Every so often you read something that connects with you in a way you can’t explain. Last time was a good few years ago; the book then A Churchless Faith by Alan Jamieson. This time it is a book by Howard Schultz, Onward How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul.
At this point I better explain. Yes, the book is essentially one big load of Starbucks propaganda which justifies capitalism with a heart. However, it does contain some golden material which should be sifted out from the not uninteresting biographical stuff and sweet marketing. Chapters 19 -21 are particularly inspiring reading.
There are some vital things within this book which I think the church, particularly in Western Europe, would do well to get hold of.
On page 152 he explains why it’s not all about numerical growth by saying, “Large numbers that once captivated me… are not what matter. The only number that matters is “one”…We had to get back to what mattered most.”
Now, I know that some people within the church have been getting hold of this. The word discipleship seems to be in fashion again. (Something I for one aren’t complaining about). See the Deepening Discipleship website as one example. It also relates to evangelism though. Instead of looking for growth through huge renewal we, as I heard David Coffey say some years ago, need to get realistic in thinking about the individual.
The next thing of great value to the church, I think is on page 155, Schultz says is, “Starbucks never set out to be cool. We set out to be relevant!”
Within this statement he is clear to differentiate between these two oft confused terms. The church should never seek to be cool, (we all know how any attempt to be “cool” often results in not quite getting it). However, we must seek to be relevant. This is central to the gospel and its teachings.
Then, as an analogy, when explaining how the closing of coffee shops impacted neighbourhoods and the power these community spaces have in the public imagination he refers to the way closing the coffee shops was liking closing neighbourhood churches. (p159). When ending a quotation from a friend it says, “I don’t go to Starbucks that much. I don’t go to the Baptist church either. But I’m glad that we’ve got one just about everywhere.”
The concept of vicarious religion is something we need to both understand and develop further in our strategic thinking about mission I believe. Just as Starbucks had to close some stores it has been and remains true that many, (if not all), of the denominations and networks in this country need to restructure their provision of buildings and staff. The decisions involved do not just impact those who worship in these buildings or receive the regular support of these staff – they go beyond into the wider public imagination.
In terms of the way that everybody seems to be looking for that silver bullet which will restore the fortunes of a company, (or religion), on page 165 he declares, “there is no such thing….Transforming Starbucks was a complex puzzle we were trying to piece together, where everything we did contributed to the whole. We just had to focus on the right, relevant things for our partners, for our customers, for our shareholders and for our brand.”
Now don’t get me wrong I understand that within churches the bible, the leading of the Holy Spirit and prayer are all vital components and that the church is not like other businesses (and should not even be seen as a business as such). However, as long as I can remember people have been looking for that silver bullet, (often seen to be in some elusive form of worship style). However, it’s not there. We need to be honest about the complex puzzle we, as Christians, are involved in solving. God’s spirit, the knowledge of his word and time spent seeking him are all vital to understand the puzzle and how we should approach solving it. Yet God trusts our human involvement as well. Scary, but true.
In terms of why he didn’t just give up on page 171 he explains how he maintained hope. He says, “We had to believe in our hearts that, if we were authentic and if we were true and stayed the course, this transformation would work.”
God may be a resurrection God rather than a resuscitation God as I read recently, but he is involved in a work of transformation in and through us. If we are going to be effective as Christians and as church we need to remain true to this. We need to understand that God’s transformation of us and our society will work. If we don’t believe our faith in our hearts then we may as well go and find other social clubs to meet our friends in.
The church in this country is undergoing change and upheaval and every denomination is having to make difficult decisions. I believe in this situation whilst getting a deeper understanding of Gods word is vital reading this book will also be useful for many people who need to get their heads around the difficult decisions which will be involved / are involved for our committees on local and national levels.