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.”
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.
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.
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.”