So You Want to Start a Church Café?


Apologies in advance for a long post today.  It is the result of a throw away comment I made (and I immediately regretted) when sharing at a conference over the weekend. When sharing about my new role I said;

“Please don’t talk to me if you want to set up a café”.

I was joking of course; and immediately said so. Those who know me better would probably argue that there is some truth in my “joke” which stems from my disappointment when Churches and agencies desire to duplicate rather than create. In fact over my short 2 months in this role I have spoken to no less than TEN Churches who either have, are in the process of establishing, or who are desiring to establish café programs/ministries.

None the less I also appreciate the creative potential of cafés 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.

For this reason it seemed to timely to revisit an earlier post on the potential and possibilities of social enterprise cafes as a part of Church ministries. I want to do this by taking a look at some of the common forms that Church cafés take and the strengths and challenges that each present.

Most of the cafés run by Churches and agencies that I have come into contact with have fallen roughly into one or a number of the following 3 models:

The volunteer run community space

These cafés provide an inexpensive café experience either for low income people or more generally a link between the community at large and the Church community. They provide a friendly, relaxed place for the community to meet and are often set up by Churches in areas where limited other such places are available or affordable. Often they partner “Conversation Café” models or similar opportunities to extend hospitality and facilitate conversations so that those previously socially isolated can participate in the café as a first connection point with a new community.

The strength of this model from a community development framework is that it provides what community building experts call a “third space”, particularly for those previously isolate from other such spaces. Ray Oldenburg in his influential book The Great Good Place argues that communities need “third spaces” in order to establish true society, democracy, creativity and engagement with one another. This café model fulfils this role when it provides:

  • Inexpensive food and drink
  • High accessibility: in walkable proximate for many
  • A place encouraging “regulars” – those who habitually congregate there
  • An intentionally welcoming and comfortable environment
  • Intention work to develop both new friends and old.

The challenge of this model is after the initial spark of enthusiasm for creating this project has rubbed off it is often quite a challenge to staff this kind of café. As the community begins to get used to the café the work increases and often volunteers get worn out. Volunteers are often older and running a café requires them to be on their feet for long periods of time. Rostering, ordering and troubleshooting take a lot of effort and are often also performed by a less experienced, low-paid or volunteer co-ordinator. Remember that the average commercial café is staffed by young paid staff (with lots of energy) and co-ordinated by full time salaried managers; often with qualifications and experience in business. It should therefore not be a surprise if we are struggling to keep pace with this standard in terms of staffing, speed and quality (even if not prepared by chefs most meals in franchised cafes are at least initially designed by them).

The training and experience café

Increasing in popularity is this second model: either by design or because, in the recruiting for volunteers for the previous model, co-ordinators are discovering that many volunteers approaching them are coming from Centrelink or Job Network Providers (JSAs). These cafes may purposely target groups of people struggling to find pathways into the workforce- the long term unemployed, people newly arrived to Australia, or other people groups who may experience disadvantage entering the workforce. Buddy or mentoring programs (whether formal or informal) are often coupled with this model.

The strength of this model is obviously in its capacity to creatively and relationally meet a community need in a manner that is empowering of the individual experiencing disadvantage. Additional advantage can be added to this model when it is combined with auspiced training from TAFE (or another such institution) and strong relationships with commercial cafes who can take on these trained up volunteers if and when they have completed their training/ proven themselves reliable of your recommendation. This model can also attract funding as a social service and if marketed well this work can encourage greater community buy-in and participation.

The challenge of this model is primarily linked to the fact that those experiencing disadvantage due to long term or generation unemployment/disadvantage often have not had the opportunity to learn the disciplines that make for productive and high-functioning volunteers/learners. This creates significantly more work for the volunteer co-ordinator. These cafés require a co-ordinator, therefore, that does not only have high organisational skills but also very high interpersonal skills and experience working with disadvantaged groups. It is often highly challenging to find a volunteer or someone on a lower wage to staff this demanding role.  Volunteers/learners in this model participate for shorter periods of time and the higher turnover of volunteers require more constant work on the team culture and more time spent on volunteer/learner recruitment.

