With the recent controversies regarding Christ followers and Starbucks (which has been going on for a while before the silly red cup thing) more and more believers are calling for their brothers and sisters in Christ to completely boycott the corporation. In fact, because we as a church do an outreach where we buy everyone’s coffee that comes in for a period of time to show God’s love in a practical way, we have even been questioned if that is a morally acceptable outreach.
With this in mind, I would like to share about the relationship our church has with our local Starbucks, share how that relationship was built, and let you make your own conclusions on how a church should interact with local businesses that might not have the same beliefs as we do as believers.
This might come as a surprise to some people, but over the past 5 years our church has developed a great relationship with our local starbucks. It did not start that way however. I’ll never forget the first time we went into our Starbucks with a window washing team that was washing the windows of businesses for free to share the love of Christ in a tangible way. We were not only told that we could not wash the windows at Starbucks, we were basically asked to leave and for lack of better words, not to come back. About 6 months later we were in the same area, washing windows again, and as the team leader when we came up to Starbucks, because we had kids with us on our team, I said, “Let’s skip this business, they weren’t very happy with us trying to do this outreach last time” I was trying to protect the kids from any sort of rude comments I knew we would get from the staff if we went in. After i told the team to skip over Starbucks one of the kids looked at me and said, “Why are we skipping over Starbucks, just because we had a bad experience last time, you never know what God is going to do.”
I hesitantly agreed to send our team in, and I decided to stay outside so I didn’t have to hear the Big Fat NO our team was about to receive. As our team came out the front doors, I asked, “Did they at least say no nicely this time?” To my surprise, the team was smiling and said, “They said we could wash their windows!” So we got started.
After we were done, some of our team members went back in, prayed with the employees of Starbucks and left our outreach cards with them. As we were leaving the parking lot, one of the employees came out with a bunch of free frappuccinos and said, “I know you guys don’t take donations, but will you take some free coffees as a thank you from our staff?” We accepted them and got a sense that God was at work.
From that moment on we have consistently served our local Starbucks by washing their windows, washing their restrooms, bringing in goodies for their employees, etc. In fact sometimes when we are buying coffee from them to do a coffee giveaway outreach at a park, college campus, or parade, they will actually donate it to us. Can you believe it? A Starbucks donating coffee to a church!
Furthermore, one of our favorite outreaches to do is to buy a gift card at the register and tell the employees that everyone’s coffee that walks in for the next hour is on us! We simply sit at a table and when people go to order their coffee, the employee tells them that the people over at that table bought your coffee today. The employees love it when we do this. Sometimes they will even tell the customers that we are with a church, and there has even been a couple of occasions, that the employees have asked to give out our outreach cards during the “Kindness hour”
Usually what happens, is that the person receiving our act of kindness will come over and ask why we bought their coffee. This gives us a perfect opportunity to share about the love of Christ. On many occasions we make deep connections and pray with people for God to move in their lives. I remember just a couple weeks ago our team stood up, held hands with a family that was asking for prayer, and we prayed with boldness over their broken situation. All of this done right there inside Starbucks.
Jesus made it very clear that as agents of His kingdom we are not identified by what we stay away from, rather we are identified by what we are called into. We are called into a broken world, to share His light and His love. To free captives of sin and to serve those that don’t look or act like us. At the end of the day, we don’t go to Starbucks to support Starbucks, but we go because that is where the people are. In our context it is the most culturally relevant coffee shop and until that changes we will be there loving on people, and paying for their coffee. If you told me that every Christian in North America was boycotting Starbucks, it would give us even more of a reason to go and do outreaches there!
So rather than asking the question, what would Starbucks look like if Christians boycotted buying coffee? I think the questions should be:
What would Starbucks look like if every local Starbucks Coffee Shop had a relationship with a local church that we have with ours?