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Something in Return

trashIt was always a delight when the Starbucks Barista would ask me if I wished to fill out an on-line survey about my visit.  I have done a number of these surveys over the years.  It takes about 5 minutes whereby I rate my beverage, the staff, the facility and my purchasing habits.  At the end of the survey I would receive a personalized code which I could write down on my receipt.  This code gifted me with a free beverage/food item of my choosing.  It was a gift of thankfulness and gratitude.  It was a gift that said that the Starbucks Company cared about my feedback, and was willing to invest in my happiness, experience, and loyalty.

Of course it worked.  I would take my receipt back to my local Starbucks and receive a free drink, with one major difference.  With this receipt in hand, I would splurge with my free drink.  See, my normal order is a simple Tall-ToffeeNut-Americano.  Nothing special.  IT only costs me $3.31 (less if I remember to bring a travel mug). Yet on those rare occasions where I would receive a free drink, it was there that I splurged.  My drink would become a Venti-double-shot-extra-hot-non-fat-ToffeeNut-Latte (with whip cream and drizzle on top.)  The gift from Starbucks, then, became quite the large gift.  It became extravagant, spendthrift, and wonderful.

It was different with my last survey however.  Apparently the policy has changed, and Starbucks no longer offers these gifts of gratitude.  When I filled out my survey, the final screen simply said “Thank you for your time.”  This may sound petty, and somewhat whiny, but it is a significant shift. There was no spendthrift gift of extravagant grace.  It almost seemed as if filling out the survey was little more than a duty.  All of a sudden my allegiance to Starbucks took a little bit of a blow; All of a sudden the idea that Starbucks would invest in my experience seemed a little more of a stretch; All of a sudden my desire to fill out an on-line survey evaporated.

Before the Starbucks naysayers begin their derision of the company, allow me to point out that this is not unique to Starbucks.  Tim Horton’s has done the same things with the prizes available during “RRRoll up the Rim to Win.”  Although I personally feel that Tim Horton’s is an abhorrent form of coffee, I would nevertheless switch to drinking Tim’s coffee during the RRRoll-up season.  I would do so because my love for free coffee overwhelms my dislike of bad coffee, and I could reasonably expect that I would secure two or three free coffees along with the odd muffin or two.

But that has changed as well.  Over the past few years, the number of prizes offered has dramatically decreased, along with the odds of winning any said prize.  For the past few years, despite rolling up the rim roughly 4 or 5 times per week, I have yet to win a single roll up prize.  No free coffee.  No donut.  No muffin. My overall total over the past few years is roughly around 2-70.  Frankly, it makes me think the whole thing is a scam.  Interestingly, Tim Horton’s own website dedicated to “RRRoll-up the Rim to Win” ( contains a live twitter feed entitled ‘Share the experience.’  Most of the responses, however, are complaints about lack of wins.  One person tweeted “How sad it is that I’m not O-13 with roll up the rim?  When in reality Im 0-12 cause now you get two chances.”  Another wrote “RRRoll up the Rim to NOT win is what it should be called. #bitter” A multitude of others posted their own statistics:  0-7, 0-13, 0-20, 1-14.

Like the evaporation of desire to fill out a Starbucks survey, the lack of wins makes me feel like I do not want to go out of my way to partake in this national coffee-event.  After all, why spend the money on sub-par coffee if I won’t get anything out of it?

So where is this going?  What does a whiny blog about a lack of free coffee have to do with our life of faith in the Anglican Church?  Well, I think it points us to consider a very important question:  Do people get anything out of worship?  Do our congregations have an experience of individual and personal benefit from attending church?  It seems to me that this may go a long way to address some of the issues of our numerical decline.  Decline in attendance is not because of our structures or service times or the colour of books we are using (if at all). Perhaps the issue that needs to be addressed is the issue of perceived benefit.  Do people today perceive a benefit to belonging to a worshipping body?  When people come to church on Sunday mornings, do they feel enriched, empowered, strengthened, or gifted with God’s care and grace?  Or, like someone who throws money at Tim Horton’s only to receive nothing special at the other end, are people left feeling like the church has not delivered on what was promised?

