Who grew up going to the mall? I did! Shopping malls were a huge part of my childhood, teen years, college years and even adulthood. Every place I have ever lived has had a shopping mall of some sort. We went there to shop, of course, eat, hang out, go to the arcade to spend crazy amounts of quarters on games or just kill time because there was so much to do.
I still love going to a mall today. I love just being there. I love just walking around and checking out the shops, getting some food or sitting by a fountain (a mall has to have a fountain, is it a mall if it doesn’t have one?). It is something very nostalgic for me. Do you have something like this that is nostalgic for you?
I love going to malls so much that I have raised my boys going to the mall, whether it be black Friday shopping or on a road trip, or when we are visiting family and one is near. They love going to the mall as much as I do! I love sharing stories about malls I grew up near and what it was like to go to the mall during the Christmas shopping season.
I know you are asking why am I talking about malls so much? I am getting there. I promise. Just hang in there. In November I went to a weekend Conference in Columbus Ohio. I left a day early so I could go through my hometown of Cincinnati. I went and visited my old church (where I came to faith in Christ, was baptized and was called to full-time ministry). I went and saw my old school, the house I lived in, the park where I spent countless hours playing basketball and I went to my favorite, all-time number 1, shopping mall.
This place had a great mix of shops, places to eat and places to kill time. It had a great arcade, a ton of options when it came to food (the first place I ever got a Cinnabon cinnamon roll), all the places I liked to shop for clothes, CDs, sports memorabilia and toys. Plus it did have my all-time favorite mall fountain.
But, as I went in a noticed something very different. There were not that many people. There were not that many stores. The entire food court was completely shut down. There were entire halls completely void of shopping. I walked the entire thing front to back and side to side and passed about 6 people total. In my younger days if you went on an off night there would still be hundreds and hundreds of people there shopping, relaxing, eating and enjoying the atmosphere. They had even removed the fountain. Now it's just a little play place for kids.
What changed? How did this happen? I found a documentary online that dealt with this very subject. In the '70s and '80s, people loved the mall experience. Everything you could want in a single place. Take the whole family and everyone can shop where they want and eat where they want. What's not to like? Everyone liked the spectacle! You could also find stores there that weren't in other places. It was all very unique.
Something did change. It's called the internet. With its rise in the '80s and '90s in popularity, and the positioning in the 2000s where everyone was present online and then in the 2010s when it became where everything was done (especially with the advancement of the cellphone and the ease of use on the internet with it) shopping became less an event, less entertaining, less of a spectacle. We didn't need the malls anymore. You can find whatever it is you want online. No more need for big stores or big shopping malls.
In this documentary it showed how one mall in Cleveland, Ohio was abandoned after 25 years in existence, torn down and replaced by…you guessed it….an Amazon distribution center.
I love malls. I love going to them, hanging out in them, shopping in at them, and eating in their food courts. But life is changing. As more and more malls die off and get replaced by something else I will adjust. I already do quite a bit of shopping online (except for clothes, you gotta try stuff on) and I don’t have as much time to just hang out. I don’t need the spectacle anymore, have you met my family? That’s all the spectacle I need. So why am I saying all this?
The world as we know it is in the middle of a huge shift. After the quarantine is over it will still be a new culture we are moving into. A culture of recovery. People trying to get back to work. People trying to piece their lives back together. Families going to see families again. What will travel look like? How many shops and restaurants will remain after it is all said and done? Will we be even more of an online community than we already were?
Here is the big one for me. What will the church look like? Now, for those of you who know me, you know I don't mean our theatre where we used to Gather. I mean THE CHURCH. Will we be more about people than we have been, or will programs once more rule our time and attention. Will, we as individual members of the church body go back to a hectic, breakneck speed of life or will we embrace, long term, the pace that has been chosen for us amid this pandemic? Will we still work for bigger buildings and bigger crowds, flashier services and fancier tech? Or will we care more about discipling those in our own homes, our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends?
Will we care more about making disciples by sharing the gospel? Or will we go back to the idea that it’s the preacher's job to do the work of the Great Commission? Will we be ok when church buildings are turned in Amazon distribution centers if it means that the Church Body is growing and being discipled and making disciples that meet in homes, smaller venues (even smaller than our very own theatre)?
I am looking forward to gathering with my Grassroots family again one day, very soon I hope. As we move towards that allow me to offer up a few focal points. Church, we are all called to be disciple-makers! Let's be about that work. Husbands you are called to lead your wives and families in their knowledge and understanding of the gospel and God's Word. Let that start now if it hasn't! Parents, you have called to disciple the little ones (or big ones) that are in your homes now. Don't wait for the church buildings to open back up to see this accomplished.
You know what, I truly, sincerely hope we don’t go back to what we were doing before this hit. I pray we go back to what we were called to do a couple of thousand years ago when Jesus told us to go make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to teach them. Let's go back to that. Let's not worry about returning to the spectacle of the church service but returning to the spectacle of who Jesus is, what He called us to do and the power of the gospel.
The world is changing. I say, let's change with it. We don't change the gospel. That never changes. Let's change what we are doing. There is no better time to start. Side note. I still love going to the mall. I will continue to go when I can find one near me. If I only shop where I could find a mall I might not always have what I need. That’s why I go online. Because I changed. A little!