April 8, 2008
Coffee with a Cause
Should the church be starting businesses to advance its mission?
I'm sitting at Ebenezer's - a coffee shop in Washington DC. That may not seem particularly remarkable, but this trendy meeting place represents the convergence of three social pillars - government, business, and church.
Ebenezer's is owned and operated by National Community Church. Often referred to as "The Theater Church," NCC meets at theaters located at three Metro stops around Washington. But the coffee shop serves as the church's headquarters. The upper floors are occupied by NCC's staff offices, and the basement of Ebenezer's is a multi-media venue where worship services are conducted as well as concerts.
The connection between the coffee shop and the church represents a growing trend of churches advancing their mission through for-profit businesses. Ebenezer's has been very successful for National Community Church. The business is thriving; it was even ranked among the city's best coffee shops. (Right now the place is quite busy.)
Mark Batterson, pastor of NCC, said the experiment with Ebenezer's has been so positive that they're considering expanding to other locations and even franchising the operation to help other churches launch coffee shops to function as "3rd places" and missional outposts.
I can tell you first hand - Ebenezer's is a nice place. I can't vouch for the coffee (I don't drink the poison), but the tea is very good quality. But here's the question - should churches be getting into business? What are the advantages and disadvantages of mixing Christian community with commerce? How would you feel if your church moved in this direction?
Some believe that spending $2 million on a coffee shop that is utilized all week and naturally attracts non-Christians, is far more missional than spending the same amount on a worship building that's primarily used on Sunday for believers. Are they right? Am I sitting in the future of the American church?
Here's the other fascinating thing about Ebenezer's - it's located four blocks from the Capital building. National Community Church is populated primarily by young government staffers from both sides of the aisle. And the coffee shop draws many political appointees. You can't find a more politically charged environment than this. If I had any hair I'm sure it would be standing on end.
I spent the last few hours talking with Mark Batterson about leading a church in this environment. (You can expect to read about that conversation in the summer issue of Leadership.) For now I'll just leave you with this question: how would you feel if a highly visible and polarizing politician started attending your church?
My short time in Washington has been very interesting, and I've come away with more questions about ministry and politics than I anticipated. So far I've only concluded one thing: whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, theocrat or secularist - everyone likes a good coffee shop. That may be NCC and Ebenezer's winning strategy.