Editorial Note: I wrote the article below in 2004 when I was called to start a new congregation. I believe now, as I did then, that this is a workable model, and have actually seen it done by multi-site congregations and church planters. As I have been working on St. Paul UMC's strategic plan for the next five years, I can't help but wonder if its time...
The Bridge Café: Church as Coffee House
The Cultural Picture
When was the last time you were in a Barnes and Nobles bookstore? Today’s bookstore coffee houses are fast becoming semi-holy gathering places. Their proprietors, informed by extensive market research and cultural studies, have mastered the art of combining retail sales with vibrant, postmodern experiences. They have moved beyond the days of dimly lit, dusty bookstores and cramped booths in coffee shops into a brave new world where what is sold is the experience, not just the product. What distinguishes them from other “normal” bookstores? They are providing an experience that embraces all of the senses. Once you enter the store you are surrounded with the smells of hot, strong coffee, teas and pastries. The tables are usually crowded with people delving into the mysteries of the universe, poetry and surfing the Internet on their open wireless network. There are clusters of two or three tables with people bantering over the problems of the world or building interpersonal relationships. It is a place of weekly gatherings by people with similar interests ranging from Buddhism to Dungeons and Dragons. They are seeking to create an environment that meets the culture. They are creating what sociologists call a “third place.”
Creating an environment that meets the culture includes gathering around the table, sharing, giving and receiving, learning, reading and studying. That is the goal of The Bridge Café. We desire to create environments that meet the culture where the culture resides rather than attempting to make the culture conform to our understandings and customs. This follows the pattern set by Jesus who taught fishermen by the seashore with metaphors of fishing and farmers in the fields while speaking of great harvests that need workers and wheat falling to the ground and dying in order to multiply. For too long the Church has struggled to reach a spiritually hungry community because it attempts for force them into our box rather than engaging them where they live and breathe and have their being. From this desire to reach the culture and make connections comes the vision for The Bridge Café.
Bridge Café will be a place where the gospel meets the world, not in a combative sense, but rather in a holistic sense. It will be a place of tables and conversations, of studying and reading, of giving and receiving. The Bridge Café will host poets and artists, thinkers and theologians all who come for dialogue and to gain a deeper understanding of spiritual disciplines, worship and God. It will be a place of worship and music, of gathering and caring. The Bridge Café will be a place of community for those who might never darken the doors of a traditional church.
The Bridge Café will be a functional, non-profit café, performing arts, and conversation venue serving delicious gourmet coffee, freshly baked pasties from local bakers, and displaying art from artists who struggle with spiritual issues based in the orthodox teachings of the Church. The proceeds, after operating costs are covered, will be divided into thirds. One third to the host congregation, St. Paul United Methodist Church to be used for its ministry and mission, one third to local ministries supported and sponsored by the Bridge Café that alleviate suffering and advocate for “the least of these, my children” including The Bridge Project, and one third to world mission initiatives to be determined by the local board of directors. As an independent 501.3c non-profit corporation it will also be used as an incubator to employ local members of the community and train them in business practices. There will be space that may be used as a teaching venue for various organizations in the community to allow them to promote personal responsibility and foster greater interpersonal awareness. The hope is that the Bridge Café becomes not just a place to gather and consume, but a mission outpost from which to launch ideas and ministries to improve the fate of those less fortunate in the community.