Eugene Cho

what if starbucks marketed like a church?

This video entitled What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church? A Parable is making the rounds around blogosphere.  It was created to “help churches to truly understand the disconnection between how we do things and the people we’re trying to reach.”

Take a look. Thoughts?

My thoughts:  

  • Well made video.  Helps visualize some great points since it’s so easy for a church to grow disconnected in our insular world.  
  • As I’ve shared on a post entitled Soul of Starbucks, it’s a great company to work for but brutal to compete against. 
  • And interesting that this video was released about a week before Starbucks released news that their profits decreased 97% during their 4Q.  They’ve laid off over 1000 people this year and closed or in the process of closing 600 stores this year.   
  • And at least here in Seattle [headquarters of Starbucks], it doesn’t help that their CEO, Howard Schultz, currently ain’t the most popular people for selling off our NBA professional basketball team to someone who eventually moved it over to Oklahoma.
  • But something about this video freaks me out.  I know it’s a parable but do we really want to see Starbucks or a corporate giant as a good juxtaposition?

So, while there are lessons to be learned in this video, maybe there are other lessons to consider.  No?

Have you ever tried really hard to make a point and when people say they get it, you are just not sure they do? Sometimes it takes us seeing our world through new eyes–something that it is hard to do as believers. Sometimes a little bit of juxtaposition does the trick.

We made this video because we sometimes struggle in helping churches to truly understand the disconnection between how we do things and the people we’re trying to reach. Our thought was to showcase the visitor experience in a completely different context and in doing so, we might help churches realize how they might actually comes across to the world we are called to reach.

Sometimes it takes seeing something in a different light to really get it. With this thought, my team and I made a little video called “What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? A Parable.”

[h/t Beyond Relevance]

Filed under: church, emerging church, religion,

22 Responses

  1. dmowen says:

    Not sure what to make of this video, it was kind of entertaining as a critique of the church, but the message seemed kind of muddled to me. I’m not sure that the church’s problems stem from having poor marketing practices but rather from trying too hard to think of itself in terms of a business selling a product and from placing too much of an emphasis on marketing. This is not a healthy model and people recognize it as phony or weird which I think the video alludes to. The gospel should “sell itself” and the work of the church should be more focused on the quality of the product than on the business plan.

  2. ransom33 says:

    I have to totally agree with the comment by dmowen.

    Churches these days are run like businesses and little room and opportunity is left for the Holy Spirit to work in people, and for each individual to rely on the Holy Spirit alone as oppossed to on the elders and/or clergy in a church.


    ransom33 @

  3. goldfearsnofire says:

    did someone really yell out “javalujiah???” brilliant.

  4. Emily says:

    I think the video makes some good points of ways that some churches could probably make visitors feel totally awkward through their overt emphasis on recruiting new members and making people feel like a target. But I also agree with dmowen that the answer isn’t necessarily better marketing practices. We should be embodying a different reality in the church that is by nature attractive. So rather than focusing on being “cool” to newcomers, I think we should be asking ourselves if real community and love is being practiced. I think encouraging the church/current members to grow in their own sense of community and what it looks like to live life together as a family and be in a welcoming posture to others who might want to join the family would do more to make a visitor feel welcome. I don’t think visitors are looking to join a club, they need a community to belong to, and until we actually figure-out how to do that ourselves, we’re not offering a whole lot besides marketing.

  5. Kenny Ahn says:

    Of course I don’t agree with every single portion of the video. Then again, by the very definition of a parable, I’m really looking to take one point from this. The word “marketing” may throw off some conservative Christians from taking this video to heart…..or at least to a lesson.

    If churches did concentrate more on living a genuine life in Christ, I do believe more non-believers would give Christianity a shot. I remember one person telling me that he would be a Christian if it were not for Christians that he knew.

    As for churches mimicking businesses, I actually get extremely frustrated in that the churches are many times dysfunctional in its policies. If the policies were Biblical standards, I would be fine. But many church policies are more Pharisaical in its origin and practice. It would be refreshing to see things like 360 reviews, succession planning, and performance management for servants of the church. I hope I’m not offending too many people with this opinion.

  6. eugenecho says:

    nice thoughts everyone.

    @kenny: a parable. right. good reminder. lessons to be gleaned for sure. after 7 years at quest, i’ve learned [the hard way] the importance of the balance between Organic and Organizational. Discern and Pray. Establish good systems. Submit to the Spirit. Discern and Pray.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking with people who are new to the church in the last few months. One of the things I understand now in a way I didn’t before is that if you want to connect with new people, you have to be willing to be with them in their ambivalence. They want to enter in, and pull back at the same time. If you don’t make room for both realities you end up talking like a salesperson. I think that if you want to make efforts in welcoming newcomers, you have to be willing to hold other people’s anxiety well.

