Bi-Cultural Church – The Church at Starbucks

By D. Michael Kopp
A report from a missional church planter outside Denver, Colorado.
(A4 pdf version 76k, Letter pdf version 76k)

When it comes to church, and church models, what if success were defined by faithfulness (not by numbers) and faithfulness by whether or not a church was living up to its bi-cultural calling? The church exists in two cultures: the Kingdom of God and the earthly culture of its environment. A faithful church would be becoming enough like the Gospel so that it genuinely identifies with God in its call to be holy; And simultaneously becoming enough like the unique culture it is situated in so that it identifies with it as well, in its call to be relevant.

Here in Southwest Denver, we have practiced our bi-cultural call to holiness and relevance at our neighborhood Starbucks.

We start and end with the following premise: Christ has sent us. Christ has sent us just as He Himself was sent (John 20:21), into the specific cultural settings of his choice (Acts 17:26). He has, moreover, thoughtfully enabled each of us with a unique calling built around a particular set of Good News-oriented abilities that He calls his followers to enter into (Eph 2:10).

This reality shapes our entire approach to church and has compelled us to organize everything around three interlocking congregation-wide habits: overhearing, translating, and connecting.

Overhearing: Showing Up with Ears
To us, church is in many ways about nothing more than consistently showing up. Where? Not in that building with a cross on it, but outside of our Christianized sub-culture in the world around us – we have been sent into the world. Showing up, to us, is about listening – overhearing what.

Overhearing at Starbucks. This fine coffee company’s stated objective is to become the third place wherever they locate their store. According to any of their rank and file employees: there’s work, there’s home and there’s Starbucks. You might be thinking, “Okay, Mike’s church wants to become another third place.” Actually, we don’t want to become a competing third place at all – we have to be out there, among those outside Christ after all. Instead, we routinely and by now, naturally, infiltrate the community that’s already happening at Starbucks. We go to their turf. We go as listeners, as people earning the right to speak. We go as potential friends not holy warriors ready to force them to convert. Ten out of the fourteen employees at our neighborhood Starbucks have now given us an invitation to speak into their lives because we showed up in their world.

The point is this: we went to them, into their world, and listened. We didn’t ask them to come to us. If it takes two years before they darken the door of our worship service we’ll be just fine with that, because church is about going to them and listening.

Translating: Bring a Bigger Gospel
God sent us to be the sign that the kingdom of heaven was made available to people here on this side of eternity. That was the Good News. At our Starbucks store, the Good News is being seen in the lives of some of our church members who work there. It’s being heard in their words, in their work ethic, in their hospitality. It has not had much to do with doctrinal statements or verbal defense of the Gospel.

How amazing it is that we can live and speak the Good News in such small, boorish ways. More perplexing still are the ways we even the make the gospel bad news by turning it into a theology lesson.

It is supposed to be, after all, about the reality that the kingdom of heaven is splashing down around those who have merged their lives with Christ’s. It all seems so obvious, but it’s only really Good News if it goes beyond words and translates into life transformation. The kingdom of God is not just talk but power. At our Starbucks they saw the life, then invited the talk.

Connecting: Become an Invitation to the Table
Our goal is to help those outside Christ to experience belonging. If they belong, and the Good News is really transforming each of us, then, in time, and through some intentionality on our part, they will begin to believe. They get a chance to sit around the same green Starbucks table we do and discover, right along with us, what Jesus meant when he said, “follow me.”

We purposefully avoid an in or out mentality. Theologically speaking, when they are baptized in water, the mystery is gone – we know they are in. But even before then, we want them to belong. We create space for them to taste and see that the Lord is good and sitting at the head of the table.

Competing Habits
These three habits – overhearing, translating, and connecting – fight each other and tend to want to compete.

Overhearing: If overhearing gets to be paramount, we are drawn to culture too much without clear purpose. Perhaps our draw to culture can become too strong. If our aim is relating too much to culture we err on the side of becoming so relevant to them that we are no longer holy before God. We become secularized by not also focusing on the habits of connecting these people to the people of God who are living a bigger gospel (translating).

Translating: If all of our work is always moving toward translating the Gospel both verbally and in terms of lifestyle, it can lose context and meaning to our culture. An inordinate focus on “doctrinal purity” leads us to total separation from the world. Translating keeps God’s Message in context and tunes our hearts to the specific hurts of lost people. Connecting draws us toward community rather than isolated purity.

Connecting: If connecting gets to be paramount, we huddle with those inside the faith too much. In contrast, we believe connecting is with outsiders and insiders. Overhearing is necessary to connect us in context. Translating keeps connection oriented to a higher way of expressing the faith and a more intentional way of sharing the faith.

The church at Starbucks lived out these habits. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen several friends join the community of faith. Many more continue their journey toward Christ. We continue to look for ways to overhear, translate and connect. These are just some of the lessons we have learned in the journey to find authentic ways to be a bi-cultural church in our time and place.


Copyright © 2003 D. Michael Kopp

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