Churches Together in Heathfield and District launched a cafechurch in April 2013. Sue Mumford tells what has happened since then in the East Sussex market town.
More than 40 people came to our first session at Costa Coffee in Heathfield High Street; and we have been very pleased with the reaction to what we are doing. We have learned some valuable lessons so far and hope this learning will help others looking to do something similar in their own contexts.
The most beneficial thing we did in advance of our first event was to have a 'rehearsal' the week before. Involving mainly 'church people', this gave us a chance to iron out problems and get valuable feedback at the end of the evening. It also provided an opportunity for people from all the churches in the area, who wanted to know what it was all about, to come and see for themselves.
We had a good number turn up on the night, including some who were not involved in church at all and quite a lot of young people – which meant we had a useful balance of age groups. The staff in the coffee shop were also very interested to see what was happening; one of them who was on duty behind the counter for the rehearsal made sure he was on duty for the first event!
When the night came, there was a real buzz – especially during our quiz and table talk times, a really nice atmosphere. We had two, short, musical 'interludes' during which a young singer/songwriter sang some of her own material, accompanying herself on the guitar. That went down well.
The table hosts, whom we regard as key people in the event, were given a few important pointers and advice before the evening began by a member of our cafechurch planning committee. They also had a pack of materials to distribute to their table when they felt the time was right.
We gave all guests £1.50 towards their first drink and this was appreciated; we will continue to do this. We had some tables with one host and some with a team of two – and we think the teams of two work most effectively.
Our challenges and difficulties became clear very early on. After the 'rehearsal' it was evident there were too many 'greeters' (we had a rota of six). The young people felt as though they were almost confronted on entry by a lot of 'old' folk! So, at the event we had only two greeters; both of whom were on the younger side of 50.
We had said when we first looked at developing a cafechurch that we would focus on attracting 18 to 35-year-olds though all ages would be welcome. It has been interesting to see how the young people reacted to our programme for the evening; they did not want to be served, for instance, but preferred to get their own coffee and then make their way to the table. So, at the event, we completely did away with servers. This made them much happier. The rather slow speed at which the coffee is served is a challenge; but because of the variety of drinks available there is probably not much that can be done about this!
At the rehearsal it was made clear that there was far too much information on the tables. There was no time to read newspaper articles and some people did not even notice the 'menu' for the evening's programme amidst all the quiz and discussion material and 'keep in contact' slips etc. As a result, at the event we put nothing on the tables except the 'menu' and encouraged the table hosts to draw guests' attention to it showing the programme for the evening and the publicity on the back about our next get-together. All the quiz material and discussion questions were given in a pack to the table hosts to distribute when they thought appropriate. It worked well.
The young people felt the evening was 'over-structured' at the rehearsal; but we think this was partly just our nervousness about sticking to timings and the newness of it all. We kept the basic structure at the event but were more relaxed ourselves and this seemed to work better.
It is difficult to get a balance between letting people go to whatever table they like and getting a mix of ages at each table. Having two (older) hosts at each table helps. Perhaps this will solve itself as we all become more familiar with the situation and as we build relationships with the guests.
In terms of the effectiveness of publicity for the event. We distributed posters and leaflets in the churches, the community college and the Churches Together noticeboard in the High Street.
We also put out a press release in two local papers. This we felt would not be a way of getting young people to come but it was a good way of letting the community know what we were doing as Churches Together. The community college included an item about it in their letter to parents on the front page; some churches put it in their Sunday bulletins and a member of the planning committee sent out details via Facebook and Twitter.
One of the key things we discovered was the importance of negotiating with the right person in the coffee shop business when sorting out details of programming and a guaranteed rate of takings on the night. We had taken steps to inform the local management team and all seemed to be in place but a change in staffing caused various problems – we would therefore encourage anyone to avoid these pitfalls by:
- making sure you are negotiating with the right person;
- ensuring the agreement is ratified by any superior authority necessary;
- being prepared for the possibility of a change in personnel;
- keeping copies of all correspondence and emails.
We have covered various topics in our cafechurch time; including Stress, Les Miserables (with themes of repentance and forgiveness), and Wealth of Different Kinds. Our next cafechurch is on 24th January 2014 when we look at 'What's love got to do with it?'
A team of prayer supporters provide valuable prayer backing during the time we meet and we then report back to them as to how the evening has gone and if there are any additional prayer requests.
It is still early days and we don't yet know how things will turn out but we are encouraged to see how relationships have developed, both among those on the planning team and those we're meeting through cafechurch.