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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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.

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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: avanloon@baptistcaresa.org.au

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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!


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