Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Church of Starbucks

Sweet, Leonard (2007), The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living a Grande Passion, Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press).

Leonard Sweet is the E. Stanley Jones professor of evangelism at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. In this book, he attempts to exegete culture by using the medieval methods of literal, allegorical, tropological, and analogical. To do that, he uses the example of Starbucks, the twentieth century success story and compares it to the failure of the contemporary church.

Starbucks, by the marvels of modern branding, marketing and giving people the illusion of what they needs, makes people willing to pay top dollars for a simple cup of coffee. Why are people willing to pay so much?

Sweet answers, “They pay so they can enjoy the Starbucks experience. The value comes with the experience that surrounds the cup of coffee. Starbucks lovers connect with the warmth of friends as they enjoy the warmth of their favourite drink.” (p.4)

Starbucks attains this success by giving people the Starbuck experience. Sweet postulates that the church can be revived by giving her members a similar experience, which he terms E.P.I.C. spirituality. EPIC is the acronyms for


Starbucks offers EPIC in the experience of drinking coffee in the ambience of a Starbuck outlet, participatory in the choosing of the variety of offerings, image-rich branding of Starbucks especially the coffee cup, and connection as friends meet over coffee and connect in a community.

The EPIC church will be the "irresistible experience" of God rather than the knowledge of Him, get “fully immersed in what God is doing,” using images as “God speaks in more than just words,” and reconstructing “life’s four bad connection: our broken relationship with God, others, self, and creation.”

The EPIC church is about experiences, and feelings. However I wonder if by using Starbucks as an example for comparison, Sweet is not bringing the church to the level of Starbucks. Starbucks is a phenomenon success because it caters to the culture of the age. Is Sweet suggesting that the church should also caters to the culture of this age? This is the culture which values experiences, existential existence, secular individualism, and materialism.

Sweet writes,

Rational faith-the form of Christianity that relies on argument, logic, and apologetics to defend its rightness-has failed miserably in meeting people where they live. Intellectual arguments over doctrine and theology are fine for divinity school, but they lose impact at the level of daily life experience. Starbucks knows that people lives for engagement, connection, symbols, and meaningful experiences. (p.5)

Because rational faith seems to have failed, there is no reason to throw out the baby with the bath water. What Starbucks offers is a superficial experience. It disappears as soon as we finish our cuppa and leaves the store. Church offers a real experience, one that transcends culture. Engagement, connection, symbols, and meaning experiences can only be lasting if it is grounded in the revelation of God. And that is rational faith. Without rational faith, it will become a free for all religiosity.

Sweet is right to point out the church has fossiled in some of her activities. However, we must be careful that to differentiate that the church is not Starbucks. Church is not a place where people who are severely addicted to caffeine go for their ‘pick me up.’ Church is a place where people who are severely addicted to Jesus Christ go to become a community of faith.

Jehovah Java!

P.S. I like Coffee Beans better!

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