Meeting the Needs of the Latte Class

starbucks-latteI went to a workshop in Houston last week called “Being Missional in Your Church Context: Meeting the Real Needs of Your Neighbors.”

Houston?  In July?  Really?

Yes, really.

When it was time to introduce myself I told the group I was from Richmond, Virginia, and that when I walk to church on Sunday mornings I sometimes pass people sitting on their front porches, reading the New York Times and sipping lattes.*  “I’m sure they have needs,” I said, “I’m just not sure how to identify them” (I mean, really, do you want to interrupt someone’s newspaper reading to say, “Hey, got any needs?”).

The workshop leaders didn’t get around to that question right away, but they did say some good things which I jotted down in my notes.  Here’s just a sampling:

Dick Hamm mentioned that people over 65 tend to experience God through the institution of the church, and that the object—for them—is to get people to join.  People under 65 tend to experience God outside the institution.  For them mission is about relationship, and mission work is usually short-term and hands-on.

Gary Nelson said that in Canada, where he lives, a lot of people were going to church in the fifties.  The decline started in the sixties, and now only 12 to 16 percent of the population attends church with any regularity.  He talked about this as the “come-to” model (some would call it the attractional model) and asked what happens when people don’t come to church?  How do you engage?

He talked about “institutionalism” in the church, and said that it uses up a lot of energy and resources.  “How do we free people up from the institution so they can engage in mission?” he asked, and followed it with some thoughts about governance.  He said church committees were created in the 40’s and 50’s** and that since then millions of church members have served on committees.  He asked how much of our members’ time is taken up with church governance, and joked that in some places “it takes a village” to govern a church.   If we could spend less time governing the institution, could we spend more time engaged in mission?

Finally, George Bullard addressed the question about how to identify the needs of our neighbors: “Talk to bartenders,” he said, “bankers, real-estate agents, social workers, counselors at the neighborhood school.  Talk to anybody who spends time with your neighbors, listening to their questions and concerns.”

So, I may need to walk down to Starbucks this afternoon and talk to one of the baristas there about my neighbors.  “Who are these people?  What are their needs?”  And while I’m there, gathering information, I may just have to order a latte.

__________________
*for the uninitiated, a latte (pronounced lah-TAY) is a kind of a tall, frothy coffee beverage made with espresso and steamed milk.  It’s delicious.
**I’m taking his word for it, but it makes me wonder to what extent the church in America mirrored the nation’s efforts to win World War II.  Wasn’t it all about new departments and agencies and strategies in those days?  Did we think our success in war could translate into success in mission?  Did it?

2 thoughts on “Meeting the Needs of the Latte Class

  1. I never could figure out why “church people” have such a thing about going into bars. They say “I would not be seen going into a bar.” First of if we have a good charactor reputation we should not worry about what people say. Second there are any number of good witnessing opportunities in bars. Not only do you by not drinking you have the opportunity at some point to share Jesus with someone. You are very right that the local bartender probably has a good picture of the pulse of a community.
    For many people the local bar IS thier church because they go for the same reasons. The old “Cheers” theme that said:

    Sometimes you want to go
    Where everybody knows your name,
    And they’re always glad you came;
    You want to be where you can see,
    Our troubles are all the same;
    You want to be where everybody knows your name

  2. Jim,
    this is a quotation from my favorite author, about “Charity and Good Works”
    “…..Good is the neighbor, because good belongs to the will, and the will is the being (esse) of man’s life. The truth of the understanding is also the neighbor, but only so far as it proceeds from the good of the will; for the good of the will takes form in the understanding, and makes itself visible there in the light of reason. That good is the neighbor is evident from all experience. Who loves a person except from the quality of his will and understanding, that is, from what is good and just in him? For example, who loves a king, a prince, a general, a governor, a consul, any magistrate or judge, except for the judgment from which they act and speak? Who loves a primate, a minister of the church, or a canon, except for his learning, his integrity of life, and his zeal for the salvation of souls? Who loves the general of an army or any officer under him, except for bravery combined with prudence? Who loves a workman or a servant, except for his fidelity? Who loves a tree except for its fruit, the soil except for its fertility, a precious stone except for its value? and so on. And what is remarkable, it is not only the upright man who loves what is good and just in another, the man who is not upright does so also, because with him he is in no fear of losing reputation, honor, or wealth. But the love of good in one who is not upright, is not love of the neighbor; for he loves another interiorly only so far as he is of service to him. But loving what is good in another from the good in oneself is genuine love to the neighbor; for the goods then kiss and mutually unite with each other. The man who loves good because it is good, and truth because it is truth, loves the neighbor eminently, because he loves the Lord who is good itself and truth itself. There is no love of good and love of truth from good, that is, love to the neighbor, from any other source. Love to the neighbor is thus formed from a heavenly origin.”

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