With increasing numbers of people rarely, if ever, stepping into a church building, many evangelical churches are looking at new ways of obeying Jesus’ command to ‘go into all the world’ with the message of the gospel. Here are three churches from South Wales who now meet regularly in local coffee shops:
I can remember it vividly. It was 15 years ago, and I was ordering a drink in a famous coffee chain for the first time. I just wanted a coffee, but it was like reading a different language! What’s an Americano, a latte (which I pronounced ‘late’) or a frappuccino? What size do I want? Not even that was in everyday language! I ordered something and my coffee didn’t appear. I didn’t realise you had to go to another counter to get it. Everyone else knew what they were doing; they were comfortable, but I was clueless and embarrassed, feeling very uncomfortable!
Put yourself in the shoes of someone coming to church for the very first time. Everyone else knows what they are doing. Everyone else is comfortable. The words used are different, almost another language! There are lots of unfamiliar activities and faces. It’s a daunting thing.
We started a monthly Café Church at Peniel because we realised that most of our meetings were held in the church building and we didn’t have any in a ‘neutral’ venue. So in January 2015, we began Café Church in Louchi’s Tearoom, in Maesteg. The format is very simple. We meet on a Monday evening, and on arrival, you order a drink and cake (the ordering process is very straightforward!), and on the tables is a table-top quiz. Then we have a quiz, leading to a short gospel message with an invitation to join us on Sunday.
The Sunday after every Café Church, we have a shorter service in the afternoon (instead of our evening service). In this service, we do what we would normally do in a service, making a special effort to be accessible to those not used to coming to church. We also have food together after the service.
We have seen some encouragements from Café Church. We now see those who haven’t been to church before coming along to the afternoon services and are starting to engage with the gospel. They already know a handful of people through Café Church, so attending isn’t as daunting. Café Church is also a bridge for those who have connections to the church through the food-bank or our toddlers’ group.
Andrew Norbury, Peniel, Maesteg
Much of Jesus’ teaching was given in synagogues — the institutional ‘church’ buildings of his day; but he also taught from a boat, on a hillside and at the meal table. Francis Schaeffer gave evangelistic messages on Jeremiah and Romans in a café, and these were later published as Death in the City. It is biblically faithful, evangelistically mandatory, and common sense to preach the gospel wherever people will hear it, provided this involves no unscriptural compromise.
‘Café Church’ takes place on the last Thursday evening of every month, between 7:45 and 9:00pm, at an out of town Costa, which has excellent parking facilities and which we have to ourselves for that time. If others wish to join, they are most welcome. Part of the arrangement with Costa is that everyone buys a coffee or some other drink or food. (They are, after all, keeping the café open for an hour later than usual.)
People chat among themselves informally. We usually have a non-serious, non-threatening quiz as an ice-breaker. In fact, people have chatted so well that an ice-breaker has not been necessary, but when we dropped it one month there was a chorus of protest! The invitation cards and social media invitations state that an ‘inspirational talk’ will be given. I speak for about 5-7 minutes. I usually take something that has been ‘hot news’ as a lead into a brief explanation of the gospel. People can then talk about the message as they sit around their tables.
A number of our folk have brought friends. Unconverted older children of church members who no longer attend on a Sunday have come, as have some outsiders who come to our Toddler groups.
Stephen Clark, Pastor of Freeschool Court Evangelical Church, Bridgend.
Times they are a-changin’.
‘Shopping? Mostly do it online these days…’
‘Yeah, I’ve got a new job. Hopefully, they’ll give me some hours this week…’
‘Dad? He moved to Bradford, but I still see him on Skype…’
Change. It’s all around us, affecting every facet of our lives. From school to work, conversation to communication, the way we do things shifts and alters with every new invention, every whim of Apple’s design team. And alongside technological change comes societal change: zero hours contracts, family break-up, seven-day working. All these and more helping to contribute to the bewildering sense of speed in a world where structures are fluid and time the most precious commodity you have.
And among all this is the church: reaching, teaching, preaching. Except that some of those we’re trying to reach are so busy seven days a week, they’d never really find time to go to the 10.30am service, even if they felt like doing so. And their Sunday evenings are the only free moments before Monday’s onslaught, so to them going to a 6:00pm sermon seems a little wasteful. And church… well, come on. Old building, old book, old people. This, after all, is the twenty-first century. No-one does that anymore, do they?
So many people might not do church, but they do do coffee. They might not go to chapel but they do go to Costa. So, thought Llanelli Free Evangelical Church, let’s go to them. Let’s ask the manager at Costa if we can meet there (‘of course… come late, we’re stocktaking anyway’), invite people along (‘I’d love to … I always love a cuppa and a chat’) and keep it light. A quiz, always hotly contested, even by the staff. Sometimes a testimony, sometimes music (once, memorably, an open mic night), and always an epilogue. Visiting speakers, home-grown talent and occasionally fund-raising appeals for the Costa Foundation. Always changing, always welcoming… always church.
And that, I think, is key. Café Church at LFEC is more than simply an outreach. For some it is church. It’s the only contact with Christianity they have, and maybe they’re not going to come to the family service anytime soon. But at 8pm on the first Thursday of each month, they’re meeting God’s people and hearing the gospel. They are coming to church, now that it has decided to go to them.
Matthew Howard, Llanelli Free Evangelical Church