So I was watching the Apple Event a few weeks ago and I wondered if the church could learn a trick or two from Apple’s new approach to its retail stores. I’ve put my thoughts below.
First off, in Apple’s own words their retail stores will now be called town squares, an idea that’s been roundly slated by many online pundits. Not sure what they hate the most, Apple or the idea of it attempting to inject itself into the heart of the community – after all the company sells overpriced phones and watches and is all about profit; and so calling its stores town squares seems a bit pretentious.
Whatever your view though I think the church (which used to be at the centre of the community in the UK at least) could learn a thing or two: Scroll down the page to view the video excerpt from the Apple event if you’d rather do that.
The gathering space concept
The challenge is to think of our church buildings as gathering spaces open to the public outside of Sundays. Far too many of our buildings are ‘Sunday only’ Many occupy prime spots in the town centres but are hardly gathering spaces for the community. That position seems to have been taken over by shopping centres, and with respect to men, betting shops. You probably expected me to mention pubs too but in my area at least – Custom House, Canning Town, Canary Wharf – most local pubs have closed down to make way for new, overpriced apartment buildings. An opportunity for the church if ever there was one.
Simplicity and beauty
Another aspect of the Apple’s town square concept is the idea of informal spaces with an emphasis on simplicity and beauty with space for wandering. Personally I feel our churches, especially the older ones are far too cluttered with artifacts that no longer make sense to a modern world. Perhaps the artifacts need to be removed or explained better – why do older churches have gargoyles and grotesques for instance? Something to do with Harry Potter?
I find many churches dark, cold and unwelcoming. One thing the Apple town square buildings do well is using large windows that allow light in.
Think light, airy, spacey, bright colours. Yes colour! Our churches are way too dull looking. Put in colourful banners, and paintings if you’re reluctant to add paint those ancient grey stone walls. And let some light in please!
New Apple squares are now promoted as places where people can relax and meet up with friends, listen to a local artist etc. with zero pressure to buy anything. I quite like the idea of people in the community saying things like ‘Lets meet at the church on Tuesday for coffee and a chat’ or a ‘knit and natter’ or ‘Let’s go listen to some acoustic guitar on a Friday night in church. Happy days! As things stand the church has very little share of mind in people’s minds when it comes to choosing a gathering place.
Basically sections in the town square where the community can come to learn more from the Apple team or from one another. Not sure why Apple calls these quiet spaces but I guess it’s because these meetings are removed from the main shop floor. The concept is that of delivering knowledge in short, enjoyable ways. This got me thinking. How about our churches hosting quick ten to fifteen minute demonstrations of healthy cooking? Or a ten minute talk on communication in marriage? The ideas we can come up with are endless.
Short bite sized talks in enjoyable and pleasant surroundings is the way to go with ‘Quiet Spaces’
Product display walls to showcase Apple’s new products and services – iPhones, iPads, Watch etc. Well, what did you expect! Behind the fuzzy town square name is a selling machine. Of course churches aren’t selling machines, at least not in that sense. But it got me thinking – what can our church display? Stations of the cross? Stunning calligraphy illustrating a Christian truth? What do you think?
Today at Apple
These are sessions where customers are taught how to go even further with their devices and covers things like photography, music, gaming and more. All sessions are led by ‘Creative Pros’ (the word is no longer ‘shop assistant’) Apple describes a unique approach where teaching is really fun and social with some of the teaching taking place out in the community. So many ideas to take from this approach. What can the church do working with the local library, school or GP’s surgery? The possibilities are endless. Remember – it’s ‘no agenda’, we just want to serve our community.
You can watch the Apple Event segment on Town Squares here