The Coffee Shop Church

As one church neared death, another church began. Josh Grimes became the pastor of the small church on the brink of closing. He introduced an idea that 14 of the members weren’t fond of—that idea was to start a coffee shop where the church would meet.

“Everyone in that church left and got mad except for one person,” Josh explained.

With only one member remaining, Josh proposed his “church in a coffee shop” model to a dozen others who soon backed him and began meeting in a restaurant to discuss the future of a new business and new church.

“We closed the old church,” Josh said. “We put the property on the market and used the equity on the property to start the coffee shop.”

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A year of meetings brought the genesis of Avenue 209 Coffee House in Lock Haven, Penn. The church (The Common Place) wouldn’t meet for three months until the coffee shop was up and running, and had developed a substantial presence in the community.

In the meantime, Josh attended a coffee school operated by another church, and it was amidst his schooling that he learned “what is good for business is good for ministry and what is good for ministry is good for business.”

To explain the business and ministry concept, Josh gave a few laughs as he said, “If you treat people nicely, like Jesus would want you to, then they’re going to want to come back and buy more coffee. That wasn’t too much of a stretch for us.”

It’s not about exploiting Jesus’ teaching for profits, rather Josh learned how conducting a Christian business makes people feel welcome and accepted. He reiterated that what is practiced in church should also be practiced in business. The Christian business plan only makes sense.

Why Church in a Coffee Shop Works:

“We were pretty intentional from the beginning that we didn’t want to be known as the ‘Christian’ coffee house because we figured that would only attract the Christians, then we would go out of business,” Josh said.

The idea wasn’t for another Christian business hub where only Christians would gather, but rather a place where Christians and non-Christians would enjoy a cup of joe, casual conversation and community. Through being in the shop and around the staff, people would learn the meaning of the shop, but it wasn’t forced upon them.

They were intentional about being honest when customers asked who owned the coffee shop and what took place within the walls of the shop. Josh used customer interaction as an avenue to invite people to their church.

“We have a lot of un-churched people, in the sense that they don’t historically have a Christian background or they walked away from church for a long time,” Josh explained.

With a mixture of these people entering the coffee shop everyday, it only made sense to have church where the people were. “The traditional model was a big enough hurdle in their lives that they would not go to church even though they were very spiritual or spiritually curious.”

Whether it’s the traditional setting of churches, hurt from past church experiences or misunderstanding of Christ, Josh and his church set out to offer a setting where people could casually walk in and out and learn the truth of church, and ultimately, the trust of Christ.

Today: 

The coffee shop church continues to expand and bustle with people. One service led to two and now they must expand their space within the building to house more. Remodeling projects are ongoing to streamline the ministry capacity of the church and develop more functional space for the community.

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Intent is to stay in the coffee shop since it defines a place of gathering for so many and is strategic in its location and ministry.

“If we go to another location, we lose that entry point and it’s huge,” Josh said. “We have a lot of people that come because they were first customers and then became involved in the church community. It’s been pretty substantial.”

After four and a half years of existence, the coffee shop employs five people and talk of coffee roasting in-house is the latest buzz. The old rundown building is now a vibrant coffee shop, a place the whole Lock Haven community embraces as life giving in more than one sense.

Whether the northeast is a difficult location to operate a Christian business, Josh didn’t express any concern. He did have a simple message to say:

“I have found that liberal people and conservative people are all hungry for Jesus.”

 

 

Seeds: From Farm to Cup

Coffee roasting was just a hobby for brothers Jeff and Brett Huey. With a stovetop popcorn roaster, they roasted a few pounds of coffee from time to time with several friends. Selling a bag here and there, popularity grew and a demand for the coffee increased among friends and their church community.

“It was a hobby because we loved coffee and we always had dreams and desires to have a restaurant or coffee shop to connect people,” Jeff said.

They upgraded to a larger in-home roaster, spread the roasting duties among those interested, and spent several months roasting from a friend’s garage closet. Labels led to branding and branding led to the name Seeds Coffee Co.

“Well the name is kind of two fold,” Jeff explained. “The actual bean is a seed. That’s what we’re focused around is the coffee seed and since we’re pastors, it’s a seed of the gospel or seed of faith.”

In October of 2011, Jeff and Brett sat down with close friends and planned the future of roasting coffee. The first order of business was to purchase a commercial coffee roaster, so they gathered $16,000 in one night to make the purchase and to have startup funds.

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Credit: Seeds Coffee Co.

April of 2012 rolled around and the commercial roaster was installed in the break room of an office space supplied for free by a friend. Seeds Coffee Co. officially became a coffee roaster in Birmingham, Ala.

Now with a café next door to their roasting facility, they’re able to put their product directly in the cup for the community to enjoy. Their vision of being in the community and serving people of all ages and all backgrounds is now a reality. They wanted a location for community gathering, and now they have it.

The focus wasn’t just coffee. The group was fixated on coffee growing countries, areas they wanted to reach with the Gospel. They wanted to pay farmers an honest wage and work to develop direct trade. Self-prosperity wasn’t the agenda, both Huey brothers reiterated.

Much Time and No Pay:

Jeff and Brett, along with the other entrepreneurs, decided against paychecks from the new startup. Instead, they rationed their time to work with the intention of giving everything to grow the business and ministry it was becoming. Jeff and the others had other jobs and sources of income, but Brett dedicated his days to working for Seeds for no pay.

“I think we saw the risk. I probably didn’t see as much as the others money wise. One of my main roles was to just give my time,” Brett said.

Not to mention Brett was a newly wed and entered his marriage with the plan of working for free while his wife carried the couple financially. “I always thought growing up that I wouldn’t let my wife make more than me, and this was when I wasn’t a Christian,” Brett explained with a laugh. “I’ve never felt like a failure for not being able to support.”

No one was paid at first. The only staff members paid today are two girls who work in the café and receive a part-time salary for their efforts. Intentions are for more jobs and salaries paid, but the business remains in the early stages of growth.

“I’m still not paid and that’s fine,” Brett said. “It hasn’t been an issue and it’s been well worth the time. If I’m going to be selfish then yes, I’m going to worry about myself.”

Brett mentioned how in just two months the business is nearly out of debt, an unheard of reality for most startup businesses.

From the Farm to the Cup:

“We started thinking this could be something really cool for ministry,” Jeff said. “What we see is that coffee has opened this door to so many things.”

The entrepreneurial team has traveled the four corners of the globe in search of building honest relationships with coffee farmers in hopes of developing direct trade and substantial ministry. Traveling to Guatemala, India and Sumatra, the Seeds team has seen the coffee production,  spoken with the farmers themselves, settled on a living wage for the people, and partnered with Christians on the ground to bring ministry to life.

“Every time we go, we hope to improve on making ground work there. A lot of vision is going into it,” Brett explained.

From the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16 grew the vision for the Seeds staff. This passage is commonly known for the teaching of only serving one master—either God or money. They focused on these passages:

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” Luke 16:10-11

To the team, it’s not difficult. God has trusted them with much and they want to be honest with what they’ve been given. This mentality is the life-blood of everything they do. They want to be honest with God and honest with people.

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Credit: Seeds Coffee Co.

The staff just purchased their first direct trade coffee from Sumatra. They work with an importer in Atlanta that is connected with the farmers they know in Guatemala so they can purchase the beans at a fair price for all.

Until Seeds reaches a certain level of sales and roasting capacity, they cannot purchase direct trade because the requirements are too high. However, the importer in Atlanta is as close as they can get to direct trade while retaining honesty and fairness.

Brett isn’t worried about the business going under or suffering fallout. He simply said, “if it fails, then it fails, we don’t worry.” It’s all an understanding of how God has provided and the staff is being faithful to their calling.

“We’re not business people, we’re not café owners, we’re not even really trained in coffee,” Jeff said. “We just love it and it’s presented itself before us as something we can use.”