I am a social drinker and the beverage I’m talking about is coffee. While I occasionally pursue a coffee beverage when I’m on my own, that’s usually motivated by the desire for the caffeine kick. Mostly, though, coffee is an emotional and relational experience for me and I think that’s why Starbuck’s (and other coffee shops which have emulated that brand) work for so many people. They knew that it was not just about the coffee. Truly people won’t spend that kind of money on just coffee for long.
Earlier this Spring when I was at The Cove for a set of meetings, a friend and I ended up in the little town of Black Mountain after discovering that the Blue Ridge Highway was closed only 17 miles from Asheville. We got there a bit before the stores opened — you know, the stores filled with mountain-made arts and crafts which I needed very much to see and hold and imagine in my house but which I had no intention of actually purchasing. We could (a) sit in the rental car and wait patiently or (b) try out the The Dripolator Coffeehouse. We wisely chose (b). The above photo is of my latte that morning.
The latte itself was lovely to look at, the cup felt good in my hands, the aroma was divine, and the taste was “latte.” But it was all of that plus the atmosphere of this place with its mismatched but comfortable seating, large artwork locally painted on the walls, rough wooden flooring, door opening and closing in a sort of rhythm as people come and go that made the coffee beverage “good.” A huge part of the atmosphere for me was not only the chance to get to know Nicole a bit better, but the group of people assembled there who we never spoke with but who played real roles in the experience.
From the time I left staff at Faith Missionary Church in Indy until today, I’ve had a few friends who keep me in Starbuck’s gift cards. I love that. I love it because of their thoughtfulness and generosity. I love it because now that the cards work at airport outlets, it means I can often enhance my travel with one of my favorite beverages (I do like some of these coffee beverages just because they are yummy). I also love it because it empowers me to extend their generosity to others. It has been fun be able to say “hey, I think my friend ________ wants to buy us some ‘bucks.” If you are listening as you read you might be hearing that this all is still more about the relationship than the beverage.
Starbucks and all of the others like them are about relationship. It is the non-alcohol-serving version of the Cheers’ Bar. When I say, with many others, that the local church should be more like a Starbucks, I’m not really talking about the coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that many churches are serving better coffee than the stuff from the bottom shelf at the warehouse store — but if it’s not really about the relationship, we will have missed another boat of opportunity.