"I would recommend to any church considering a building project to look at their connection space before building a bigger sanctuary.” Pastor Gregg Johnson
There was a time when church sanctuaries were designed for people to enter and exit out the rear of the building, with little opportunity for interaction. With today's shift to the campus model, churches are incorporating spaces that are purposefully designed to invite people into conversation with each other, including cafés.
If your church has ever considered adding a café to the worship experience, there are challenges. Building codes determine what can and cannot be served. Not only that, but adding food increases the square footage required and your clean-up costs. We interviewed three churches who share how they approached adding a café, and why your church might consider adding one too.
THE MISSION CHURCH
The Mission Church in Holmes, New York recently renovated their lobby space to incorporate a small café. “We were running three services,” shares Pastor Gregg Johnson. “The drawback to this is that you have people rushing in and out. We wanted to create a space where people could really connect. I've read that the primary reason people leave churches is because they don’t have a sense of belonging. We didn’t want people coming in the front door and slipping out the back, so we created a place that allowed people to slow down. It has been transformational in our culture. I would recommend to any church considering a building project to look at their connection space before building a bigger sanctuary.”
Because of the stringent codes on restaurants, the Mission Church was intentional about the way they structured their café. They provide coffee drinks such as espresso and cappuccino and use microwaves and toaster ovens to heat up bagels and pastries. “Some items are in wrappers,” explains Johnson. “We don’t cook meals.” The church provides vouchers for a coffee drink to visitors who share their contact information. “We respect that people aren’t always comfortable sharing their information, so we take a casual approach. We will trade a latte for an e-mail address.”
The Mission Church allows people to bring food and drinks into the sanctuary. “We do spend a lot of money cleaning carpets,” comments Johnson. “The carpet isn’t sacred, so we are not worried about that. What is sacred is when the Holy Spirit touches people.”
“When we first started, our intention was that the café not be used as classroom space because we wanted it always open and available,” says Johnson. “However, it has become really productive as a non-traditional bible study or foundations class.
For people who are not regular church attenders, it is very comfortable for them to come and learn in that environment. It facilitates open discussion. We have to move away from the sanctuary being the primary space for discipleship and create spaces where different types of people feel comfortable."
The church has also added monitors that have a live feed from sanctuary so that the area can be used for overflow or by families with infants. "The response has been really positive," interjects Johnson. "Of course, there is always concern when people are faced with change, but I’ve found as a pastor, if I remain firm in my conviction of what we are trying to achieve, the culture adapts. When people see the results, they are supportive of it. “
CROSSINGS COMMUNITY CHURCH
The Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma appreciated the way cafés and connection spaces had successfully impacted the ministries of other churches in the area. What they liked best about the strategy is that it not only increased the mission to the congregation itself but also touched the surrounding community.
Kyle Plemons, Pastor of Worship and Media, explains, “The caféwhich is incorporated into our atriumis open Sunday mornings early, every weekday morning during the work week and open for special events we hold. It’s a coffee shop with plenty of seating. While we have an onsite kitchen, many of the sandwiches and pastries we serve are brought in from local vendors.”
The Crossings Community Church takes a style-appropriate approach to allowing coffee in the sanctuary. "The church encourages people to bring their drinks into our sanctuary for blended worship and our venue for contemporary worship, but we ask people not bring it into our chapel for the traditional service," shares Plemons.
“The response to the new space has been positive. One of our core goals is to ‘Gather the People,’" highlights Plemons. "We truly believe in community and people gathering together. It’s why we emphasize both Sunday school and small groups instead of picking one and letting the other go. This space has created another opportunity for us to be a safe place for people to gather and share life together. “
THE CORNER AT THE CROSSING IN CHESTERFIELD, MO
"We wanted to create a front door for people who may not be ready to come to church, but would come for coffee," offers LeeAnn Barron, Café Manager for The Crossing Church in Chesterfield, Missouri. The Corner (as the café is named) is located inside the church and is adjacent to an outdoor courtyard with its own entrance. "We have bike trails nearby, where people use our parking lot as a launch pad. We open the Café during those times so that people can come in and use our restrooms or grab something to eat without trying to sell them on the church. We simply serve a great cup of coffee and are thrilled to serve the cycling and running community."
The church made the decision to invest in the café because The Crossing is intentionally engaged in creating connections. Art Kuiper, director of operations, says, "Community runs through the life of this whole church. Adding the café allows members, staff, and the public at large to have a place to meet for conversation, face-to-face. This is the passion that drives it."
The Corner is connected to the bookstore and contains a place for small acoustic performances. The Outside courtyard allows for dinning and larger concerts. "We wanted a place that would help foster young musicians. We also like it that it gives people a place to sit and read. To foster next steps in their journey," continues Kuiper.
The building codes for the café do not allow anything to be cooked from a raw state. "Our vendors were very helpful to us in developing a broad menu," comments Barron. "You wouldn’t know that we don’t have a full commercial kitchen. We serve soups, sandwiches, flatbread, small breakfast items, and kids fare along with a full menu of espresso drinks, smoothies and agua frescas. It's a pretty extensive menu that we don't have to cook."
Kuiper shares that the café has helped a large church serving thousands every weekend break into much smaller groups. "It gives an opportunity to connect, form friendships, and just to grab a cup of coffee. Sometimes having something to wrap your hands around that is warm and comforting makes a place seem smaller."