Church Coffee Shops, Good Idea or Bad? by Pr. Rossow

You can’t spit in my neck of the woods without hitting a Methobapticostal church with a coffee shop in its lobby. These coffee shops may or may not be a bad idea. Fifteen years ago when we built our current church and school we thought about putting one in our facility and probably would have if we had not run out of time and energy for new ideas. It was enough of a challenge to us to build a five million dollar church and school all at the same time. (BTW – we paid off the mortgage two years ago – twelve years early.)

These coffee shops appear to be a must have for the contemporary church facility. Are they good or bad? Overall I think they are OK and can serve a useful function but I am curious what you think. I will share my concern about them, offer a few reasons in support of them and then look forward to your comments.

One reason to reject them is the fact that they so typify the Methobapticostal approach to church. They stand for the non-sacramental “fellowship” that is about all that is left when liberalism, Pentecostalism, and generic methodism have robbed you of the means of grace. It is interesting to note which churches don’t have coffee shops in the lobby. The old fashioned fire and brimstone Baptist church’s typically don’t because they tend to be smaller and they don’t need one anyway since they revolve around a preaching of sin and grace, albeit a grace compromised with “decision gospel.” Also, the Roman Catholic churches do not have coffee shops. That is because they too have a message of sin and grace and in their case as well, a compromised preaching of grace, compromised by a false doctrine of penance. Traditional Baptists and traditional Roman Catholics have a religion of substance and do not need secular gimmicks to ground their church. This notion of penance brings to mind another profound critique of the lobby coffee shop.

In the opening sentence you may have felt a need to replace the word “lobby” with the churchly word “narthex.” Good for you. Therein hangs a tale, like a dirty old coffee cup hanging on a hook in the back room. I am guessing that Methobaptipticostal churches do not use the term “narthex.” (Maybe some of the new age ELCA churches still use that term simply as a holdover from their previously liturgical days.) “Narthex” comes from the Greek word for scourging. The Narthex was the place for penitents. It was where the baptismal font was placed as a sign of the penitent receiving grace enough to enter the place where the body and blood of the Lord are given out. In a church where repentance over sin has been replaced with disappointment over poor parenting skills, bad money management and unfulfilling sex, and in a church where the Gospel has been replaced with the necessary life skills to meet those felt needs and a shot of adrenal filled praise music to get you through another tough week contending with your fellow narcissists, we don’t need no stinking narthex for no stinking penitence. We have a lobby where we get our favorite non-alcoholic brew that we carry into the auditorium where we sit close enough so we can see the stage and then slowly sip our caffeine infused drink that enhances our mood.

Having said that I guess it was good thing that we didn’t add a coffee shop to our facility. But I am not so sure we should be so quick to throw the baby out with the coffee water. The baby is camaraderie with my adopted family, the body of Christ. A place to express and experience that is a good thing.

My first call was to Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, Michigan. I remember touring the old churches on the west side Detroit and hearing members speak fondly of the bowling lanes in the church basements and the men’s club house across the street from the sanctuary. Those churches had wonderful camaraderie between members. It was all gravy for sure. The meat and potatoes are the means of grace but it was a nice gravy and a gravy that was made from fellowship juices of sharing the forgiveness of sins with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Whenever I see the now omnipresent church coffee shops I think of those stories of the strong churches on the west side of Detroit and the way members treated the parish facility as a second home. That’s a good thing. As long as the administration of the coffee shop does not detract from the parish’s ability to administer the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, it may not be such a bad thing. What do you think?

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