Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Real Community

Written by: on May 14, 2015


I just so happen to be writing this from Starbucks. Starbucks claims their goal is to become the Third Place in our daily lives.  (i.e. Home, Work and Starbucks)  “We want to provide all the comforts of your home and office.  You can sit in a nice chair, talk on your phone, look out the window, surf the web… oh, and drink coffee too,” said Kelly the store manager (Notice she put “drink coffee” last???).[1] I like doing work at Starbucks and I’m here so frequently that I’ve come to know the baristas and regular customers stop and say hi. I come here because it’s a quiet place where I can get some work done with minimal interruptions but as I look around I’d guess many come here as a form of community and connection. Just a few weeks ago a long time barista moved to California. It was pretty amazing to see the store throw her a “going away party” and many customers came to support and encourage her new adventure. This begs the question…is this real community? And does Starbucks provide more of a community then many churches?

Gill Valentine in her comprehensive book Social Geographies covers the way we use space and how it impacts us. Social geographies “is perhaps best summed up as the study of social relations and spatial structures that underpin those relations.[2]” The Church has a lot to learn from Valentines research on the eight spatial scales (body, home, community, institutions, the street, the city, rural, and nation).

I was drawn to Valentines description of “community” and think the Church has much to discuss about Valentines findings. Valentine states, “It is argued that communities can exist without a territorial base or that neighbourhoods can have no sense of communal ties or cohesions, that community has no analytical value because it means so many different things to different people and that is probably only a romanticized concept anyway.[3]” Is Valentine correct? I believe it is true that community means so many different things to different people but does that negate what real Acts 2 community offers? Is community a romanticized concept?

I wonder if the superficial community many churches provide has only fueled the argument that community in and of itself is a romanticized concept?

Sitting in Starbucks a few weeks ago was a room full of very diverse people encouraging a barista on her upcoming move. It really was the Third Place. Different economic levels, races, sexual orientations, educations, etc. coming together to encourage and send off a friend. I’ll be honest, in some ways it felt superficial but it other ways it was beautiful too. There was a beautiful sense of community in that room. It definitely felt different from what I am use to. I’m use to being a part of my suburban white church. Everyone looks like me, thinks like me, acts like me…While I have some deep “community” at my church I’ve been challenged by Valentine to think of real community as being welcoming of greater diversity. Valentine states, “Rather than celebrating artificial attempts to establish unity and homogeneity between groups identities (sameness) we should be celebrating the distinctive cultures and characteristics of different groups (difference)[4].”

I go to Starbucks because it’s a quiet place where I can get some work done with minimal interruptions. I wonder if I should start going there more to participate in community?

[1] Matthew Dollinger, “STARBUCKS, ‘THE THIRD PLACE’, AND CREATING THE ULTIMATE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE,”, accessed May 14, 2015, http://www.fastcompany.com/887990/starbucks-third-place-and-creating-ultimate-customer-experience.

[2] Gill Valentine, Social Geographies: Space and Society (Harlow, England.: Routledge, 2001), 1.

[3] Ibid.,117.

[4] Ibid., 137

About the Author

Nick Martineau

Nick is a pastor at Hope Community Church in Andover, KS, founder of ILoveOrphans.com, and part of the LGP5 cohort.

11 responses to “Real Community”

  1. Travis Biglow says:


    I would drink some coffee with you at Starbucks. I like that you chose community to reflect on. I am sure you have a lot of it at your church. Community is something we practiced at my church from the first day of the church. I started having a potluck where we all bring a dish. And we have it every fourth Sunday. It is a way of eating together and becoming more like family than just church goers. I am trying even more to focus on community because we have to be realistic in church. When i say that i mean its more important to be relational. Amen Nick

    • Nick Martineau says:

      Love that you’re leading your church community out into your local community. We definitely all need to do more of that. Thanks Travis.

  2. Dave Young says:

    I would like to go to your starbucks, mine is way too noisy. Loud music and unless you go at 5:30a (which I’ve done regularly) it’s completely packed. I digress. In a way I do believe the church can learn from Starbucks on how to facilitate community: fun, relationally set up, meet regularly, differences are expected and celebrated. As you mentioned. On the other hand – it’s primarily a meeting space metaphor that supports relational connection and a thin feeling of community. The church is more like a home (also a meeting place) but the relationships include mutual support, a sense of belonging to each other – family. So maybe the lesson we learn from Starbucks is that people long for community and if they don’t get the real thing at church or home they’re going to find it at their coffee shop or bar. Sorry I got all preachy.

    • Travis Biglow says:

      Nick believe it or not i plan to start going to Starbucks for a bible study. I have seen it done already but its my first step in trying to get out of the four walls of my church. I am inviting members of my church and other people via a facebook page i joined. Its part of my incarnational mission to bring Christ to different places. I know its already being done but i have never done it yet! Blessings

    • Nick Martineau says:

      Preach it Dave! I agree with you. The church should be like family. Unfortunately many churches offer a superficial family and community. The space that Starbucks provides is desperately lacking in our churches.

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Nick, I’ve thought about the Starbucks ethos a lot over the years. Like you, I have used it as a second office of sorts because there is space for creativity and wifi, etc etc etc… BUT I have also observed that the sense of “community” found there is oftentimes intentionally superficial. We all (everyone in the lobby) share a common affinity (Computer, wifi, coffee, tea, whatever) but we also share a common understanding that we aren’t going to get too close. We AREN’T sharing feelings hopes and dreams. We AREN’T engaging in some shared mission together… I think that’s precisely what people want. A shared identity in the absence of true community.


  3. Brian Yost says:

    “I wonder if I should start going there more to participate in community?”
    Starbucks has created a “space” that is very appealing and meets a felt need. I guess that explains why they can charge $3-5 for a cup of coffee. The nice thing is, we can keep everything on our own terms and know that as the customer, we are always right and the staff is there to serve us. I have been to churches that have this level of community, and I hate it.
    I’m not knocking Starbucks, after all they are a coffee shop and do an amazing job of creating an experience. The question is, how do we create space in the church where people experience a type of community that they can experience nowhere else?
    By the way, I would love to see how much money in coffee this Dmin will cost us. 🙂

  4. Nick Martineau says:


    When estimating tuition I really should have included a coffee budget. (-:

    You bring up a great point about service. Serving is a part of community that Starbucks can’t ask of its customers. This thought makes me want to ask our church volunteers why they serve. I wonder what the motivation is for most people serving in the church? Encouraging service as a way to create space and build community should be a part of our teaching/training.

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Nick, Great challenge on the Starbucks/third space/community thinking. There is definitely a lot for the Church to think about as we supposedly live out the life that others are called to as they follow Christ. Sadly to say if push came to shove and a have some total “free will” time . . . I am not sure that I would choose church over Starbucks with how Starbucks is doing a pretty good job of creating the kind of space my soul is longing for and seems in need of. Sad . . . but true . . . the Church can definitely do better. Great post.

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    Nick – you triggered a thought with your reflection on Valentine’s definition of community. “It is argued that communities can exist without a territorial base…” A few years back we started a contemplative community, occupying a space downtown. We all enjoyed it, but we found all the money we brought in for our little 501c3 was being put only into a building. As a result, we gave up the physical place, and became a dispersed community. It’s not been easy, so we’ve established some spiritual practices that we hold central to coming together. In some ways, even tho’ your Starbucks is a physical place, it also has a dispersed community feel to it as the barista will most likely find a Starbucks in order to work.
    Lots of random thoughts…all because of your post 🙂

Leave a Reply