Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

What Ministry Can Learn from Starbucks

I've never been one needing a daily Starbucks fix, though I do enjoy the occasional Chai with soymilk. The greater fascination has been with the Starbucks' story. Just finishing Pour Your Heart Into It, as well as the newer book, Onward, both by founder and CEO Howard Schultz, I can see some significant lessons for the church. Here are a few:

  1. Avoiding Risk Will Get You Nowhere

Any great organization begins with risk. Starbucks is the story of one daring decision after another, right from the start. There have been moments when Schultz has summoned the courage to make choices that go against reason, against common sense, even against the wise counsel of those he has trusted, and even against his gut instincts. But had he not stepped out into the unknown, into VIA and Frappuccinos, Starbucks would probably not exist. And the church will not exist for long, when it settles for staying on the same beaten path, avoiding the unknown, and settling for mediocrity. It's natural to fear the potential failure that comes on the heels of risk, but the truth is, it is occasional failure that leads to much of our greatness.

  1. Without A Compelling Mission, An Organization Has No Long Term Sustainability

What impresses me about Starbucks is that it is guided by a clear mission and a bold vision. One might assume it is all about coffee, but you discover it is far more. The Starbucks mission is to "inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time." At first, I am prone to ask, "Really?". After all, we're only talking about a beverage! But here's how Schultz justifies it: "I realize this is a lofty mission for a cup of coffee, but this is what merchants do. We take the ordinary—a shoe, a knife—and give it new life, believing that what we create has the potential to touch others" (think Nike). He adds, "We infuse it with emotion and meaning." And, amazingly, he has.

Here's what I sometimes wonder—how is it an entrepreneur can take something so basic (be it coffee beans or running shoes) and make it a powerful part of culture, and we in the church can take the greatest message in the world and make it so domestic? How is it some in the corporate world can be so passionate, so clear about their mission, and we are writing book after book about being missional to congregants who are often so unaware they have a clear and compelling mission, one that transcends every other? How is it so many are much more excited about lattes than life in Christ? Maybe it is time we rethink our ability to inspire, re-communicate our mission.

  1. "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It" Might Seem A Safe Way To Go, But It Consigns One To Stay Bound To The Present

Going against conventional wisdom is the foundation of innovation, and this is the basis for Starbucks' existence. Behind the success of Starbucks is a passion to keep renewing, and here is the key—even when you are highly successful. Reinvent and reignite are sacred words. One has to, for the world is changing every day. People change, times change. As Schultz notes, "Counting on the status quo leads only to grief." You either jump to the next level or spiral downwards. Intel constantly reinvents its core product. Starbucks constantly reinvents the Starbucks experience. 

Sometimes the church can run from change and innovation, seeking to hold on to traditions, familiarity, and the status quo. That most churches are plateaued testifies to this. Starbucks is fixed on constantly renewing in order to go after its vision—to become an enduring, great organization with one of the most recognized and respected brands, known for nurturing and inspiring the human spirit. They know it is audacious, but if you don't aim high—if you aim only to be above average, aim to be good enough, aim to maintain the status quo, that's what you will get.

  1. Behind Every Great Organization Is A Great Team

Starbucks would not be where it is today if Schultz had not come to the realization that one must know his/her limitations and compensate. No one has all the skills to pursue one's passion. Entrepreneurs sometimes miss this and flame out in the end. All great organizations need a visionary leader and a skilled executive-one for the top line and one for the bottom line, one with exhilarating ideas and one with the ability to create the infrastructure without sacrificing innovation. Eventually you realize a new idea's execution has to be as good as the idea itself, and this requires people with different skills and gifts.

Lots of churches begin as single leader driven, with an expectation a pastor be a jack of all trades. But this is a recipe for failure. Great organizations begin with and are sustained by great teams, each one complimenting the other. This means bringing together great people from day one. Schultz came to the realization that marketing was not near as important to success as finding the right people, people with two essential qualities: integrity and passion. The best way to exceed the expectations of those you serve is create great teams—pastors teaming with board members to unleash its members to do ministry in a complimentary way.

  1. Growth isn't Everything

Starbucks has had phenomenal, off the charts growth. A company that is worth over 24 billion, where investors have seen a 5000 per cent increase in value of investment, and where 45 million people visit per week (the most frequented retailer in the world). But as with many organizations, one can become obsessed with growth, and this happened to Starbucks. It took its eye off operations. Worse, it became distracted from the mission, from its core values. They were no longer celebrating coffee. Setting their sight to grow to 13000 stores led to a watering down of the Starbucks experience, the commoditization of their brand. Inebriated by success, they amplified fray into other things, a sign of hubris born of a sense of invincibility. How often this happens, both on a corporate and an individual level.

They learned, however, that success is not sustainable if it is defined merely by how big you become. You can't measure the true success of a company on a spreadsheet. We in ministry must never forget this. We too can become obsessed with growth and become distracted from what matters most. We can assume that success is measured on a spreadsheet, with metrics centered on attendance and giving. And in the end, we find ourselves way off course. Starbucks took the bold step of closing 7100 of its stores for one afternoon in February of 2008 in order to perfect its main product. Baristas were retrained, the mission was once again underscored. In time, Starbucks shifted its thought from millions of customers and thousands of stores to one customer, one partner, and one cup of coffee at a time.

There may be times the church may need to shut down as well-rethink its mission, retrain its members to love one another, share Christ, and worship God. Think through what is a transformed life, what are our core outcomes. What are true measureables. What is the bar of excellence we should aim for. What is our vision, one that compels us forward. Onward must be our language as well.

I'm mindful we can sometimes get nervous about articles or posts comparing churches and corporations. Needed voices like Eugene Peterson remind us of our essentials—that pastors are not CEO's who make things happen and get things done; churches are not businesses, and congregants are not consumers; it's time the church be the church, and not some Americanized version.

And as much as I agree that the vocation of pastor can be diminished and corrupted by being redefined in terms of running an ecclesiastical business (as Peterson puts it) , I yet continue to be impressed with corporate stories that have something to teach us.It would be our mistake to ignore them.

  • Byron Hand
    2:01 PM, 27 July 2011

    Well Said!

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    4:37 AM, 7 February 2012

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  • Jhanjay
    6:15 PM, 19 June 2012

    Dear Mr. Corzine,I’m sure you don’t remember me but my falmiy lived next door to you for a few years on Bowie St in Harlingen. It had to have been about 20 or more years ago. My little sister Alaina and Marlee were friends and often played together. My parents were always strong in their Christian faith and raised us to be also. Although we didn’t go to a Pentecostal church, my parents allowed us to attend VBS during the summer at your church. I am 30 years old now with children of my own and I just wanted to tell you that I still remember going to your church services and it played a big role in my decision when I chose a church home for myself and my children. I was only 8 or 9 but I remember the happiness I felt when I attended those services. I accidently came across your name while I was researching some information and felt like it was God telling me to thank you for the influence you provided even though I’m sure you were unaware of it at the time.Thank You,Penny Biggerpbigger@ivytech.edu

  • Rena
    6:53 AM, 16 April 2013

    Thanks for your tghouths. It’s helped me a lot.

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