I admit that I’m not a Starbucks drinker but a Starbucks user. At any rate, this article pointed out an amazing stat that is nonetheless easy to believe. 80% of Starbucks revenue comes from folks who visit the store an average of 18 times a month. Now let me draw out a conclusion that has been forged in real experience and statistical proof. Not even the American evangelical church can claim such loyalty. It has already been pointed out that Southern Baptists (I picked them because they are the largest of this group and I use to be one) can not account for well over 8 million members of their churches (see here). Other mainline denominations are no better. In fact all the mainline groups (Presbyterian, United Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) are hemorrhaging members at an astounding pace. So what does this mean?
Some church culture hawks will look at this and say, “That’s it! If we start giving away espresso at our church services then people will come” (if you don’t believe churches do this see here). Others with a more agnostic frame of mind might say, “See Christians are no better than anyone else, in fact they’re less loyal.” However, I think something else might explain why Starbucks can keep members and many churches cannot. The problem is not one of marketing. I lived in Los Angeles and can tell you that no church can compete with the world’s marketing ability. Churches in my own area run TV commercials and news ads that come off looking silly at best and pandering at worst. To be sure, if your church gives away something that the average person likes then they might be lured for a season. However they will eventually figure out that if it’s coffee you want then Starbucks makes it better (which is the same reason you don’t go to McDonalds for the fish). There is an old business axiom that goes something like this: “what you win them with is what you will keep them with.” So what happens if you attract people to your church with promises like, “let us help get your finances in order” or “feeling depressed…come and let us help you”? Do they stay after they get their checkbook balanced or no longer “feel” depressed? Statistics show they clearly do not.
I think one of the lessons that shrinking church roles teaches us is that churches have been wooing folks with everything under the Sun except the gospel. When the warm fuzzies wear-off they are left holding a cold cup of coffee while listening to a “preacher” give a humanistic motivational speech. The world is very savvy at many things but one thing it is unable to do is be “the pillar and support of the truth” which is the sole role of the church (1 Tim. 3:14). So until some pupliteers wake-up to the reality that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation they will continue to miss the forest for the trees. Now this does not mean that true needs are overlooked in an effort to get someone to pray a prayer (I’m pretty sure that the latter is never mentioned in Scripture). There are extremes on both sides of this needy fence. One says give them a cup of cold water and don’t even dream of mentioning Jesus and the other says give them the coldest water they’ve ever had and make sure the cup has John 3:16 printed in bold on the outside. The first approach leaves Jesus out of the equation altogether and the other makes the cold water look better than having your sins washed away. The call of the gospel means telling others that they have no hope outside of faith in Jesus Christ and that it won’t necessarily make their life “better”. It also means that the church has a responsibility to help those who find it difficult to follow Jesus (i.e. discipleship). Lastly, it should be a reminder that many folks churches consider as “members” are not on the heavenly role that matters. . . they just came to your church for the coffee.