Single Mom’s Comment on the Church Coffee Shop Debate Speaks Volumes, by Pr. Rossow

A single mom named Michelle put the following quote on the church coffee shop debate post from a couple of weeks  ago. It is a powerful comment. When I wrote the post I asserted that I am not entirely sure the church coffee shop is a bad idea. This comment still does not entirely convince me but it is chock full of sometimes unintentional but profound reflection on the modern, felt-needs-meeting, semi-narcissistic church.

I have to say that this issue “hit” me yesterday, Sunday morning, before I started looking online here for other comments.  I just started attending a church and they do have a coffee cafe.  For the past couple of months, I have only been going on  Wednesday nights, but have decided to go on Sunday morning also, recently.  I got up early and went, and as soon as I opened the lobby doors, I smelled a great coffee aroma.

Here’s my argument: I’m a recently,single mother and I’m financially “broke”.  I smelled the coffee and it felt warm and inviting.  I went up to the cafe counter and asked if they have any free coffee ( I was hoping for an urn filled with some generic coffee that I could drop a couple of coins in for a donation).  The lady said, “no”.  So I walked away saddened, and that warm and inviting feeling ‘went away’.

So, you have all these people around you with a cup of coffee, but you can’t have one because you can’t afford it.  I’m telling you I didn’t make it into the sanctuary that morning because I couldn’t get past the whole coffee concept.  I sat outside the sanctuary in a chair for about 1/2 hr., then decided to leave and go back home.

I’m telling you.  They could buy a large container of generic coffee to put in an urn still and just take donations, if necessary.  And they would probably come ahead financially.

So why put something “out there” that is going to distract  people, before they get to the sanctuary – something like this? Oh, so I’m not solid in my faith, you may ask, for something like this to bother me???  Well actually, “no, I’m not”, but I am striving.  But why shall there be “brick walls” that are tempting and have to do with money when I enter the church?  How come I simply can’t throw a coin in the basket next to the coffee urn to have a simple cup of coffee.  Why is it there and I have to walk past it, feeling broke because I am broke.

This all just sounds about money.

Michelle – thanks for sharing your story. May it teach us all, whether we have a narthex coffee shop or not to be sensitive to where people are at. May it also teach us that the church is not about brewing coffee but about delivering the forgiveness of sins. Thank you for making the effort to tell your story and to share your experience in the narthex coffee shop. It has helped us all to continue to think through these important matters.

Let’s hear from our other readers what you think of this matter and of this lady’s experience.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Single Mom’s Comment on the Church Coffee Shop Debate Speaks Volumes, by Pr. Rossow — 35 Comments

  1. Wow! This reminds me of what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 11, when some people are getting drunk while others are going hungry. Obviously it isn’t to that extreme, but this lady makes an excellent point, demonstrating that when we take the focus off of what really unites us, we can cause divisions.

  2. This all just sounds about money.

    Exactly. And, when a congregation charges for coffee, it is probable that the Gospel preached there comes at some cost as well. Gives me an idea for a new promotional tagline:

    “We invite you to ___________ Lutheran Church, where the Gospel is free, and so is the coffee.”

  3. Coffee shop vendor selling goods in the church? Hum. Sounds like an attempt to separate people instead of uniting them in doctrine and practice. No wonder Michelle was saddened and perhaps offended by this coffee shop and thus questioned whether she wanted to be in church that morning.

  4. Our church offers unlimited free coffee, in both the blessed regular blend and the less sanctified decaf version; it’s the donuts you have to pay for! Actually, LWML sells them as a fund raiser, but they’ve been known to hand out a freebie or two on the side. Oh, and we usually have free coffee mug giveaways on a regular basis.

  5. When did coffee become another one of America’s top gods right up there with money, sports, and medicine? Or does coffee fall under the category of medicine? 🙂

    I pray that Michelle will be able to get past the folly of men and receive Jesus freely given for her in the Church.

  6. James Twichell in his book “Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld” tells the truth of the Megachurch. Their coffee shops and book stores are profit centers as their members and their “seekers” do not give much offerings. It’s the megachurch form of Friday night bingo.

  7. I’m not in favor of coffee shops in the church’s food court–oops,I mean lobby–ooops, I mean narthex. I can’t believe that Michelle’s venture was into a Lutheran church, either.

    However, her experience is a horrific example of “church” gone awry. It doesn’t matter why she went into that church–even if it was for free coffee. She didn’t get any coffee, and, what is worse, the gospel (it’s free, you know) was left gasping in the wake of her departure. If this same church had a coffee hour after worship, would it charge for the coffee?

    Seeker-sensitivity is a fiction there: whether it was coffee Michelle was seeking or the Good News, she got neither.

