How a cup of coffee can help your church plant
Church planters often don’t have the luxury of a church office, at least not in those first few years. I certainly didn’t. So in the early going, I would go to a local coffee shop to study, plan, and have meetings. I’m now in year five of planting Immanuel Church, and at this point I’m blessed to have an office. But to be honest, most of the time I prefer the coffee shop, and that’s still where you’ll often find me. I find that the ambiance of a coffee shop helps me focus. But more importantly, I’ve also found that by consistently going to the same two or three shops, I’ve built friendships with multiple baristas and regulars in those locations.
The coffee shops in Birmingham are like my Cheers bar… everybody knows my name, and I know theirs as well.
And this raises in an important point: third place environments like coffee shops and gyms are great places to meet people and build relationships, which ultimately provide opportunities to share your faith and invite people to church. At this point, I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve met at a coffee shop who eventually made their way to a worship gathering or to one of our gospel community hangouts (that’s what our church calls our small groups). Just a few weeks ago, a barista at my favorite coffee shop showed up for worship with her boyfriend!
Before I was a church planter, I was on staff at a large church, where I was required to keep regular office hours. I understand the importance of having set times to be in the office for meetings, conferences, etc.. But at the time I was a college pastor, and the students I was responsible for shepherding were either on campus or at a coffee shop. Few of them were going to stop by my office, but many of them would stop by a coffee shop across from campus. It always irked me that I had to be holed up in my office all week when my time would be much better spent in an environment where the people I was called to reach and pastor were located. So I began to ask if I could schedule time each week to be at a nearby coffee shop.
This move made me much more accessible to students, and through placing myself in a third place environment, I ended up meeting other students who weren’t plugged into a church or a part of a college ministry, alongside of having more interaction with students in my ministry.
All of this has led me to make spending time in a place like a coffee shop several hours a week a priority for myself and others on staff. Everyone on the team is encouraged to get outside the church walls! This is where people are. And when you consistently place yourself in such environments, you will have ample opportunities to meet people who don’t know Jesus, and who aren’t plugged into church.