Posted in Opinion on February 25, 2014 6:07 pm EST

Coffee and Faith-Based Spaces: Considerations for Café Design in the Church

From space layout to interior design, two experts weigh in on how to create effective church-based coffee shops

Well designed church coffee shops and cafes can help fund ministry efforts.









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TAGS: ff&e, interior design, retail,


By Mike Stemm and Lee Corcoran

Coffee is the most popular beverage in America. More than half the adult population of the United States drinks coffee every day. More than a million cups of it are consumed each week. Coffee is the center of major business efforts such as Starbucks, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Caribou Coffee Co. And coffee has been served in U.S. churches since Revolutionary days. Coffee is also a microcosm of a debate as to the direction of church ministry and even the future of the institutional church in our country. A decision on how coffee will be served in the context of ministry forces us to deal with the major shifts of culture in the United States.

Baby boomers are aging and entering retirement, and their focus on major events, strong financial support, and megachurch growth are waning. Millennials are rapidly coming into their age of influence—and their desire for relationship, their service, and their suspicion of institutions is impacting the church.

Coffee can affect the location of ministry in the future. Will you drink your coffee in small groups within homes and restaurants or will you share relationship and your favorite coffee brew within an attractive community center occupied by the church? If the church is going to compete with Starbucks and the kitchen table at home, [it may] have to make some changes. Church coffee centers and cafes will have to be attractive, accessible, available, and user-friendly.

Design considerations

BGW Network of Services of Ogden, Utah, the Collage Cos. in Lake Mary, Fla., and many churches across the nation have recognized that the church is experiencing a major cultural shift that requires an adjustment in thinking and methods of ministry. Churches are working to become a Third Place for their members and the surrounding community—as a means of deepening relationships and providing real benefits to the community. A coffee shop/café is one example of a Third Place, and numerous examples exist over a broad range of operating models. In Central Florida, Northland Church chose to bring in Nature’s Table, a health food franchise, to provide nutritious food, a friendly gathering place, and a source of lease income for the church. Nature’s Table keeps regular business hours that are attuned to the church schedule.

First Baptist Church of Umatilla, also in Florida, chose to have an all-volunteer coffee and pastry shop that provides a welcoming atmosphere, free of charge, to congregants before and after services. Church in the Son in Orlando, Fla., combines the two concepts by having a paid staff person as manager and volunteer workers who operate a church coffee shop/café thatis open before and after services.Volunteers also donate baked goods, and the profits from the coffee shop/café go to support the church’s homeless ministry.

Coffee demographics & statistics

How can the church attract the Millennial generation and what is required to make such a ministry self-sustaining? Is a coffee shop/café a viable model for a Third Place? Scarborough Research with headquarters in New York, a market research firm that analyzes lifestyle and shopping patterns in the United States, says that 77% of U.S. adults drink coffee each day, 12% of all adults have been to a coffee shop in the last month, and that the average coffee drinker is younger, better educated and more affluent than the population as a whole. The average coffee drinker represents the same demographic that the church has failed to effectively reach. Millennials are looking for the same ambiance, community and connection being marketed by coffeehouses.

Scarborough claims that coffeehouses report an average of $170,643 in gross sales. The National Coffee Association of America, based in New York, says that more than 60% of coffee is consumed in the morning, coffee usage increases with income, and the average coffee shop requires a surrounding population of 10,000 people to be self-sustaining. Experian says that the average coffee shop customer makes approximately four purchases per month. By interpolating these numbers, a coffee shop needs approximately 4,800 sales totaling $14,220 per month to be self-sustaining. These numbers are based on operations that are open 16-24 hours per day seven days a week.

A church coffee shop could reasonably reduce their hours, their costs and their required revenue to better meet the peak hour needs of the church ministry. A major question that each church should address is, “Will coffee be funded as a ministry or will the coffee ministry fund other ministries?” A self-sustaining church coffee shop café that contributes to ministry would probably need to operate within a sizable church body unless [staff is doing] doing an off-site stealth coffee shop within the community. Generally, non-church people are very hesitant to frequent a coffee shop café located within a church.

Coffee can impact the financial sustainability of church campuses. A well-run church coffee shop and café can help off-set the anticipated reduction in church giving by providing an income stream that could pay for another ministry that is needed in the emerging culture. But before [a church client] starts spending money on a coffee shop, [they are well advised to] perform a market study and develop a realistic business plan.  continued >>