Practical advice for launching, maintaining, and succeeding in a ministry approach to a church café.
Cathy Hutchison · November 21, 2017
One evening at Bayside Church in Granite Bay, CA, Debbie Carapiet was setting up for an event when a couple came by looking for the church’s Celebrate Recovery program—which was located across the street. Two others wandered in, whom Debbie was able to direct to the right location.
As the experience nagged at her she kept wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t been there. The more she thought about it, the more she became convinced that having church members onsite was significant in helping people to connect. At the time, the church had a café that was open around events. Seeing this as a possible welcoming front door, Carapiet went to the church leadership and asked if she could take on the project of keeping the café open thirteen hours a day.
Running a coffee shop with volunteers
“People don’t drive around with café hours in their car. I knew that if God was in it and I worked really hard that we would know in 3 months if this was possible. I know a lot of people, so thirty came to that first meeting. You have to understand, I didn’t know anything about coffee—I drink decaf—but, I do know about people. My job was to (first) make sure people were trained and that they had ownership, and then I could make sure the volunteers were well cared for,” says Carapiet.
Bayside’s café has become a model of success for volunteer-run cafés in churches. Carapiet has over 85 volunteers each working a three-hour shift per week to make the cafe run. Volunteers commit to a year and have a consistent weekly schedule. The consistent schedule means that customers—who typically also come in on a schedule—have the opportunity to develop relationships with the staff over time. It also means that volunteers develop relationships with each other.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover. Once people are in their schedule, they become friends with the people that they work with. Some of our volunteers are retired. We have a system where people are responsible for finding their own subs and covering for vacation. It works so well,” explains Carapiet. “When the café first began, we tried hiring people based around events, but there wasn’t the same sense of mission that we’ve been able to achieve with volunteers. We’re organized, we choose dependable people, and we say thank you. They are volunteers for two weeks, and then they are friends.”
Most of the customer base at Bayside comes from the congregation, and the café runs as a non-profit with any proceeds donated into ministry. “Our gourmet coffee is donated and the café donates $1000 per month to our favorite charity. “
Carapiet advises that to run the volunteer model successfully you have to find someone who really loves people and wants to work for God. “Sometimes I feel like I have my own little church within the church. Everyone knows that I care for them. I have the best job,” shares Carapiet.
Running a ministry as a commercial coffee shop
Life in Deep Ellum is a cultural center in urban Dallas, that is run by the faith community who meets there on Sunday mornings. Life in Deep Ellum’s mission is the artistic, social, economic, and spiritual benefit of their immediate community.
“Mokah Coffee Bar is the hospitality of Life in Deep Ellum,” shares Amy Nickell, coffee shop manager. “We are the front door in the space of the whole community.”