In 1977, Roy Raymond founded a company called Victoria’s Secret. Today we all know Victoria’s Secret as a lingerie store that’s seemingly in every mall around the world. We’re all familiar with the pink shopping bags and tissue paper. But what may surprise you is that Victoria’s Secret was founded by a man.
Roy Raymond had two reasons for starting a lingerie store. First, every time he went to a department store like Macy’s or Dillard’s to buy lingerie for his wife he felt completely out of place. He was a man surrounded by racks full of strange garments. The sales ladies hesitated to help him. The female customers stared at him. The lingerie section of a department store was not the sort of place a man could feel at ease. So he wanted to start a store where everyone could feel comfortable buying lingerie and where the sales people were trained to help everyone.
Secondly, he felt that the lingerie sold at retail stores were dowdy, drab, frumpy, and down right ugly. This was back in the 1970’s when most women bought underwear packaged in 3-packs and comfort was more important than looks. After all, who’s going to see your underwear? But Mr. Raymond thought lingerie should be sexy, alluring, fun, and colorful as well as comfortable. Of course, there were shops that sold these kinds of ladies underwear but they were sleazy places. The idea behind Victoria’s Secret was to be sexy yet classy. To be provocative, yet accessible.
Since the founding of Victoria’s Secret, the whole culture’s views on women’s clothing, women’s fashion, and women’s psyche when it comes to what they wear has changed. We’ve gone from drab, colorless, “unmentionables” to sexy being the norm. Now there are other stores vying to be Victoria’s Secret clones (Gilly Hicks, Blackheart, Aerie, etc.).
I write all this not as a condemnation of Victoria’s Secret or the lingerie industry. I’m not condemning our culture. In fact, there’s a lot to like about Victoria’s Secret and its business philosophy. Why alienate a whole group of potential customers when you can make them feel welcomed? I think there’s a lot the church can learn from Victoria’s Secret.
At the time Mr. Raymond started Victoria’s Secret, there was no attempt to make men feel welcomed in the lingerie section of department stores. These places weren’t inviting. Quite the opposite, men felt that they were strange, unfamiliar, and even hostile places. Our churches can feel like strange, unfamiliar, and even hostile places. And I’m not talking about being strange places to people who aren’t Christian. I’m talking about being strange places to Christians from other churches. I recently spoke to a man who came to our church for the first time. Turns out this gentleman has been a lifelong Christian. But he said our church was so different from what he had experienced in his Christian life that he can’t see himself here long term.
We have to admit that our churches (no matter what church you’re currently at) may seem very foreign to people who aren’t regular church goers. They aren’t familiar with all of our traditions, norms, and lingo. Those who are Christians may be able to adapt going from church to church as things will be somewhat familiar. But for those who aren’t Christians, church is often a very alien and even hostile place. Our usual response is that newbies should learn to adapt to US and that we shouldn’t have to change for THEM. This was the attitude of the department stores towards Mr. Raymond. They were saying, “Hey, MISTER… you’re in OUR world now. So either you buy something or get out. We’re not going to change just for YOU.”
I think we need to reflect on our churches and ask ourselves are we welcoming? Friendly? Inviting? Hospitable? Warm? Engaging? We all want to change the world for the better through sharing the Gospel. But if we can’t even make people feel at ease with us, then how can we expect to earn the right to enter into their lives?
The second thing Mr. Raymond and Victoria’s Secret did really well was change the culture’s beliefs about women’s underwear. The church has to reflect on how well it is doing changing the culture’s beliefs about God. In our culture, God is either 1) non-existent, 2) a fuzzy warm Santa type who wants to give his children everything, or 3) a cosmic judge who doesn’t want anyone to live their lives the way they see fit. These are all gross distortions of God. The Church is the body of Christ, the people of God, and the herald of God’s truths. The question for us is how do we begin to change the culture’s beliefs about God while still being welcoming, inviting, friendly, engaging, etc.
I think we need to consider what Roy Raymond did with Victoria’s Secret. His basic idea applies to the church. Take something foreign and make it accessible. And at the same time, change how people believe by believing strongly in it yourself.