Obviously, I don’t think this the case for everyone, however it does open up a realm of thinking that the church should engage in.  What is more, the question becomes a bit more pointed when we see things from the leadership side of things, and not as those sitting in the pews.  For those in the leadership side of the church (akin to the corporate elites of Starbucks or Tim Horton’s, the question for us is: Are we investing in the lives of our members, and opening up avenues for them to experience the love and grace of God, or have we sided too much on the side that the congregation should gift the church with their time, talents and treasures?

Perhaps the issue is with us not with them.  If our Parish roles, our monthly offerings, our voluntarism, our Sunday school numbers, our youth-groups members, our choir rosters, and the number of visitors to our church are all on the decline, perhaps the answer is relatively simple.  Perhaps people just aren’t getting anything out of being a part of a worshipping community.  Maybe it is as LauraMarie suggests in Priorities, maybe it’s a matter of people feeling that there is something better to do.

It’s a scary thought.  It’s one that I both shun and put forward for us to seriously consider.  If it is true that people simply no longer perceive value out of being a part of a worshipping community, then this is a dire issue that needs our immediate attention.  And simply stating that ‘church is important’ or ‘You should go to church’ won’t really solve the issue, for the problem is much deeper.

So how do we address this?  What does it mean for the community of faith to worship in a way in which each individual member feels that they receive personal benefit and care?  What steps can we take to turn everything around and model the fact that church is a place where people receive, and not merely a place that continually asks you to give? I not sure of the full answer, but I am willing to bet it has something to do with investing in others, despite the time, the effort, or the cost.

I would be interested in people’s thoughts.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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5 Responses to Something in Return

  1. disagree on two counts, I do not think Tim Hortons coffee is inferior, and I go to church mainly in thanksgiving for what I have already received, Eternal life, forgivness, but also the church, the people who are such a wonderful part of my life

    • Kyle Norman

      Well we may have to agree to disagree on the Tim Horton’s issue, but I like and agree with what you said regarding your own church attendance. You are right that there is an important element of thanksgiving in our act of going to church. We don’t just go as needy shoppers to a heavenly ATM machine.

      But obviously there is manner in which you continually reminders/challenges/support from your worship involvement. If there is never a dull moment with your Rector, you obviously belong to a community in which you receive something life-giving. The fact is the worshipping community offers you something special.

      I just wonder if this is what people are looking for. I just wonder if they want to be in a community where they feel like they receive something grand – receive something from the church, from God, from each other. How do we ensure that this is the experience of those who walk in our doors on Sunday mornings?

  2. Also, there is never a dull moment at our Church,with our Rector.

  3. Well, there are blessings every day, especially in this great country of ours..we actually can take them for granted…God is good!!!!I wonder sometimes how blessed we all are to be born in this country.

  4. Kyle, thanks for this. I think we need to be aware of why we go to church – is it to contribute to a worshiping community gathering to give glory to God, or are we going with the expectation of getting something – the so-called ‘consumer’ approach to Christianity?
    I think if we go into worship with the expectation of a positive, uplifting experience, then that’s what we’ll find. If we go in expecting sub-par, then we’ll get that too.
    But it’s more than that… I think church (as the whole community) needs to strive for excellence. We’ll never BE excellent in all things, but we try. That way we come to expect a certain standard, and sub-par will no longer be okay with us.
    I think the Tim’s example can go a long way. You walk in, ready to accept sub-par, because you’re looking to receive a little something more. More than what you paid for, more than the agreed deal. Are people coming to church with that mentality? They’l walk in, ‘making do’ with sub-par worship, then disappointed because they don’t walk out having had the best experience of their lives? That makes it unfair – unfair to Tim’s to criticize not having enough prizes. And unfair to the church – for being exactly who and what we said we are.
    Hmm. I have much more to think about… maybe over a latte… 🙂

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