By Daniel R. Gangler

The Gospel According to Starbucks ®: Living with a Grande Passion by Leonard Sweet (Water Brook Press 2007) is a good reality check, but not total Gospel, for historic mainline Protestant churches in a creative comparison with Starbucks - the coffee people.

Sweet has creatively woven his E.P.I.C. theme, introduced nearly a decade ago, comparing it with the successful and growing Starbucks chain of coffee houses and products. Sweet postulates that the church can be revived by giving her members a similar experience, which he terms E.P.I.C. spirituality. E-P-I-C is the acronym for Experience - Participatory - Image-rich - Connecting

This parity is written on the premise that one book doesn't stand in line at Starbuck for a four buck cup of coffee, but for the coffeehouse experience gendered by one of the most successful companies in America. Starbucks not only understands culture, but also is beginning to shape part of American culture.

Sweet's writing is light, light hearted and filled with helpful sidebars which contribute to thought but not necessarily to his theme. It's a fast and easy read but one readers will want to return to read again or share with a friend or colleague.

I agree with Bishop Mike Coyner wanting Sweet's book in the Bishop's Bundle of Books as one of five books for area-wide discussion. Of the five, it was the one that caught my attention first. Maybe it's because I enjoy Starbucks, but also because I have experienced Sweet in person and heard his EPIC thesis in 2000 at a conference of United Methodist communicators.

For pastors, I hope the Starbucks's gospel will awaken the passion for Christ's Gospel in the life of their congregations. For laity, this book will illustrate, with the Starbuck's parity, that Christian faith in 21st century North America must be viewed with more practice and experience than dogma and statements of belief. Knowing the Gospel theologically is one thing, but living out the Gospel in daily life becomes a transforming experience for both believers and the society in which they live.

Both Starbucks and the church are about community. Both have their own languages, decor and mannerisms. Both are learned experiences. Both need to be inviting to exist and grow.

Putting Sweet into our own context as United Methodists, the church needs to be passionate and renewing with enriching experiences to the extent that we, as its members, are compelled to share our faith with all within and beyond the church. Our passion is driven through an abiding relationship with the Creator and Savior of the world experienced in our relationship with others.

The Gospel According to Starbucks ®: Living with a Grande Passion is an important read for both clergy and laity especially as Hoosier United Methodists imagine a new conference for the 21st century.

For on online discussion of this book, Mark Eutsler has provided a blog that can be accessed at www.gospelaccordingtostarbucks.blogspot.com. View responses to this book and add your own response, if you wish to do so.