Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On Walmart, Starbucks and Methodism That Transforms?

There was an interesting blog ( entitled "Methodism That Transforms" on the United Methodist Church and its position in the communities of today. It started out comparing Walmart (4000 stores) and Starbucks (5000 stores) with that of the UMC (35000 congregations), and then goes on to relate the differences in terms of influence and recognition in the communities it served. Clearly, the writer was bemoaning the situation where places like Walmart and Starbucks are becoming more influential then the Methodist Church, calling out for a 'Methodism that Transforms'. Following that, another blogger did a comparison of the Christian and commercial enterprises, and also bemoaned the differences in influences.

Comparing US Congregations vs US Commercial Enterprises
Christian Congregations
ELCA - 10,000 congregations
PCUSA - 11,000 congregations
UMC - 35,000 congregations
Total: 56,000 worshiping congregations

Commercial Enterprises
Target - 1100 stores
K-Mart - 1100 stores
Wal-Mart - 4000 stores
Total: 6200 retail stores

Comparing Singapore Methodist Congregations vs NTUC Fairprice
For me, such comparison should wake up the complacency of the Church at least, though technically we are not comparing apples to apples. For sheer fun, I did a similar comparison on the web on the situation in Singapore, comparing NTUC stores with the Methodist congregations and came up with the following:

19 CAC + 7 ETAC + 22 TRAC = 48 congregations (approximately)
NTUC Fairprice = more than 100 stores island wide with about 450,000 members

It would appear that the argument for Singapore statistically will not be similar compared to that of the United Methodist Church. However, if we were to take the census of 13% Christians out of a population of 3.5 million, that will be about 455000 professing Christians in the whole island of Singapore, which is about the same number as the total number of NTUC members (of which many I suppose are professing Christians as well). Now comes the hard question. Who has a bigger influence? Is it the Christian Church or the NTUC Fairprice?

The writer for WesleyBlog seemed burdened with the institutional UMC. Everyone knows Walmart and Starbucks, and many will readily pay them a visit for their cheap goods or that cup of latte. Who would think of the UMC Church when they feel a need to attend Church? For that matter, many in Singapore recognizes NTUC as the place to buy their groceries. How many think of the Methodist Church when they feel they needed something beyond consumerism? Maybe that is the wrong question to ask in the first place. Afterall, they are different, somewhat.

I am wary of making such comparisons as it will simply position the Church in terms of consumeristic tendencies. The Church is not something to meet our consumption requirements. The Church should be the place to help us worship God, and to push one another towards living a holy life, and in doing so to provide a living testimony for God. Having said that, it is good to take a pause in our Church lives, to take stock of ourselves and re-evaluate our witness in the community we live in. In peace time and secular prosperity, people will be nonchalant about spiritual things. We need to be prepared at all times for calamity, for sudden events that can devastate lives like the tsunami, acts of terrorism, SARS, mass epidemics etc. The Church must continue to be united and meet together to encourage one another unto love and good deeds. Build up this relationship within ourselves, among our neighbours, expecting that THAT DAY WILL COME, when the Church will be the only place where people will seek shelter and comfort in the storms of life. THAT DAY WILL COME, where Starbucks, Walmart, NTUC Fairprice will simply fade away into irrelevance. The fact that we do not know WHEN that day will come, should in itself motivate us to live holy lives and meaningful relationships with people.

We are mortal beings. Which dying person will regret not spending more time in Starbucks or NTUC Fairprice or Walmart? Safe to say that most, if not all dying persons will regret not spending more time with people, especially their loved ones and their friends. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, remember the parable of the virgins? (Matthew 25:1-13).

Always be ready.


No comments:

Latest Posts