Well, my post on booksellers has gone Stateside (you can see where here) - which is a first for me! More than that, it's provoked the 'explain what you have in mind' question. So, here's a very unrefined first stab to get the conversation going...
It seems to me that if there are lots of people on our high streets - and judging by my shopping trip today, there are, despite the recession - then we need to create spaces where we can engage with them without taking them off those high streets and into an alien space, seemingly miles away.
So we need a retail space that is open, inviting, familiar and welcoming. I think the space needs to do coffee and snacks. The food needs to be fair trade, creatively done and competitively priced. We're not talking local church cake stall here.
We need a good range of Christian and other literature, including magazines - and space for people to browse, sit and read. Think Borders.
I'd like to see a gallery space downstairs with art being exhibited by local artists. I spoke to a guy last night while I was Street Pastoring who said there was a chronic shortage of space for artists to exhibit in across South London.
There needs to be free wi-fi and a number of spare laptops for those without machines to use. Wi-fi access could be granted to anyone who buys a beverage or food.
I'd also like to see a group of people on hand to assist those who come in to ensure they get what they need. The Apple Shops are good at this. People in different coloured tee shirts making sure that visitors have product explained to them, etc. One of the things that could be offered is a book ordering and advice service with a guarantee that we'll get anything in print within a week - unless it has to come from overseas - and we'll not restrict ourselves to Christian stock.
And then we need groups to be using the space, people exploring the Christian faith in various ways that are open and accessible to anyone who comes in. Perhaps an artist explaining her work, groups talking through local issues or world news, an alpha or Essence course, Christianity Explored - whatever local churches wanted to organise. The idea is that such groups would happen in space that lots of people who don't go to church would feel more comfortable in.
And we'd need regular cafe church-style happenings, lasting thirty minutes or so which anyone in the store at the time was invited to join in with.
Someone made a comment about Wesley Owen stores not being the most riveting places on the High Street. point taken. This space needs to be quirky, interesting, creative, well-designed and genuinely welcoming to all-comers. This might mean very carefully vetting which local church members you allow in!!
Anyway, this is off-the-top of my head, based on a wish and some experience of places like the Departure Cafe in Limehouse and a cafe I went to once went to in Deptford that had good food and an art space for a while.
It would require a deal of investment from people willing to see it as mission rather than a pure profit generator. And it would need a pool of committed, competent and trained volunteers from local churches, as well as people with experience in retailing and hospitality to come on board.
It's a tall order to do it well. But God's mission is worth stretching for, isn't it?