April 9, 2012 Tony Morgan

Is it Starbucks or is it church?

StarbucksYesterday morning, my family attended the first Easter services, then we volunteered at the second two services. Since I’m serving on the guest services team, I was able to pull my youngest daughter out of her class after my job was done welcoming everyone to the third service. That saved her from having to sit through the same lesson for the third time. And, it provided an excuse for me to head over to Starbucks and grab a coffee.

Yes, Starbucks is open on Sunday mornings. And, yes, that even includes Easter. The team who served me was very friendly. There were a number of customers seated both inside and outside the store. If people congregate at Starbucks on Sunday morning does that make them congregants? If so, Brooke and I qualified and our table was positioned very close to the barista’s pulpit.

What caught Brooke’s attention when she entered the store was the apple fritter in the glass case. What caught my attention was the large sign just inside the entrance promoting the opportunity to volunteer in my community. That’s right — Starbucks is focused on community service this month. Does that make Starbucks missional? Or, does the fact that they serve apple fritters make them attractional? I don’t know if I’m supposed to love their strategy to reach new customers and make caffeine converts or not. I’m so conflicted in my spirit.

By the way, here’s the video from the Starbucks website inviting me to volunteer to serve my community:

If you are a church leader, this Starbucks initiative should raise two challenging questions:

  1. Is my church as intentional as Starbucks is at reaching my community? I can assure you, this isn’t a completely altruistic endeavor for Starbucks. At the end of the day, it’s all about their stock price and the bottom line. Obviously, they’ve come to the conclusion that community service helps them sell coffee. This strategic initiative helps them fulfill their mission.
  2. Is my church any different than Starbucks is at reaching my community? Just to shoot straight with you, this “outreach” that Starbucks is engaging looks identical to many local missions efforts I see in churches across the country today. And, if we don’t effectively connect the mission to the message, the church looks no different than Starbucks. (Other than the fact that their marketing is better and our coffee is not as good.)
So, you tell me. Is it Starbucks or is it church?

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (13)

  1. Jonathan McLain

    I hope alot of churches read this. I was in TN a couple of weeks ago at a conference (on our afternoon off) my wife and I went into Nautica outlet. As she was trying on dresses I noticed that Nautica had a foundation to drill clean water wells in Africa. I thought about all of the christian organizations that are doing the same thing. Nautica and Starbucks can do some good things, but without the message of Jesus it won’t be a great thing.

  2. Great points Tony. Especially this line… “if we don’t effectively connect the mission to the message, the church looks no different than Starbucks.”

    I think you’re dead on. Part of the issue, in my opinion, is that we’re often trying to be too much like Starbucks (copying the “good marketing” we see) but missing that unique element behind it (for us as Christians, churches, etc.). We start copying the WHAT and sometimes miss the WHY. They WHY is what moves people, the WHY is what sets us apart.

    • Peter


      I agree wholeheartedly. For instance, when I announce the offering in our church I connect their giving with a missionary, church planting, or benevolence. Something they can hand their hat on but then I always bring to back to the fact we are giving to the work of the Lord not a project or person. The Why is very important.

      Also I look forward to the day when Starbucks and others would be looking at how we as a church reach our community instead of the other way around.

  3. Clay

    I’ll be honest, once I saw “Starbucks” in the title I was prepared for yet another, “the church should be as cool, efficient, wow-inspiring, altruistic (you get the drift) as Starbucks”, but I really appreciate your reserve with connecting the ministry and the message. I’m not one for A-frame, street yelling, shock and awe evangelism, but do we as Christians even know how to bring up Jesus in a conversation anymore? Do we believe in instantaneous salvation where a prior relationship with the person is helpful but not necessary? Do we believe in the dynamic power of the gospel and how God can use a simple, (what seems like irrelevant) message to change a life?

    I hope so.

    Great post and very though provoking. Thanks.

  4. Gary

    Sadly, I don’t see much difference between “the building on the corner” and Starbucks either (except Starbucks coffee is way tastier) lol. Joking aside, the question I am compelled to ask is this: “What’s the point of the church gathering?” When I read scripture, with regard to the church, I see something completely different from the building on the corner we call “church”. Popular Christian culture has developed a mind-set that the gathering together of the saints of God is to be modified so it becomes a “welcoming place” geared towards “reaching out” to the unbeliever. I do not see this in scripture. The gathering of believers is for the BELIEVER, not the unbeliever. One example: 1 Corinthians 14 Paul, with regard to the exercising of the gifts (tongues) within the context of a gathering of believers, says, “If an unbeliever comes in among you;” I perceive this to be an acceptation, not the rule, when believers gather together. Does this mean that we exclude unbelievers? No. We are not to exclude them. (We are to have an interpretation (prophecy) of tongues for without it they will think we are out of our mind) However, our gatherings are not to be structured around the drawing in of unbelievers, but around Jesus Christ. When believers gather together it is for the glorification of God, for the praise of God, for the functioning of the gifts for the glorification of God and so on; So much unnecessary emphasis has been placed on the gathering place. Matter of fact, 8 out of the 9 advertisements on this blog are focused on the promotion and function of the building. As leaders, we are not called to manage a building or programs, we are called to make disciples. This has nothing to do with the location of where believers choose to gather together and everything to do with believers gathering to encourage and building one another up in the faith for the purpose of continuing to cultivate a lifestyle that reflects the glory of Jesus Christ. By doing so, unbelievers will be drawn to the attractiveness of Jesus Christ in us as they witness our daily interactions with the people around us. Those whom God is drawing to Himself, by the Holy Spirit, will be compelled to ask us, “What is it that is “different” (Holy) about you” Then we have the opportunity to share with them our encounter with Jesus Christ. Unconventional? Yes. Biblical? Yes. Just a thought. Thanks for allowing me to share. :O)

  5. Dan

    Thanks for the post Tony. And thanks for posing the 2 questions… after all, the message is, in fact, part of the mission. So, if we as a church are not connecting the mission to the message, then the mission is incomplete. I think we need to simply use some real caution that our loving on people in Jesus’ name is done sincerely and without an agenda. Love with an agenda is not real love. But love with a Good News message is God’s kind of love.

  6. cruiz71

    Very, very disappointed in some of the non-Biblically-based responses here. If an organization does an act of service, it appears that some of are you saying “it is not good if God is not at the center of it?” I disagree. 3:John 1:11 makes it perfectly clear. How can you even suggest God is not at the center of something good. Starbucks and the companies mentioned above may not overtly be working in the name of God in your opinion, but –on the contrary–GOD IS WORKING in these companies. They need never utter the name of Jesus. God is at the center of it regardless. The message of Jesus IS important, but that’s also good, concurrent to this good being done. All of which comes from God. Amos 5:14/15 and Luke 18:19 and 1 Timothy 4:4. Please welcome and recognize that the good being done everywhere is a grace of God including the love of God to send us His Son. I also have concern for those who judge otherwise…Ecclesiastes 12:14

  7. Brian Dodd

    Tony Morgan is just an absolute genius…and this post has made me thirsty as well.

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