Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, many church-based coffee houses featured black walls, black lights and neon posters to capture the attention of a youthful audience. It was a way to lure teens and young adults into a comfortable spot where they would see and hear Christianity in action in a subtle form.
Today’s coffee house ministries—and there are a number in Florida connected to United Methodist churches—are more about couches and comfort, music and community. And they serve a much wider audience, age-wise.
|Angela Stone, director of worship arts at Grace UMC in Lithia, often performs with members of the church's praise team at Plant City's Krazy Kup coffee house, described as a place that is non-judgmental.|
They still feature Christianity in action and still in a subtle way. Most churches that operate them or cooperate with a local coffee house in their community consider them successful, not in the percentage of converts, but in getting the message out gently.
For about 10 years now, United Methodist Wesley has operated its Coffee House as a campus ministry at the University of Miami. Coffee House is operated in an old building with high ceilings and wood beams, a beautiful setting that hosts the school’s contemporary music majors who perform there weekly.
Aspiring pop stars entertain the students lounging on comfortable couches, followed by an open mic featuring both music and poetry.
“Students will come and make themselves comfortable on the couch or first-time guests might sit in the back,” said Katie Lineberger, UM Wesley’s pastor.
“I sneak the faith stuff in in a subtle way. My hope for the future—I’ve only been here a year—is to begin to use Coffee House as an intentional place for faith conversations. I think the potential is there.
“We do this, I see it, as an outreach specifically for students who come from non-religious backgrounds,” Lineberger said. “We’ve had students who come to worship with us Sunday nights after experiencing Coffee House. It’s an evangelistic tool to provide a space for students to come and feel like this is home. It is a non-judgmental, non-threatening environment for them to do free expression.”
UM Wesley had Coffee House the night after the November U.S. presidential election, and it was charged with emotion. It was supportive, she said. “A lot of students were very distraught and uneasy. They had written songs in the 24 hours after the election. We let them know this was a safe space to share how they were feeling.”
|Serving fresh brewed coffee and Christian spirit, coffee house ministries form a relaxed environment for faith conversations.|
In Plant City, about 15 miles east of Tampa, Angela Stone discovered Krazy Kup, a traditional coffee house run by Frank and Linda Trunzo, featuring vintage musical instruments, a stage for performing and a cozy, kitschy space for Friday night Christian gatherings.
Stone, director of worship arts at Grace Community United Methodist Church in nearby Lithia, often performs there with other members of her church’s praise team.
“A lot of times, people walk in off the streets and don’t even realize they’re walking into a Christian music night,” she said. “It’s a really neat place.
“I formed a relationship with (the owners of Krazy Kup) several years back as a background singer. When I got hired at Grace, we began to occasionally bring the entire Grace praise team. Other times, it’s me and Drew Law in our acoustic group, From Ashes.
“It’s a really neat bridge between non-believers and believers,” Stone said. “It’s a great place to invite a non-believer friend. This is a great place to bring someone you think might be on the fence, but needs the gospel brought to them.”
“When we bought the building, we made a conscious commitment to make sure everything we did there was in line with the 10 Commandments,” Trunzo said. “God’s will. We don’t admonish or tell people of different faiths how they should think. We engage everybody. We have one fundamental truth we live by and that’s the ones that are carved in stone.”
“When you walk in Krazy Kup, it’s palpable,” Stone said. “You know that the spirit of the Lord is there. People may not know at first, but it’s different from a regular concert venue.
“A lot of our small groups will take a social night and come out and see us” at Krazy Kup, she said. “It’s a great way to reach people that wouldn’t necessarily come to church.”
Just north of Tallahassee in Havana, Salem UMC hosts a coffee house on its campus each Sunday morning, drawing 35 to 40 people.
The ministry that started about nine years ago was designed to be a comfortable come-as-you-are atmosphere involving coffee, pastries and the word of God, said Pastor Curtis Cain. “The fanciest we get is chocolate coffee.
“There are 12 round tables, and I stand in front, no pulpit,” he said. “There is a gentleman with a guitar. During the whole service, people are welcome to jump in with questions and prayer requests. It’s more of a conversation-based service with some structure.”
And it’s growing.
“It’s a successful mission,” Cain said. “One of the wonderful things is we have teens up to people 90 years old. At least three-quarters of the crowd are boomers and probably three or four that are older than that. The rest of the group is more of the millennial generation.”
Cain gives the same sermon at 8:45 a.m. he’ll give later in the morning, but geared a little more to a laidback audience, he said. “I think they are a little more responsive to that.
“We have our musician who plays guitar, and we project the words on the wall. It’s not all contemporary music. We also have hymns in there. That audience hears the hymns with fresh ears. It allows all those generations to connect.
“It’s a neat way of creating space for people to build community,” Cain said.
--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico