Q&A: Coffee Shop in Church

Coffee Shop in Church

Question

I have an idea that I think will really help our church to grow.  My idea is to open a coffee shop within the church so that people can get together for fellowship and get to know one another in a casual setting.  As well, newcomers could be encouraged to get involved in the church and be discipled.  Any profits made in this place would, of course, be donated to the church to be put to good use (i.e. I won't be getting rich off this, or making money after recouping expenses). I have spoken of this idea to others, and there has been concern that it goes against God's Word (as far as operating a business in the house of God).  Are there any particular passages in the Bible that support this argument?  What do you think?

Answer

I'm not certain precisely how to evaluate the issue from a biblical perspective. On the one hand, it seems like it might be a good way to increase fellowship, and that it might even be a good evangelistic tool. On the other hand, it would seem to merge the church with a business in some questionable ways.

Cons

As you are probably aware, Jesus had some significant problems with the businesses that were being run in the temple during his day. In John 2:13-16, Jesus drove from the temple people who were using that place to sell animals and change money. Probably, the sale of these animals was a convenience offered for those who had traveled long distances to Jerusalem for Passover. Such travelers would have needed animals for sacrifice, but it may have been a significant inconvenience for them to transport livestock to Jerusalem for that purpose. Sale of animals in the temple may have been intended not only to turn a buck, but ostensibly to provide the necessary sacrificial animals for purchase on site as a help to Jews living outside Canaan. The changing of money into local currency may also have been related to this convenience. In this particular case, Jesus cast all such businesses from the temple. As John relates the account, the point does not seem to have been that the businesses were dishonest, but simply that they were conducting business in a space reserved for and dedicated to God.

It might also be the case that a business will cause the unbelieving community to perceive the church as something less than a holy or otherworldly enterprise, but rather as just another manifestation of consumerism. And perhaps some who seek a spiritual encounter with God might be put off or even hindered in that attempt if they are listening to the ring of cash registers in the background.

Then there is the whole Sabbath issue. Should Christians work on Sunday? Should Christians patronize businesses that cause their employees to work on Sunday? Should the church itself run a business on Sunday? I'm inclined to think that Christians ought to avoid working on Sunday whenever possible, but I don't have so great a problem with patronizing businesses (who am I to judge whether or not someone else needs to work on Sunday?). Does this mean that a Church needs to hire unbelievers or those who must work of necessity to run the coffee shop? That sounds like an odd solution to me.

As far as revenue goes, I suspect that a church coffee shop would lose more money than it made, but I could be wrong. At any rate, I'm of the opinion that church funds ought to be raised as donations. Giving to God is an act of worship, and the obligation of Christians. It ought not, in my opinion, to be replaced by business profits. While supplementation is certainly not replacement in the strictest sense, it becomes a form of partial replacement if the church depends upon such supplementation on a regular basis.

Pros

Nevertheless, there is not a direct correspondence between the temple and our modern churches. Our churches are not holy buildings in which God manifests his special presence or Shekinah glory; God's special presence no longer resides in any special building (John 4:20-24). Rather, for Christians the temple is now Jesus (John 2:21) himself and the people of the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Setting up a business on church property therefore might not really infringe upon God's sacred space.

And while some in the community might perceive the coffee shop as a sign that the church has sold out, perhaps others will feel welcomed by the casual, non-traditional idea. Perhaps those who have been turned off to Christianity by past experiences in traditional churches will find a church with a coffee shop less threatening, more inviting.

Again, a coffee shop might also increase fellowship in the body, and this could be a very needed thing. The early church seems to have benefited greatly from taking meals together on a regular basis (e.g. Acts 2:46). Perhaps this would be one way for a modern church to recapture this experience.

Evangelistically, one might also find more success in inviting an unbeliever over for a cup of coffee on the church grounds (hey, there's a catchy name for a church coffee shop: The Church Grounds) than in inviting that same person to a church service.

The argument could also be made that a business increases needed church revenue.

Summary

Personally, I like the idea of increasing fellowship, as well as of increasing evangelistic opportunities. At the same time, I balk at the idea of letting a consumeristic feeling invade what I consider to be more of a family atmosphere.

The issue of operating a church business on Sunday is also problematic to me. If the church in question believes that it is important to keep the Sabbath, I would think this could be a deal-breaker.

Also, although the church building is not the new temple, the people are. Operating a business in the church on Sunday might invade God's special space not by physical location, but by distracting his people from him (i.e. by the appearance of consumerism or secularism).

I would suggest that the best option is to open a coffee shop that is not a business. If the church believes the coffee shop to be important to ministry, then perhaps the coffee shop ought to be a ministry, not a business. Create a coffee shop atmosphere, but fund it entirely by donation. Give away coffee, bagels, donuts, and whatever else you serve. Allow people to work the counter and bus tables as a diaconal ministry. Accept donations for foods and services, but don't require them ("recommending" donations is, to me, a bit of an arm-twist -- it strikes me at worst as an implicit requirement, and at best as free guilt with your free coffee).

As always, submit to your godly elders and church leaders when you have a good idea about the church that is not directed by Scripture. God can give them the wisdom for just such judgment calls.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.