What is it about Starbucks?

I spend a lot of time in various Starbucks around my city – one in particular and I’ve started to ask why I like it there. It’s not the coffee or the Frappuccinos or any food from their pastry or lunch display. And it’s certainly not because it is cheap. I have spent thousands of dollars in there – sad but it adds up.

So what is it?

Architects of Starbucks are smart. They know how to design exteriors that welcome people in. They know how to design interiors that keep people there. Starbucks architects and builders know how to persuade us psychologically. And there is a sort of community built inside of each one. I made two great friends that I hang out with simply because we saw each other so much at a Starbucks. Maybe that is the best of what they do – they help to bring a version of community to a world of over-individuality. I don’t want a local coffee house and I couldn’t tell you why. I want Starbucks because it attracts me to it. I get sucked in by Starbucks and I want to be there because it feels comfortable and safe. The colors are just right for me and the baristas are usually cool and definitely well-trained. I can count on them to make my drink exactly as I want it, day after day. I even love that they remember my name and welcome me like Norm on the television show, “Cheers.”

With this in mind, I wonder why church architects typically cannot bring the same sort of design to the interiors or exteriors (in most cases) of sacred buildings. I’m not saying that every architect in the world cannot pull off some of Starbucks charm so that people are drawn in and so that people want to be there as much as possible. Why don’t people show up at churches to meet up with their friends? Why aren’t students coming to churches to use free wi-fi to study and hang all day? Why is community built better at a coffee shop than at a church?

As a pastor, I am amazed that a place where God-followers come once or twice a week for an hour or two for some worship and study cannot draw people in. Why are churches so unused? Think about that – most churches are mostly empty for most of the week. Can’t there be better vision cast from a church’s foundational build as to how to draw people into a safe and comfortable place to hang out with friends? Where is the sense of organic community that exists in Starbucks?

I’m not saying that churches have to become Starbucks clones, but there has to be a change of some kind so that church spaces are filled up every day of the week – and not just with schools.

I don’t have the answer to any of this. I know two architectural companies who have a clue how to get this sort of thing done, but there aren’t many others. I hope for a shift in this tendency. Churches are where people need to congregate to live out life.