From “Trader Joe’s Presbyterian” by Becca Messman. From The Presbyterian Outlook, May 27, 2014.
People have a lot to say about their favorite grocery stores. And why not? It’s the place that everyone goes once a week (or far more than that) to find food for their family. My favorite is Trader Joe’s, a quirky, small-by-design chain of grocery stores that is clearly not trying to be any of its competitors. And I have thought to myself on numerous occasions, “Church could learn a lot from Trader Joe’s. And if there were a Trader Joe’s Presbyterian, I think I would go there.”
Good at small. Trader Joe’s is fine with being small. That gives them in-roads into many locations were big stores couldn’t fit. They don’t sell everything, so if you are out of Diet Coke or jumbo packs of paper towels, you are out of luck there. But what you do find is very good. And there, you will never have to go to aisle 14 or choose from sixteen different types of peanut butter, because they don’t have them. They can do small and inexpensive because they stock their own brands. And they share enough samples (sometimes a visit to Trader Joe’s can even count as having dinner) that you try new things and find delight by tasting for goodness rather than by relying on name recognition or price as the primary drivers of a purchase. They don’t have PA systems, but use bells to communicate.
There are places where Presbyterian Churches can fit where megachurches do not. Small churches can be weak and vacant, or they can be a source of meaningful connection and community that is the primary hunger of our generation. I think the Presbyterian brand of theology is hard to find elsewhere. We are trying to be a church where there is substance, context, spiritual food that can feed someone for a lifetime, neither “intelligence on ice nor ignorance on fire.” There is nuance and scholarship. There are people leaving, but there are people coming as well. And we sure love our bells.