c. 2007 Religion News Service
MIDLAND, Mich. _ Messiah Lutheran Church’s drive-through coffee cafe _ the first such venture in Michigan’s Saginaw Valley _ is the latest twist on reaching the masses.
Housed inside a 4,900-square-foot section in the front of the church, the cafe, called “journeys,” offers a full line of Italian-style and espresso lattes, mochas, plus pastries and cookies.
The hope is to appeal to younger folks and others alienated by more traditional religious approaches.
“When we opened in February, we got a lot of feedback,” said Dan D. Lacher, 30, manager of Messiah’s cafe. “Some people thought it was really cool, and others seemed puzzled that we would have a drive-through at a church.”
Located in the middle of Michigan, about 100 miles northwest of Ann Arbor,Messiah is among a growing number of churches across the country developing creative evangelism that pairs houses of worship with franchises such as coffee cafes and restaurants.
“People’s lives are constantly changing, so (the church) has to continually adapt its method of reaching them to stay relevant as a ministry in the community,” Lacher said.
Family Christian Center in Munster, Ind., opened a Starbucks in its lobby. In Wells, Maine, Messiah Christian Church offers memberships to its fitness center; while Houston’s Brentwood Baptist Church has a McDonald’s restaurant in its adjacent lifelong-learning center, complete with a drive-thru window.
“There are a lot of churches doing (coffeehouses), but (drive-thrus) are still very very new,” said Michael Trent, 32, owner of the Birmingham, Ala.-based consulting firm Third Place Consulting.
Trent works with churches, including rural Midland’s Messiah, to design outreach projects to attract the “unchurched.”
Retail extensions such as restaurants and coffee shops represent churches taking community outreach to the next level, said the Rev. P. David Saunders, pastor at Bethel AME African Methodist Episcopal Church in Saginaw.
“I applaud them for what they’re doing,” Saunders said. “It’s a way of touching people that might not normally be touched.”
Location is the key to potential success, Trent said.
“Every church has a unique DNA. Every church should consider the concept that works for them because what’s not true is if you brew it they will come,” he said. “It’s about creating a spirit that invites people to come in. The coffee is just a tool. You also can’t just do what another church did. It has to help your church accomplish its ministerial vision.”
Christian coffee-shop franchises are gaining popularity as a place to go to meet friends, participate in a Bible study, or just hang out while listening to worship music, said Bishop S. Todd Ousley, 45, head of the 10,000-member Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan, which is based in Saginaw.
“They’re doing exactly what the disciple Paul did _ meet people where they are and speak the language they speak while proclaiming the Gospel in a comfort level people will respond to,” Ousley said.
“And traditionally, church coffee is the worst coffee on earth, so for a congregation to get serious about the quality of their coffee is fantastic. If you’re going to drink coffee anyway, why not give for a good cause that advances the kingdom of God?”
Messiah sells about 2,000 cups of coffee a month, Lacher said. Prices range from $1.45 for a small cup of coffee up to $3.95 for a 20-ounce fruit smoothie.
The coffee house at the 2,300-member Messiah Lutheran Church seats 18. One full-time and four part-time employees plus a dozen volunteers man the shop.
“Making money is not our goal,” said Lacher, who said he drinks three to four cups of coffee daily.
“We cover expenses such as salary and supplies, and any money above that goes back into the church’s outreach ministry.”
The outreach can include mission work, feeding the hungry, hosting self-help groups and community work.
“We don’t expect to convert everyone, and we don’t hand out religious tracts or shove anything down visitors’ throats. But we know that with conversation, some people will eventually want to know more about Christ.”
(Denise Ford-Mitchell writes for The Saginaw News in Saginaw, Mich.)
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