Is Starbucks Replacing The Church?

Starbucks did it again.

Over the weekend, I received an email from Starbucks thanking their customers for lending a hand as they have been working all month long to better the world around them through mobilizing the Starbucks faithful to contribute their time, talents, and treasure towards community service projects and financial contributions.

The email made me think of a sermon I preached several years ago about how we are wired to do life together.  The sermon, creatively titled “On Community“, discussed a little bit of the concept of the “third place”: a place where people go to be together.  In the sermon, I suggested that Starbucks is making millions off an idea that originated with the early church.

Don’t misunderstand me: I greatly appreciate the efforts that Starbucks is making in communities all over this country.  I am thoroughly impressed with the understanding that Starbucks has for the rising generations and what it takes to fully engage with them.  I also am somewhat disappointed that more churches aren’t engaging with those same generations in much the same way.

I am not suggesting that we begin to sell overpriced coffee and frozen frou frou concoctions on Sunday mornings, but I am suggesting that the local church can learn much about how to engage with our communities, and the rising generations, by watching Starbucks.  Starbucks did not invent community service, social justice, or the concept of the third place.  They did recognize the value, and profitability of, these three concepts have successfully incorporated them into their brand.

What if our churches began to the ideas of authentic community, social justice, and serving the neighborhoods in which we live as seriously as Starbucks?  What if we began to give Starbucks a run for its money when it came to being known for community, social justice, and serving its neighborhood?

What is YOUR church known for in YOUR community?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • http://www.evanforester.com Evan Forester

    Great thoughts Matt, we should totally be outdoing Starbucks in community efforts. Something we have to be careful of though: making community, social justice, and serving the neighborhood our ultimate goal. Not saying those are bad things (or that you think they are the ultimate goal, I’ve just met Christians who think that way), but our central goal should be bringing the gospel to people. If we bring the gospel, all those great things come with it naturally. 

    • http://www.churchthought.com Matt Steen

      I hear you, Evan!  I think we need to look at this in much the same way as Starbucks does: their goal is not to serve their neighborhoods, do social justice, and build community, their goal is to get filthy rich and have us all addicted to their product.  What motivates them is the bottom line.  

      The beauty of our calling is that in being more Christlike, and spreading the message of restoration and hope that is the Gospel, we should be naturally doing this kind of stuff… for us, it is a by-product, something that just happens.  For Starbucks it is an intentional effort to drive sales.

      • http://www.evanforester.com Evan Forester

        Perfect response Matt, nicely said!

  • http://smithellaneous.com/ Becky Smith

    Great, great food for thought here.   (Or maybe I should say “coffee for thought?)

    As we’ve discussed in various staff meetings at our church, our competition for attendance isn’t other churches.  Our competition is Starbucks, and baseball games, and sleeping in, and TV, and going to the beach.   

    Starbucks is doing a lot of things right and the church can certainly learn from them.   

    (And I loved your frozen frou frou concotion line!)

    • http://www.churchthought.com Matt Steen

      My hope is that the frozen frou frou concoction line won’t keep my church from serving them on Sundays… I think it could be a pleasant bonus!

      As to your competition, you are dead on.  One of the things that I ask churches is “why do people wake up and come to your church on Sunday?”  If they can’t answer that question, or answer it with some variation of “because that’s what you do on Sunday”, we’ve found the problem… the sad thing is how many people don’t know why people come on Sunday mornings.