By Bruce Woody
Not every church wants (or needs) to go all-in on a café. But for those that do, truly high-impact coffee shops have several things in common.
They’re front-and-center. A thoughtfully designed café can act as part of the ‘front door’ to a church. When people walk in, they see others sitting, talking, enjoying a great cup of coffee and maybe a snack. As a hospitality-focused environment, it naturally promotes fellowship.
A coffee shop brings the community inside, which is obviously a great benefit for any church.
They’re destinations in and of themselves. As I said in the beginning, not every church café needs to be a daily operation with fully trained baristas. The ones I’m talking about here, however, are destinations in their own right. The level of hospitality in these venues rivals that found in large-scale coffee houses and even hotels; people are encouraged to come, sit, sip and stay a while.
They offer an alternative gathering space for small groups. If a café or coffee shop is spacious enough, it can serve as an extra venue or meeting place for small conferences, small group gatherings, and more.
They’re multigenerational in their appeal. Case in point: my oldest child is 34, and she has never known a world without high-impact coffee shops. Even in elementary school, she was meeting her friends there.
It’s the same today, but even more so.
Even from a young age, children become used to being around other generations in a coffee shop. Over there, a college kid is studying. Over here are some businesspeople in suits having a meeting. Back there, some moms are enjoying a chat. Kids today are used to being comfortable around others in close quarters like these.
So, that’s another benefit of a church café: it serves all age groups. Families enjoy a hospitality experience at church, and it clearly promotes community on campus among people of all ages
In all these respects, a handful of our firm’s church café projects really fit this bill and stand out in my mind.
Cornerstone Chapel (Leesburg, Va.)
By design, the overall feeling one gets at Cornerstone Chapel is “lodge retreat.” Wood, stone and steel finishes abound.
One of the focal points is a 6,000-square-foot coffee shop that accommodates 300 people. Though it’s a large space, a double-sided indoor/outdoor fireplace helps maintain the cozy lodge feel.
This coffee shop operates all week long. On weekends, it becomes an additional worship venue. At other times, its small platform stage, spaciousness, comfort, and full-service amenities make it an excellent small-events space. And at any time, it’s a great place to relax and visit with others after dropping off the kids at preschool.
As a testament to effective design, this coffee shop was voted the best in Leesburg.
First Baptist Church Covington (Covington, La.)
Community connection is built into the coffee shop at FBC Covington; its operator is a well-known local coffee house. As such, the commons area — where the café is located — is a hotspot for the community. Businesspeople show up to work remotely and peruse the bookstore. Both amenities are part of the church’s 25,700-square-foot connection space, which is designed so that ‘people see people’ — a round, rotunda-type space featuring a second-floor connection to the worship center with a hallway full of windows and lots of natural light and access to courtyards and water features.
Community Life (Forney, Texas)
As with the rest of the campus, the café at Community Life (“C-life”) has a farmhouse appeal. Notched out between the two entry doors and extending onto an outdoor plaza, it’s the focal point of the hospitality-heavy lobby area.
Adjacent to the café is a large, two-story seating area which echoes the modern farmhouse aesthetic. Churchgoers enjoy the two-story fireplace, exposed timber beams, and a plethora of comfortable conversation areas all around, both inside and outside.
The Avenue Church (Waxahachie, Texas)
Bringing nature inside, the 6,000-square-foot, freestanding café at The Avenue Church overlooks a lake. Visitors to the café sit beneath a timber-framed awning that keeps them cool as they take in the views.
If designed right, cafés and coffee shops can deliver highly effective hospitality and gathering space — something many churches don’t have enough of. It’s an endeavor worth considering if your church wants to foster more opportunities for people of all ages to engage with one another all week long.
Bruce Woody is President & CEO of HH Architects in Dallas, Texas.