Sometimes believers wonder why non-Christians feel unwelcome or uncomfortable visiting a church. A few years ago, I watched a short clip called “What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church? A Parable” which helped put it in perspective.

Part of the genius of this video is its setting. When elements of church life are put into a satirical coffee shop story, it suddenly becomes easier to recognize those awkward moments in our own churches.

As the video starts, a couple pulls into a parking lot. “So, are you nervous? Cuz I haven’t been to a coffee shop since I was a little girl.”

“At least you’ve been to a coffee shop,” mutters the husband. “I’ve never been to one.”

I like how right off the bat, the clip highlights the nervousness of this new couple coming to a coffee shop (aka “church”) for the first time. It’s not always easy trying something new.

As the clip continues, the camera flashes to bumper stickers with sayings like “Real men love java,” or “Think this coffee’s hot?” accompanied by flame motifs. (Yes, Christian paraphanalia is often just as cheesy.)

After having to park far away, the couple notices reserved parking signs that say “Barista parking only,” “Manager Parking Only,” and “Manager’s Wife Parking Only.”

By this point in the video, I already felt convicted over church parking lot etiquette and the couple in the story hadn’t even made it to the front doors of the “coffee shop.”

When they did reach the doors, things just got worse. They struggle to figure out which front door isn’t locked, only to find a person with a tag marked “greeter” standing two feet from the door engrossed in a conversation about coffee with a buddy. Neither noticed the new couple walking past them. (So true of church greeters too, right?)

Once inside the building, other coffee drinkers gave wary side glances or pretended they didn’t see them. Bulletin boards and displays with expert advice on how to get your friends and neighbors to become coffee drinkers filled the shop.

A worker announces over the PA system, “Don’t forget our goal of converting 500 people to coffee.”

And still, the people in the coffee shop couldn’t even manage a simple “hello” to the new couple seeking coffee.

As the couple approached the register, conversation ensues.

“What can I get you for you today?”

“I think I just want some coffee.”

“You’ve never been here before have you? (Pause) Excuse me. If this is your first time visiting with us, would you go ahead and raise your hands? We would love to welcome you.”

As the couple waves timidly, people around the coffee shop clap with enthusiasm and then go back to ignoring them.

As if that wasn’t already awkward, the barista informs them that they must next fill out paperwork. Then they will receive a special welcome gift and also be eligible to buy coffee.

In the end, the husband returns the information sheet, gets his coffee, and begrudgingly accepts his free Eeyore mug. The frustrated wife mutters that she can’t find the bathroom and wants to get out of the coffee shop.

The clueless barista smiles and says, “May your day be filled with coffee. So, we’ll see you next week, right?”

Funny how I’ve heard similar phrases in churches:

  • “You can’t park there.”
  • “If you are a first time visitor, will you stand so we can acknowledge you? The ushers will bring you a card.”
  • “Are you new?”
  • “Stand and shake hands with someone near you.”
  • “Don’t forget to invite all your neighbors to church next Sunday.”
  •  “I hope you come back.”

New visitors often decide within the first 5–10 minutes whether they will return to a church. If the first impressions of a place are awkward, you can bet they will seek soul nourishment elsewhere.

(Note: this post was adapted from a post on Sarah’s personal blog.)