In the 1960’s, coffeehouses didn’t sell pricey designer latte’s and iced cappuccinos. The 60’s altered the country’s culture, and significant population segment wanted a place to hang out, unbound from cultural norms. The coffeehouse was born without rules, a counter-culture haven. They were called ‘Hippies,’ and wanted to be ‘cool,’ ‘far out’ and ‘hang loose.’ A new generation wanted a place to call their own. The Coffeehouse was born
Following the turbulent 60’s, a sovereign movement of God birthed the Jesus people, street Christians. They, or should I say we, also wanted a place to kick back, without the uptight rules of traditional churches and their people who didn’t “understand where we were coming from.” Christian coffeehouses were an intersection of these two new generational forces, counter culture and born again Christianity. Coffeehouses were a place where we felt accepted, welcomed, even loved. The coffeehouse was also a place to evangelize – preach the gospel in the street’s language. The new generation wanted to hear the gospel, and it had to be in their language.
Letters to Street Christians (Zondervan Publishing House, 1971) sits on my bookshelf; one of my last artifacts of this era. The tattered pages retell a 60’s street slang version of Paul’s epistles, - reminders that Christ and the gospel are meant to be communicated to the people in their language, not expounded from elevated podiums surrounded by stain glass.
What does this have to do with today’s coffeehouse?
Our culture is again segmented, fractured. Multicultural ideologues have separated us, and again we face significant communi-chasms. Neighbors don’t know how to talk to each other when we share little in common.
The coffeehouse is again a place to invite churched and non-churched alike. Seekers, pre-believers, suspicious, churched and backslider can come with their questions. The coffeehouse meets the unchurched person’s need as a place to interact, where their genuine questions can be met with love, understanding and biblical answers. A coffeehouse MUST BE a place for everyone, steeped in an ethos where seekers can express unpolished thoughts, or emotional hurts and still be accepted for who they are. Like the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears – acceptance will open the doors to their hearts, enabling steps toward a new life.
To be effective, a coffeehouse ministry should be organized by believers who have a desire to communicate the gospel with unchurched and pre-believers who may have deep questions. Christ followers who staff a Christian coffeehouse need to be equipped with an Ephesians 4.11-15 ministry mindset. Each Christian has something to contribute – an ability to minister out of what God has given them.
From God’s point of view, the coffeehouse exists as a bridge between the Christ follower and the seeker. Traditional church rules don’t fit here. If a coffeehouse forgets this purpose, or tries to become church-like, it will sidestep God’s purpose, and slide toward spiritual irrelevance.
If a coffeehouse is to prosper, those leading it must be willing to take a dangerous step outside of Christian-ese and convention. The first coffeehouses existed without cultural rules in order to attract those outside social norms. No Rules, except maybe this one:
I pray that you be active in sharing your faith, so that you may come to know all the good things Christ has for you.
(Philemon 6 NIV)