Here’s What Churches Can Learn From It...
For decades, Starbucks has been perfecting the concept of providing a “third space” for its customers: a place besides work and home where people can connect and caffeinate simultaneously. The result? They built an empire, not on the product they were selling (coffee), but by the environment that they were providing. Churches have long copied this concept, all the way down to java ministry with sleek couches and pendant lighting in the foyer.
But now, Starbucks has changed everything.
New in Manhattan this week is a Starbucks partnered with an Amazon Go location. If you are not familiar with Amazon Go, it is a cashier-less store with sensors and cameras which track what you take off the shelf and put in your basket, charging you automatically as you leave the property. George Jetson would be proud!
Now, Starbucks has partnered with Amazon Go to launch its first cashier-less location in Manhattan, where customers can pick up their mobile orders and be on their way. And with this innovative pivot away from being a “coffee shop” as we have come to know it, Starbucks is recognizing that what got them to where they are may not be the thing that takes them into the future. And the Church needs to take notes.
With a global pandemic disrupting family behavior like no event in our lifetime, churches can no longer depend on an “if we build it, they will come” mentality. To be honest, many of us probably will feel some relief to get out of the race to be the coolest and hippest church in town. Curating great environments where the music sounds like a concert and we house amazing programs for the whole family used to be the thing that worked to attract community members to a church (just like large choirs, orchestras, and drama performances used to be highly attractive to the community a few decades ago). Sprinkle in a small group and a retreat or two, and you had the foundations for a thriving church community. But now, the church as a “third space” for people to connect has experienced a shift, and if we can learn anything from Starbucks, it is that we should expect it to never be the same. In other words, what got the church to where it is will not likely be the thing that gets it to where it is going. It’s time to innovate.
In the past two years, many churches have increased their level of investment in all things digital out of necessity, but there is a remnant of annoyance that has infiltrated many churches about having to abandon face-to-face ministry for something on a screen. It is leaking oil into the watering hole for many leaders. Let me encourage you to keep a different mindset as we learn our way into the future: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always got. Therefore, continually asking what new thing can your church do to be light in the darkness is a hard but necessary place to lean into. What new thing can your church do to pursue people where they are, rather than expecting them to come to you?
I made a quick and dirty “no idea is a bad idea” brainstorm to help get your creative juices flowing on how to pursue people.
Here’s my top 10.
- Have your church sponsor your community’s little league. Nothing says “we love you” like going to sign up your kid to play ball and there are no fees. “Wait, a church paid for my kid to play T-ball?”
- Partner with a local non-profit organization and help them with something THEY need. Too many churches have long been accused of being self-serving. Rather than sending a check to a local organization as part of your church’s missions ministry, enlist warm bodies to go be on the front lines with them.
- Promote local businesses on your church’s social media channels. If you say you are for your community, helping local small businesses by promoting them to your audience is a great way to create strategic, long-term partnerships with key people in your community.
- Let other people and organizations use your space when it's otherwise empty, for FREE. No fees and all fun. No cost and no competition. Help out your local Boy Scouts, knitting group, sports team, or ukulele club by giving them your facility to use. Heat it or cool it, set it up for them, clean it up for them. People will notice the generosity.
- Put a community garden on that old field out back. Food is love, so why not grow some love right on your own campus? Plus, that eyesore full of weeds and potholes that your facility team can’t ever seem to find time to tend will become a community treasure and meeting place for people who would otherwise never step foot near a church.
- Join TikTok. There, I said it. Make short-form content that isn’t cheesy but still is Christ-centered and you’ll be shocked at how fast Gen Z will begin to trust your (or your church’s) voice without ever coming to your campus. Oh, and don’t be afraid to do some silly stuff too. Laughing is medicine for the soul. Not sure how to start? Find a 15-year-old and ask for help.
- Cancel church and serve your community on a Sunday instead. Many churches have seen incredible buy-in from their congregation and their unchurched friends by prioritizing the community enough to cancel their plans (Sunday church!) to care for their community. Mobilize your people out into the community!
- Start an after-school program that doesn’t cost money. People are working from home at an elevated rate, and anyone with young kids knows that the moment school gets out, work production halts. Snacks and homework reign supreme. But what if kids had a cool place to hang out with friends and get help with homework in your otherwise empty facility? This feels like a great way for your congregation to volunteer and a huge benefit to families that need help. Promote this to your local schools and see what happens!
- Invest more money in social media for the year than you do in decorating your church for Christmas. If you’re using your church’s social media channels like billboards, please stop. Find someone in your church with a viral following on every platform (they are out there, promise), and ask them to help you curate a social feed that actually matters to people outside of your current audience. Learn how to do this. The long play here is that your church won’t slide off into irrelevance. Also, don’t be afraid to invest in promoting posts.
- As a pastor, model for your church what you want them to do. It may be time to join the PTA or that advisory board for another organization. It may be time to reach out to your neighbors and host a block party. Put together a hot chocolate bar in your driveway, invite the neighbors, and walk the neighborhood together as families looking at Christmas lights this season. Find something to do so that you’re not just telling your people to go pursue their community, but you're practicing what you preach.
What is your church doing that is unique and creative to pursue people and, like Starbucks, to pivot away from the third space concept? Drop me a line and let me know!