Target has failed in Canada. And I can’t say that I’m surprised. But it’s not because I know much about retail. My notable retail experience includes three years working at Smart Set in Southcentre Mall during high school. I was excellent at folding t-shirts for the 2-for-$25 table. Oh, and I worked the music department at Chapters back in the days of music departments with old-fashioned items like CDs. Bless.
Nope, a retail giant analyst I am not, but what I do have I offer to you: regular old church experience.
Most of my childhood and teenage years as a neo-charismatic Christian in western Canada can be characterized by an almost identical exercise: a big American name comes to Canada to Reach Canada for Christ™, plant a church, and then in rather short order, heads back over the border, usually while blaming us for the failure.
That sounds a bit bald and harsh, but I don’t mean to be. It’s simply been my experience. So first, let me say this: I’ve seen church plants succeed in Canada. Many of them, in fact. Some of them followed the Church Planter Handbook that must exist somewhere (i.e., don’t even TRY unless you have $100K in the bank and a rockin’ worship team), and others have been messy, organic and unlikely. All of them bring me great joy. I love to hear of new churches opening around us—we are a people of abundance, not scarcity! Also worth noting is that in the midst of these imperfect scenarios, there were lives changed, people saved and set free.
And yet this has been my experience and so I admit, I’m a bit wary now of outsiders coming into Canada as self-appointed missionaries to Reach Canada For Christ™. I’m not quite at the “get off my lawn” stage yet, though. So when news broke today about Target’s abject and utter failure to expand into Canada, I began to think this morning about how church planters to Canada (or even within Canada) can learn from the Target failure.
So off the top of my head, here are a few connections I made between Target and outsider-church-planting in Canada:
1. Target tried to open American stores in Canada.
That sounds a bit silly when I write it out, but here’s what I mean: Americans often tried to start American churches in Canada. They wanted churches that looked like American churches and they wanted people who thought like Americans. And then there would be frustration because we weren’t, well, American. We didn’t worship like Americans, we didn’t have the same values at times, we thought differently or had different context. It felt like we spoke different languages.
For instance, I’ve seen American preachers get so frustrated because we listen to sermons instead of hollering back. Or would import a lot of American teaching or values cloaked in Jesus-y language, conflating the two. Instead of adjusting for that difference, the leadership often just tried harder to make us fit their version of Christian. It felt more like they were trying to colonize us into American Christians than make disciples. The kicker? when they quit and left, it was always with the parting shot that it was our fault. We didn’t play by their rules.
2. Target was out of stock of the essentials.
When people went to Target, they simply never found what they actually went there to get. It’s hard to miss this metaphor for the church in Canada. Often what we have to offer as a church isn’t what people actually want. Canada isn’t the United States and we aren’t Europe either. Each community has its own religious history and even that changes drastically from neighborhood to home. For instance, I grew up in a post-Christian pocket of western Canada where I didn’t have a single Christian friend or teacher to my knowledge. Meanwhile, folks my age here in Abbotsford mostly grew up either Mennonite or Sikh. (And yes, I’ve learned to appreciate both Indian food and Ukranian food.)
3. Target went too fast.
In less than a year, the retail giant created 133 stores and a few distribution centres. From a church perspective, I saw many church planters fail because they also went too fast. They landed and set up shop quickly. They weren’t part of the community, they had no friends, they didn’t take the time to live among us and with us. They had no base and they often kept a strong line between “them” and “us.” Instead of becoming part of our lives, instead of developing a theology of place, they simply parachuted into our lives and then, when it didn’t go well, they left us.