The fundraising initiative

The third model I have seen is a purely commercial venture that generates funds towards another socially motivated cause just as a second-hand clothing store might. In fact I have seen a number of these ventures (including one of my personal favourites in Adelaide) which couple a small scale café and second hand clothing or second hand bookstore. With no additional social component these cafes are able to run as pure business ventures.

The strength of this model is that, while the previous models try to balance their books while keeping prices down and dealing with complex issues such as volunteer management (sometimes an impossible task), this model is free to pursue a purely commercial interest while generating funds towards pure mission/social work. Keeping business and community development separate certainly has its merits. Staffing is easier because you are only recruiting for business acumen and not also community development understanding.

The challenges of this model are also commercial. Often the individuals wanting to seed this venture are not business minded but socially minded. A qualified business manager really does need to be engaged to ensure the venture maintains long-term viability. As I mentioned earlier; all these ventures are competing with commercial cafés whose managers are trained in business and motivated by the personal benefit of profit (which does not exist in this model). The space we use is also a significant consideration- I would seriously recommend considering finding an external commercial space. Second hand clothing shops are increasingly required to pay commercial council rates even when situated on Church property. Likewise a proposed commercial café venture would have to be carefully worked through with a local council development team. It would be unfair to local café owners for you to benefit from lower taxes, rates and rent while making a profit at their expense even if that profit is directed towards a worthy cause. The previous non-commercial models are often required to charge half of retail price for their goods in order to avoid income tax, commercial rates etc but as a commercial venture you will not be able to sustain this costing if you intend to pay staff and commercial overheads.

While cafés as social enterprises have incredible potential they can also represent significantly hard work. They can also represent a reliance on a program rather than a purpose. For this reason I will write a follow up post addressing how similar ends can be worked towards through means other than a café.

If you would like to talk through a café venture (either evaluating a current program or looking at establishing a new initiative) please feel free to contact me. In contrast to my throw-away comment on the weekend- I would very much like to speak with you.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Coaching for Life (Workshop)


Coaching is a discipline that marries well with an assets based approach to community development.

The aim of coaching is to allow a person or group to remain the expert in their own life(s) while supporting them to take actions that move them toward their full potential.

Mentoring is imparting to you what God has given me;
Coaching is drawing out of you what God has put in you.
                                                                                       Dale Stoll

Rather than needing to have all the answers, a coach asks useful questions that stimulate creative thinking and help the person to draw from their personal strengths and knowledge, and discover what God is doing in their life.

Coaching empowers the person to take responsibility for their life around issues that are significant for them.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.         Proverbs 20:5

If that sounds interesting or curious to you then Baptist Care are hosting a workshop to help you to develop your coaching skills and link with coaching tools and practices available to you.

Friday 12th September 2014
9.15am—4.30pm at
Rostrevor Baptist Church
288 Montacute Rd, Rostrevor, SA

The cost of the workshop is $50 and you can register HERE

For more details or question contact Dr Anne van Loon:

Posted in Events | Leave a comment

The Challenge and the Possiblity of Social Enterprise.


A colleague just send me a copy of this newspaper clip about a social enterprise running out of Lillydale Victoria.

This creative little venture called Tasty Az was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for a year or so ago when I was putting on a dinner event and was surprised there was nothing like it already about.

As someone who has overseen a social enterprise (read more here) I truly appreciate how difficult it is to truly marry good business principles with social action and I am aware of how many such ventures stumble and fall in their embryonic stages …but I would still love to see more people trying so that we can learn what does and what does not work in this exciting space.

I would obviously love to see more Churches engaging with this in creative, low cost, and unique ways.

So do you know of great social enterprises working really well out of Churches? Please let me know!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It Takes a Spider to Repair its Own Web

broken web

When we see someone in significant need it is very natural for us, as compassionate human beings, to want to try to quickly and efficiently meet that need.

