Grande Passion?


Title: The Gospel According to Starbucks
Author: Leonard Sweet
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Publication Date: 2007

In The Gospel According to Starbucks, Leonard Sweet makes one main point - that going to Starbucks is about more than simply buying a cup of coffee.  Going to Starbucks is just as much, if not more, about the Starbucks experience.  Sweet then argues that the life of a Christian should also be about the experience, but more particularly, about a life of passion.

Sweet suggests that spiritual must become more experiential than it has been.  He writes that "If the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke or John were here, the would tell you that faith is not primarily a matter of belief.  The would emphasize instead aspects of life that are closer to what we call passion.  The would describe faith as immersion and engagement, a full-on experience of life that is far bigger than everyday existence.  The would depict a life on an EPIC scale."  (pg 17)  What follows is an elaboration of what it means to have an EPIC passion.  The book is framed around this acronym EPIC; standing for Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, Connecting.

First, the Starbucks experience is Experiential.  Experiential means that it is something that engages the senses.  The coffee is hot, has a strong taste that stays in your mouth, there is music, and a trademark look and feel to the inside of a Starbucks that cannot be mistaken.  Sweet also mentions that we no longer live in a world of the bell curve, but a world of the swell curve - everything is extremes.  You are either small or large, and that is probably why Starbucks serves their coffee as big, bigger, and biggest.  They have refined the art of offering a variation of an extreme and somehow eluded the "grande" from being a medium.  Anyway, the point is that people expect extremes.  In Christianity the extremes are whether Christ is a living force to be experienced, or a historical figure to be reckoned with.  (Pg 45)  Obviously Sweet believes in the extreme of Christ being a living force to be experienced.  This experience is authenticated by the presence of three intangibles: provenance, beauty, and rarity.  (pg 47)  I must say that in the postmodern world experience cannot be overrated.  The postmodern mindset uses experience as the benchmark for what is true and false, and the lack of any experience results in the lack of any benchmark to measure what is true.  (For an discussion on evangelism in postmodernism, and the importance of experience see my paper at:

Secondly, the Gospel must be participatory.  What good is a cup of coffee if it just sits there on the counter?  Furthermore Starbucks is about customization of the coffee - nothing happens without the order, and each cup is unique.  Sweet reminds us, however, that even Starbucks expects its customers to learn a certain language, (anyone every seen the term Frappucino used anywhere without the little ® after it?)  Participation is also an important movement even in the technology world where the users now prefer the unclean look of user created Web 2.0 content over polished professionally designed sites.  If you don't believe that is the case just look at the current most popular websites.  What is a participatory Gospel, it is G.O.O.D. - Get Out Ff Doors. (pg 82)  Sweet advocates for a spirituality that results in action, and a worship service, even a homily, that is interactive.  This spirituality must be bold, and it must be willing to embrace opposites.

Third, this life must be Image-Rich.  Image rich is not simply picture rich, but something tangible, understandable, graspable.  Sweet says that in todays environment of technology and virtual worlds people crave the tangibles more than ever.  In the world of phone conferences, virtual meetings, etc. the face-to-face meeting has more power than ever.  I would even argue that in a world of e-mail a written note is now more meaningful than ever to receive.  Experiencing God must go beyond words - it needs to be tangible and sensory.  It needs to be real.

Finally, this spiritual life is connective.  Starbucks is connective in providing people the opportunity to connect with others, and simply being in the presence of others.  The Gospel too must be connective and must lead people into communities with each other.

After reading the book, my first thought is that this book is best read by a church leader in reflecting both on how the worship experience can be enhanced, and also to realistically understand what todays society expects and wants.  Unfortunately, the Church tends to be on the opposite edge of the cutting edge of market research.  What is market research, simply a reflection of the desires and tastes of society.  This notion of providing an experience is one that should be considered by the church.

Yet, the Gospel is not a cup of coffee, nor is it simply an experience.  If we are to really call ourselves Christians, and call evangelism a work of faith, that means we need to do something that simply does not make sense.  It behooves the church to not only consider where our culture is today, but to also consider Paul's words in 1st Corinthians 1:18-31, reminding ourselves that the Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks. What might seem like a good idea to provide an experiential worship may be tailoring the Gospel to the tastes of the culture, rather than allowing the Spirit to work.  We must continually strive to keep modern trends such as living a Purpose Driven Life, living an EPIC life, in balance with the simplicity of allowing the Gospel to stand on its own.

We also can learn something about seeker sensitivity from this.  If you are a frequent customer of Starbucks and come to a point in your coffee consumption that you decide you want something different, do you want to walk into a cofee store that is a clone of Starbucks?  No.  While we need to meet people where they are in order for them to know Christ, and to come to church, we also need to realize that many people who come to church come looking for something different than what they already know.  If they simply wanted some good music they could have went to a show.  The want to know that there is something, someone bigger out there.  They need to hear the simple, plain Gospel truth about Christ.  Sure someone who is used to drinking Folgers coffee might appreciate a watered down cup of Starbucks, but they will never experience that same cup of Starbucks until it hits them as the bold coffee that it is.  What do we want to give churchgoers?  A watered down message that leads them to wonder why people spend an hour together singing every Sunday, when they could have watched Oprah at home and gotten the same warm and fuzzy feeling but without the discomfort of passing the offering plate without adding to it?  Church needs to result in more than that.  Church needs to leave people with a that bold taste of Christ in their mind, standing stark against the reality of self centered consumerism, and stark against the reality of isolationism.  Church needs to connect people, they need to experience truth in order to know truth.  The need to participate, not only for the sake of their own needs, but for the sake of their faith.

What I do not like about the book is that it could easily be understood by many in a way that only makes it another attempt to consumerize Christianity.  Why would we believe in Jesus... because Jesus is our friend, because a life with Jesus is an experience rich life, and one filled with passion.  Sweet ends the book with the line, "Why put off grande passion when it's right there within your reach?" (pg 155)  Unfortunately, I think this is just a popular trend in mainstream Christianity and one that is also reflected by the famous Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  Somehow, Christianity is starting to sound more like Oprah's brand of religion than one that stands as a prophetic voice to following our own desire.  Just the other day I heard Oprah say that "My prayer for myself is to live the highest level of consciousness possible."  That sounds very spiritual, but what does it mean?  Is it simply that she wants to be as altruistic as possible?  Don't get me wrong, I am all for people being more altruistic, and it certainly won't hurt our world to have more people thinking about others, but it seems like they are thinking about others in order to feel better about themselves.  Is that really altruistic?  Likewise is it really faith if we try to know God better and spend more time at church just so we can catch the flame of a passionate life?

So what do I think about the Gospel According to Starbucks?  Well, first it makes me feel justified in my desire to go buy a solid cup of coffee from Starbucks.  Truthfully the notion of experience, participation, image-rich and connectivity encompasses some of what should be seen in a Church.  My fear is that all of these things can happen without Christ, and then we have lost the essence of Christianity and are simply "spiritual."