The joe of salvation Sunday, July 15, 2007 DENISE FORD-MITCHELL THE SAGINAW NEWS MIDLAND TOWNSHIP – Messiah Lutheran Church’s “journeys” drive-through coffee café – the first such venture in the Saginaw Valley – is the latest twist on reaching the masses. Messiah is among a growing number of churches across the country developing creative evangelism that pairs houses of worship with franchises ranging from coffee cafés to restaurants. The hope is to appeal to younger folks and other individuals who feel traditional religion alienates them. “When we opened in February, we got a lot of feedback,” said Manager Dan D. Lacher, 30. “Some people thought it was really cool, and others seemed puzzled that we would have a drive-through at a church – the first that we know of around here.” Housed inside a 49,000-square-foot (personal correction, was listed as 4,900) section in the front of the church, at busy South Poseyville and Gordonville in Midland County, journeys offers a full line of Italian-style and espresso lattes, mochas, plus frozen drinks, pastries, cookies, Jones soda and bottled water. Messiah is among a growing number of churches across the country developing creative evangelism that pairs houses of worship with franchises ranging from coffee cafés to restaurants. The hope is to appeal to younger folks and other individuals who feel alienated by traditional religion. “People’s lives are constantly changing, so (the church) has to continually adapt its method of reaching them to stay relevant as a ministry in the community,” Lacher said. Family Christian Center in Munster, Ind., opened a Starbucks in its lobby. In Wells, Maine, Messiah Christian Church offers memberships to its fitness center; while Houston’s Brentwood Baptist Church has a McDonald’s restaurant in its adjacent lifelong-learning center, complete with a drive-thru window, according to a Time magazine report on church retailing. “There are a lot of churches doing (coffeehouses), but (drive-thrus) are still very very new,” said Michael Trent, 32, owner of the Birmingham, Ala.-based consulting firm Third Place Consulting. He works with churches, including rural Midland’s Messiah, to design outreach projects that attract the unchurched.Retail extensions such as restaurants and coffee shops represent churches taking community outreach to the next level, said the Rev. P. David Saunders, pastor at Bethel AME African Methodist Episcopal Church, 535 Cathay in Saginaw. “I applaud them for what they’re doing,” Saunders said. “It’s a way of touching people that might not normally be touched.” Hosting some sort of franchise “is not outside the realm of possibility” for Bethel, Saunders said. Bethel already offers day care, activities for youths, and an outdoor carnival to residents who are not church members. “The church has a responsibility to the people who are in the community who are not part of the church,” Saunders said. “They still need to serve the community.” Location is the key to potential success, Trent said. “Every church has a unique DNA. Every church should consider the concept that works for them because what’s not true is if you brew it they will come,” he said. “It’s about creating a spirit that invites people to come in. The coffee is just a tool. You also can’t just do what another church did. It has to help your church accomplish its ministerial vision.” Coffee shops are the malt shops of the 21st century, said Joseph F. DeRupo, spokesman for the National Coffee Association. And Christian coffee shop franchises are gaining popularity as a place to go to meet friends, participate in a Bible study, or just hang out while listening to worship music, said Bishop S. Todd Ousley, 45, head of the 10,000-member Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan, based at 924 S. Niagara in Saginaw. “I applaud what Messiah is doing,” Ousley said. “There are right on track with what we are seeing. They’re doing exactly what the Disciple Paul did – meet people where they are and speak the language they speak while proclaiming the Gospel in a comfort level people will respond to. "And traditionally, church coffee is the worst coffee on earth, so for a congregation to get serious about the quality of their coffee is fantastic. If you pay $1.50 for a cup everyday, then multiply that times 52 weeks, that’s a nice amount of money. If you’re going to drink coffee anyway, why not give for a good cause that advances the kingdom of God?” From 1999 to 2004, the number of coffeehouses nationwide increased 58 percent to 19,000 from 12,000, the New York-based National Coffee Association reports. The National Coffee Association has tracked detailed coffee consumption statistics for more than 50 years. The number of American adults who drink the beverage daily also is climbing. It was 49 percent in 2004, 53 percent in 2005 and 56 percent in 2006, to the group’s market research studies show. More young people are jumping on the java bandwagon, DeRupo said. Coffee guzzlers in the 18 to 24 age group increased 15 percent from three years ago, making them the fastest-growing segment of the coffee-drinking population, DeRupo said. However, coffee consumption is up across the board, he said. In comparison, in the 18 to 30 age group, 17.8 percent attend church weekly, while a nearly equal amount of counterparts never attend, the Association of Religion Archives indicates. In that age group, more than one in three say they drink coffee daily. Three out of four pray at least weekly. Messiah sells about 2,000 cups of coffee a month, Lacher said. Prices range from $1.45 for a small cup of coffee up to $3.95 for a 20-ounce fruit smoothie. The java house at Messiah seats 18 inside the 2,300-member church. One full-time and four part-time employees plus a dozen volunteers man the shop. “Making money is not our goal,” said Lacher, who drinks three to four cups of strong black coffee daily. “We cover expenses such as salary and supplies, and any money above that goes back into the church’s outreach ministry.” Churches’ outreach can include mission work, feeding the hungry, hosting self-help groups and community work. “We had two goals when we decided to open the café. The first was to create a nontraditional church setting to connect with people who are uncomfortable in a traditional church setting. And the second was to offer quality beverages to the community,” Lacher said. “We don’t expect to convert everyone, and we don’t hand out religious tracts or shove anything down visitors’ throats. But we know that with conversation, some people will eventually want to know more about Christ.” Denise Ford-Mitchell is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach her at 776-9668.
We are so very humbled to be serving Christ through this out reach. PDF versions of the article are also available here: