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Creating Community Around Tables

Four churches who are redefining hospitality through café space implement cafés that vary wildly based on mission and context.

Think back to the best conversation you remember Was it around a table? Were there coffee cups and the hum of an espresso machine in the background? Did you linger for hours after a meal because the discussion was just too engaging to get up and leave?

Cafés are social. The best ones are filled with inviting places to sit, welcoming smiles, delicious scents, and tastes that make you dawdle so you can enjoy every bit.

In our everything-all-the-time world, they invite us to pause long enough to sit face-to-face, savoring the conversation and each other's company.

How churches implement cafes varies wildly based on mission and context. They can range from a small, comfortable space in the lobby to commercial enterprises that are 100 percent focused on the external community.

Here are four different approaches by churches who have recently added cafés:

Coffee aficionados aiming for a big mission
"One of our measuring points of success for the café is how long it takes you to leave the campus. We know we are doing church right when people are staying to connect with friends," shares James Sunnock, Pastor of Victory Life Church in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The idea for a coffee shop was driven by Sunnock's passion for good coffee and a lack of options in the town. "Our city had a Dunkin Donuts and Speedway coffee culture. People who enjoyed good coffee had to drive to Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids." Sunnock grins, "I got tired of driving."

Victory Life introduced the high-end coffee options initially through a kiosk, and then in an expansion which included a café. "Honestly, I spent more time on the café than the 800-seat worship center," confesses Sunnock. "We wanted to cue people to smaller group environments when they left the large worship experience. If it was too big, it would feel like a mall.  Too small, and people would feel they had to keep moving as if in an airport concourse."

The result is a café with real wood floors and furnishings from a deconstructed historic church in Detroit. The café functions as a caterer's kitchen and sells coffee drinks, baked items, and can eventually add paninis. "At any given time, you find the coffee shop filled with three generations, many sharing tables and enjoying community together; it's amazing," smiles Sunnock.

"Our church is in a college town, and yet there are few businesses that are open until 10pm. Our goal is to learn how to do this in-house so that we can open a stand-alone coffee shop downtown."

Currently, the church acquires its coffee beans from a microroaster in Grand Rapids. The next step is to begin roasting their own. Sunnock shares why, "Roasting your own beans allows you to lower the overhead dramatically. Not only can you control the quality, but the price drops from $11 to $4 per pound."

Creating a cafe that can operate at a positive cash flow is a major goal for the church because their town is on a human traffick thoroughfare from Canada to Chicago. "We are energized by creating community space that people in the town will love, but there is a bigger vision here than just having a cool coffee shop. We want it to generate a profit so we can provide resources for counseling and other services to those who want to break free of modern day slavery."

Sunnock points out that while there is a lot of media attention on the "snatch and grab," there are few resources for counseling people once they are rescued. Providing those resources is a mission the church plans to achieve one cup of coffee at a time.

Reclaiming underutilized library space
Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, MN had a library located in a central place at the hub of the church. But with the accessibility of digital content, the library received less and less traffic over time.

Nicole Thompson, President of Station 19 Architects in Minneapolis shares, "The church wanted a place for people to make connections. They had great space, it simply wasn't configured for that. We worked with the church to improve wayfinding and to create a place that was central. The library was in a key location, but not very well utilized. The new concept combined the café with relevant resources. The main library was relocated to a smaller space, and the café features curated content which is continually updated related to the message series."

Berean Baptist Church partners with CityKid Java (part of Urban Ventures in Minneapolis) who provides comprehensive fair-trade coffee service while providing education and economic opportunities to urban youth.

The café has full espresso service with coffees, smoothies, and some baked items. It is managed by a paid staff position who coordinates volunteer teams.
The café is open during ministry times and events. During the week, it is used for informal meetings and Bible studies.

"The church has told us people say it is their favorite space, and that it turned an underutilized space into a very popular one," reports Thompson. "The neat part of these transformations is creating places for people to gather and connect in a meaningful way."
A gathering space in a historic downtown

Main Street in Laurel, MD is tree-lined and walkable. One time residences have been converted into friendly, mom-and-pop businesses making it an inviting place to eat and shop.

Redemption Community Church purchased one of the buildings which featured a big, open rectangle for an interior providing a blank slate that could become whatever it needed to be. The church decided to open a for-profit coffee shop that would not only serve delicious coffee and baked goods, but would also provide a place for people to gather.

Amy Findley, a designer at Waldon Studio Architects worked with the church to design the space and coordinated with the Laurel Historical Society to select new siding and finishes that would make the building an asset to the downtown area.

"The church wanted to create a space that would relate to all people. They wanted it to be natural feeling and calming. In our early discussions, the desire was expressed over and over that they wanted it to be an escape from busy-ness. A place where people could come in, have a good cup of coffee, be together, and rest," shares Findley. "The historic context drove the design pallet. We used a lot of browns in the finisheslike creamy coffee. Combined with the white and greens created something rich, welcoming, and restoring."

Findley laughs that during the design process Pinterest became the preferred platform for coordinating design ideas with the team.

The café "shops local" serving baked goods and bagels from local bakeries. The kitchen is more of a catering kitchen rather than being equipped as a full-service restaurantan important distinction when it comes to building codes.

As part of its mission to be a community asset, Ragamuffins Coffee House runs as a regular business with employees to create economic benefits in Laurel. In fact, the coffee house has done well enough to reach the church's six-month goal of covering staff costs.

The space turned out to be such a wonderful place to gather, that many community groups rent out the shop. Findley remarks that there are yoga classes and other local meetings hosted there allowing the building to fulfill its mission of creating community.

Café becomes a hub for an urban church
Cliff Temple Baptist Church went from being a suburban church to an urban church without leaving the three-block campus that it has occupied for well over 100 years. As demographics changed and population densified, the church has worked to methodically upgrade and repurpose major areas of the existing facilities to connect with the changing community. This is a major emphasis for Cliff Temple whose ministries include a community garden, Wednesday night meal, fitness classes, and movement groups.

"The mission was to design to meet the needs of the immediate community in the context of the historic buildings," shares David Shanks, president of Shanks Architects in Dallas, Texas. Shanks Architects worked with the church on a 9,000 sq-ft renovation which included a new café. The café was carved out of a corner of the original Fellowship Hall and at the intersection of two primary corridors.

"The Café isn't large," highlights Shanks, "but the overall composition expands the adjacent Atrium Lobby and has become the center of connection activity."

The Café is fully outfitted to provide specialty coffees and hand-crafted espresso drinks. There is one overall coordinator who manages the café and is responsible for keeping up with supplies and scheduling volunteers.  The church asks volunteers to serve at least once a month, although most of the regulars serve twice a month, with some on a weekly basis.

The café is open every Sunday morning, starting 30 minutes before the early service and closing once the 11:00 a.m. service gets going. They are also open on Wednesday evenings, for the fellowship meal, children's activities, and adult Bible studies, as well as special events.

Brent McDougal, Senior Pastor at Cliff Temple, shares, "The overall project was amazing, but the cafe really surprised us for a number of reasons. It enhanced our fellowship, created a new avenue for service and hospitality, and caused people to think about others that they didn't know. The cafe is completely volunteer led, even by some who don't like coffee. What they like is seeing friendships developed and strangers welcomed."

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