What Can the Church Learn From IKEA?

By September 10, 2012Church, Leadership

I spent a couple hours in IKEA recently. If you’re not familiar, it’s a massive size store of home furnishings that has become extremely popular in the larger cities where they have one. It’s very European and draws you in quickly with well-displayed, reasonably priced merchandise. Not everyone loves the place, but it’s obvious many do.

I took Cheryl and she was a serious shopper. We recently moved to our new home in Lexington, KY and Cheryl hoped to find some things to make the home more livable. I was simply the chauffeur, but began to see something in IKEA of which I think the church can learn. So I began to ask…

What could the church learn from IKEA?

You see, one of our goals is the get people to move from visitors to regular attenders to committed, growing disciples. From the worship gathering to discipleship programs, to serving to giving of their time and resources, we want to see them involved in every program of the church. Ideally, we want to reach people who know nothing about our church and may not even be interested to express interest in our message.

IKEA has figured out how to expose people to everything they sell. They’ve learned how to captivate people into their products, from entrance of the store, to the exit. I’m not necessarily an advocate for their products, but as far as exposing people to everything they sell, they seem to have a working system.

Here’s how they seem to do it:

Initial buzz created – People drive for miles to get to the nearest IKEA. When we arrived, people were outside taking pictures of their arrival.

How can the church get people so excited about visiting, before they ever get to our buildings?

Make it easy on first timers – IKEA’s system is simple. You walk in the door, they hand you a bag. You grab a shopping cart. Go. They’ve got these map displays throughout the store, or they’ve got some mini maps you can carry with you.

How can the church make it incredibly simple for first timers when they visit? (And what churches are doing the best job with this?)

Keep you interested along the way – IKEA’s simple, well-laid out displays go throughout the store. As soon as you would start to get bored, there will be something you haven’t seen before, some creative display, some great price, that captures your attention.

How many times have you been frustrated because someone came to church, got initially excited, then fizzled before you really felt they were being discipled? How can we keep people interested, excited, engaged and motivated throughout the discipleship process?

Easy-to-follow – IKEA constantly gives you directions so you know you’re not lost. Every step along the way, they have arrows telling you which way to go next. They have signage telling you where you are. They have products arranged in an understandable way.

Does this describe your church? Do people know what the next steps are in discipleship? Can they easily find their place in your current systems and structure?

Good products – IKEA products aren’t the most expensive. Admittedly they are cheaper goods. Granted I’m not warranting or even suggesting their merchandise. I’m simply making a point. But, the fact is they have products people obviously want.

Be honest, are the programs of your church engaging? Are they presented in a way that people would want to participate? I’m not talking about changing a message. I’m talking about presenting a message in a way that draws people in and motivates them to be a part of it. IKEA has figured out how to do that with their products. How can the church do this better?

No pressure – Associates of IKEA wear bright yellow shirts. They are easy to find and there if you need help, but no one bugs you either. There is a no pressure, free look, yet no one should ever feel they can’t find help. There’s always someone nearby easily identifiable.

Over the years I’ve often wondered if the church could benefit from customer service training. We need to know how to engage visitors in a way that makes them feel welcome, without them feeling overwhelmed. Obviously, IKEA has thought through this process and does it well. How can we learn from them in this area of how they do business, which would help us in ministry?

Something for everyone – IKEA sells toys, bedding, food, tools, and furniture. Admittedly, not everything was for me, but there were things for me. I would guess most everyone could find an area of interest.

Considering the diverse backgrounds within the church, are we considering what works for people who aren’t like us? Are we reaching people with varying backgrounds?

Have you ever been to IKEA? What do you think?

What could the church learn from IKEA?

Help me think.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Mark Affleck says:

    Love all these great comments. The value for me in this article is less about the literal, specific comparisons and more about how it prompts leaders to challenge their most cherished assumptions.

  • […] post What Can the Church Learn From IKEA? appeared first on Ron Edmondson. In […]

  • I love IKEA. It is a fun and engaging shopping process. My husband and I often compare the local “mega church” in our city to IKEA – they do a great job in that particular style.

    I am thankful to God that some churches offer this customer-friendly approach to church – it reaches out to so many people who wouldn’t feel comfortable with anything less. However, I’m also a proponent of organic church, of messy community, of church that meets in a circle instead of rows. I think God can use both these extremes to minister to people at different stages in their spiritual walk. My husband and I are blogging about many of these ideas at churchinacircle.com, based on our experience leading a church of recovering heroin addicts and Jesus followers.