  8. All issues aside; A church that has a coffee shop should NOT have “people? ” “Employees more likely! ” (Even worse!) That have no sensitivity to a person’s question! the woman would have not asked for free coffee if she had money! In a church no less! there was nothing for anyone in that church except a for profit coffee shop! End of story! I am open on the question of a coffee shop in a church….. Different strokes for different churches. A coffee shop is not inherently evil, any more than a book store or religious shop.


  9. Everyone is welcome to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Webster, WI for free coffee (and hot cocoa!) during Bible study. You can also stay for coffee, hot cocoa, and a variety of other goodies after receiving the free gift of the gospel in the Divine Service. I promise we will not charge you. We Look forward to receiving the free gift of grace with you.

  10. Just had a coffee from Starbucks and this got me thinking: I paid not only for the quad shot Americano, but also for the experience of being in a “status” shop, with Indie and Jazz music and all sorts of hipness. When the lady told her that there was no free coffee, Michelle not only was told that she had to pay for the camaraderie, she was told that that she is riffraff and unworthy to belong to a church that speaks the language of affluence. This congregation did the opposite of generosity and hospitality, which has been the trait of the Church since the Book of Acts.

  11. Hopefully MIchelle has approached someone at the church to discuss the issue. I feel bad for her, I know how she feels. That is how my life was growing up. No bells and whistles. We could not afford it. However, she has a great opportunity to offer her insight and assistance to make a change for the better. I hope she does. Frankly, the people running the coffee shop would have to be real jerks to overlook such a simple request.

  12. @Carol Rutz #15

    You wrote, “…she was told that that she is riffraff and unworthy to belong to a church that speaks the language of affluence.”

    I beg to differ. This has nothing to do with affluence. This church speaks the language of insensitivity, not necessarily affluence.

    You then wrote, “This congregation did the opposite of generosity and hospitality, which has been the trait of the Church since the Book of Acts.”

    Well said–I agree wholeheartedly. Generosity and hospitality are indeed traits of the church. And should Michelle ever encounter not only these traits, but the “marks of the Church,” as well, she will be fed in soul and body.

  13. All are welcome at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom Indiana. If you live locally or are visiting Brown County Indiana please make a stop at St. David’s at 9:30 for Worship. Tables and chairs are set up in the Gathering place and there are great snacks — from cheese and gluten free crackers to double chocolate frosted brownies and any where in between. The coffee urns are fired up well before the service and anyone is welcome to it at any time. Our congregation comes from five counties and we sit around and catch up on the just passed week sometimes for an hour and a half. There is no charge for anything and there is never a shortage of goodies to munch on.
    When you bring your cup of coffee into the Worship Space you will be treated to a very worshipful attitude, a great sermon (our Priest Whitney has been given awards for her sermons), and Holy Communion (every Sunday and Wednesday).

    All are welcome and you will know it the moment you walk through our bright red doors!

  14. Steadfast, issues etc and worldview everlasting & a home brewed cup of caribou coffee is my coffee shop church.

  15. @Ed Fleming #18

    Thank you for your offer. Although I am very persnickety about the Liturgy and my view on Women’s Ordination, it is nice to know I am welcome.

    @Win #17
    Yeah, “affluence” seemed like a poor choice of words. I was trying to voice my objection of the church implementing a business system in order to cultivate camaraderie. Instead, that congregation alienated someone who lived in a different socioeconomic strata, which goes against the ancient customs of the Church.

    Michelle, if you ever visit my church in Fort Wayne, you and your family are most welcome to join us for worship as well as our Bible Study hour, in which we serve free coffee.

  16. Is it possible that the woman who interacted with Michelle was insensitive and not the whole church?

  17. Paul :Is it possible that the woman who interacted with Michelle was insensitive and not the whole church?

    Yes, that’s very possible–I had considered that. But, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, and they muffed that chance. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in my judgment of their behavior, but the fact remains that the message that was sent –and received–was one of insensitivity, and it reflected on the whole church.

  18. If I remember correctly, Narthex coffee shops grew out of the church growth movement and I’m not sure that train of thought is best for the church, but that may be another subject. Coffee shops might be good for para church organizations, or in the church parish hall, connected with the youth perhaps as a fund raiser, but just not sure about having them in the Narthex. Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but Word and Sacrament needs to remain separated from the culture. In the long run, I think that’s what even outsiders would expect. I don’t think “seekers” expect the church to be a reflection of the world they are coming in from. I think they come looking for something more than the smell of great coffee. They can get that on most any street corner.

  19. As always, man can abuse any blessing. I doubt that the existence of a coffee pot in the aforementioned congregation was the reason the hostess acted like a clod. Her response would likely have been the same if she was asked for directions to the ladies room.

    In our congregation, which is busy with activities almost every day and night of the week, the coffee/juice/water/cocoa/soda/refreshment area has been a wonderful addition. Of course, there is no charge (except the youth have a pop machine in the back of the kitchen as a fundraiser for NYG).

