What Starbucks Taught Me About Church

Several weeks ago, I had a rare opportunity for a few, uninterrupted hours alone–no children, just me and my laptop. I took the opportunity to do something I’ve not done in a long, long time…I went to Starbucks (cue the angelic choir).

What Starbucks Taught Me About Church | thereisgrace.comOnce I was settled in with my caffeinated beverage of choice, I was ready for the creative juices to flow. It didn’t take long, however, to notice the juices weren’t flowing. In fact, I was having a difficult time focusing at all. Oddly, it had little to do with my usual procrastination method–Facebook and Pinterest–and more to do with the constant chatter coming from the counter.

This wasn’t the typical can-I-take-your-order chatter. This was genuine, excited conversation as employees greeted customers by name and asked detailed questions about their weekend, their families, and their jobs. It was as if I had stumbled upon a hipster version of Cheers.

Not everyone likes to be chatted up before they’ve had a good dose of caffeine, but from what I could tell, most of the people enjoyed it. Even those who started off rather gruff and grumpy quickly warmed up to the chit chat.

I was intrigued by this phenomenon, and as I continued to observe, I realized the warm and inviting atmosphere was really the result of a few simple things–things we Christians could learn when it comes to our churches:

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 employees. 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 them, but they didn’t treat me any 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). What if we looked at the person and what needs they might have? Hmmm, wouldn’t that be revolutionary…

2. They met my need. My date with Starbucks happened to come on one of those days, the kind that leave you desperately needing some caffeine. And that’s exactly what I got–a nice, big cup of steaming caffeine. Honestly, I was so grateful, the barista could have probably convinced me to buy his car, too.

Of course the ultimate need of people who come to our churches is a relationship with God, but maybe they don’t yet realize that. Maybe they are just looking for community. Maybe they need counseling. Maybe times are tough and they need help feeding their family. If we pounce on them with our list of 10 reasons they need Jesus when they’re just wondering how to feed their 6 kids this week, we could very well turn them off to church. Or worse, we may turn them off to the only thing that will ultimately help them–a relationship with God. 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. Most of that distracting hum of conversation 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! I have no desire to ever work in the food service industry, but I couldn’t help thinking, “This would be a really fun place to work!”

What 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, and griping about the pastor or the music. What if there was more respect, genuine friendliness, and all around good times? What if people actually enjoyed going to church? Shocking, I know!

I’m going to venture a guess that if people came to a church that was enjoyable, they’d be more willing to come back, if only to feel good for a few hours after a hard week. (Before you send me an email let me be clear: I’m not saying to toss out the Word of God for more ping pong tables and video games. I’m talking about an “attitude” of general happiness.)

Starbucks obviously 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 Starbucks employees 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!). They may not even know why they come, but by the time they leave, they probably know if they’ll come back.

Some churches get this. They do a fantastic job of creating a fun and welcoming environment. Still, I often talk to people who have a preconceived notion of church and Christianity because of their negative (sometimes horrific!) experiences in church.

While I can’t undo the hurt some people have experienced in the name of Christianity, 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. What if they kept coming back for the fun and community? What would happen if they liked it enough to stay (and their lives were changed by the power of God)?

It could happen. After all, don’t we all want to go where everybody knows our name?

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89 thoughts on “What Starbucks Taught Me About Church

    1. It’s such a difficult lesson for churches to learn sometimes. I think we sometimes feel like we are compromising the gospel if we make church “too appealing” (and of course, there is the other extreme). But when you stop and think about it, it makes sense. People will no longer come to church out of obligation (like they did 50 or 60 years ago). They need to want to come. To use a biblical analogy…as salt, we should make them “thirsty.” 🙂

      Glad to hear what a great thing God is doing in your church! Thanks for the kind words.

  1. Great post, Nancy! I’m kind of one of those people who thinks that some churches get too wrapped up in relevance sometimes. I think it’s a fine line that even the church needs to learn between accepting people and condoning their behaviors. BUT, I love the parallels you draw here. Yes, we should be warm and inviting to whoever comes in the door on Sunday morning, and it should be genuine, fed by the love of Christ pouring out of us (hopefully), and I agree that we should be meeting needs and “having fun.” No, it’s not all about fun, but if we aren’t expressing the joy of the Lord…if we’re just going through the motions, wishing we were somewhere else, then why on earth would anybody want to come there??? lol. Great post!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Crystal! I completely agree there are some who go in the other extreme, and I wish I had time (and space) to address that more (maybe in a follow-up post). You nailed it: “We should be warm and inviting to whoever comes in…and it should be genuine.” I think that’s the key. That’s the place to start, then when people feel welcomed they will be more willing to hear what the Gospel is all about.

