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What Companies & Churches Can Learn From Target

In 2014 amidst disruption within the company, Target realized it needed to make some changes. Our podcast guest Nathan Artt, the Principal and Founder of Ministry Solutions and author of the new ebook Target Corp and the Flexible Church, realized that churches had much to learn from Target’s former situation.

In this episode, he’ll talk with us about those major changes along with why Target saw the need to make them and what all leaders can learn from it.


Here are some takeaways he shared:


1. We're too often married to our models more than our mission.

Historically, we equated physical presence with meaningful relationships, but younger generations find connections online. The attractional church model, focused on drawing people into a physical space, is outdated. People now seek relationships and safe spaces, not just events.

Churches often misstep by merely replicating in-person experiences online, and in doing so, they lose the essence of engagement. Digital platforms should offer safety and control, meeting people where they are. 

Retailers like Target and Home Depot succeeded by creating relevant digital content, not just extending their in-store experience online. Churches can learn from this approach by focusing on relevance over convenience.

Churches need to look at existing models, like they did a few decades ago, and ask, “Is this the best way to reach people?” If you can separate your model and your mission, you can do a better job of meeting people where they are.


2. The digital experience doesn't take away from an in-person experience.

The most successful retailers have realized the digital experience only makes people want to go to the store more. It isn’t a substitute; it’s a complimentary experience.

Similarly, churches should ask not how to make services more convenient for regular attendees, but how to become relevant to those who don’t currently attend. This means creating digital content that meets people’s needs and concerns—such as online support groups—and engaging social media content or virtual community events.

Remember, the question isn’t how do we get the people who already shop at our store to have a more convenient experience. The question is how do we become relevant to the people who don’t shop at our stores?


3. In order to be relevant, you have to stop caring when and where the customer makes their purchase.

It’s important to understand the difference between convenience and relevance. Relevance is about tapping into existing human behavior, not trying to change or create it. 

Your goal should be to meet them where they are. That’s why Sears and JCPenney lost business while places like Target and Home Depot thrived. Provide access to them through many different channels.


It’s clear churches should reassess their models and separate them from their mission to better reach people and utilize digital experiences to complement and enhance in-person engagement, much like successful retailers do. 

The goal is to remain relevant and impactful, both online and offline, by fostering connections and addressing the needs of those not currently involved.

Now, let’s take things a step further. Consider these questions:

How does a business or church model affect their mission?

How are the digital and in-person experiences connected at your business?

What are some of your takeaways from Target’s example of pivoting, and how can you apply those to your company?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your current digital experience?

Don’t miss Nathan’s bonus episode, and to take things a step forward, download Nathan’s eBook Target Corp & The Flexible Church.