Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Coffeehouse Microcosm

Right now I’m reading Rob Bell’s Sex God for an article in the E-Block series on Emergent Gurus. It’s nowhere near as controversial as the titles implies (sorry, folks) but Bell brought up a matter very similar to one raised by Leonard Sweet in The Gospel According to Starbucks which has inspired some reflection. Bear with me as I develop an analogy.

Sweet’s book used Starbucks as a potential model for churches to follow. He noted that Starbucks was more than a place to get a coffee and a sweet roll – it was marketed as an experience for the customer: a place to gather and socialize, a place to relax, and so on.

Something disturbed me about this immensely, as I saw in it the root of many problems already afflicting the church: Experience-based worship pushing out sound teaching; disinterest in sound doctrine; the use in the emergent church of service as a way to distract from the hard questions. But wait, there’s more.

My beloved Mrs H and I love our semi-educational TV shows; among them, various shows on the Food Network. One we particularly liked (summarized here) l was an account of the mega-battle between the two coffeehouse heavyweights out there: Starbucks, of course, and Dunkin’ Donuts.


There’s plenty of interesting data in this battle and I can add my own anecdotal two cents’ worth. Here in Orlando, Starbucks and DD are both to be found just about everywhere. In New England, though, where we took a recent vacation, we saw DD more than everywhere: In gas stations no less than two blocks apart, for example. Starbucks? Nowhere we saw, except the Portland airport. (Yes, I’m sure there are more. I’m also sure there are places where Starbucks is everywhere, and you can’t find a DD, even with a microscope.)


That Food Network show noted that the two shops have differing appeals. Starbucks caters mostly to the uppity, trendy crowd. DD appeals mostly to the blue collar worker. It’s easy to see why both can survive as well as they do. But yes, there’s more.

I can’t stand coffee. Mrs H, though, loves it (and says, in spite of my debilitating dislike of it, that I mix in her sugar and cream better than anyone can; I’m her expert mixer). So we frequent the coffee shops – both of them. Which one we stop at depends on factors like time and location.
Given an equal choice, though, we prefer DD. And when we go to Starbucks, it isn’t for the experience; it’s because Mrs H loves their Sumatra blend, and I like their Vivanno smoothies.

Now let me tie this together to something to do with the church.
We probably like DD better than Starbucks not because we’re blue collar workers, but because we’re both introverts. Hardcore – me more so than Mrs H. We don’t go to coffee houses for “experience”. We go for (duh) the coffee. Why else would you go to a coffee house?

I’m being facetious, because I understand in principle, if not personally, why some people want an “experience”. Generally, I suppose those people are extroverts. And it’s great that each side can support their favorite coffee houses enough for both to stay in business.

The problem, though, is that won’t work for churches. The further problem is that extroversion dominates our programming, while introversion is shut out . Many of the leaders are extroverted in practice if not in fact. The introverts get disgusted with the emphasis on “experience” and either leave, or complain and get tagged as fuddy-duddies, or do their best to contribute but end up ignored.


If churches were coffee houses, the introverts could start their own churches. But that’s not how the Body of Christ was intended to work. The antithesis is supposed to arrive at synthesis.

As it is, we can see the results of allowing extroversion to dominate. No doubt if introversion ever got the chance to dominate, there’d be a different sort of disaster, but I don’t expect we’ll ever get to see what it is.


So, no, Leonard – the church shouldn’t become Starbucks. Nor should it become DD. It needs to be a merger of the two, or the results will be all wrong: Either too much cream and sugar, or too black.


Let’s all become expert mixers.

1 comment:

  1. I read that book years ago and thought it was quite good. The Princess happens to really like Bell's writings as well.

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