What the church could learn from Starbucks

Maybe it was the coffee talking.

When I entered Starbucks for the first time (this, a recent occurrence, by me, a sometimes anti-cultural unsavvy person), I was greeted warmly. A stranger, approached like I was a friend. This didn’t register until I was already seated with my skinny caramel macchiato grande and pumpkin scone, reading and listening to one worker, in particular, do her job like it was the only thing she wanted to be doing.

She was working the drive-through with enthusiasm. “Is this so-and-so?” she must have said a dozen times, recognizing the voice or the order on the other side of the speaker. Then, she’d move on to some brief, but personal, chit chat, then leave them with a friendly, “I’ll see you at the window.” For one customer, she even took the time to offer recommendations. As a newbie to Starbucks myself, this was the sort of customer service I would have hoped for. I’d done research ahead of time so I wouldn’t be the obvious first-time-at-Starbucks-don’t-know-what-to-order customer who holds up the line for the “regulars.” And she was happy to do it.

In the meantime, while she took drive-through orders, a few regulars came inside to order. She knew their names. She knew their usual orders. She greeted them exuberantly.

Like I said before, maybe it was the coffee talking. It’s certainly not in short supply at a coffee shop. But I believed this girl, and her co-workers to a less-obvious extent, was genuinely happy to see the customers and took pride in remembering their usual orders.

What if the church was like Starbucks?

What if we greeted people by name, showed enthusiasm to see them, and remembered something, anything, about their day-to-day life?

What if we were quick to offer help to a newcomer, suggesting what works for us without demanding they do things exactly like we do them?

What if we tossed aside everything else we knew about a person and focused on the one thing that brought us together?

See, that’s where I think the church could learn something from Starbucks. People come to Starbucks for coffee. Or tea or pastries. But mostly for coffee. It’s simple. They’re looking for coffee. And Starbucks serves them coffee.

Sometimes I feel like people come to church looking for God and they leave with something else. Like rules. Or judgment. Or pressure to conform. Or cold shoulders. Or whispers. Or distractions. It’s like they walked into Starbucks for hot coffee and came out with a popsicle, cotton candy and a pinwheel. Or hot water and a pamphlet on the history of coffee. Not at all what they were looking for.

Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s the coffee talking. But the longer I sat in Starbucks, the more I wanted to be one of those regulars. The coffee didn’t impress me as much as the community did. I want someone to be excited to see me, to call me by name, to ask if I’m having the “usual.” More than that, I want to want to be there. I want to need the church like I need my morning cup of coffee. For comfort. And encouragement. And the kick in the pants I need to overcome timidity.

People — I’m one of them — want a place to belong. Somehow, churches have missed the mark. People — at least the ones I know — don’t generally feel like they belong at church. When did that happen? And how can we fix it?

Starbucks isn’t perfect. Neither is the church. But Starbucks has what people want. And the church, for whatever reason, doesn’t.

Maybe it’s time we, as a church, start giving people what they need before we tell them how they should live. If they’re thirsty, let’s give them a drink. If they’re hungry, let’s feed them. If they’re hurting, let’s comfort them. If they’re struggling, let’s support them.

Starbucks is in the coffee business, and they excel at it. Let’s, as a church, be about the Father’s business, as Jesus was. Healing. Freeing. Including. Accepting. Loving. Let’s focus on the main thing — Jesus — and leave other matters for a different time and place.

Let’s give people what they want: a glimpse of heaven on earth.

The church might never be as popular as Starbucks, nor should it aim to be, but when built on the solid foundation of Christ, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Then again, maybe it’s just the coffee talking.

But this I know: I didn’t like the coffee so much, but I’d go back to Starbucks in a heartbeat.

Maybe the church doesn’t have to have the best sermon or music or program but the most accepting, welcoming, focused-on-Jesus group of people you’ve ever seen. Maybe that’s what keeps people coming back.

Maybe it’s not that simple. Or maybe it is.

Maybe it’s just the coffee talking.

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3 thoughts on “What the church could learn from Starbucks

  1. Pingback: I used to think going to the movies alone was pathetic « The Home Front

  2. Lisa, I just loved this post! I don’t think it was just the coffee talking. Church should be warm and welcoming. Church should be all that your Starbucks—being the gospel, the good news to all who walk through their doors, because all that walk in need it, just like those Starbucks customers need their caffine fix each morning!

    Great post! I’m re-posting!

  3. Wow Lisa. I thought this was a really great post. I can’t agree more – what if Church was like a coffee shop (specifically, a very friendly one!) where you went in, got what you needed, and left happy and revitalized because it was just what you needed. You look forward to it, you always to do it, etc. Thanks for posting this!

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