There are times when this is an entirely appropriate and helpful response- in light of a natural disaster for example.  Certainly the epistle of James commends us:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? -James 2:15,16

People experiencing poverty, marginalising circumstances and disadvantage tell us that constantly being “provided for” (with no hope of eventually becoming the provider) is both demoralising and dehumanising.

As one mother told me: It is very easy, when you are constantly on the receiving end of “help”, to begin to believe that you are less valuable that the person giving the aid.

As Christians, who believe in the inerrant value of all people as image-bearers of God, we should be horrified to think that what we believed we were doing out of  compassion has actually resulting in a person feeling less valuable.

So how then DO we respond to people presenting with significant need?

Taking an asset based approach towards community development does not require us to deny needs.  When working with people experiencing poverty, marginalisation and disadvantage the “needs” will quickly present themselves.  By starting from a position of affirming a person’s gifts, dignity and capacity to “repair their own web” we can start to see them as God does; helping us to overcome any sense of superiority and ensuring they also have a sense of equality in the relationship.

As I said at the front, there will be times when an individual or community do not have sufficient assets to address all of their needs.  And when such needs are pressing then it may be appropriate to provide external resources.

It is crucial that such outside resources do not undermine the willingness or the ability of the poor individual or community to be stewards of their own gifts and resources.
-Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert; When Helping Hurts

I think the word “willingness” here is really important.  Constant provision or simply the corrosive power of constant stress/trauma can undermine not only an individual’s ability to find the assets to meet their needs but also their willingness to do so.

This makes the work of calling out of a person’s gifts, talents and assets even more significant because the work we are doing is restorative not only of their fiscal but also their spiritual resolve.

Posted in What is ABCD? | Tagged | Leave a comment

3 Tips for celebrating community development in your Church


Many of the people I engage with who work/volunteer in community development with a Church speak of feeling isolated and often like second-class citizens within the life of the congregation.

Pastors and leaders are often really good at giving permission for community development endeavors for those who are passionate about this work in the Church.  I would like to suggest, however, that giving permission does not equate to blessing.

For this reason I thought I would suggest 3 simple ways of supporting your community development workers to feel like they are central to the life and ministry of your congregation:

  1. Ask what celebrating this ministry would look like. 
    Make a practice of regularly asking those who support and coordinate your community ministry what is needed for them to feel like this ministry is a vital and celebrated ministry of this congregation.  Of course don’t just ask- follow through.
  2. Change your language.
    A pastor I know has described it like this: when a new child is born to a family the language and appearance of the family changes (all future family photos include the new baby; future family cards are signed including the new babies’ name etc).  So too when a new ministry is birthed from a Church the language and appearance of the Church should also be altered to include this significant new member.  Be conscious then that your Church publications, your visuals, your spoken communication reflect this ministry.
  3. Consider the titles you afford
    If all of your other ministry leaders (children, youth, pastoral care) are given a certain title then by giving your community ministry leader a different title you are communicating that they have a different (and lesser) value in the life of the Church.

I hope these little tips can help Pastors and church leaders to feel more empowered to celebrate community ministries and those who lead them.

Are you in community ministry and feeling isolated in your Church setting (or alternatively are you feeling highly celebrated)?  How else would you like to be supported by your senior leadership?

Posted in Chaos & Failure, The Church and NFPs | Leave a comment

Why size shouldn’t matter in Community Ministry

Having spent the last month traveling around Baptist Churches in South Australia I have seen an array of ways in which Churches engage with their local communities and it has confirmed what I have suspected for a while.

When it comes to authentic community engagement: size does NOT matter.


One of the strengths that larger community-minded churches are able lend to community development is what one pastor referred to this week as a “raft” of services.  This raft approach provides community participants an array of entry points and support services.  This allows the congregation to respond to community strengths and needs in a way that is flexible and responsive to the individual.  Because of the volunteer-power (and often fiscal resources) available in larger churches there is often a lot going on it one place creating a community of services through which people can be referred and engaged.  If a large church sees an opportunity they are often well placed to take it up. This can be a great thing but can also tempt such churches to try to short-cut good slow community development and instead lean heavily on programmatic approaches and
needs-based services.

