August 16, 2007
Lessons from St. Arbucks
The purveyor of overpriced coffee has a lot to teach the church about community.
Once an article is published in Leadership one never knows the ripple effect it will have. Greg Asimakoupoulos, pastor of Mercer Island Covenant Church, wrote for Leadership about the community-forming power of Starbucks in his neighborhood. He confesses, "We like to say that our church is a genuine community of faith, the kind of place people can feel at home. Still, you may have to go down the block to get to see that become a reality for lots of people. We need to be honest and admit that people are lining up to get into Starbucks, but they aren't lining up to get into many of our churches."
For this reason Asimakoupoulos refers to the coffee shop as St. Arbucks.
This week, Terry Mattingly drew heavily from Asimakoupoulos' Leadership article for his column which appears in over 100 local newspapers and at GetReligion.com. Mattingly recognizes the draw of Starbucks as a "third place" - "a safe zone between home and office. For generations, bars, diners, barbershops and a host of other locations have played similar roles." And he notes, "This kind of hospitality has become rare in this rushed world."
Diversity is another strength Starbucks exudes more than most local congregations. Mattingly continues:
Writing in Leadership Journal, Asimakoupoulos noted: "At St. Arbucks, I've seen a rabbi mentoring a Torah student. A youth pastor disciplining a new convert. High school girls working on a group assignment. A book club sipping mochas while discussing a fiction author's plot." Could churches try to be more open to outsiders?
However, before you throw out your ministry books and don a green apron Asimakoupoulos cautions us to be leery of some elements of Starbucks' strategy.
When [Asimakoupoulos] was a college student in Seattle, this local institution was about excellent coffee beans -- period. These days, the place that many call "four bucks" offers CDs, gifts, pastries and super-sweet drinks of all kinds, hot and cold. Hardly anyone goes there for pure coffee.
"Maybe we can let that be a warning," said Asimakoupoulos. "It's important for our churches to think about what people want, but we can't lose sight of what people need. We have to keep offering basic faith, the faith of the ages. The extras are nice, but people also need the classics."
Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.