Looking for a Cafe Alternative?


I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Café Ministries in Churches and the creative potential of these ministries within the café-obsessed Australian culture. I have personally been involved in the business development of two social enterprise cafes and have visited many others.

As great as Café Ministries are I think it is very important (as with any ministry) that we keep our focus on the objective/purpose of the ministry rather than focusing on the program.

Think of it in this way: on the 19th of January 2012 commercial giant Kodak filed for bankruptcy. In five years the company had gone from having a product in almost every American home to near obsolescence due to the advent of digital photography and camera phones. Arguably Kodak had taken its eye off the objective by remaining focused on the product. Photography was Kodak’s business and people had not stopped taking photos but while people kept taking photos Kodak kept focusing on film.

It can be the same in our Churches; we can remain so focused on a program that we love that we cease to determining if it is still the best way to achieve the ministry outcome that we want.

So, as promised, today I want to look at alternatives to café ministries- not because café’s are not good ministries but because we should always put the purpose before the program. Before starting a café or any other program we should always start with the outcome and work towards the program rather than the other way around.

So let’s look at the three café style ministries I spoke about in my last post and consider what outcomes they are trying to achieve.

The volunteer run community space

Possible outcomes of this model might be one or multiple of the following:
One possible alternative to achieve this outcome might be:

  • To provide an inexpensive meal for people on low incomes in the community.
    Community meals where people come and cook an inexpensive meal together (potentially facilitated by people with more experience in doing this).
  • To provide an accessible non-threatening space within the Church building that the community might feel safe to enter and interact with Church volunteers
    Craft groups of the past have had a similar success in this area, but where they have failed is in members of the congregation making meaningful use of this opportunity. In any such social activity space you must consider how the real objective of meaningful connection will actually be achieved.
  • To provide a café experience for those previously less welcome in this space (homeless people, people with disabilities, people physically isolated because of distance from other spaces like this)
    “Conversation Café” models or similar opportunities to extend hospitality and facilitate conversations do not require you to run a café but could easily be hosted in a local community café (or hospital café in the case of a “death café”)

The training and experience café

The primary outcome of this model was to provide training and support for people struggling to find pathways into training, mentoring and ultimately the workforce.
Why not have a chat with your local job network provider (JSA) and find out the job area of most interest to its clients but where they are struggling to find placements or training. When we asked a similar question at Marion we discovered the answer was administration not hospitality. But this is likely to be different in your area.

The fundraising initiative

Whether it is run after a Church service on a Sunday or during the week for the community the objective here is obviously to raise funds for either the Church or a charitable organisation(s) the Church is passionate about. In many ways this is modern day bake sale.
If you have the business minded people in your congregation necessary to making this a success considering brainstorming with them what sort of business venture would inspire them the most, what they have experience in.  It may not be a cafe, in fact in one experience I had this resulted in a number of much smaller business ventures rather than one large one.

Now of course none of these alternatives are perfect either. Nor are they exhaustive.  They are simply meant to represent a moment of focusing on the outcome not the program.  As I said at the top, café’s are a great ministry opportunity but as with any ministry the program should always be the slave of the purpose and not the other way around.

If you would like to talk through a café (or any other) venture by either evaluating a current program or looking at establishing a new initiative please feel free to contact me – I would very much like to speak with you (and there is not onus for you to take on any of what I say- I’m all support, no responsibility!)

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