The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!

In the space of just a few weeks, I’ve witnessed two shoplifting dramas in my local Co-op.

One time, a guy strolled in, less-than-subtly tucked an £11 bottle of red into his cardigan, then strolled out. The other was even more brazen. Three young women began filling bags with steak and fish, then proceeded to shout at the two staff members who had the audacity to ask them to stop.

I’m only in this shop for about 17 of the 6,300 minutes it’s open each week. If I’ve seen two incidents in a few weeks… I’ll let you do the maths. And what’s more, this is in a nice town-cum-village in Cambridgeshire; not exactly an inner-city hotspot. Shoplifting is clearly a big issue!

Impressed by the bravery and calmness of the staff members I’ve witnessed, I wondered what it’s like for them. I let my wondering get the better of me, and interviewed Jim, the store manager.

As we chatted on swivel chairs in the office out the back, a word Jim used a lot was ‘powerless’.

‘The Co-op’s policy means we will not touch and we will not stand in the way of a shoplifter. You can call the police, but on the police’s list of priorities, we’re right at the bottom. There’s no deterrent, basically.’

This policy keeps staff safe, but the incessant theft and abuse is not without effect. ‘You’re completely powerless, you feel helpless… It can make you feel quite low at work.’

While it’s unlikely you, one of our dear readers, need to heed Paul’s call to ‘steal no longer’ (Ephesians 4:28), what might it look like for us to ‘be imitators of God… and live a life of love’ in our local shops (Ephesians 5:1–2)?

On the whole, the people who work in shops want to do a good job and often face challenges we might not be aware of. Jim says the one thing we can all do is be kind. Maybe that sounds bland – lame even. But for someone who’s been on their feet all day, frustrated and hurt by constant theft and abuse, a smiling face and a happy conversation are like warm sunbeams on a chilly day.

And maybe, in addition, God’s calling you to do something creative and just through your work whether that’s in policing, politics, social work, journalism, or simply as a member of your local community. Ask him!

Let’s not wring our hands. Let’s put them together in prayer and act.

Joe Warton
Joe is a coach, researcher, and writer with a particular interest in discipleship. Find him on LinkedIn or email [email protected]


  1. I wholeheartedly agree. In my many years in Town Chaplaincy I discovered how willing most retail staff are to engage with a kind word from a customer. Most expect abuse and swearing and to have someone take an interest in them and their work can be a bit of sunshine in what can be a dull and tiring job. Christians have every reason to be kind and generous with time – so why not bring a bit of light to your local retailer especially as the Christmas season begins!

    By Amanda Bowskill  -  10 Nov 2023
  2. Brilliant Connecting with Culture Joe!! I love the fact you didn’t just ovbserve and write about it – you went and spoke to Jim! I’ve stood in shops in my town countless times and felt that powerlessness (is that a word) – frozent to the spot, fearful of ‘what could happen!’. I can’t imagine that being my work context! Having said that I spoke to a fellow motorbike commuter the other day – he said he’s had to fight off potential theives a number of times. I asked him if he was not worried for his life – he said, “If we don’t challenge, thigns won’t change, they’ll win.” I feel challenged to change my culture today! 🙂

    By Steve  -  10 Nov 2023
  3. Many years ago my family had several shops selling different types of goods, they were profitable and there was nearly no shoplifting!
    The reason was that they all had service counters, the goods were behind the counter and there were staff who handed over the goods purchased after they had been paid for.
    Likewise Argos stores don’t have shoplifting because, other than a stubby pen and small pad, there is nothing to shoplift.
    For stores today shoplifting isn’t a priority because they don’t lose money they just pass on the added cost to the lawful consumers, you and me. We pay; no problem.
    Shoplifting is the symptom of greater things, like alcoholism, drug dependency, unemployment and social discrimination.
    Christianity is about faith and action so perhaps as local groups we can lobby our supermarkets, pubs and clubs and get them to address drunkenness as they are legally obliged to do: get the supermarkets to employ more staff serving the public and support those stores: lobby government to employ more police and ambulance staff and re-educate those without hope of a productive life and, in conjunction with that, demonstrate our love of Christ by doing something, no matter how small, every day which works towards helping to achieve these goals and bring a person closer to Christ and into the palm of God’s hand.

    By Graham Nunn  -  10 Nov 2023
  4. Thanks for picking up on and writing about this Joe, its something I’ve been thinking and praying about for a little while. Our coop round the corner is overwhelmed by shoplifting as well. I will continue to pray for change and encourage the staff there and love that you’ve put a shout out for others to think about the part they can play in bringing God’s kingdom in this way. There’s such desperation in society at the moment, let’s keep praying for God’s provision for all needs and asking the part he has for us to play.

    By Kathryn  -  10 Nov 2023
  5. You are right about being kind. A simple word of appreciation can mean a lot to someone who is working all day and gets little thanks. It makes them feel that their work is worthwhile and at least some people appreciate it. I think people don’t say thanks enough these days. I always make a point of saying thank you to the bus driver when I get off.

    By Philip Hamilton  -  10 Nov 2023
  6. Having worked in retail for my entire career, (47 years to date and still counting), I can vouch for the increase and change in tactics of shop lifters over the decades. I have variously been verbally abused, threatened with a broken bottle, physically attacked and even held up at gun point for the cash in the till.
    Often it could’ve been crime for personal profit but I do wonder if more and more it is because people are simply not able to afford to feed/clothe themselves.
    I don’t have any easy answers but hope and pray it can improve for future generations to come

    By Chris  -  10 Nov 2023
  7. My wife works in our local Co-op. She experiences this nearly every time she’s working. If there’s visible security about then it doesn’t happen. The police aren’t interested. One of the few times they’ve shown up is when a staff member was assaulted. This happened when a thief was challenged.
    If you’re in a shop, big or small, use the checkouts with real people not the self-checkouts. Talk to them, encourage them. It makes a difference.

    By Andy  -  15 Nov 2023

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