Posted October 7th, 2008 by E. Goodman
Part 1 of this post set the scene with the story of the rise of Starbucks in relation to smaller coffee shops. Part 2 drew parallels between Starbucks and American megachurches. Welcome to part 3.
The similarities between the coffee chain and the megachurch aren’t incidental. The seeker-sensitive movement is built on a corporate model. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling widgets, coffee, or Jesus, the principles are the same; you convince people to buy whatever it is you’re selling, and then you try to hang on to your clients by continuing to sell them more. But what happens when people realize that they can make even better coffee at home for a lot less than Starbucks? What happens when people realize that their small group (which is a ministry of a megachurch) is actually a church and that all the other stuff is unnecessary?
Starbucks is entry-level for coffee drinkers. Their coffee is a gateway drug. People start with a Mocha Frappuccino and the next thing you know they’re sipping on a doppio macchiato. Megachurches (and their well-intentioned knockoffs) are many people’s introduction to church. But every grand opening, product launch, and advertising campaign distance the institution from its converts. Both systems foster an addictive dependence, but their relentless pursuit of new converts can make the faithful feel taken for granted.
Starbucks may or may not realize this, but people don’t go to Starbucks for the coffee. They go for the comforting sense of belonging. A customer may not speak to a soul during her visit, but something about that familiar space- people working away on laptops, reading the newspaper, sipping their coffee- makes one feel at home. I may not talk to anyone in the shop, but I could. People enjoy assuming that the other customers and I are the same. The same goes for the megachurch. The seeker sensitive movement understands that people like the feeling of belonging, especially if they don’t actually have to do anything to get that feeling.
The comfortable chairs and the little round tables make a promise that Starbucks can’t (and never intended to) keep. The appearance of community is not the same as actual community. The baristas may call out your name when your order is ready, but they don’t know you. The other people in the shop, they want you to leave so they can plug in their laptops and work in peace. There’s a sense of entitlement that comes with participating in a program that’s specifically aimed at you. The greeters at the door of the megachurch probably won’t remember your name either. Programs don’t build community, they build consumerism.
If Starbucks’ goal was to get more people to drink coffee- any coffee- instead of getting people to drink their coffee, how would they do things differently? If Christians believed that growing the Kingdom is more important than growing a church, would there be any megachurches or multi-site churches or video venues? Denominations?
Is there any biblical reason to grow a local church rather than start new ones? Is there any reason for new church plants to share the same name, leadership, brand, or identity (that is, apart from the name of Jesus and identity in Him) as another? Is there any biblical reason to limit church to a meeting time or place?
Starbucks is at a point of crisis. Growth is slowing, profits are down, and they’ve lost their identity. The same is coming for the American megachurch. In my next installment, I’ll introduce you to the Mom-and-Pop churches that will replace them.
Filed under:Church, Missiology