I’m often asked about “where do we start” when it comes to developing a café project for a church. Being tired of having to hire bodyguards to keep off the “Church-aratzi” because of the demand to know the answers to that age-old question, I’ve finally decided to tell the world. I hope you’ve found a comfortable seat, a warm cup of coffee, and are ready for some great conversation.
Being totally honest, I’m convinced the majority of churches don’t realize the amazing potential of an intentional café. Too many are just happy and content to say they have a coffee shop—when in all reality, they’ve got a space where coffee is served and not a place where people want to be.
As a student pastor, I realized that I could be the greatest speaker in the world, but if I didn’t connect with students through casual and meaningful conversation, then I was not maximizing the opportunities given to me. By creating an environment that slowed life down and cultivated great relationships, we were able to see students authentically connect with one another and with other adults who wanted to pour into them. Additionally, it provided a lucrative alternative revenue source that allowed us to support other ministries, help students go to camps or mission trips, and give to causes we believed in—all without asking the church for money.
Jesus challenged us with this when he asked us to share our lives with those closest to us (Jerusalem), with those a little further away (Judea, Samaria), and with those who are the furthest away (the ends of the earth). For your church, a true Third Place can serve the body of the local church, that needs a place to slow life down, connect, build relationships, and sharpen iron; the guests, who find their way to your church and need a place to feel comfortable, have familiarity and anonymity; and to also serve the world that needs a change. An intentional café can provide a place of conversation, connection, and cash that can be leveraged to impact people, communities, and the ends of the earth.
If I had only a few moments with you and needed to tell you the most important things about where to start when considering a café for your church or if you’re wondering why yours doesn’t really seem to be working, this is what we’d talk about—this is the filter every church should think through before starting a café.
Genetics vs Generics
Is your café vision aligned with your DNA—or the DNA of another church you want to be like? You must align it with your church’s vision and DNA and not try to simply replicate what you think another church has done. My parents would be so proud that I’m using this next statement: “If I had a nickel for every time a church tried to copy-cat another church’s café and it didn’t work, I’d be a rich man.”
You see, successful people have a way of making difficult things look easy. And when others try to go out and replicate what they think they see, it often doesn’t work or at least doesn’t work out the way they thought it would. In the church world that usually results in leadership saying something like, “Well I guess that just wasn’t for us, God must have another plan.” I’m not letting you get off that easy, Pastor Pessimistic—my experience tells me that too many churches are in love with the idea of a café yet haven’t understood the investment of a café. I see a lot of dysfunctional cafes breeding dysfunctional cafes because of this copy-cat café virus.
A café with a genetic match to your church is one that has been birthed and conceived from your unique vision and mission. A generic café is one that is a copy-cat. People want something special, not something bland and generic. Think of a generic café as simply a space and a genetic café as a specifically designed intentional place. Commonly, generic products are designed to replicate that of an original version. Churches need to consider their genetics when implementing a café and should be careful not to think a generic or franchised version is “good enough”.
How is your church unique? What is the scarcity in your community? What about your church would the community miss if you closed your doors tomorrow? You bring something to the church body and to your community that is custom designed for such a time and place as this. Getting off to the right start is paramount to the success of your café—start with creating and aligning your café to be a genetic match.
Investment vs Expense
There is no doubt in my mind that churches have bought into the idea of a café in their church, believing that “if we brew it, they will come.” It’s time to go beyond the idea and recognize the investment.
I’ve found that there are a different set of emotions that exist when something is viewed as an investment vs. an expense. I don’t like expenses, but I do like investments. When churches view cafes as an expense, they are almost never happy with them and these cafes often live a short life. However, when viewed as an investment, the life of a café has a much better chance of survival and sustainability. Let’s consider a few examples of where the church understands investment vs. expense:
• We view the audio visual in a church project as an investment because we believe the sight and sounds must be at a quality that our culture expects.
• We view church websites and other marketing pieces as an investment because we believe in today’s world you must have them as a relevant communication method.
• We view the sanctuary space as an investment because we believe the environment must be aligned with our church’s style, approach, and one that can foster an experience that is vertical and eternal.
• We view the nursery as an investment because we believe babies should have a comfortable, safe, and sanitary place to be while mom and dad get to participate in corporate worship.
• We view the children’s and student’s ministry spaces as an investment because we believe present and future generations deserve the best and that they will have more fun, be more attentive, and learn more when we create for them an environment that is cool, comfortable, and compatible with their age, culture, and expressions.
Adults need a place, too—we need to view a Third Place café environment as an investment because we believe that adults need a place to gather, slow life down, and connect with one another.
And there’s a bonus feature: Third Places add value to multiple generations, serving as a place where gen-texters, gen-nexters, gen-xers, builders, boomers, or busters can enjoy. This 2.0 world is about an interactive community and open participation that is not reserved only for the techno-geniuses of the world. Third Places can cultivate generational transfer and collaboration.
Too often I hear about churches designing what I call the “Last Phase Café”—a café project that has been put off and put off and put off because it was viewed as an expense and as something that would be cool to have if there is enough money left over at the end. I’m proposing it should be considered a priority for churches that have an interest in connecting and keeping people, discovering and developing leaders, and who could use an alternative source of revenue to pay for the building project, add to the team, plant churches, support missionaries, fight poverty, or any number of things that leveraging our time, talent, and resources can do.
It’s time that we view the Third Places we create in and for churches as an investment and not an expense. I’d rather make money and figure out what to do with it than to always be talking about what I’d do with money if I had it. The return on investment can affect the local, global and eternal bottom lines. Think about it like this: let’s not see how much money we can make; let’s see how much money we can give away.
Time vs Money
It was about 10 years ago that I sat down with a fellow youth pastor over a cup of coffee and had my first real conversation about time vs. money. Having grown up as poor as I did, I guess I should have had this lesson down to an art. I may have been financially poor in comparison to others, but it turns out I was as rich as anybody on the planet when it came to time. You see, we all have the same amount; the difference is in how we invest it.
Too often I hear of cafes that were started in staff meetings where pastors would divide up the research and development of a café project. “Hey, you go shop for espresso machines; you check out coffee; you check out sugar packets; etc…” With great intentions to save money, churches end up wasting a much more valuable resource: time. The question I have is, “What are you not doing?” While you and your team are out there doing research and shopping for stuff in the coffee world and trying to understand all the details that go into its operation and how to make it function properly to accomplish your goals, “what are you not doing?”—who are you not praying with, who are you not counseling, what are you not studying for, who is your youth pastor not getting beat by in Wii, PS2 or XBox, what is not getting done that only you can do? Time is more valuable than money. You can always make money; you can never really make time.
I’ve seen too many cafes die before they even got a chance to live and fulfill their purpose because churches spent too much time trying to do something they really were not knowledgeable about or equipped to do. Investing time properly will allow a church to save time, energy, and money.
It’s time for that second cup of coffee. I hope you’ll count our time together as a good investment. Remember: align your vision to design the place that is right for you. Creating the place that is right for you will feel like an investment and not an expense. A café that is visioned, designed, and structured as an investment, is likely save you a lot of money and allow you to spend your time on what you do best. Save time, money, energy and a few extra brain cells by filtering your café plans before you start.