  2. Hi Nancy! I am meeting you through Women Helping Women.

    I LOVE this post! Anyone who knows me, knows I am a Starbucks addict. I love the mochas, and the frappuchino’s are a guilty pleasure. Just walking in one of the stores makes you feel so relaxed, doesn’t it? I don’t know if it’s the colors or what, but you know, I loved all you ideas.

    I think you wrote this for me 🙂 Great post!!

    Peace in Christ,

  3. This is all kinds of awesome. Most of the Starbucks I’ve visited are very friendly and upbeat. The one I frequent is the exception, but I can tell there is a lot of underlying life issues going on that creates kind of a somber atmosphere.

  4. Great read! I really love how you compared the two. I wish more church members had fun at church and didn’t feel like it was only a “duty”. It is so refreshing to be apart of a church that is welcoming and warm. You can literally feel the difference between a cold and warm church. Personally, I don’t blame individuals from having preconceived notions about the church. It is almost as if we get complacent in our structure or order because its comfortable to us. Any change…..music, preaching etc makes us upset (unfortunately). Furthermore, leading to tension, division and sin. If a believer does not want to be apart of a church what makes us think a non believer would want to either? It was neat to hear that you were interested in the employees’ conversation because of their attitude. Great comparison on how that related to the church.

    Side note the Starbucks CEO is quite outspoken on his views of marriage. Sadly enough I used to love Starbucks but I now have to support someone else. I grabbed this quote from christianpost.com
    “At the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, CEO Howard Schultz sent a clear message to anyone who supports traditional marriage over gay marriage: we don’t want your business.”

    Just some insight I came across unfortunately. This is not knocking on your blog at all because you were definitely spot on. I loved your post and found it very helpful as it encouraged and lifted me up today. It challenges me to see God not only as i’m reading my Bible or listening to a message but everywhere else. It is neat to see someone tune themselves to being able to see God any and everywhere. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jack.

      If you’re referring to this article on Christianpost.com: http://www.christianpost.com/news/did-starbucks-ceo-really-say-we-dont-want-your-business-92588/ then you know that the article goes on to explain that the quote “At the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, CEO Howard Schultz sent a clear message to anyone who supports traditional marriage over gay marriage: we don’t want your business” was in their words “a complete fabrication.” And Marty Duren (the writer) states, “Schultz never said or implied people who support traditional marriage should take their business elsewhere.”

      Yes, Starbucks does support gay marriage, and as a privately-owned corporation they have the right to do so just as Chick-fil-a has the right to support traditional marriage.

      I’m glad you were encouraged by my post. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Awesome post, Nancy! So true, too. I know when we were looking for a church home, we looked for a place that made us feel welcome and where everyone seemed to enjoy being around each other.

  6. We don’t do Starbucks for a few reasons, but that’s not the point. What you said here isn’t about Starbucks and what they believe and do or don’t support (and who’s business they do or don’t want.) What you’ve done here is take lessons from something secular and aptly applied them to what we can learn about what people need from the church. I guess it’s kind of a shame that we need to look to businesses for our model, but if they have something to teach us then we should listen. My mom always says “give credit where credit is due” and “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” You could have seen this kind of service anywhere, and the lessons would be the same. Thanks for taking the time to organize your thoughts from this teachable moment and sharing what you learned with us!

    1. Thank you Beth! It’s truly sad that we do have to look to “secular” business sometimes to learn how to engage with people. Sadly, I think if we were doing things right all the time, secular businesses could look to the church. I think there are churches who are doing things right, and businesses and other organizations can learn a thing or two from them. Sadly, it’s more often the exception than the rule. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a kind and thoughtful comment!

  7. One year I took a starbucks with me when I worked at VBS – and a young church member pounced on my, ridiculing me for supporting a place with anti-Christian views. My response? I told her I had college students of mine who worked there – and people I didn’t know but maybe would benefit by someone who out-reached with God’s kind of kindness – that someone cared and was interested in them – the young church member replied sarcasticly and flounced off – but your post – you hit on something so important – the importance of connecting – and trying to make a God-difference through our words and actions in the course of a day:) Coffee is good for us in more than one way:) Loved stopping by and so enjoyed your message!

