What happened to community?


I was at our local Starbucks the other day with my son and one of his friends. I overheard the barista talking to another customer about the store closing and relocating across the street. No doubt there were other factors involved in management’s decision to change locations, but the one that the barista cited as the reason for the move: more space for a drive-thru window.

As I began to think about it more, it seemed pretty ironic. I mean what does Starbucks sell? Coffee? I can get coffee a lot of places for a lot less. No. Starbucks sells an experience…an experience of community. That was the idea. Coffee was just the excuse to get folks together. Like the small town coffee shop. A place where old men could catch up on gossip, folks could conduct business, and friends could reconnect. Like Cheers, it was a place “where everyone knows your name”. And it has been incredibly successful. (At last count there were at least 4 stores within a 2 mile radius of my house.) While the drive-thru will make it easier to grab Starbucks on the go on my way into the office, it screams of isolation, privacy, individuality, convenience…all those things that are antithetical to community.

True community is hard to grasp. It requires a great deal of self-sacrifice and self-denial. It forces us to consider others as much as we consider ourselves. It means we have to love really well. Thinking back to the end of James 3 where James contrasts worldly wisdom with God’s wisdom, this sentiment certainly applies. The wisdom of the world is all about self-promotion – those things that put me on top (and consequently you on bottom), that result in my success, that bring me the greatest amount of glory (building my own tower). But God’s wisdom is described as pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. It is a wisdom that promotes true community.

I don’t know if the drive-thru will be the new tread, but if so, it marks the end of a great idea – the Starbucks ethos – no longer do they sell an experience of community, they sell coffee. Just like McDonald’s, Duncan Donuts and a hundred other also rans. But who can blame them. True community is hard. It’s messy. It’s inconvenient. And it doesn’t always promote the bottom line.

Until next time…stay salty.



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