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Cafe Church - evaluating a range of approaches

Over recent years the number of cafes has steadily increased to the point that now there are not only cafes in most towns and city areas butthere become café zones. And they are frequented to such an extent that they become the social hubs for whole networks, which then can be described as “café culture”. Even many villages may now have more than one café.

With this emergence of a distinct café culture as part of our multi-cultural context, at the same time as we have seen a developing movement of mission producing fresh expressions of church, it is therefore not surprising that a whole range of café church initiatives have emerged.

As we have observed one new initiative after another we have reflected that a number of categories are arising which themselves are instructive of some of the principles of mission engagement in this newmovement. Currently we discern five or six such types of café church.

Two broad groups

Among the many expressions of café church there appear two broad categories. At a superficial level these could result from dividing them into those that use church-owned premises for their café and those that use secular-owned cafes. Pressing a little further however, we think that it may reveal more significant mission dynamics if we divide the expressions of church into those that focus on creating a café event to which folk are invited toc ome and those that focus on engaging with café culture seven (or perhaps five or six) days a week and allow church to grow from the engagement.

Sub-dividing these to arrive at four or five categories 

Two types of café church that focus on creating event:

1) At the most basic level are initiatives that seek to create café church by organising café-style events in church premises. Some literally re-order the main church building with chairs and tables, serve coffee, tea and cakes, etc and include a variety of activities including some form of truth exploration with more or less contemporary prayer and worship. One of these examples we heard of was of a weekly transformation of the building just for the Sunday afternoon when it was even expected that committed attenders at the traditional Sunday morning would also come along in the afternoon, to join with new attenders who, it was hoped would be drawn by this style of event/service. In other cases this may be laid on in the church hall.

2) A second type of café church, which we see in this category, is spreading rapidly. This involves a church group approaching a commercial café and asking to rent their premises for café church events at times when the café doesn’t normally open for trade. This can be a win-win situation as the church gets a venue that is state-of the-art and located more where non-church people frequent, while the café gets another use for its facility with a guaranteed clientele and associated additional sales. In particular weekday evenings and Sundays are not usual commercial café opening times when the café church can take over. In fact such can be the benefit to traders, that more than one outlet of well-known chains have offered the venue rent free and provided discount coffee! Furthermore one enterprising Baptist minister having discovered how well this worked, has established “the Café Church Network” with a franchise from Costa Coffee that enables him to offer a package for churches wanting to step out and embrace this trend (www.caféchurch.net ).

The events are described as “coffee with a conscience” and “church - but not as you know it!” And all sorts of life issues are addressed from a faith perspective. Early reports are that many of these new café churches are proving most encouraging with significant numbers of not-yet-Christians beginning to attend the café-style services. At one level this may seem to be more like our second broad category of engaging café culture. But our assessment so far, is that whilst the venue and location may have connection with café culture, these are still attractional events to which we invite those beyond traditional church. It seems a bit like the Willowcreek of café church …  seeker-sensitive events but in a café rather than a church building!

3) A third type of café church event is where members of one or more church are members of activities that take place in a community centre that is at the heart of a local village, town or estate. All sorts of groups use the centre focussed on such things as crafts, photography, mothers & babies, elderly lunch clubs etc. Christians that are involved with many of these relationships can introduce a café church event in the community centre which then provides the next step on a journey of faith for those relationships– as well as giving a spiritual heart and hub for all the other activities at the community centre. In this way café church becomes earthed in a networking hub at the heart of local community. And although still an event, it can be on the way to creating a missionary journey into an existing context. An exciting example of this has been initiated by a partnership between St Marks Haydock and St David’s Carr Mill in the community centre at Moss Bank.

 

Two or three types of freshexpressions of church that engage with café culture and emerge:

4) “Taste & See” is a café church in Kidsgrove featured on the first Fresh Expressions DVD. Local Methodists acquired a café in the centre of town and opened six days a week as a profit-making café. At a superficial level this could seem like our first category since it is a church-owned venue. But in reality the more important mission characteristic is the fact that the mission team intended to create, yes a venue, but not an event. Rather their intention has been a base for becoming part of everyday café culture where those looking for a good café experience could come and be welcomed. And only out of the authentic every day relationships that this facilitates can they see café church emerge. So most of the time its looking and doing what any café does. Only there is a back room converted for quiet, meditation and prayer, as well as spiritual conversation and events that take folk on in a journey of faith. Time will tell how effective this may be, but clearly the intention is that by acquiring a café, the venture becomes part of café culture and they have to discover how church grows in that soil.

5) We discovered a similar initiative with a significant difference when we met Rie who leads Café Retro in Copenhagen. Here again a group of local Lutherans have set up a café in the heart of the city that is open at all the normal café times to anyone and everyone.  The difference is that it is not just an initiative of Christians. Apart from the leadership team of 5, all the other 6 teams that make it happen of bartenders, renovation, events, design. PR, international concern and mission trips, are all 50:50 Christian and not-yet-Christian. So here it moves from not just seeking to set up café in the cultural context, but to integrate the enterprise on the inside as missional community that allows church to emerge in and beyond the café.

6) We said that perhaps there were six categories overall and three in this emerging sub-group. Well we are not sure we know of one yet, but we are sure that one must be out there. It will be about Christians not setting up their own event or even their own café at all. Rather they will naturally inhabit café culture and meet in several commercial cafes where they network informally as well as developing all sorts of events that engage other café frequenters, as they organise their emerging life as a faith community in all sorts of activities and events in homes, workplaces and cafes. This is basically the approach of Organic Church (Neil Coles) and we wait to hear the story.

Whilst some of these types of café church are moving further away from inherited church on a missional journey of engagement, its important to stress that all can have significantmissional effect.

 

Things to bear in mind and principles to note:

1)     As always, carefully review your context, know your resources and discern the openings that God is giving

2)     Are you using café as a method or engaging café as agroup or subculture

3)     Don’t think that by using café style or running an event in a café that you have developed church. You need to think ahead as to how you will support those who come on a journey of faith. Discipleship will bethe key challenge as with all fresh expressions of church

4)     Café culture is demanding – if you do your own aim high on quality

5)     Buying or renting a café requires lots of finance and need a serious business plan. It will need to be profitable if its to be sustainable

6)     Using other people’s cafes is light weight with low demands on finance and staff. Hence it offers ready possibilities to besustainable and multipliable. 

 

Resources

1)     Encounters on the Edge from Sheffield Centre, editions7, 33 and 34 (http://www.encountersontheedge.org.uk/)

2)     Cafechurch network (www.cafechurch.net) offer information to enable you to decide if this franchise approach is for you– if so they have a range of resources to support you - for more information about their latest event "How to Run a Cafe Church" click here.

3)     Laurence Singlehurst’s “Sowing Reaping & Keeping ”provides principles for developing stepping stones to support the faith journeyof those who begin to connect with café church events 

 
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