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

Displaying 1–8 of 8 comments


November 28, 2006  7:15pm

What happens when you put a Starbucks inside a megachurch? Based on what I've seen in at least one Dallas-Fort Worth megachurch, the results are great. Christians ask their non-believing friends to meet them at Starbucks. People meet at the church throughout the day, not just Sunday morning.

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Revival Revolutionist

November 28, 2006  12:45pm

Now to get back on topic, away from my Starbucks rant... I liked the last paragraph of the topic at hand, "But, if we hope to form meaningful communities of Christ-followers we shouldn't neglect the power of being local. Rather than reading the latest branding book, why not gather mature leaders and listen for the Holy Spirit? How is he advising us to be the community of Christ in this unique place at this unique time?" I think that this needs to be the focus of "THE CHURCH," but I think it is soooo often missed. Local churches are the key, and coming together as the body of Christ to a place where the Holy Spirit is ACTUALLY evident, is what is needed. I am so sick of seeing a good 85% of our churches just faking it. When are we going to come together as intercessors, preachers, and true gospel-living Christians to see this world TRULY saved? No more 2-5 minute prayers for someone's salvation, but staying till that person is FREE from their old self. When are we going to be a body that goes to church for God and will stay for 3 or 4 hours or more (depending on a true move of the Holy Spirit), instead of going to church for an unholy 30-minutes to an hour, "fix?"

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Phil Cooke

November 27, 2006  3:35pm

Your "branding oracle" missed the point entirely (although you already know that.) While having a similar experience is an important part of branding, it's not the main issue. Real branding - the kind that relates to churches and ministries, is about the story that surrounds the organization or person. "What do people think of when they think of you?" Branding is the key to being noticed in a media driven culture. Branding is about standing out from the pack, and getting people to walk in the door. Once they've done that, it's about the experience. And if God isn't there, all the branding in the world won't help...

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Christian David...

November 24, 2006  9:54pm

I don't drink coffee, so I don't go to Starbucks, but if I did drink it I probably wouldn't go to Starbucks any way because I don't care much for trendy places where you have to pay high prices just because it's a trendy place. I do go to Home Depot, not because it's the trendy thing to do, but because I can usually get the stuff I need there without running all over town. It's a giant hardware store, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. I like that; a business that doesn't have to pretend in order to attract customers. For now, I'm a member of a small Sunday morning church that pretends it's a church, when all it really is, is a place for people who like to re-enact the way our forefathers worshipped 250 years ago - the same hymns, the same organs, the same choirs, the same liturgies, the same order of worship, etc. While 250 years ago, these "ministerial" things were effective means to bring people to the "essentials" of our faith - the knowledge of the presence of God in our midst, the yearning to know Christ as our Savior and Lord, and the awareness of our calling to witness and minister to others who don't know Christ - today these "traditions" only serve to make the members feel comfortable for an hour on Sunday mornings. On Monday evenings I attend a local mega church, along with a couple thousand others who could be doing a lot of things on a Monday evening besides going to church. I go, because this church makes the gospel come alive for me. This is a church that wants to reach people who don't know Christ (you know, those people we've branded as seekers); a church that challenges people to grow in their faith using the Spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, small groups, tithing, missions, and ministry; a church that preaches from the Bible and endeavors make the truth of the Gospel relevant to our lives today. The members at my Sunday church criticize the mega church because it's big, it's all about marketing and money, it waters down the Gospel to the lowest level, and all the other typical trite gossip. And while the Sunday church continues to stagnate spiritually and shrink numerically, the mega church is alive spiritually and growing like crazy, because it doesn't pretend to be something it's not; it is a worshipping house of God and the active the body of Christ producing fruit in our community. As Peter Drucker would say, God bless the churches, small and large alike, "that know what business they're in," constantly ask themselves "how's business?" and "modify their methods to serve their customers" - the people in our community whom God loves so very much, even if (or maybe especially if) they never heard of a lovefeast.

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November 21, 2006  3:22pm

Very intriguing. As a coffee lover and a pastor, I actually refuse to go to Starbucks if there are any alternatives within driving distance. I personally do not prefer the coffee but even more I am repulsed by the corporate culture trying to take over one of the last bastion of individualism and community. I love intriguing little coffee shops with strange personalities serving coffee, local art on the wall and full of the characters of the area. I love to study the soul of the city in such places. I do believe that churches ought to reflect the community in which they grow. I am not sure that one size fits all is the way of the present or the future. I crave worhsip which reflects the soul, the heart, the style of those who live in that area. To change the metaphor to another chain, they say that where ever you go in the world McDonalds taste the same. Is that really supposed to attract anyone? The age of McChurch is over - thank God

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Geoff Surratt

November 21, 2006  6:20am

In my little town we have an interesting phenomenon; we have Home Depot and mom & pop hardware stores, we have Starbucks and little alternative coffee shops, we have multi-site churches and neighborhood congregations. In our town one size doesn't seem to fit all whether it's a new sink, a café mocha or a community of believers. And the funny thing is that it's okay. I prefer the large hardware store with endless selection and multiple checkout lines; my neighbor prefers easy access and personal service, and yet we are able to get along. The biggest challenge for churches in my town is not too much variety but not enough. We have too many lost people bound for an eternity in hell and not enough churches to go around. That's why my church started opening up additional campuses; it seemed rather calloused to hang out a "No room in the inn" sign, so we decided to try something, anything, to continue reaching lost people. Now we meet in a mega-church building, an old grocery store, a warehouse, a theater, a senior citizen's center and an old church. Some of our locations are like Starbucks, some like McDonalds, some like WalMart. We even have one site that meets in a little alternative coffee shop. We are trying to become all things to all men so that by all means we might win some. I assume all the other churches in town are doing the same. I hope so.

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November 20, 2006  9:25pm

First: I agree with the post about not worrying about branding when not everyone has surrendered themselves to Christ. Second: Our mega church has outreaches around the world, but the 'connect' groups are totally local and are themed around interests (jogging, cooking, coffee clutches, etc) which allow intimacy of small groups. For fellowship before and after services, we currently have on the premises a book store and a coffee shop that makes all those fancy brews. In addition, in finishing stages are the student and Bible training center, the small diner/cafe', a wifi area, the gym, and many other 'snags' to help visitors and members want to stay and visit, but mostly learn. This is all to say that mega churches can be 'the same' while still reflecting the local cultures. Frequent surveys of the members help keep the church atmosphere attractive and active while hearing good strong Word - the real reason we meet.

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November 20, 2006  12:03pm

But...but...I like to be able to step into a Starbucks and get away from my own local culture once in a while.

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