Our community is not large, but we now have several coffee shops. As I stopped by one this morning, I started thinking about the differences among the several that I frequent.
Like coffee shops, some churches are inviting, others communicate a "take it or leave it" attitude, and still others are so consistent that you always know what you'll get.
There is, of course, the major national – or perhaps even international – chain. They have at least three locations locally. Last year, the corporate offices closed the one that I liked best, but they are still my primary supplier since they have two drive-through windows.
Although the interiors vary, the product is standardized. I know what I will get when I order a particular combination. I would tag this supplier as consistent and comfortable. You know what you will get when you go there.
Another shop on our side of town recently changed owners. After my visit last week, I probably will not go back. The product is good, but the atmosphere is confrontational – from the sign on the door about not accepting credit cards to the unengaged person behind the counter. There is a certain "take it or leave it" attitude communicated.
Then there is the local coffee shop. This particular shop took over the location of a failed predecessor. They have worked to develop a welcoming, unique atmosphere. This one is a little more out of the way, and I only go there when I have time to sit, drink my beverage, and read or think. The menu changes on a regular basis. The owners are building a community, and this will make their survival more likely.
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Naturally, I tend to draw implications about different types of churches. There is the church that belongs to a particular denominational brand. The quality is good, the atmosphere is accepting, and you know what you will get there. Very often, this type of congregation requires little commitment and they are happy if you come, partake of the presentation, and provide financial support. If you want to do more, that's fine, but it is not expected.
Some churches are like the coffee shop that is less than hospitable. They are so busy pushing their cause – and often it is one primary cause – that they are not concerned about anything else. Sure, they are glad that you came, but you are primarily there to further their agenda. Their approach is definitely, "Take us or leave us. No matter."
Finally, there is the church bent on creating community. They have seen failure, and they have learned from it. Things may sometimes be a little off center and even a little messy, but the intentions are good. They are glad you came and would welcome you as a regular, but if you can only come by once in awhile, they will be there.
All of the shops sell coffee; all of the churches share the Gospel. Take your choice.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.