Staying Connected in a Changing Culture

By Jeffrey D. Burr

Last year Sears Holdings Corporation announced the closure of at least 226 stores. Sears had been a fixture in American culture throughout the 20th century. It was where my family went to buy nearly everything—including household supplies, toys, clothing, and appliances. My dad would often cite Craftsman tools’ lifetime guarantee as he would grab the socket set out of his toolbox. Yet despite this long-term stability and solid product line, Sears is now in steep decline and on the verge of bankruptcy.

A Cautionary Tale

Unpacking the demise of Sears is a complicated matter, but it is safe to say that the primary problem wasn’t the quality of its products. The shelves were filled with trusted brands like Craftsman, Kenmore, and Diehard. But over time, Sears lost touch with the American consumer. Richard W. Sears had been a leader in innovation when he and Alvah C. Roebuck launched the Sears catalog in 1888. It was a perfect fit for rural America during this time, before the advent of the automobile. Most consumers couldn’t travel to a big city, so the catalog allowed them to peruse and order a wide range of products from the comfort of their own homes. With the onset of a more mobile America, the Sears department store began replacing the catalog. The close of the 20th century would signal another major shift—the growth of the internet. But Sears was locked into the department store model and struggled to engage customers in the new online marketplace. A brick-and-mortar store could not compete with the endless virtual shelves of Amazon.

While it is not a favorable comparison, I can’t help but consider the similarities between Sears and our own historic fellowship of churches, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Like Sears, our fellowship experienced rapid growth during the early part of the 20th century. Like Sears, our fellowship has a solid product line with a strong and unwavering commitment to Biblical teaching. But like Sears, our fellowship has struggled to stay culturally connected.