December retail sales were up 0.6 percent for the month—slightly lower than pre-report expectations but triple November's monthly increase. If we exclude autos, sales only increased by 0.2 percent.
Without auto and gasoline sales, the month-to-month change in retail sales was 0.0 percent. In other words, retail sales during the critical Christmas season were flat, except for auto and gasoline sales.
A new retail landscape is emerging as consumer purchasing patterns change. The December retail report exemplifies many of these changes. By type of business, the month-to-month change in sales were: electronics and appliance stores (-3.7 percent); sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (-2.1 percent); general merchandise stores (-1.9 percent) and department stores (-7.6 percent).
In contrast, December sales for non-store retailers increased 12.8 percent. Consumers are making an increasing proportion of their purchases via the internet. Main Street is changing and will continue to change.
Many retail chains are closing stores. Some of the announced store closings include: Office Depot/Office Max (400), Men's Warehouse (250), the Children's Place (200), Walgreen's (200), Aeropostale (154), American Eagle (150), Finish Line (150), Sears/Kmart (150) and Macy's (100). In addition, Hancock Fabrics, Sports Authority and The Limited will be closing all stores (more than 500 in total). When structural changes occur in consumer purchasing patterns, decisions need to be made quickly or survival can be threatened.
Some analysts believe Sears will not survive. Sears has less than half the number of stores it had in 2010, is losing more than $1 billion per year and is heavily in debt.
Consumers complain that many of the remaining stores are poorly stocked, have too few employees and have poor customer service. Many believe that Sears should have closed more stores earlier. Specifically, enough stores should have been closed to free resources to maintain excellence and quality in the remaining stores. Tough decisions should be made early to conserve resources.
Our churches will also face tough choices. Program changes can be difficult and have far-reaching impacts. Personnel decisions can be complex and, if not handled correctly, can impact the spiritual lives of many. But failure to make the tough choices, when needed, can limit the growth and even viability of our church. Churches are designed to make multigenerational impacts. Failure to address issues when they need to be addressed is a critical mistake.
Following a structured decision-making process will result in better better-decision making. The following steps should prove helpful:
- Prayerfully identify the problem. Separate the symptoms from the problem. Low attendance is a symptom. The problem could be praise and worship, the sermon, physical facilities, location, service times, childcare, the children's program, an unfriendly church culture, failure to minister to needs and/or many other issues.
- Gather information. Do a little informal or formal research. Recognize that people's perceptions and judgment can be wrong. Make sure you solicit information from all stakeholders.
- Identify alternatives that could address the problem. Have fun coming up with alternatives. Don't eliminate anything at this point.
- Evaluate the alternatives. List the pros and cons. If the issue is multidimensional, score each alternative on each dimension.
- Prayerfully select the best alternative. Pray until you have a sure answer, especially decisions that will be controversial or involve a long-term commitment.
- Prayerfully implement the decision. Be sure to communicate your decision and the reasons for it to all.
- Evaluate the decision. Learn from your decision-making: What worked and why. What didn't work and why.
Scriptures are filled with Kingdom decision-making. Jesus prayed all night before selecting his apostles. David sought the Lord at Ziklag when his family had been captured; then he went after the Amalekites. While the church at Antioch was praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit directed them to set apart and send Saul and Barnabas for the work.
Kingdom decision-making involves the Lord's decision, the Lord's timing and our commitment to fully implement His will in love, boldness and patience.
Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics and undergraduate chair of the College of Business at Oral Roberts University.
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