Seeing these multifaceted community ministries (you know the ones that require an A4 page to list all the programs on offer) can be daunting to smaller congregations.

It can seem to smaller churches that they are hamstrung by size. They may be able to prove one service or meet one need but not all needs and they are always struggling to find volunteers to staff programs (and often these volunteers are older and/or weary)

Taking a strength based approach to our community ministry however allows us to be less focused on programs and more intentional with culture (and culture can exist in any group no matter the size).


My encouragement to smaller churches is; instead of focusing on what is missing (eg. we need younger people with more energy to do the more active work) focus on where you strengths are and how members of your congregations can they be empowered and blessed to lead from their strengths.  For example we often think having an older congregation is a weakness, but what if it is a strength?

While a larger Church might feel self-sustaining; a smaller group might see the opportunity  to take a more collaborative approach- to get out into the community and find partners with whom they can contribute.  This less silo-ed approach is ultimately more conducive to long term community development.

Smaller Churches stumble when they believe that they must meet all the needs of their community.  Alternatively they have the opportunity to resist the temptation to meet need and instead find and work within those pockets of strength and resilience already present within the community.


So whether you community is large or small can I encourage you to go out these, find where the Spirit of God is already at work- be brave and be courageous!


To receive updates by email click the “follow me” button in the top right hand corner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Different ways people best engage with Community Development

what are you best at?

When seeking to engage with our local communities using an asset based approach it is often very helpful to first apply that strength based lens to our congregations.  Asking powerful questions to draw out what assets, passions and gifts we have ourselves.  There are two significant reasons for this:

  1. Where our place of strength meets a place of strength in our local community we have found a great starting point for connection (a bright spot)
  2. When people are working from a point of strength they will do so with greater drive, energy and love.

To this end I think it is fair to say that in any group of people there will be people who engage with community engagement/development in a different ways and all are useful.  All are MOST useful when engaged in the way that best inspires them.  This is reflective of our understanding of the Church as a body made up of many parts, all of which work together to enhance and compliment one another.

The most helpful way that I personally have come to think of these strength-groups in community development is as:

Co-imagine-rs – those who set the vision and ensure that people stay true to that original dream.  These people are those who like to re articulate a lot and can be a little frustrating to others because these seem to just keep banging on about the same thing all the time.  These people are very helpful because, if well utilised, they stop mission-drift and, if given the right language and tools, can keep people inspired.

Co-designers – those dreamers and creative types who are really good at thinking outside-of-the-box and leading teams- often these will be those in key leadership.  These people might be frustrating because they can’t seem to stay on one task or idea but always want to do something new or differently.

Co-creators- the do-ers. They may not seem to cast vision and may even get frustrated with those who do keep banging on about vision because they just want to “get on with it”.  Alternatively they might just be the “foot soldier” type who stick their hands up to bake scones every morning tea and never seem to tire of it (but must always be given the appreciation they deserve for this tireless work ethic).

Community Conduits- those who seem disinterested or even uninterested, who just don’t stick their hands up for anything and/or who actively seem to sit on their hands.  Most of the time these people are this way because this community is not their primary community or primary focus.  While often the frustration of these projects with the right inspiration from the other groups these people will be the sales people of the work you are doing to a wider audience within their primary communities and focus areas (often without you even knowing it).

When drawing out these strengths I am often inclined to start at the top of that list and work my way down- to find those who are best at casting vision, at setting a course and most of all of selling that vision to others.  To work (probably using a circle council style gathering) to get them around a vision that inspires them and then get them to articulate who might be the creative people to put the legs (and “legs” don’t have to be programs, just action) on how to outwork that vision (for example using some open space) and then get those creative people to recruit their workers while sharing the story well and often with the wider community so as to inspire those community conduits.


Hope that’s of help and credit to Richard Harmer who has helped a lot of my thinking in this area.

If you would like a further conversation on how this might play out in your community please feel free to contact me at Baptist Care SA (

Posted in Helpful Tools, What is ABCD? | Leave a comment