Starbucks vs Church

Thursday, 4th February 2010 at 20:08 UTC 5 comments

You may, or probably may not, have seen the “What if Starbucks was like  a church?” video doing the rounds. I thought I might address some of my very mixed emotions about the whole thing here, rather than on everyone’s facebook profiles, twitter feeds and other blogs. The video that started it all is available here, and I must say, its a very well made video that raises lots of useful questions.

First up, I have to point out that I avoid Starbucks like ye olde plague, and I cringe whenever I see people marked on the board at (church-) work as “Gone to St. Arbucks”. To me, there’s as much wrong with Starbucks as there is with the church, perhaps more so, and I’d be very worried if we tried to mimic starbucks for several reasons.

One thing I have to say about the coffee shop in the video that I actually like is that it doesn’t feel like some well-polished shop. I’m very uneasy about worshipping in corporate-styled buildings, though perhaps for not very good reasons. I have been tempted to smash the glass water feature that has a certain mega-church’s logo etched into it.

The coffee shop styled churches I’ve been to that I’ve really connected with have always been the ones that remind me of the less corporate, bright lights and branded crockery coffee shops put out by global monoculture. If my church was more like Coffee Culture, wow, that would be awesome. Instead, I’m seeing more and more churches investing in coffee counters that look depressingly like Starbucks wannabes. No matter how biblical FairTrade is, Its the fellowship, not the coffee, that will glorify God.

On this note, I think there’s a big difference between Starbucks’ aims and the Church’s; Starbucks is looking for regular visitors, the Church is looking for a community of committed believers. Starbucks is very much about “on demand” individualism and consumption. Remember back in the summer when I wrote about Mike Pilavachi’s three words to sum up our culture? What he summed up was basically Starbucks: Individualism, Consumerism and Entitlement.

The church is looking for servant-hearted commitment to develop vocation within a community. Fellowship is not socialising, worship is not just saying how good a product is, stewardship is not just throwing money in a till or tip bucket (the video thankfully catches this one) and discipleship isn’t just knowing the menu backwards.

Also, Starbucks makes most of its money from people with money. The church is supposed to be there for the last, the least and the lost. I think too many churches have gone down the route of mimicking Starbucks-esque corporatism already. What I want to know is how we reach out to people who live in the tough neighbourhoods. That’s what started the Wesleyan revival, not being an “attractive lifestyle product”. Besides, Starbucks is how people with money get an over-spec’d version of something the rest of us get in the kitchen at home in about half the time.

On the flip side, I do want to commend the fact that Starbucks have proven that being many-and-various, popping up on many streets corners and in book shops, shopping centres, stations and more, can, in fact, be a really good thing. Wider coffee culture shows that variety can be good. The fact that the Starbucks on the screen is shown as huge and needing its own car park might have something to say about the church as a whole. Big is not necessarily beautiful, and many people find entering a building with hundreds of people in it quite off-putting. They’ve shown that being on people’s route to work, school or the shops is better than being on an out-of-town campus.

The video is definitely useful for starting a debate, but I do worry the full implications of bringing Starbucks into the comparison are being missed. The metaphor is extremely limited unless we actually believe the church should be dishing up products for a consumerist, individualist society obsessed with entitlement. I’d pick the ridiculously naff state of affairs any day.


Entry filed under: Church, Faith, Marketing, Materialism, Theology.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brain Duck  |  Thursday, 4th February 2010 at 20:19 UTC

    ‘I’m very uneasy about worshipping in corporate-styled buildings’ Unlike, say, the massive time-and-money-sink that is the Minster?

  • 2. Helen  |  Friday, 5th February 2010 at 9:08 UTC

    You’ve put your finger rather squarely on just what bothered me about the video. I mean, it showed very well how threatening and overwhelming a lot of church techniques are… And i liked the greeter standing chatting to a friend rather than greeting… But on the other hand, I would hate for the church to imitate Starbucks style worship. I have to admit the immediate comparison that sprang to mind would be megachurches ‘stealing’ worshippers from elsewhere by claiming they are bigger and better.

  • 3. Lois  |  Friday, 5th February 2010 at 10:59 UTC

    Graham, those are interesting comments and I agree with you. But nowhere have I seen (admittedly I may just have missed it) suggestions that the church should become like Starbucks. The video DOES NOT suggest the church become like Starbucks. It shows why some people are put off church because of bad marketing, by comparing it to an example of successful marketing. I think that’s a valid exercise in trying to show to people who just don’t understand how off-putting what they do is, by asking them how they’d feel if they went into a coffee shop and were confronted with the same kind of techniques. Don’t try and take it too far!

  • 4. Peter Birkinshaw  |  Friday, 5th February 2010 at 13:36 UTC

    I started to write a reply to this last night, and it became long enough to warrant it’s own blog post, so here it is:

    Having said that Lois beat me to some of the points.

    • 5. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 5th February 2010 at 20:05 UTC

      Funny, I nearly wrote a comment saying exactly that on Lois’ blog! Thanks, especially for the last sentence. I really get uneasy about anyone talking about marketing the Christian faith/life.


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