I’ve been known as a coffee aficionado (read: addict) for a few years now. I will drink instant coffee on the rare occasion where it would be rude to refuse hospitality, but I can usually be found at my desk by about 8:30am sipping on freshly brewed java, or beginning any roadtrip with a stop for a latte. However, I realised a couple of years ago that my coffee history is blemished in the eyes of coffee purists.
My dirty secret?
I worked as a barista at Starbucks for four years while I was a somewhat-broke undergraduate student. In the New Zealand coffee scene, Starbucks probably ranks somewhere above Wild Bean and McCafe, but is definitely sneered at by those who like to purchase their soy flat white from the local organic hipster roastery.
People who love their local café often hate on Starbucks because of its sameness. It’s why you can walk into stores in Nelson, Sydney and New York, and they all have a similar vibe. This doesn’t happen by accident. Although the décor, the uniform and the menu options are always similar, baristas have also been thoroughly trained – indoctrination might not be too strong a word – into the all-important Starbucks culture. The two hundred and fifty page training manual doesn’t only teach you how to correctly apply caramel sauce to a caramel macchiato (a single-drizzle crosshatch followed by a double-drizzle circle, in case you were wondering), but also about how to be Starbucks.
Baristas are taught five ‘green apron’ behaviours – be welcoming, genuine, knowledgeable, considerate, and involved. These are followed up by other customer service techniques, such as to ‘Connect, Discover and Respond’ – greet your customer and connect with them, discover something about them, and respond accordingly. I worked under fun shift supervisors, who would facetiously singsong this to me as they walked past, but I hated the sense that my interaction with people had to be moulded to this three point list.
It did work though – apparently, people feel safe telling their barista confidential news, like the customer who told me she was pregnant but hadn’t told her partner or her children yet. Someone at Starbucks headquarters has been very smart and has caught onto an important principle – if people feel like they belong, are valued and are wanted, they’ll keep coming back (and, most importantly for Starbucks, spending money). The company plays on human emotional needs in order to keep their profits increasing.
So what does this all have to do with mission? Over the years, I’ve been in hundreds, if not thousands, of church services where people have been invited to raise their hands to signal that they want to become a follower of Jesus. It’s great when people genuinely respond, and not so great when it becomes a bit of a social-pressure scenario. What I’ve noticed tends to happen, however, is when people wave their hand in the air without having some sort of personal connection to the community, they’re a lot less likely to continue attending church. The ones who keep coming back are those who are welcomed and embraced as the glorious and creative individuals that they are, into the messy and diverse family of God – they know that they are wanted and that they genuinely belong.
Have a think about how this might apply to you, or affect how we think about missions and evangelism in our local churches? My suspicion is that our first question should never be ‘Are you a Christian’, but something more along the lines of ‘What’s been happening for you lately?’ It might mean being a bit less focused on the moment of decision… and more committed to walking it out together for the rest of our lives.
How do you feel discovering that the friendly barista from Starbucks is simply following a careful marketing strategy to make you buy more coffee? Why is that? What difference should this make for us when we talk to others about our faith?
Find an opportunity this week to Connect, Discover and Respond. Kate's question is a good starting point: 'What's been happening for you lately?'
Kate spent her late teens connected to YWAM, the prayer movement and working at her Church in Wellington. She's since blasted her way through a Bachelor in Theology with Bishopdale Theology College in Nelson and is now beavering away at a PhD. Her passion is to see the local church grow in its understanding of and passion for mission.
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