CHANGE & APOLOGIES
I was so disappointed a couple of years back when JC Penney decided to use their advertising budget to advocate for same sex marriage. Their first move was to hire Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson. Immediately the conservative group Million Moms began protesting and calling for a boycott. However, the newly installed JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson was undeterred. He went on to introduce a Mother’s Day ad and subsequent Father’s Day ad that featured same-sex couples. The Father’s Day ad pictured a real life family with two dads and two children. It read, “What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver—all rolled into one. Or two.”
As a former senior copywriter for May Company department stores, I know all too well the type of planning that determines these decisions. For months before an ad is produced executives, artists, writers sit in rooms and plan the strategy. Every single photo, image or word that potentially makes it onto a printed page or television ad is scrutinized and analyzed so that not one precious penny of the advertising budget is wasted. The decision to target the homosexual community was a blatant disregard for the dollars of those shoppers who would be offended and decide not to shop at JC Penney. Johnson in effect, had written them off. They knew they would lose customers, but they didn’t care.
Fast forward about two years. Sales at JC Penney have plummeted and 1/3 of JC Penney customers have been lost. The modernization of the store has failed. Johnson has been ousted and his predecessor, Mike Ullman, reinstated to win back the former customer base. In the past couple weeks, JC Penney released a new “apology” ad with images of the old JC Penney storefronts that seem to ask the viewers to remember the nostalgia of yesteryear. The soft voice of the female narrator says, “It’s no secret, recently JC Penney changed. Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you, to hear what you need, to make your life beautiful. Come back to JC Penney. We heard you. Now we’d love to see you.”
Wow! Not often companies apologize. Not surprisingly, you won’t find a news analysis that links JC Penney’s slump in sales and loss of customers to their stance on homosexuality. Most of the news sources only give vague reference to Johnson’s alienation of the customer base.
In researching this story I did find an interesting Time Magazine assessment of Johnson’s performance at Penney’s. The article entitled, “The 5 Big Mistakes That Led to Ron Johnson’s Ouster at JC Penney” could be a warning to all of us creative types, who are excited about change and ready to innovate how we go about doing church. It is fun and exciting to implement new ideas and programs in church work, but we must avoid doing so in a manner that is unwise. Allow me to draw some parallels between Johnson’s mistakes and things that are happening among Apostolics today.
1. The first mistake the article says that Johnson made was that, “he misread what customers want.” He cut out the idea of the coupon and eliminated sales and instituted what he called “fair pricing.” Well! He basically took the fun out of the bargain hunt. Come to find out women actually like cutting the coupon, searching the newspaper for the biggest sale, it’s a tradition—And, it fuels our emotional connection with the shopping experience. I feel something when I get a great deal on a new outfit. Similarly, we must be careful doing away with things in the church just because we think they are unnecessary. The way people feel about their experience when they come through our doors is important. If church becomes a sterile, no-nonsense, get-in, get-out, environment, we risk losing the emotion that draws people to the experience. We have to know what people want. Do they really want a church that has eliminated the passion and excitement for the Word of God? I tend to think not. That has always been the allure of Pentecostalism. If we change this in an effort to be more ecumenically friendly we may find ourselves without distinction. We better make sure we know what people want from an Apostolic church.
2. The second mistake Time accuses Johnson of is not testing his ideas. This may seem simple enough, but we all need a testing ground. People who we can trust to run things by. We need people in our lives who will look us in the eye and won’t be afraid to tell us, “That idea STINKS!” However, it’s much simpler to surround ourselves with those who think just like us, those who never hurt our feelings. It’s hard as a younger person to submit my “brilliant” thoughts to my elders only to be told, “Yes, we tried that. It didn’t work.” But, those elders and mentors can save me time, energy and tears if only I allow them to be the testing ground in my life.
3. Thirdly, Johnson, “alienated core customers.” This is frightening. How could a business man look at the demographics and say, “I don’t care if I lose these specific group of people as customers.” Yet, this is essentially what Johnson did. What is frightening is the number our young minister peers who are leading congregations who can look out and say, “I know that if we change our stance on this issue, or let down holiness, we will lose some people.” Yet they continue, and chalk it up to the cost of “doing church” in the modern era. It won’t work. We cannot dismiss the core Apostolic doctrines and the precious saints who love them and expect God to bless our efforts. It won’t matter how creative we are or how innovative our services and programs become, if we lose our Apostolic identity then we lose our way.
4. Fourth, Time states that Johnson, “misread the JC Penney brand.” Johnson thought, “People would show up in stores because they were fun places to hang out.” But, you just can’t make JC Penney’s into a Starbucks. It just didn’t fit. In the same way, it is impossible to turn church into a cool coffee bar, a member’s-only fitness club or intellectual discussion group and get people to come hang out and be “saved” at the same time. Really, when you walk into Penney’s you want Penney’s. When you walk into church you want church! We can’t just reinvent ourselves into the non-church, church and accurately meet people’s expectations.
5. Finally, Time accuses that Johnson just “didn’t seem to like or respect JC Penney.” I think too many young leaders today are just embarrassed of our Apostolic heritage. They’ve come to believe that Oneness Apostolics, are mostly uneducated, blue-collar people, who are part of a movement that needs radical change to find its place in the Christian world. And, maybe we do have some outdated traditions, or areas that need tweaked. But, do we like who we are or are we embarrassed to be Apostolic. Have we entered into some quest for the cool factor that keeps pressing us to accommodate the world? Are we seeking the approval of Hollywood and the homosexual community while seeking to distance ourselves from those who practice holiness and the doctrine of separation?
Sure, we can innovate. We can make changes. But, what is our motive? Is it really to see revival? If we are not careful we will exchange the power of God and the move of the Spirit for the power of our own creativity. And, God will move on until He finds new leaders who are willing to go back to the basics.
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