For many years the slogan of RadioShack was, “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.” This consultant mentality is one that is rampant in our society. The idea that if you are in a place of unknowing or have questions, you should seek out an expert to give you the answers. As you may know, RadioShack is a shell of the company that it once was. I remember going to the Shack on a monthly pilgrimage to get my free battery as a child. They were also a Mecca for people who wanted to do any type of simple electronics projects So, if they have the answers, why are they failing? One reason is obviously the fact that superstores and the internet have changed the landscape of electronics sales. You also may have suffered through some of their answers. In the mid-eighties and nineties RadioShack became synonymous with cheap and junky products. In fact they became a punch line to many jokes.
So how does a company that once was an authority, become a joke? The need to adapt in the midst of a changing market is one aspect of their downfall. With open trade and the proliferation of cheap electronics flooding the market, the company needed to make deep changes to their business model. Yet, even when they attempted to change, they found themselves behind the curve each step of the way.
I also think that perhaps their slogan gives us insight into part of their downfall. You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers, is not a model of being that post-baby boom generations identify with. While often bemoaned as being unmotivated and lackadaisical, they are in fact, a generation of explorers. Seeking out the answers for yourself is a post-modern ideal. Asking an expert for their answer is not as appealing as trying to discover the answer. The modern idea of asking the expert for their answer is in many ways comforting. If you don’t know what to do ask and get the solution. One problem with that mentality is the fact that we often find the so called “experts” fail to provide the right answers. It also falls short when new questions arise. In those times far too often the experts decide to retread old answers, rather than develop new ones.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many lessons and truths that can be found in the answers of prior generations. We would be foolish to not learn from the mistakes and lessons of the past. Perhaps if RadioShack had asked themselves, “where did we find our first success?” they would have realized that the niche market they had in ham radio products started their success and they needed to find a new niche need to meet.
Now I will admit that I’m not a multinational corporate expert. My synopsis of RadioShack’s fall from the top is simplistic and misses many details. Yet, I think there is a great lesson for the church to learn in the midst of their story. As I develop a deeper understanding of coaching, I have become even more invested in the belief that the Church is not here to give the answers all the time. More times than not we are being called to partner with people on their path of discovery of answers. This mentality is one that is foreign to prior generations. Pastors as resident theologian and purveyor of answers is one that is rampant. Yet, we have also seen time and time again how the broken nature of human beings has let those “experts” to lead people astray.
I didn’t realize how much the practice of coaching was already part of my pastoral model. I have never felt it was my place to be the one to say, “You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers.” My mantra has always been more like, “You’ve got questions, let’s journey together to discover answers.” This is always rooted in the fact that I believe that God speaks truth through Scripture and tradition. Yet, I also believe that every believer must use those truths to answer their unique questions. That is what makes the Christian Faith powerful.
So, is the Church like RadioShack? Are we going to have to start figuring out what stores we will close in order to keep our brand alive, or are we willing and able to change our model to be responsive to the needs of today’s generations? Are we willing to hold fast to the truth of the Gospel while getting out of the way of it, so that individuals might find out how it applies to their lives? The funny thing is that it’s not all that different than what St. Augustine was encouraging in his ideal of “Faith Seeking Understanding.”