Coffee, Community, and Commonality

It’s appropriate that I’m writing this in a coffee shop in our town. I would much rather be at a Starbucks though, to be honest the coffee here is in the B range and I’m a bit of a coffee snob. Anyway, it’s all we have. I like to get out of my office from time to time and work on my laptop in a coffee shop. Some of it is environment, my office has white concrete walls – the coffee shop has more like, more color; some of it is isolation, my office is the only one in the hallway and to be honest, it gets lonely – the coffee shop has people interacting.

And it’s that second one that drives me to write today.

In terms of economics, it’s insanity to frequent a coffee shop. The basic cup of coffee I’m drinking cost me $1.91. If I made it at home, it might cost a nickel. Then get into the specialty drinks and the tab can quickly run to 4, 5, 6 dollars or more. Factor that in week after week and it’s no wonder that people spend $1000 per year, just on coffee.

So why do it? Community and Commonality

Community – Part of our nature as people is to crave and desire relationships with other people. We want connections, it’s a very basic part of the human experience. The idea of the hermit on the mountain terrifies most of us, because of the isolation and loneliness that accompanies it. We were designed to be in community, to have neighbors, to be around other people, to interact and communicate and share. But our culture denies us this very basic need. We build privacy fences in our yards, we park the car in the garage rather than the driveway. We have caller ID so we can selectively answer our phone. We wear headphones in public rather than take in the conversations around us. We work too hard, build fortresses to protect ourselves, and many can’t name 5 close good friends.

What the coffee shop does is provide a sense of community. Starbucks promotes itself as the “Third Place” for people, after home and work. It creates a place like the bar in Cheers, where everyone knows your name. It creates an environment where you are in community with people. You go to the shop at the same time as others, so you often see the same people day in and day out. The baristas know you, not only by your drink but by name (you even give your name at Starbucks so when your drink is done they call ‘Scott, your double tall skinny cinnamon dolce latte is ready’). And what it does is create a sense of belonging. You know this is a place you’re welcome, where you can go, where people care, and where you will see a familiar face. In a screen-driven, Twitter-fascinated, email-connected world, the coffee shop provides a release.

Commonality – It’s no secret, we tend to be attracted to and spend time with those most similar to us. It’s why at a UofL football game I can high five a guy I’ve never met nor know his name, but we’re both thrilled with the interception return. It’s why people can talk on an airplane for an hour who’ve never met, because they have something in common (TSA). It’s why parents talk to other parents at the playground while the kids are on the monkey bars. Those we have something in common with, there is a bond created that fosters authenticity and open conversation. The walls come down with the other parents as you talk about your struggle to potty-train or as your kid struggles in school. It causes strangers on an airplane to share their pain from a recent funeral and the exhaustion of traveling home.

What the coffee shop provides is an immediate commonality – The Cup. The cup carries an immediate commonality, you see someone else out with the same cup and it becomes an immediate icebreaker: “What are you drinking?” The cup serves as a sign or symbol that you are part of a group, a tribe if you read Seth Godin much. And it creates what a tribe does, an in-group and an out-group. Now, with the cup, you have an identity with other people.

So how do we apply this to the church? Leave your comments and dialogue about it!


One comment on “Coffee, Community, and Commonality

  1. We can gather around the Cup in the coffee shop, but it’s a rather ephemeral and impersonal “community”. Very rarely do I see the same people in a coffee shop – there is a constant turnover so no solid connection is made.
    I’d much rather have a community that is more solidly linked, with more commonality and intent than just to enjoy a cup of coffee. The real community, which should be formed with full intent and purpose, is around the real Cup, the Cup of Christ.

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