The evening rush had hit Coffeehouse Five, bringing a line of people to wait for their smoothies and coffee.
In tables and overstuffed chairs throughout the small space, they sipped on cappuccinos and lattes. Soft brown tones and low light create a welcoming atmosphere. Christmas music redone by contemporary artists played.
The scene could have come out of any Starbucks. But for every cup of coffee or chai tea they took, the patrons were helping the mission work of a Johnson County church.
While Coffeehouse Five has the look and feel of a neighborhood cafe, it’s actually the engine that helps support local counseling efforts.
The model is an example of area churches diversifying their fundraising efforts. By starting coffee shops, cafes and restaurants in their buildings, they can make money to help pay for addiction therapy to disaster relief to clean-water projects in Africa.
“We don’t look like a church or sound like a church. But we are. Our goal is to serve the community, and our goal is to build disciples of Christ through stronger marriages,” said Brian Peters, pastor and director of Coffeehouse Five. “This is the way we’re doing it.”
The church lobby coffeehouse has become a tool to help further the causes that congregations find important. A sense of community is one of the primary draws to street-corner cafes, and churches offer that already built in.
By building on that atmosphere, congregations can appeal to a new demographic and bring new people into the church, all while aiding their mission work.
“It’s welcoming and inviting. They can sit down and talk with their friends, then have a cup of coffee and take it into the service,” said Kathy Stahlhut, who oversees the cafe. “It promotes relationships and getting to know each other better.”
When the leaders at Greenwood Christian Church were remodeling their facility on Averitt Road, one of the priorities was providing a place where the congregation could meet before and after services.
They designed a wide-open commons area to solve that issue. Inside, they created a coffee bar complete with high-standing tables, a counter where people can take advantage of free wireless Internet and a lounge where people can meet.
With a fancy new space, church leaders thought the cafe could be more than just a place to serve coffee and doughnuts after worship. They envisioned opening it up to the public, said David Strange, executive minister at Greenwood Christian Church.
“Every weekend, there’s a line, and there’s always good traffic during the week as well,” Strange said. “When we first started, we wondered how it would work, but it didn’t take long to catch on.”
The cafe is open in the mornings for three hours, and before and after worship services. People can order anything from hot chocolate to cinnamon rolls to specialty mochas.
‘Meet needs of community’
Profits from the cafe go to the church’s evangelism ministry throughout the year. Greenwood Christian Church supports church training in Mexico, medical services in Ghana and school construction in Papua New Guinea.
The church has many fundraising drives to help pay for those missions. Much of the profit generated by the World Harvest Cafe goes to emergency services and special projects.
“If something happens, like a disaster, or if a project comes up that they didn’t expect, that’s what they can use that money for,” Strange said.
Coffeehouse Five has taken that concept a step further. Instead of the cafe being within a church building, the coffee shop is the church itself.
Working with the leadership at Community Church of Greenwood, Peters started his own ministry, One Hope Church. Coffeehouse Five is the home base of One Hope Church. The sole reason for its existence is to strengthen the community through counseling.
Coffeehouse Five helps fund the church’s work, which is to provide free and accessible marriage counseling. Peters and others in the church meet with couples before they get married, mentor couples struggling in their marriage and provide help for people addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Peters had been on the staff as a pastor at Community Church of Greenwood for 10 years before he came up with the idea to start Coffeehouse Five. While at the church, he found himself doing an increasing amount of marriage counseling. He also helped with more and more people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
Part of his struggle was with the role of the church in a community.
“The local church, instead of existing to meet its own needs, it should exist to meet the needs of a community and to serve,” Peters said.
The overwhelming challenge he saw in the Johnson County community was how to assist children and help them succeed. Problems such as abuse, neglect, poverty and poor education threatened the next generation.
‘We don’t look like a church’
Many agencies address those issues, so Peters looked for a more unique solution. He focused on the increasing number of divorces as a root cause of all of the issues facing kids. Research has shown that children with divorced parents are more likely to live in poverty and to suffer abuse. At the same time, they are less likely to go to college.
“With the work I was already doing with marriage counseling, we said that we wanted to strengthen the community. We thought we could do that by addressing needs of children by targeting divorce,” Peters said.
They also wanted to create an environment that was welcoming for counseling. Too often, the places where marriage therapy or drug and alcohol counseling is done is either too sterile or undignified. That turns people off, Peters said.
“We want people to feel good, to relax, to be comfortable. Then we want to provide them with help,” Peters said.
Peters and his family are deeply rooted in the culture of the coffeeshop — the earthy smells of the beans, the warmth of community that meets in the same place daily, the friendliness of the barista who knows your name and order.
His daughter had worked in the coffee business, so she helped put together equipment purchasing and training.
The coffeehouse is in the Gathering Place, Community Church of Greenwood’s recreation center. Worship services for those that are being counseled are conducted on Sundays in the coffee shop. The coffee shop conducted a music series during the summer and is open to more events in the future.
So far, the response has been positive since Coffeehouse Five opened almost two years ago. But people have been slow to grasp the idea of a coffeeshop church.
“It’s such a different concept. People wrestle with the fact that we don’t look like a church,” Peters said. “And it’s hard when people can go through drive-through at Starbucks.”
The goal in the near future is to move to a more accessible location, possibly in a storefront or shopping center in Greenwood.
“Our goal is to be a free-service, free-standing coffee shop,” Peters said. “People get the idea. They think it’s a good concept, but it’s taken a while for them to grasp it.”