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The Smell of Church

In February 2007 the chairman of Starbucks sent this now-famous memo to the CEO, noting that the proliferation of stores around the world had come at a cost--the loss of that wonderful Starbucks aroma. He wrote, "We achieved fresh roasted bagged coffee, but at what cost? The loss of aroma--perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores; the loss of our people scooping fresh coffee from the bins and grinding it fresh in front of the customer, and once again stripping the store of tradition and our heritage."

The primary concern for these corporate leaders was the loss of a trademark aroma. As Starbucks stores continued to multiply and spread into different locations across the globe, they were able to reproduce the taste and feel of the original, but something was missing--they didn't smell like the original. So why does it matter so much? Well, as indicated in the memo, that fresh-coffee aroma was the most powerful nonverbal signal they possessed, a way of communicating that couldn't be replaced by flashy ads and marketing promotions. Even more, it represented a loss of tradition and heritage, a loss of identity for the brand, which was now something less than the original Starbucks experience.

At Starbucks, after the memo circulated throughout the company, they began a time of reflection and discussion on the core identity of their brand. Though there were some obvious advantages to developing systems that would make them more efficient and productive, in the end Starbucks chose to be true to their original brand--their core identity as a company. They humbly analyzed the way they were doing things in their stores and took responsibility for what was, so they could move to what could be. Farther along in that memo we read, "I take full responsibility myself, but we desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it's time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience."

Every Church Smellls Like Something

When we shift our focus onto external things or spend too much of our time developing elaborate systems to drive us to be more productive, we risk losing the essence of what matters most. And that essence is a particular odor, a smell that is unmistakably different from the fragrance of the world. It is the aroma of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes about this fragrance in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16: "Thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ's triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But his fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?"

Our lives are an aroma, a fragrance that rises to God and is sensed by other people, bringing hope to those who are responsive to the grace of Jesus. Our lives reflect the aroma of Christ as we spread the knowledge of him everywhere, seeking to make him known in our families, our communities, our workplaces and schools, and throught the world.

And let's not forget that this fragrance is life-giving. It's the aroma of grace that comes from the gospel of God's forgiveness of our sins. It's the sense of freedom people experience when they walk into our churches and feel welcome and accepted just as they are. And it's a smell that can't be manufactured through a particular program or systematic plan; it's something that arises naturally from hearts and lives filled with the presence of Jesus. Our churches should have an overwhelming stench of Jesus, the scent of his amazing grace.

Adapted from Dangerous Church by John Bishop
*Starbucks illus. from starbucksgossip.typad.com