    The thing about connecting with new people that most amazes me is the number of people who have been deeply hurt at a church in the past – and yet, here they are still trying to move into community. Some of them have plenty of reason to never step foot in a church again…but they still endure the struggle and want to try. The past may have been painful, but they are not letting it have the last word. I love that.

  8. Beth says:

    I found the You Tube comments worth even more than the video:

    “churches don’t need marketing churches need prayer. ”

    “This is the problem with all the protestant evangelical McChurches all competing for each other. This is what you get for fracturing the Christian Church.”

    “Church isn’t a consumer transaction; it’s a relationship”

    While I am altogether in agreement with those comments (especially the last one), there are other perspectives. Take a look here for example. According to David Deal,

    “Some might find it distasteful for a religious institution of any denomination to so nakedly embrace marketing. But religious institutions are no different than secular organizations that seek to attract and retain members: they need to make themselves known if they’re going to succeed. And like secular organizations, they can choose any manner of tasteful or obnoxious ways to spread their message through marketing.”

    So, according to Deal, it is not a question of whether or not religious institutions should stoop to the market. It is assumed that “consumer” is the default position of everyone in our society, and that churches, synogogues, mosques and temples reduce to markets. So the question is whether or not religious institutions are in tune with how consumers wish to be treated.

    From this perspective, evangelical churches are using outdated techniques to appeal to and manage their consumers, which erodes trust between church as marketer and potential consumers That means churches need to adapt and follow consumer behavior. (Heaven forbid that they should form it!)

    Here’s what Deal predictions the consumer of 2018 will be like:

    “The answer is fairly simple: follow consumer behavior — don’t try to ‘manage’ it. To help the marketer, Lisa introduces the four ‘Ps’ of understanding consumer behavior in the digital world: permission, proximity, perception, and participation:

    1. Permission: consumers derive comfort by managing with whom and when they engage. Example: is a closed, invitation-only shopping community.

    2. Proximity: consumers tap into networks and affiliations based on on content and association. The notion of curated content is important here. Example: Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast content curator connects people with common interests. Daily Beast brings proximity to its readers.

    3. Perception: consumers inhabit multiple personas. Marketers need to engage the persona consumers are willing to reveal and allow consumers to manage their own perceptions. Example: Apple enables consumers to customize our iPods however we want, and we pay Apple for the privilege.

    4. Participation: consumers participate in order to feel connected. Example: Sprint and and Suave have collaborated to create In the Motherhood, a community managed by moms for moms.

    Consumers use these 4 P’s to manage their fluctuations between core need states. We cannot “control” them. We have to let consumers guide us.

    Lisa’s closing thoughts: if you’ve gotten permission from consumers to participate in their world, ask them to share their experience with others. Consumers will act as brand advocates for you – if they like you. ”

    Sigh. Too bad Paul didn’t do a better job of asking permission to participate in Philippi, Thessalonica, and especially Ephesus. Think of how many more brand advocates they could have made!

  9. I’d like to throw in my $0.2 to suggest that marketing isn’t a bad thing. Marketing is what we do anytime we attempt to communicate any idea that we think has value. Everything from “drink Coke” to “I am attractive” and “I am respectable”. And certainly any church meeting is filled with marketing decisions by each member about what they wear, how friendly/formal they act when talking to each other, etc. It can (and is) seriously abused but marketing is just another tool.

    Watching that video I was reminded of so many memories of being uncomfortable in church. Even as a Christian. Urgh.

  10. Tom says:

    Really funny. Nice vid parable–I’d love to see a whole new genre like that develop. Had a conversation with a missionary in Mauritania (North Africa) last year discussing how to develop a series of ‘video parables’ for Muslim poor folks there. Turns out they love short videos, and love religious satire focused on radical Islam (which they mostly consider oppressive and silly) as well as western Christian pretensions. We thought a series of videos that gently lampooned both groups but which also made important points about a more authentic Jesus and Christian community could be useful. Your vid’s a nice model structurally and tonally.

    Lots of interesting points here. No question that Christian communities and orgs have got to be culturally relevant to get a hearing, but I do think there’s at least one way in which a marketing ethos differs fundamentally from authentic Christian appeals.

    Effective marketing has always assumed the consumer is king, and I think the influence of marketing has increasingly led to the kind of consumer (the kind of person?) Deal describes in Beth’s post. He describes consumers who want maximum flexibility and control of the process of consumption, and I think that’s certainly where marketing is increasingly headed.

