News about the dying United States Post Service (USPS) has spread far and wide the past many months, as it attempts to eliminate an ever-increasing multi-billion dollar deficit. Last year it lost $8.5 billion and this next year it is projected to lose $14.5 billion. Any texting teen could tell you why the post office is going to be limited in its future growth potential. The most lucrative revenue stream the USPS has going right now is from junk mail and, like its virtual cousin, spam, they will continue to grow, but it won’t be enough to close the budget gap.
There is no shortage of ideas on how to help the USPS. From reducing the number of mail delivery days, to closing post offices and processing centers, to having mail take longer to arrive, Patrick Donahoe, the current postmaster general, has his work cut out for him.
This is a major opportunity for churches. By their own admission, the USPS says the last mile is one of the most expensive parts of mail delivery. From vehicles (gas, maintenance) and personell (salary, health care, taxes, pensions, etc.), much of the cost to deliver mail is in the last leg of the trip for that letter from granny or the Victoria’s Secret catalog (never confuse the two).
Here’s where churches come in.
Imagine an association of churches—or denomination(s)—who would partner together with the USPS to function as a local post office. No other organization in the U.S. has as many locations as churches do. Larger churches could function as processing centers. Any church could serve as the delivery center and mobilize volunteers to deliver mail, and provide a pickup service for the times when packages require special attention. Churches could offer this seven days a week and on holidays, especially Christmas and Easter.
It would be a great way for churches to actually meet their neighbors (something far too many church struggle with, ironically). No proselytizing or manipulating or passing out church flyers at the same time. No throwing away mail that seems inappropriate to deliver. This is about being the church by serving the community, loving church neighbors, and facilitating communication. Talk about great marketing! Imagine the opportunities for conversation that would come about if our churches were face-to-face with the community every day? Don’t believe me? Ask your local postman/postwoman and tell me if they don’t have strong ties to the neighborhood.
Many will attempt to make a case for separation of church and state. There is no other official function happening here aside from administrative, much like churches who already serve as official voting centers during election years.
I do think there could be some sort of revenue share with churches who become an official USPS mail center. Perhaps churches could receive these funds and distribute them how they see fit (salary for the full time mail administrator(s), mileage reimbursement, food for volunteers, facilities, etc.). The USPS would continue to be the “mail police” and hold churches to specific standards, certification, training, etc.
Walmart, Costco, Office Depot and other big box retailers are already positioning themselves much the same way I am suggesting above, sans local delivery. Now is the time for churches to pursue this possibility.
No, I am not joking. Yes, I realize this is a pretty big leap and it would require major thought and leadership.