What Starbucks Taught Me about Belonging and the Church


By Elizabeth Murray

Every Sunday morning I drive by Starbucks to get to church; and every Sunday morning, Starbucks is busy. The streets may be fairly empty, but there are folks drinking their morning coffee at Starbucks at 8 or 9am.  I always wonder why—why are they there? Why aren’t they at church? It’s clearly not because they are too busy, out of town, or don’t want to get up that early. So, I asked myself this question, “What does Starbucks offer that the church does not?”

People come to this space to work, read, meet up, do homework and lots of other things. Why not just stay home and read your book? Do you really want to be at a busy, loud Starbucks while reading? Don’t you have an office to go to? Why don’t you do your homework in the library? People go to Starbucks because of the atmosphere. Sure, you get your work done there, too, but is it always the easiest place to work? No. Have you ever walked in to Starbucks in the evening? It’s so crowded.  I always wonder why people are there. Walking into Starbucks can be like walking in to home. You feel comfortable there, you know what to expect when you go, you know how to order your drink a special way, and you might even see someone you know! I have noticed this when I have been at Starbucks—people need community and belonging.

Starbucks has created a culture of belonging. It is its own community. What do I mean by that?

As humans, we need community. We are made to be in community with one another. We are not meant to live without human interaction. God created us to love other people, to laugh, to talk to others, to ask questions, and to be reminded that there are other people just like us in the world.

Maybe the people at Starbucks on Sunday morning are like me and they live alone—if they don’t leave their house that day, they won’t get any human interaction that day. That’s a pretty scary feeling—if you have gone a whole day without seeing or talking to anyone, you know that it can be weird. But, if I get up and go out today, I get to interact with other humans. I have also seen a lot of people doing Bible studies at Starbucks, both individual and in groups—people who are not scared to share their faith in a public space. Wow. Are other people noticing?

The Greek word koinonia means community. In the books of Acts, the Church is born. The first Christians are there and they join in community—a community of believers that are coming together because they have something in common. Acts 2:45-47 says,

 “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.  Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”

We are not meant to do our lives on our own—we are meant to go through life being in relationship with others.  What does it mean to belong?

Belonging is not about fitting in. When you try to fit in, you are trying to be something you aren’t. Belonging means that you are accepted for who you really are. People come to Starbucks because they are accepted for who they are–something, again, that all of us desire. They order what they want without shame, they can stay there as long as they want, and they are accepted there.

Social scientist Dr. Brené Brown defines belonging this way: “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Maybe now we understand why people are at Starbucks on Sunday morning? It feels like a safe space for them. They can come and relax without feeling judged.

Is it possible that Starbucks has created a space that more people want to come to than the church?

How can we create spaces of community and belonging for the youth in our church and our community?