Thursday, February 27, 2014

Coffee culture

You've probably seen that video making the rounds: what if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church. I was thinking about it today as I sat in a DC coffee shop waiting for a friend to arrive. The friend walked in, saw me sitting there with Macbook open and mocha at hand, and said, "well I see you've made yourself right at home."
You've heard of "digital natives"? I'm a coffee-shop native. I do not need a coffee-shop orientation, a users manual, or a new-coffee-drinkers class. I've sat in dozens of coffee shops, consumed countless cups of coffee, dipped into the ever-flowing stream of wifi (and, seriously, if your wifi is not like grace -- free -- then I'm definitely not joining), and solved almost all the problems of the world several times over with a variety of friends, colleagues and church members.
I'm sure that the church does have a lot to learn from coffee shop culture -- first and foremost, we should all strive to have better coffee! Almost as important as the good coffee, we should strive to make the experience of walking into a church building for a worship service as welcoming and easy to navigate as possible for every single person who shows up at the door.
OK, maybe that's even more important than the coffee.
Oh, and it's also the point at which the learnings from coffee shop culture should begin to end. Not everybody is welcome in coffee shops because not everybody can afford what they sell. If that is true in a church -- if people do not feel welcome because they don't have enough money -- it's because the church missed the memo when Jesus said, "you will have the poor with you always."
I love coffee shops. I spend a lot of time in them. I have often joked that the coffee shop around the corner from church is my office annex. But the coffee shop is not the church.
The coffee shop makes no demands on us. It offers only the comfort of a cup of coffee, at a price many of us are perfectly willing to pay.
The community of the church should be a community of comfort, to be sure. But it should also be a community of agitation that makes demands on itself. We should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, as they say, and we should recognize that each of us will, at various stages along the way, be the afflicted and be the comfortable. So each of us should, also, offer comfort and be willing to offer affliction (or, at least, agitation).
I suspect that's where coffee culture feels so much better to most of us than authentic church culture. We really don't want to offer affliction, even when we discern clearly that it is needed. I can't quite imagine a marketing campaign that addresses that, but I am pretty sure it won't come from Starbucks.