    Thanks for your blog and thoughts,


    • Hope says:

      I agree with Kathleen's views… In my mind, I think it would be like the difference between IKEA and a small, old-fashioned country market/deli/feed store. Those country stores and the "regulars" that gathered there were often more slower-paced than mega-stores, but the down to earth friendliness and helpfulness to others (whether they were neighbors or strangers just passing thru) was second to none! Community members of all ages shared advice and brainstormed ways to help each other there– whether it was to find a certain product someone needed, or someone needing hands-on assistance (often going to each others' houses or fields to help in the solution). It became a place people wanted to be, where they could help others but also receive help– much more about the people, than the style or programs offered by the store.

      I'm not sure I explained that just right, but hopefully it will make some sense! 🙂 Great thought-provoking blog AND comments!

  • Leeann Pope Cornett says:

    I would hope a church would connect the idea that IKEA is inclusive of everyone. All are welcome. They go out of their way to make themselves available to all kinds of shoppers, attending to all kinds of needs. Too many times visitors can leave a church not feeling welcome or feeling that a particular church is EXCLUSIVE, and they don't fit in. I knew a church in Atlanta that not-so-subtly let it be known they wanted members only from a certain zip codes! Another connection: IKEA is about making life livable. Isn't that the role of the church too? To make our faith livable? Breathable?

  • lanavaughan says:

    I like how it's quiet enough to hold a real conversation or to think through what you really need.

  • dutchriete says:

    I love Ikea. For many people here in the Netherlands going to Ikea is considered a day out with the family. There is an indoor supervised children's playground, a restaurant with good (and fun) food, and the lay out is very clever. No woman can leave the building before walking through the kitchen utensils department. It's "heaven" just before you are at the cash register. Very clever!!

    And people know when they come in what to expect. They know about the children's department (very important!), they know where the restaurant is and where to find the couch they want.

    Our buildings should be just as easy to navigate. And make sure people don't feel uneasy or left in the dark when they take part in the service (a small handout with "what it means what you see us do" would be nice) and make sure there are people around to answer any question they might have.

    You don't have to pull out all the bells during a service. Be who you are (that's what Ikea does too).
    In the end it comes down to the message you have (the product). You can't water that down but you can make it easier to get to.

  • Jackie says:

    I see it! I would add though, their product isn't perfect. We have bedroom furniture from Ikea. It is functional but when the dresser gets bumped the paint exposes the wood beneath. The living room carpet is great but has worn. I could use the word "cheap" but prefer functional. I don't worry about protecting it. It WORKS. And it looks good to others who are not there to pick apart the quality.
    My nearby Ikea (an hour drive and I do plan and go) has a San Francisco Bay view from the restaurant that is worthy of calling it a date.

    Twitter: eccle0412

    • ronedmondson says:

      Yea, I'm talking more about the process not the product. Our “product” as a church is flawless. We don't always present it that way.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  • I've only been to IKEA once, so I am no authority on this subject. However, my pastor recently wrote a blog post about the exact same thing! I'm including the link here.. http://centerpointchris.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/

  • Mindi W. says:

    Usually, I am with you 100% but not this time. I think that the church needs to be less like Ikea and more like a church. People come to church because other people make them welcome and want them there and help them navigate all of the ins and outs of church life. We have so lost touch with any sense of social responsibility in the church that becoming like Ikea has become our only hope of being welcome in one. I believe this is something to literally mourn over, so that we change, not somthing to circumnavigate, so that we can keep our selfish ways. Having said that, you're exactly right. Church should be easy to figure out, so easy that a child could understand it. Aside from God supernaturally intervening, we'll probably continue to be the same social slugs we have become.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I guess my question is…how does being more like a church look like? Ideally I see a one on one approach. If that's what you're saying I like it. I wonder though if we've gone too far. I guess I was thinking more in terms of people who don't even want anything to do with church today. How do we get them interested?
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  • Christophe says:

    I like how they put their products in a “real world” situation. It’s not just a bunch of different models put in a store but they make simulation of how a kitchen, living room, bath room, … could look like at your place.

    So they offer inspiration how to use their merchandise by showing examples.

    This is what church could/should do too by demonstrating through our lives and words how Jesus’ words are relevant and applicable for today in our daily lives for both believers and seekers.

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