Trader Joe's

The Church of Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s has come to Greenville – it’s a “speciality grocery store” chain that has about 4,000 items (typical grocery stores have 50,000.) Most items bear the “Trader Joe’s” label and with each trip you’ll find something cool, unique and tasty. (I “cooked” my first Thanksgiving meal last year for my family with their frozen foods!)

During one visit I noticed all the signs in the store were absolutely bright, beautiful and amazing. I was a graphic arts major for a year in college and appreciate this sort of thing. Upon closer inspection I noticed these signs were hand painted.

Thinking they were probably shipped in from some corporate office, I asked the cashier “who makes your signs?”

“Oh, we have three full time artists who make them” she said, quite proudly (all Trader Joe’s employees seem quite proud of their store.)

No kidding. The local Greenville store employs three full time local artists just for… the local Greenville store.

Yet another light has been shed on the skimpy job the Church is doing.

Used to be, the Church was the Patron of the Arts. These days, most church music directors are (I’ll bet – take the poll) either volunteer or part time.  And not surprisingly, the Church is known for lousy, karaoke music. Talent has fled to secular music in New York, LA or Nashville because serious musicians want to make a living doing music. They’re even fleeing Christian music – I can think of one big-time Christian musician who has toured with nearly every famous artist and got tired of not being able to pay the rent.

Then there was the denominational worship conference I attended where the leader bemoaned to the audience about how church attendance is in steep decline. Later he showed a chart of allocated funds and worship was at the bottom of the list. Evidently he didn’t put the two together – churches with little or no music budget are declining in a culture that lives and breathes media and music.

For those reading this who turn their noses up at lighting, sound and other professional accoutrements, let me transport you back in time a few hundred years ago to the debate that raged over the inclusion of the radical technological marvel called “the pipe organ.”

Then I can think of one of the most booming churches in the country who pays each member of their band $200 every weekend, has several full time music staff members, several part time and several interns. And this church started in somebody’s living room about ten years ago.

As attendance declines and churches who eschew standards inevitably shut their doors, the churches who put their money where their music and media are will slowly rise up and fill the gap. Maybe good musicians might actually start moving back home from major cities to work in ministries. Talented college kids might consider a church music career instead of seeking fame and fortune.

Until then, Trader Joe’s and other companies like them will have to fill the Church’s role of Patron of the Arts.

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