same is true for the discussion around Katy Perry.  This is one of the central implicit conversations happening right now in the Christian world.

Some are looking for a solution with the bounded set, centered set observation.  

As I noted in this post you can’t simply say “bounded-set is bad, centered-set is good” because actually the two live in a dynamic relationship with each other. Both are dependent upon the other as communities pass thought time. Any side I’ve ever seen in a debate holds both centered-set and bounded-set values that work together with the other.

Assimilation, Transformation, Domination, Isolation

The options of course echo Niehbur’s classis “Christ and Culture” text and communities practice a variety of these approaches as they navigate through their issues and their contexts.

It also touches on the “liberal church” discussion.

Sorry to truncate this post. It was written on a bad air travel day but I want to post it.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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