When I was first starting out as a pastor, I was hired locally at a church in Tennessee. I was new in ministry and they weren’t paying me much, so I had to take on a second job in order to pay the bills. After applying at several jobs in the area, I got a callback from Teavana, a store in the mall that sold tea, and soon after the interview I was hired. I did fairly well as a salesperson there: I enjoyed the product and wanted to help people find what they were looking for. But one of the things I began to notice right away was a culture that I found to be quite negative.
Teavana was a numbers-driven company. They encouraged employees to push as much merchandise and as high prices as possible, and you would get credit for the sale even if the customer returned it. When a customer would return merchandise, employees were instructed to destroy the merchandise right then and there so as to make customers feel badly for their return. The point of sale model had us showing the most expensive products up front and then using techniques to shame the customer into believing they wanted these things because “they enjoyed quality products and weren’t foolish.” Finally, the stores were small and there was little room to stand and no chairs or benches to sit on, either inside or outside of the store. There was no time or patience for enjoying oneself, and the expectation was simply: come into the store, buy something expensive, and get out.
While working there, I became familiar with the Starbucks business model, and it was well known to employees at Teavana that it was superior to our own (in fact, many of our employees spent their time and money at Starbucks while on breaks). Starbucks isn’t the cheapest retailer around, but they don’t push their products aggressively. They are available if you would like to purchase them, but Starbucks is really interested in selling something much bigger: the experience of community and fellowship. Starbucks provides free WiFi and a place to sit down, to encourage you to stick around for a while. They don’t question your choices, but rather train their employees to be helpful and get you what it is you want (not what they say you want). Starbucks has a store on every corner, in major cities, and it has established itself as a place where many get together to fellowship.
After I left Teavana, I also left Tennessee and began working for the Wisconsin Conference as a pastor. It was around that time that Starbucks bought out Teavana. Teavana doesn’t have any stores anymore. Starbucks still markets the products of the company they acquired, only in retail stores using the Teavana logo, but in the end the superior brand won out.
Now, in recounting this story, I’m not trying to encourage coffee or tea drinking. But the comparison and contrast between these two companies has always struck me. It causes me, to this day, to ask the question: which model does my local church follow?\
Is my church inviting? Does it encourage people to take time, get to know people, and become a part of the community? Does it present the truth clearly, but not in a pushy manner? Or does my church push the most difficult ideas right off the bat? Does it insist that people pass a test before being truly allowed into the community? And does it push people to make decisions before taking time to process and truly be convicted?
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:2, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
I want to be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with zealousness and urgency for bringing the truth to those who need it. But especially in today’s climate, people young and old need to know that we care about them as individuals and that we want them to be a part of our community first and foremost. Once they are convinced of that, then that is when they can start to care about the messages and truths that we offer.
So I want to encourage you, whether it’s in youth ministry or just ministry in general (after all, they are the same thing): don’t push people to make a decision before they are ready to make it. Be patient with them and give them time to come around to the truth of scripture that we have for them. And in the meantime, let them know how welcome they are to hang around and be a part of our community. If they mess up, don’t cast them out to make room for the next project, but rather love them anyway and ask how you can help.
It’s interesting how these biblical principles are timeless, whether in a church or a coffee shop.
Zack Payne, Youth Director