I finally broke down and visited the newest, biggest, slickest Giant Eagle of them all–so big that they have to call it a “Market District’ rather than a grocery store. I felt obliged since it’s right down the street from me. There were people from all over Greater Columbus in
there—no more just the local crowd that used to frequent the former, puny Giant Eagle. The parking lot was packed even though it was 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night and already days past the grand opening.
The place was alive with buzz. There were pricey, exotic food products that one in five hundred people might be looking for, like air-dried sides of beef in a special glass locker and brussel sprouts still on the stem. Little booths and kiosks made caramel apples while you waited, or grilled steak or cooked pizzas.
At first glance everything was so…perfect. Even more importantly, it conformed to the American expectation of big. I must confess that I was entertained. Wowed. But after ten minutes or so, my sense of awe subsided. Some of the lettuce in the salad bar was brown. The humus sitting in the tubs looked dry from having sat there all day. And the fried foods–I would have chosen Rooster’s or Cane’s any day over what I saw there. I had been so impressed with the ingenuity of an in-house cafe that I hadn’t noticed how much it resembled the public school lunch room I had eaten in as a kid–trays, tables, etc.
All of this, yet people swarmed the place. What was it? Maybe it was the marketing magic of something big and new that made people overlook the obvious, which was, “Dude, you’re having dinner out at a grocery store!” or, “Congratulations, you just went a hundred dollars over budget, buying stuff like canned blue crab meat and chocolate-drizzled toffee in designer bags.” Maybe folks were drawn because of the allure of finding everything they could ever need under one roof.
All I really needed, though, was a couple of small things, normal necessities that seemed lost amid the store’s obsession with size and eclectic items. I almost didn’t find them. We did get a pizza that night, but not from the in-store guy who was preparing something that looked like flattened hats with melted cheese on top. We went a few miles down the street to a tiny shop where I knew it tasted good–and was cheap.
The whole experience reminded me that as the pastor of a small church plant, I shouldn’t covet big stuff too much. Otherwise I might be tempted to pour on a bunch of artificial growth stimulants and get a Market District church, complete with tubs of institutional religion. My church might grow and mutate into some kind of uber-religious mall, where celebrity Christians, life skills classes, and ski-trip missions predominate, while Jesus and His bareknuckle truth occupy an obscure shelf on aisle 37. In speaking of the church in Jerusalem, James told Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews who have believed and they are all are zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). That large church had become a place known for its enthusiasm over the religious culture of the day, and not much for the grace of the carpenter-become-Lord of the universe, Jesus of Nazareth. That’s a shame, because He is what makes the church the church.
So that was my education for the night, courtesy of Giant Eagle. I’m not saying I won’t go back. There’s no telling when I might need banana roots or hot lobster bisque. Who knows? I might get seized with a desire to eat in the lunch room there. So, Giant Eagle itself is immaterial. My bottom line takeaway is I want my church to grow. But I want our chief product front and center.