    1. So sad that the young church member felt that way. And in case they didn’t say it then…thank you for serving in VBS!! That is a huge sacrifice of your time and a tremendously valuable ministry!!

  8. I love how you picked out these lessons! If we were better at doing things like these, more people would surely see the love of Jesus in action!

  9. I really loved your post Nancy 😉 It brought me back to how I have seen church in each country we have lived. The building area there, but it isn’t the building that makes the church- it is the people and Christ in them and through them. Europe can be kind of cold in a lot of places and the gospel sharing and times that really impacted people were those times we talked at coffee/tea houses. I have seen many ways of evangelism from brimstone preaching, street evangelism, and missions to heart-felt real-life investments.

    Being a mom that loves coffee, a good chat, and of course can be swayed to add the scone, I always love the friendly feeling of Starbucks-that they knew my name (even tried using English just because with us!), remembered my kids (hard to forget I guess!) and always smiled. May we pass down to our kids that love of investing in people and that our example, imprint and genuineness reflects our hearts, ultimately sharing God’s love one person at a time 😉 Thanks Nancy for the great post!

  10. Oh my Stars… (you see how I refrained myself there and didn’t say -well… you know!)

    I LOVE this! Not only did you have me at Starbucks – but we made me want to find that particular one and go hangout there! And YES… what if we could create that same kind of atmosphere in our churches? They wouldn’t be ‘seeker-friendly’ but relationship-rich and oh my Lord, how there is such a huge difference in the two!

    So thankful you linked up today… I will be sharing this post all over! (You know… as soon as I consume some coffee!)


  11. Superb observations. Starbucks is out to sell coffee, and they know what it takes to make people feel good enough to come back.

    What does Jesus say in Luke 16:9? “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

    For all that church leadership slavishly copies the world of business, they definitely don’t get the right things right — meeting people where they are, accepting them, offering something worth coming back for, loving.

    But you’ve got the right idea. It all starts with us individually as Christians, because we individual Christians ARE the church, not the building with the people who show up every Sunday. Whether a
    Christian attends church or not, he or she is salt, and we need to scatter that salt and season the world.

    Thank you for writing this.

    1. So true, Carolyn, and hopefully as we scatter that salt, we create a “thirst” for a relationship with God and community with His family. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  12. Stopping by from your link up at Abiding Love, Abounding Grace – what a treat this was. I love the connection you’ve drawn here – wanting to meet people where they are, meet their need, and be welcoming enough to draw them back. This is a great thing to imagine – and then bring to life!

  13. I love the analogy you found here, and you are so right. Jesus was definitely about loving people and meeting them where they were. Thanks so much for sharing Nancy!

  14. Great thoughts on coffee and church. Especially the one about each individual being the change that they want to see…I think that is what God calls us to do. Just be JESUS wherever we go and as we lift Him up {using words when necessary!} all will be drawn to Him. THanks, Nancy. Visiting from Hearts for Home…

  15. I love love LOVE this!

    What great thoughts on coffee an church! As one who is in the process of finding a church home after a move, I would love to find a church just like the one you described!

    Thank you for your beautiful words. They brought a smile to my face this morning!

  16. WOW. Words can’t encompass the heart-chords struck and internal nods of agreement occurring here. This is the same thing we tell people constantly and it is such a blessing to see a movement in the Spirit towards agreance I see occurring here and in other places. God is truly calling His church to re-commitment to the intended focus of our faith. Thank you so much for this encouraging and inspiring post!

  17. This may be my first time visiting but I loved this! It made me think of a recent meeting a attended with our church board and they talked about looking at our church with “fresh eyes.” What may newcomers see as they walk in the door. Your words gave great insight to the simple things that can be done that would have a great impact. This is what a church needs to be —> “Imagine what could happen in our communities if people were drawn to Christians and to church because of warmth and friendliness.”
    I loved the warmth and friendliness that I found the first day I walked in to my church but I couldn’t help but to wonder if I’m extending that same warmth.
    Good, good words. Glad I stopped in.

  18. I just wanted to comment…I don’t really have something profound to say, but I’m happy I read this post. The words were perfect and needed. Where is this Starbucks? I would go there everyday. Everything in our lives should be that way…

    1. Ha! Yes, I would go there everyday, too, Nay…if it weren’t a 20 minute drive! (Plus, there’s a Starbucks kiosk in the grocery store by my house if I really get a hankerin’!) And you’re so right…everything should be this way, especially our family of God. Which is why I’m so glad I found one that is (a church, that is….and a Starbucks!)

