How an outlet store is helping one Michigan church support itself and its community.
Near the front of the Benefit Twice Outlet Store in Wyoming, Michigan, two women are engaged in an emotional conversation. One of them is visibly upset, sharing difficult news with a friend who begins to cry with empathy. A third woman—a regular customer at Benefit Twice—observes this interaction from across the store and approaches Rob Holland, the licensee owner and the planting pastor of Lifeline Community Church.
“God’s telling me that she needs to know that she’s going to be okay,” the shopper tells Holland, hoping he’ll convey the message. But instead, Holland encourages the customer to share her impression directly with the distraught woman. So she does.
“I don’t know what you’re going through, but God has you, and it’s going to be okay,” the customer says to the distraught woman and then offers to pray. All three women huddle together, and the woman in crisis receives an outpouring of Christ’s love from a perfect stranger.
This story is not unique, Holland says. His Benefit Twice location isn’t just a place for retail—it’s a place for mission.
Benefit Twice (B2) Outlet Stores are the faith-based initiative of former RCA youth pastor Duane Smith and his son Matt, the duo who also founded Bid-2-Benefit-Youth, B2’s parent organization dedicated to empowering youth. In fact, 75 percent of B2 stores’ workforce is between ages 15 and 25; the Smiths see these jobs as opportunities to mentor young people and help them discover God’s purpose in their lives.
The concept is simple: B2 stores purchase brand new, unsold merchandise from big box stores, offer it at a significant discount, then donate more than half of the profits to local nonprofits and organizations. That’s where the name Benefit Twice originates—communities served by B2 stores benefit once by having access to quality merchandise at reduced prices, then benefit twice when local organizations receive funding.
“[Customers] are thrilled to find out that everything is brand new, they think the prices are outstanding, and when they find out that each store gives a minimum of 51 percent to support ministries and nonprofits in their community, they love that story,” shares Holland. Whether they come to his church or not, customers feel like they’re partnering with him to better their community.
But customers do come to Holland’s church. Many shoppers who hadn’t set foot in a church recently—or ever—are now active participants in the worshiping life of Lifeline. The store is a non-threatening space for Holland and other church members to make contact with people in their community. Holland is trivocational, splitting his time between pastoring Lifeline, operating his Benefit Twice store, and serving as a firefighter. His church office is at the store, giving him the opportunity to connect pastorally with his customers. Customers who wouldn’t otherwise show up for a worship service are more inclined to receive an invitation because of trust built by the store.
And yet the missional impact of this B2 location isn’t limited to relationships with patrons. Holland and his wife, Emily, became licensee owners of their store in June 2017, their church plant having recently been “adopted” by Zion Reformed and Hager Park Reformed Churches in West Michigan. They were motivated to take on a B2 store by a desire for Lifeline to be self-sustaining and multiplication-minded in every way.
Before the store celebrated its first birthday, it was generating enough income to cover more than half of Lifeline’s annual budget. The congregation will be able to organize within a year—a milestone acceleration most church plants could only dream of. Now they’re helping another church plant get off the ground, utilizing their Benefit Twice income to parent Comunidad Cristiana Internacional, a Spanish-speaking plant that shares Lifeline’s space and has plans to start worship services this fall.
Lifeline’s partnership with Benefit Twice has been transformative for its ministry on nearly every level, giving the congregation a unique evangelistic entry point into the lives in their community along with the funding to follow through with discipleship. For Holland, “When they hear the good news on top of the great deal, that’s a home run.”