A couple of weeks ago, my kids attended VBS (Vacation Bible School) in a nearby town. It's about a 20-minute drive one way, which is a small price to pay for a
few hours of freedom quality VBS. Since it was for only three hours each morning, I decided to not waste my precious time alone gas by driving all the way home.
Wouldn't you know it, there is a Starbucks only a few blocks from the church! It's as if the heavens themselves had opened up and put it there just for me!
I settled in with my
drug of choice Mocha and laptop, hoping to get some work done. But I had a hard time focusing (more so than usual). This time it wasn't because of my tendency to check Facebook and Pinterest every two minutes for updates. Instead, it was because of the constant chatter coming from the counter.
It wasn't the typical can-I-take-your-order chatter, either. This was genuine, excited conversation as employees greeted customer after customer by name and asked them details about their weekend, their families, and their jobs. It was difficult to pick out the "newbies" (like myself), because the employees made every effort to chat them up just as much. It's like I had stumbled upon a hipster version of Cheers.
Now, not everyone likes to be chatted up on a Monday morning, especially before they've had a good dose of caffeine. But from what I could tell, most of the people (even the newbies) enjoyed it.
Here's what stuck out to me about this particular Starbucks:
1. They made me feel welcome. It didn't matter that I was the only one who pulled up in a minivan, that I didn't have cool hipster clothes or artsy tattoos, or that my laptop was older than some of the customers. They treated me just like they treated everyone else. They looked at me, smiled at me, and called me by name. I may have looked different from everyone else, but that didn't mean they treated me differently.
Imagine for a moment, if we took that lesson into our churches, looking past how people are dressed or how many tattoos they might have (or don't have), and, instead looked at the person and what needs they might have. Hmmm, wouldn't that be revolutionary...
2. They met my need. After herding two semi-reluctant children through VBS registration on a hot, summer Monday morning, this mama desperately needed some caffeine. And guess what...that's exactly what I got. A nice, big cup of steaming caffeine. Honestly, I was so grateful to have it, the barista probably could have convinced me to buy his car, too. (OK, maybe not, but I did end up with a Vanilla Bean Scone.)
Yes, the people who come to our churches ultimately need God. But they may not realize that yet. Maybe they are just looking for community. Maybe they need counseling. Maybe times are tough and they need help feeding their family. They may not even know why they're there, but life is hard and they just need to ask some questions.
Too often we pounce on a newcomer and hit them with our list of 10 reasons they need Jesus when they were just wondering how to feed their 6 kids this week. It may be cliché, but it's true: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
3. They had fun. Remember that distracting hum of conversation I mentioned? Most of it was coming from behind the counter. The employees were having a great time. There was a lot of fun and laughter, and a boatload of "please" and "thank you," "could you" and "I'd be happy to." That's how they talked to each other...their fellow employees! At one point, I found myself thinking, "This would be a really fun place to work!"
Now, imagine if people came to our churches and thought, "This would be a really fun place to come every week!" Imagine if there was less gossip, backstabbing, griping about the pastor and the music, and more respect, genuine friendliness, and all around good times! Imagine, for a moment, if people actually enjoyed going to church! I'm guessing people would be more willing to come back, if only to feel good for a few hours after a hard week. (Stay with me here, I'm not advocating tossing out the Word of God for more ping pong tables and video games. I'm talking about an "attitude" of general happiness.)
Obviously, Starbucks has a different goal than our churches do. They want to make money. We want to see lives changed for the glory of God. If they can get excited over an extra shot of espresso, can't we get excited over a living, active relationship with the Creator of the universe?
The same people who frequent Starbucks are the same people coming to our churches. They may not come looking for a jolt of caffeine (although it doesn't hurt to have some available, especially in the early service!) They may not know why they come. But I bet by the time they leave, they know if they're coming back.
Here's what I realized that day at Starbucks: I can be part of the solution. I'm sure not every Starbucks is as friendly and welcoming as well as the one I visited. Someone at this particular branch decided to create an atmosphere where people wanted to come.
I realize some churches already do a fantastic job of this. I happen to believe my church is one of them. Still, I run into people all the time who have a preconceived notion of church and Christianity because of churches they've experienced who did not do this well (or, in some cases, did worse).
I can't undo the hurt they've experienced in the name of Christianity. But I can, hopefully, be part of the healing. I can see these people for who they are...hurting. I can look for a need and pray that God will give me wisdom to help meet it. I can enjoy life, and invite them to join the fun! (Because when Christianity is done right, it really is a lot of fun, isn't it?)
Imagine what could happen in our communities if people were drawn to Christians and to church because of warmth and friendliness. And what if they kept coming back for the fun and community? And they liked it enough to stay (and their lives were changed by the power of God)? And all because they really do want to go where everybody knows their name.
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