December 1, 2020

Review: The Gospel According to Starbucks by Leonard Sweet

gospstar.jpgI finally read a book by Leonard Sweet. That’s a pretty big deal for me, as this was something like the fifth one I’ve started, failing to finish -or even get three chapters done in- the other four.

Sweet is a futurist, professor of evangelism, church renewal advocate and sometimes part of the emerging conversation. His background is with the mainlines, but he’s an all purpose evangelical who is easy to read and a rich mine of sermon and teaching material.

The Gospel According to Starbucks is exactly what it says. Sweet takes what he sees as the astonishing success of Starbucks, and uses it as a launch point for looking at important aspects of the Gospel that the church needs to embrace and practice. If you don’t care for that sort of thing, this book won’t excite you. I’m normally in that camp, but this book actually surprised me by holding my interest and saying a lot of Biblically solid things in a fresh and memorable way. It was a “fun” read with plenty of benefits.

Sweet is a bit of a manic writer. He stacks illustration upon illustration, acrostic upon acrostic, lesson upon lesson. Underneath the pages of the book it’s not hard to see a writing style that takes an idea, feeds it lots of research, and then pulls out as many Christian applications as possible. Sweet is a learner who reports his learning process in his books. His conclusions are not pontifications, but observations and discoveries.

Sweet is sometimes listed among the really dangerous postmodern and emerging types, but I found the book to be highly orthodox, though certainly not afraid to ask questions or suggest alternative ways of expressing the faith.

You learn a lot about coffee and about Starbucks in this book. Some readers will get tired of that information, but Sweet is a deep connector, and a creative thinker in images. He can find connections that are useful and revelatory. For example, his discussion of the church as a failed “third place” and the success of coffeeshops like Starbucks in making community connection available is very interesting. If you’re ready to think differently.

I think that’s been my problem with Sweet. He does think differently, and he does so quickly and with more continuous connections than I can handle. Some of his insights are a bit mundane and a couple of chapters were non-starters, but overall he finds Biblical truth in an unlikely place, and reminds us that the sons of this age are more wise than the children of God in many ways. When Biblical wisdom controls our encounter with worldly wisdom, we can gain more of both.

If you’ve never read Leonard Sweet, try The Gospel According to Starbucks. He’s absent the heavy, critical tone of a Mclaren, and he’s not on a real soapbox about anything except the dynamic presence of the God of the Gospel. When he hits the ball, it’s solid.

BTW, apparently Starbucks wasn’t all that crazy about this book, so you must take it with you and read it in the shop.

(And No, I didn’t get a free copy for writing this.)


  1. Haven’t read the book, but I did flip through it in the Christian bookstore, that HAS to count for something. Here’s the only thing I was wondering: everyone holds us Starbucks as the new meeting place, the third place for our busy society. But I just don’t see it. I’ve never been in a chain coffee shop where there was a lot of community going on, just more of our isolation in public. Right now I’m sitting in a Panera bread… all around me there are people tapping away on their laptops (like me), plugged into the MP3 players, reading books, staring into their coffee. Sure, there is some interaction, but it’s not in a general community way, instead it’s couples or threesomes who come in together and sit together while they eat/drink. The fellowship is not with the others in the store, just with their own folks.

    My point, and I do have one: if the church is trying to get the kind of fellowship that you find in a coffee shop, then it will be more isolated, privated, secluded, and individualistic than the church should be striving for. The fellowship the church is looking for is usually found more in the local bar than in the local coffee shop.

  2. Oh I agree.

    I’ve seen a lot of “third place” gatherings at coffee shops down through the years, though. My dad had “coffee drinking buddies” at several different places. It was a big part of his life as a retired man. I don’t think Starbucks invented it.

    In fact, Sweet says he thinks Starbucks prepares for a lot more gatherings of people than ever actually occur. But part of his point is that is how they present themselves: as a third place community, and not just as a business.

  3. I heard my first Sweet sermon more than 20 years ago and he was urging the church to come to grips with the postmodern worldview even then, long before “emerging” emerged–saying how Christianity satisfies the true longings of the postmodern angst–way ahead of the curve!

  4. I enjoyed that book too, and found Len Sweet’s analysis rivetting. Even before you suggested it, I read mine in St.Arbucks….being a frequent visitor.

    If you liked that book, can I recommned ‘The McDonaldization of the Church’ by John Drane. It sort of naturally leads of from Sweet’s book in looking at how modernity has shaped or ‘mishaped’ the church and highlights ideas of various ways forward to relate the GoodNews to folk who are living in a postmodern world (who only ‘see’ a stuck-in-modernity church).


    Brother Tadhg

  5. Do you know what was Starbuck’s problem with the book? Was it a trademark thing? Because I would think a book like this would give them some positive exposure. Just curious…


  6. steve yates says


    I wonder if it says someting about our culture that community now happens in twos and threes. I know myself; honestly, my life is made of a series of mentors, accountability groups, and lunch meetings…and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

    for glory…

  7. Actually, I DID have a great third place coffee shop experience, before coffee shops were cool. In Atlanta, GA in the early 1990’s there was a very cool independent bookstore called Oxford Books where I worked while in college. It was a big, locally owned bookstore in a refurbished grocery store before all the big chain bookstores drove it out of business (Barnes and Nobles, Borders, etc.). There was a balcony around the perimeter of the store that was literally in the steel rafters, and in one corner of the store was a little coffee shop. It was heaven on earth for a coffee fiend like me. It was not big: there was a line of about 10 little 2 person tables with chairs on one side and a long bench on the other. They were about 2 feet apart and since the bench ran the length of the store you were hip to hip to the stranger next to you. It was IMPOSSIBLE to converse privately with the person at your table without the person next to you hearing… and joining in. And, being Atlanta, it was a very diverse place. There in the smoky rafters of Oxford books you could sit and have espresso drinks (before they were ubiquitious) and discuss religion, politics, philosophy, pop culture, etc. with Nick the Greek (really), lesbians, vegetarians, frat boys, German au pairs, etc. (you can guess which one I was). I was the asst. manager and the owner was a Kiwi, it was a truly cosmpopolitan place where people would come to meet intimate strangers and talk about everything: I’ve seen the whole place in a heated discussion on politics that would cross all gender, social, racial, and every other line. Curse the big box bookstores that ran Oxford Books out of business, that place will never be replicated.
    Starbucks will never have that kind of ambience.

    On another note, I’ve noticed that the Vineyard in Cincinnati (and in others that I’ve visited, like one in St. Louis) have done a good job in getting that “third place” feel, with a coffee shop, food court, bookstore, and big open area in their churches. The Vineyard sure knows what they’re doing!

  8. thanks for the review michael. i have stayed away from the “gospel according to simpsons/matrix/family/star wars/donald trump/on and on. even with sweet penning this one i wasn’t interested, but i might take a look at it.

  9. Just wanted to chime in and say I dig your website… your audio casts are fun and you have a gift for that, so keep em coming.

    Also, I like Sweet, particularly his “out of the Question, into the Mystery” book which is a fav of mine.

    Haven’t read this book yet, so I appreciate the review.


  10. I just finished a sermon series based on this book at my church. It was facinating, not only for the subject matter, but this was the first sermon series that hadnt put me to sleep in I dont know how many years. Good book, good message, good review.