    But the authority of God and the Christian community is always at the heart of authentic Christian appeals. It’s hard to make that lay down with marketing appeals based on the ‘new consumer’ that Deal describes. To piggy back on Beth’s concluding comments, Kierkegaard brilliantly pointed out in the 19th century (in ‘The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle’) that Paul’s appeal was never to his own attractiveness or brilliance. In fact, K points out that Paul wasn’t that attractive a guy and was a fairly lousy writer and certainly no genius. What Paul had was plenty of authority which he was unapologetic about claiming and wielding. Hard to know how to make ‘supernatural authority’ part of a marketing pitch aimed at ‘hyper-libertarian’ consumers that want maximum control of ‘the transaction.’

  11. Rick L says:

    The church should not make marketing a big concern.

    The church cannot HELP but market itself. Marketing, broadly understood, has to do with presenting ourselves to people. The questions are a) how much are we thinking about how we present ourselves to others, and b) from whom are we taking the lead?

    A good logo or mark, the right name for the church, a great website won’t get a church where it wants to be. A bad one of the above can stop it from getting there, possibly. But a passion for simplt loving people and sharing a message of grace and the friendship of Jesus – now you’re talking.

  12. […] your Church A few days ago someone sent me a link to a Youtube video clip with the title: What if Starbucks marketed like a church? I was able to watch it then, but unfortunately it seems to have been removed from Youtube in the […]

  13. agree with first comment

    if u make great coffee, people will want it… in a world where marketing is just everywhere, people just want something real, something good. and not only will they search for it, they will know the real thing when they see it.

    if we practiced just a little bit of what we preached, it would be a very different story!

  14. Matt K says:

    Perhaps a more “Biblical” word than marketing the church needs is “Hospitality”. I understand the critique against “user-friendly” churches and the effort to be “relevant”, but a universal element to what the Christian movement should be and is too often not is a place of hospitality–which might mean different things in different contexts.

  15. Jeff says:

    I found the comment by the visitor “I just want some coffee” very enlightening. The Barista should have taken the lead from that point. In all the street ministry I’ve been involved with, I’ve learned to listen first and foremost. Most importantly I learned that Jesus does truely Lead.

  16. Tom says:

    @Matt K

    I like hospitality in place of marketing. New language is needed. Definitely.

    I do think there’s a an important difference between the two, though, since marketing by definition is always about selling somebody on something and making a financial profit. That’s what actual markets (not the broad definition) do. Maybe that’s why so many of us who appreciate the life giving elements of business struggle to accept market language in the church. Jesus violently cleansed the money changers from the temple, after all.

    Hospitality, at least in the older biblical sense, meant honoring somebody from outside your world by inviting them into your world while making them as comfortable as possible. Could be outside your family, or outside your ethnic group, or outside your religious tradition, or maybe outside your sexual orientation in a more current potential application.

  17. eugenecho says:

    i like that word as well.

    at quest, one of the things that we’ve tried to stress from the beginning is the distinction between “host” and “guest.”

    in my opinion, churches struggle when many of their regular act like guests or still clamor for “guest privileges” when they should be hosts.

    hospitality is a lost discipline in the modern consumption mindset of society and churches.

  18. leochen says:

    Oh wow! That was really painful to watch. All the flashbacks of many churches I’ve attended…

  19. mar says:

    the video offers some good insights but i was pretty disturbed when i followed the link to the creator’s website, which seems to focus on how to market the church for the purpose of greater growth. church growth is not about drawing people into a church building. it is about the church going into the world and loving them as jesus did.

    instead of bringing friends TO church, we should BECOME the church to them.

  20. Mark says:

    This was funny but really disturbing, is this how we really do church? If so, we need to do it differently.

    It seemed to portray a cult of some sort. I thought I was watching a bunch of guys wearing white shirts and neckties with little name badges.

    If this is the church in America, America needs help. Are these people going to Heaven? Are they being prepared for the persecution to come? Are they being discipled. Man, this seemed like one of those American Mega Churches that is only interested in themselves and not the rest of the world.

    If I am in a church like that I need to flee now…

  21. […] and Church? 23 11 2008 Since we met at Starbucks yesterday, I thought this would be a good post to link […]

  22. Brown says:

    I found this video great! I am a manager of a starbucks and a Christian. What draws me to my job is the heart of the company to be hospitable and go the extra mile to make people feel comfortable in our store, even if its their first time to visit us. People are more comfortable going into a coffee shop then a church! WHY? I’m proud of my team in my store but at the same time its sad to me that my baristas in this secular entity could provide a more welcoming environment then christian believers in a church. If anything, I hope people see this video as a way to understand the disconnect we have with the culture of today.

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