Burned by Branding
What churches can learn from the anti-Starbucks movement.

Believe it or not, not everyone loves Starbucks. The Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy has written about the growing resistance the Seattle-based coffee cartel is facing in many communities. The issue - Starbucks ignores local culture in favor of maintaining its brand-identity.

The already omnipresent Starbucks has plans to triple its locations worldwide to 40,000, but Adamy says the plan has alarmed some communities. "The proliferation of [Starbucks] stores has prompted a small number of cities to block it from opening out of concern the chain will erode the local character."

I've attended a number of conferences and read many reports in recent years about the popular multi-site church model. Invariably these sources will reference Starbucks as an example for churches who wish to establish themselves in multiple communities. But what should the church be learning from the rising anti-Starbucks sentiment?

During my first year of church ministry the two more experienced pastors on staff took me to "the Oracle." The old man lived in a bungalow not far from our church. I entered the house rather nervously. The 60's era furniture was covered in plastic, and every horizontal surface I could see was stacked with books. The Oracle looked to be in his 70's, he was unshaven, his trousers held to his belly by suspenders. He wore only a tight-fitting undershirt (popularly called a "wife-beater" thanks to the TV show "COPS").

The Oracle (aka, church consultant) sat in his recliner studying our numbers. He had requested detailed records of our church attendance, service schedule, and giving trends. He wanted nothing else. We sat in nervous silence waiting for the wise man to speak. After a few minutes of the old man saying "Hmmm," "Ahhh," and clearing his phlegm, he finally spoke. Without taking his eyes off the papers he started to tell a story.

"A few weeks ago I had a leaky pipe in the kitchen. Nasty things, leaky pipes. We used to have a very nice little hardware store up the street. It was small, but it was all we had. It's gone now." I looked at the two older pastors that had brought me here. Is this guy nuts? I asked with my eyes. Why have we come to an old man with dementia for advice about our church? The Oracle kept talking.

"So, I got in my car and went to the new place. They built a new Home Depot not far from here. You know the one. It's orange. You can't miss it. Sure enough, Home Depot had the part I needed. They have every part anyone could ever need." He paused for a moment, then started up again. "I like to drive," he said. Oh no, I thought, he's lost it.

November 20, 2006