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  19. Such a great post, friend! I love how you took an everyday moment and turned it into a life’s lesson… Love you!

    “You meet thousands of people and none of them really touch you, and then you meet one person and your life is changed forever.” (Jamie Randall)

  20. Fantastic! Thank you. Have you ever read, “How Starbucks Saved My Life” by Michael Gates Gill? Fantastic, short read.

    As I am currently “on leave from call” from the church because of struggles with my own faith and how Christians treat one another, there are some great lessons that can be learned from some great places, such as Starbucks.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Mandy. I’ve not read Gill’s book but will have to check it out now…thanks for the tip!

      Yes, it’s sometimes infuriating how Christians treat one another…then we wonder why no one wants what we’ve got! I’ve come to discover that usually those who hurt others are carrying the most hurt in themselves (especially in the Church). I’ve also found that the times I’ve struggled in my faith are the times I come out stronger on the other side…when I remember to lean into God and His Word. God doesn’t mind our questions and our struggle. He can take it…unlike some Christians I’ve encountered. 🙂 I hope that encourages you. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  21. Dear Nancy,
    What a great post. I was saying “Amen” all the way through, even when you said we should be part of the answer. (And it helped that you wrote so articulately and sprinkled humor along the way).

    Shouldn’t church be the most fun part of our week? Shouldn’t we look forward to it like a chat at Starbucks with a friend?

    What could be better than getting together with people who love our Lord and sharing about Him. Amen!

    Thanks for linking to TGIF.

  22. I love this comparison! As someone who is new to the area and “church-hopping” for a church home, this is exactly what I hope to find for my family. Thank you!

  23. This is so much like the Starbucks I wander into from time to time. They know our names and ask those questions and even one barista prayed with me when I was caring for my Mama in her latter days of life. She came from behind the busy counter to pray with me.
    Comparing this Starbucks to church has given me so much food for thought and pondering. Thank you. And I intend to send this to the dear barista who prayed with me as she is training for management.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  24. Oh my gracious. I needed to read this!! Thank you so much for linking up to the Mommy Moments linky party. This is just what God had in store for me today!!

    The Mrs.

  25. Great post! You’re so right how there are times we as the church sometimes forget that church for most people is not something that came natural. They are coming there searching for something and we as God’s people and his ‘baristas’ are here to help them. If we walk around our own church where we are members looking as if we just finished sucking a lemon, how are those coming in supposed to feel about making it their new home? Very well written and thought provoking…thank you so much for sharing.

  26. That is really great insight. I love my starbucks, and the fact they know my name, drink and my family, they ask about what I am doing, I am do the same. My church suggests we do the same, each Sunday morning before service we have a talk about looking out for the newcomers and making them feel welcome, but maybe we could use a starbucks lesson in this.

    1. Candi, it sounds like you have a fabulous church and work hard to make people feel welcome. I pray many come to experience it. So glad you stopped by!

  27. It makes me think of Chick-Fil-A too. As a mom of four, Chick-Fil-A is the only place I will brave going into by myself with all the kiddos. I do so because I know the employees will help me if needed. It’s this kind of service that makes people want to come back to places like Starbuck’s and Chick-Fil-A. It’s interesting how God speaks to us in every day life. Thanks for sharing these insights.


    1. Melanie, yes! I’ve joked with my husband that if I’d had a craving for a chicken sandwich that morning the entire post could have been about Chik-fil-a! Ha! Thanks for stopping by!

  28. nancy, this is a great post. challenges me in regard to connecting with people.

    my history? pastor’s wife, at times preacher’s kid. i too have seent the good, bad and the ugly in churches. my goal has been to help people, especially newbies, feel welcome and comfortable when they come. sometimes i’ve even been successful at that:)

    recently we move to AL to be near one of our daughters. we are settling in to a new church again. they make a concerted effort to speak english instead of churchese. it is wonderful to listen to real words used to explain truths we know. helps us understand even better:)

    enjoying your blog today. came over from fellowship friday#51.

  29. Good grief you wrote my heart. As a body of believers we simply need to love on people. God will do the rest. Our job is to show them His love. If we run them away with gossip and negativity,maven bible thumping we won’t keep them. This post is spot on and I seriously think I may have seen you in Starbucks this summer. It’s always my VBS hangout. Loved this so much! Visiting from Transformed Tuesdays!

  30. Nancy, I love your “transformation” moment captured in this story. Thanks for linking up with Transformed Tuesdays at moretobe.com. Hope to see you around again!

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