Monday, January 11, 2010

Coffeehouse Chaplaincy

A few years ago, I learned of a colleague who makes it a point to spend a few hours at a coffeehouse each week. Same time, same place. It's advertised on his church's website: "You can meet with our pastor at [this time] at [this coffeehouse]." And as far as I know, he gets visitors. I don't know whether they're members or curious seekers or what. Every once in a while, he advertises that on a particular day he'll have another colleague with him to talk with people. On one occasion, Brian McLaren sat at that coffeehouse with him willing to talk to whomever accepted the invitation.

I actually have yet to ask my colleague about this practice. But it immediately perked up my ears. It doesn't get more missional than what he's doing. I have to imagine that he's getting to know the restaurant staff and other regulars. He's a visible presence on behalf of his church for the community. He's getting out of the freaking church building and interacting with people in a common and popular "third place" (because let's be honest...for an increasing amount of people in our culture, the church ain't so popular of a "third place").

Jan at A Church for Starving Artists recently wrote on a similar theme when she recounts an experience while typing her sermon at a coffeehouse:
The two men were working together on some kind of Republican political event. The other woman seemed to be writing in her diary. After the men left, the remaining woman and I kept to our work, occasionally staring into space in search of inspiration. She was looking towards the bar when she said something out loud - sort of to herself - and I replied, "What did you say?" And she said it again: "I wish my church was like this."

Don't we all?

It wasn't the first time I've come here alone or with friends and heard those words: "I wish my church was like this." I interpret this to mean "I wish the church was easy and warm and comfortable and diverse and tangibly hospitable. I wish there was more art and moving around and conversation and work and laughter and sitting and even praying." I've prayed here many times. I've had staff meetings here. I've celebrated births and deaths here.
This post drives home the point that people find a comfort and energy at coffeehouses that they don't necessarily find in church buildings. I imagine that that's at least part of the reason why my colleague does what he does as well.

So my new ministerial undertaking this year will be to set aside some time to essentially do what my colleague does: spend a few hours a week at a coffeehouse and be more of a missional presence in my church's nearest community. As my church sits out by itself on a hill with its affiliated community a mile or two away, it becomes that much more necessary.

January is going to be my "trial run" before I begin advertising it. This will take some adjustment, as it can be quite a commitment.

I've already learned one valuable lesson. This past Wednesday was my first attempt. I figured I'd go Wednesdays, 1-3 p.m. For a variety of reasons, it seemed like the best time. So I sat down, started typing my sermon, people-watched a little...until everyone but the barista left. So I found myself wondering whether this would be such a great time to do this. Finally, as I stood to leave, I noticed a sign advertising business hours and realized that they had closed an hour earlier. I apologized to the barista, who said they usually let people stay longer. Still, I need to rethink my strategy.

Nevertheless, I've taken the first step. We'll see how it goes.

Edit: Greg at The Parish, whose blog I appreciate for keeping me honest among other things, coincidentally has just posted his own take on this sort of thing. My vision is not to approach people with intentions of proselytizing; of starting up fake chit-chat so I can eventually blindside them. I saw and heard too much of that years ago. My vision is more along the lines of what Dan Kimball describes in They Like Jesus But Not the Church, where he really does just hang out, gets to know people, and then they react with total surprise if/when they find out he's a pastor. In other words, I want this to be much more organic than any proposed method of evangelism.