    Our congregation receives many visitors, and having refreshments available between services provides an easy, comfortable way to meet and greet one another.


  20. We have 9:30 brunch on Sun morning the same reason we have potlucks and free holiday dinners. It’s the Old Lutheran way of community outreach. Rather selfserving but in our simple way it makes the weekly “count” go up. Isn’t that what “church growth” is all about?

  21. It would be good for all of us to look at what our congregations do, be it on a Sunday morning or any time, in every activity that takes place under our roof to see if anything that we do is an impediment to the Gospel and the putting forth of a clear and unmistakable witness to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Sadly, so many churches are focusing on the “incidentals” and have lost sight of the “essentials” namely, Word and Sacrament.

  22. Our youth group earns contributions for their trips to Higher Things by serving the quarterly lunches provided between late service and Voters’ Assembly meetings. (As these are attended by members and held in the Fellowship Hall, I have never heard an objection to the arrangement.)

    Our ladies’ group provides various items with coffee and tea before Sunday School. Any surplus donations go to a scholarship fund, but no one observes whether you give to it. SS children regularly stop by for a snack on their way to class.

    I don’t think it is necessary to have coffee in or near the sanctuary. But of course, I’m so old fashioned that I think children past the bottle stage can survive without eating for an hour in church, too. Rather than distracting them with cereal, teach them what’s going on in the service, (as has been mentioned elsewhere today)!

  23. @LW #8
    Readers’ Digest has an article about the medicinal virtues of coffee. Hmm. Did Jesus charge Pete’s mom-in-law or the leper for the “medicine” of His Word and hand?

  24. Unfortunately – we will be closing our small town family owned downtown coffee shop in the next few weeks. A non-profit coffee shop has opened behind us offering free for donations – everything that we offer. This is not just a little walk in shop – it looks like a full running coffee shop. It’s tied to a church that says they are doing this as a ministry and that they are not trying to take our business. But if you go get a free coffee in the morning – chances are you aren’t going to go pay for one later in the day. They are not open full time yet, but we feel that is their intention. Now they are open Monday – Friday during the morning hours. This is the church that our mayor and town manager and many council members attend. We have no problem with the ministry, but our biggest issue is that they hung a sign on the fence behind our business and they refuse to take it down. Yet, we are not allowed to hang a sign and for the small signage we are allowed – we of course had to buy a permit. This coffee shop being non profit means – they pay no taxes, city, county, state or federal. They have volunteers working and many more perks that our shop does not get. What many people do not seem to understand is that we have invested many thousands of dollars into this business – we did not borrow money – we invested our savings and we chose their town for our investment. We can not file bankruptcy and get anything back. This was our family business that we have tried to build for our future. Our closing affects many people – our landlords, the people who work for us and play music, the artists who consign our suppliers and our family. If we vent to people they don’t seem to understand. We are deemed as anti-Christian and that is not it at all. We are Christians – we are just put in a bad position right now. We are trying to make our business work and I think any other family in our situation would be equally as upset. I’m not sure why certain people don’t want the downtown area to grow. We have struggled for over 2 years and have watched business after business close. I can see offering coffee for free before services, but I can’t see a church turning it into a business. Our town is way to small for more than one coffee shop.

  25. @Norm Fisher #3
    Perhaps churches shouldn’t be in the business of selling coffee. We always have a pot going in the basement kitchen before service, during bible study, and have a coffee hour afterwords (usually sponsored by someone for a family birthday or special occasion, church-provided donuts otherwise). Lots of good conversation and opportunities to corner the pastor for questions.
    (oh, Immanuel Lutheran, Alexandria, VA)

  26. Michelle’s story is so real that I think it should put to shame, many Lutheran churches. Lutherans know how to be sociable, but not necessarily friendly and truly sharing. Lutherans know how to be doctrinal but not necessarily evangelistic and truly loving.

    The worst thing that a Christian can say at the funeral of a loved one’s family, is, “I, understand.” No! Unless you are that person full of sorrow and experiencing that immediate and sudden loss – none of us can honestly say, “We understand.”

    Michelle’s situation is not unique. No one can best appreciate a single mom’s situation than that single mom. My one daughter and grandson live with us. It was not my daughter’s choice to have my grandson’s father instantly killed in an auto crash. But, be than as it may – thank God, Paul, was a Christian!

    To reiterate, somewhat, at the expense of stereotype: Lutherans are somewhat like Presbyterians. They are financially well off. They know how well to be sociable, but not necessarily, truly friendly. Having to have a collection for everything, can also spell, certain distrust in the Lord that he will supply all our needs. Lutherans need to take to heart Christ’s parable of the Widow and her mite!

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