Coffee – The Elixir Of Mission

I come from the International Roast generation. When I were a lad we had no coffee machines, no lattes, no cappuccinos, no ristrettos, and no cold press. Large tins of International Roast dominated the kitchen cupboard. Things have changed dramatically, and there is a new focal point to friendships and hospitality: coffee.

Not just coffee but good coffee.  Getting a well brewed cup of coffee made from a freshly roasted bean is getting easier and easier. In fact Australia is regarded by many as the world leader in coffee consumption.

We are fussy about our coffee and there are few places Australians travel where they can expect the same level of quality and choice when it comes to brewed coffee as back home. This is the only country Starbucks failed in. No need for an American import when half a dozen cafés nearby brew better tasting coffee without the corporate franchise feel and lack of ambience.  (Having said that, when traveling in the USA Starbucks is an oasis of half decent coffee!). Australia has had no longstanding tradition in coffee which has allowed us to be open to innovation. If there are any new barriers being broken in coffee development chances are it’s right here in Australia.

Critical Social Lubricant

So how is this relevant to mission? Simple: if we don’t invest in coffee our capacity to offer hospitality is diminished and we appear backwards. There are still churches offering International Roast. Some would argue that it is a preference of certain older generations but I rather suspect it’s more about the lack of investment in hospitality. Coffee is a social lubricant. One of Australia’s largest café chains has as it’s slogan “where will I meet you?”. As I write this now across our nation millions will be sitting across from at least one other person talking over a coffee. Friends, lovers, work teams, sports teams, family etc, love catching up around coffee (there’s always something for non coffee lovers too).

The exponential growth of coffee shops across our nation is testament to the growing place (and addiction) of coffee in our daily lives and relationships. Over a coffee you can cry, laugh, debate, relax or just simply be comfortable in others presence. The growth of options for people when it comes to ‘3rd places’ is a welcome development in our otherwise individualised society.

Hosting Gathering Places – Creating Experiences

Other societies may have different gathering points and partake of different things, but in Australia the place of coffee is well cemented and cannot be ignored by any church that is serious about connecting with people and creating environments to facilitate that.

My favoured coffee watering hole is a coffee roastery on Brisbane’s northside. The coffee shop sells no food and has a laboratory like feel with black floor and white tiled benches with steel stools. When I first walked in I wondered how it could survive, stripped of all the usual food offerings and capacity to up sell, cross sell.Coffee is brewed onsite and the baristas are well trained. Each coffee is made with extreme care.

Everything is measured and weighed. The machines are best you can have and the expertise is immense. Great care has gone into the workflow that produces the final outcome: a thoroughly enjoyable (and addictive) experience. As a result it’s standing room only. Be prepared to wait for your coffee. No matter how many people are crammed in each cup is made with the same meticulous level of care, as designed by the original owner.

Can We Learn From Baristas?

I’ve noticed that it is the favourite haunt of many pastors from across many denominations. Some meet with ministry peers, other meet with congregants, and others simply read their Bibles or catch up with emails.

I’ve often wondered if they have learned anything from the experience they have there and if it is reflected in any way in their church in terms of the level of care and excellence taken in offering hospitality. The roastery I’m talking of updates their Facebook page regularly with photos of their baristas deep in concentration pouring coffees and producing coffee art to individualise each cup. The level of passion they display for their craft immense. Do we feel remotely the same about making people feel comfortable and welcome? Do we think carefully (if at all) about the experience we give people in our midst?

I know a pastor who has spent 15 years in one particular church. His assessment of the success and longevity of home groups is that the ones that meet around a shared meal last the longest.

A welcome change in many churches is the addition of coffee machines and cafés, and the extent to which the capacity for hospitality has been enhanced.

Being serious about mission means that you will give out a few critical signs. Being serious about the experience of hospitality is one of them. I may be drawing a long bow here but if you aren’t serious about coffee perhaps you aren’t all that serious about people?

(Before any non-coffee drinkers shout me down let me expand that to: if you aren’t serious about hospitality you aren’t all that serious about people.)

So what if you are living behind the times when it comes to coffee and hospitality and still an International Roast kinda church?  Here’s some suggestions:

  • Source a good quality coffee machine, usually supplied with a bean contract. Make sure servicing is included.
  • Make a golden rule: nobody other than trained baristas uses the machine. (Weekend courses readily available at reasonable prices).
  • Choose a well roasted bean with a great flavour. People’s palates are getting used to more of a single origin style bean so don’t get left behind with a safe, bland bean.
  • Create hospitality space in your building. Make sure it is a pleasant setting with a good ambience.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for your coffee. You can charge enough to cover costs or you can use the machine to raise funds for mission or other important projects.
  • Have complimentary granulated coffee and tea for those who prefer old school (on Sundays).

Churches are perceived by outsiders in a range of ways, both negative and positive. At the very least, there’s one easy perception we can fix in place: that we are a hospitable lot. That’s first base on the journey of faith: creating an environment where people feel welcome, safe and sociable.

Whilst you’re thinking on that could I have a regular latte on skim, double shot please?