Whitehaven café church

Whitehaven - Philip PeacockInnovative cafechurch has come to Whitehaven. Methodist minister Philip Peacock takes a break from the lattés and cappuccinos to explain what it's all about.

It is late afternoon in Whitehaven on the second Sunday of the month. The last shops are closing and most people are heading off home. However, on the corner of King Street, the doors of Costa Coffee remain open and people are being welcomed inside. A poster in the window makes the invitation clear: 'Come along to cafechurch after hours'. The aroma of coffee permeates the air as orders are prepared by Costa staff. Tables have been pushed together so that groups of about six people can sit easily to converse.

At 5pm people are formally welcomed, the theme for the evening introduced and a quiz circulated for groups to work on. There is a buzz around the tables as a consensus is reached on an answer for each question. A run through of the answers follows, with the presentation of prizes for the winners (normally something edible) and for those who performed least well (usually something humorous). A visitor is introduced who speaks for about 10 minutes on the subject for the day.

Discussion follows, the earlier quiz having broken the ice for the groups. Questions are fed in at each table, as required, by a facilitator. Any materials for circulation are brought round during this time: slips for prayer requests, cards detailing the next gatherings, flyers for people to take to invite others along, follow-up resources for the theme. At 5.55, the session is rounded off with a brief comment giving some Christian perspective on the day's topic. Details of the next month's meeting are given out and slowly people drift away home, with the majority of the evening still free.

Whitehaven - insideWhitehaven cafechurch started in September 2009 and was launched to offer a different kind of Christian experience from what was available within the town, as a means of reaching out to people who have stopped going to church or who have never gone. Consultation had taken place at an earlier stage with the various denominations in Whitehaven. Someone had gone on a training day with the cafechurch network. A leadership team had been formed, comprised of Methodists and Pentecostalists.

Registration with the network had followed and through it contact was made with the local Costa Coffee. Negotiations with the management had ensued covering various practical issues. Posters, flyers and event cards, using the cafechurch templates, had been circulated and other media were used to supplement this publicity. Themes have included: Looking after the planet, Image, Carols@Costa, The language of love, Just chocolate! and Crime on our streets. Outlines for some of these were supplied by the cafechurch network.

Attendance has been between 16 and 37 but it’s usually 25-30. This has been made up of Christians leading the cafechurch, other churchgoers who have shown an interest, and the target group mentioned above. The number of people in the latter category has ranged from one or two up to 10, with some coming on more than one occasion. The hope is for an increase in the proportion of this group on a regular basis and then to offer the possibility of a separate meeting where people can explore at more depth what it means to be a follower of Jesus today.

Whitehaven - guitarThe prayer requests received have been prayed for afterwards. A few of these have been to do with people asking prayers for specific people who might come on a later occasion. At least one of these prayers has been answered positively. Contact has also been made with Costa customers who are drinking up as we are arriving and others who have come in while we have been meeting. We have been able to explain to them what we are doing and invite them to join in, if they so wish, or stay in a reserved separate space to eavesdrop and meet with their friends.

So what do people make of cafechurch?  Here are some comments from people who attend:

It’s not at all like church – you're talking about issues that relate to everybody.

It's a fun way to do church.

You have an opportunity to say what you feel – which you do not have at church.

It's a good way of meeting new people in the area.

It's easier to invite someone along than to other churches.

From Costa's perspective, Karl, the manager, observes:

It's pretty enjoyable for the staff as well – they like to get involved in the quizzes.

Whitehaven cafechurch is still in its infancy, but we are grateful to God for the journey so far and look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead.