Are church cafes worthwhile?

I’ve been pondering this question for a while now. One of my last churches had a monthly cafe and St Mark’s does too. There is a huge amount of effort that goes in to these cafes. There’s the furniture removal, tables put up, buying the food and preparation, soup making (in church now because of Health and Safety which has cut down on volunteers), getting volunteers, working together in teams (not always easy!) and after its all over there is the same process in reverse. All that for an average profit of £100 to the church.

In both churches I notice that most of the volunteers for the cafe are on the elderly side. Most young parents treasure their weekends, quite rightly, and usually stay away.

Ah but its mission, I hear you cry. Outsiders coming in to your church who might not otherwise. Quite. But most of the customers are current members, with a few supporters from other local churches who have no intention of changing allegiance. It is a rare occurrence when an unknown person comes in (not that we don’t pounce if they do!).

So what’s the point? Would two people handing over £50 each be just as good? If I thought that the Cafe brought people together in a loving way to work towards a common missional purpose then I’d be more than happy. But let me tell you, that ain’t happening. It is bloody hard work. Tempers get frayed and sometimes I feel my role is better served as mediator. And it is the same young-ish folk who have to come in every time to do the heavy work.

What do you think? Anyone out there have similar problems and have a solution?

8 thoughts on “Are church cafes worthwhile?

  1. I’m afraid I’m still a bit of a cynic too!

    When I look at the number of helpers and the time that goes in to set up, run, and tidy up our cafe I sometimes feel like suggesting everybody throws in an extra £5 on Sunday once a month and let’s forget about it if those involved are burning out!

    And what our lot call profit is often exaggerated because not all the helpers take their expenses.
    You’ll be pleased to hear that we still have the same discussions about what the purpose of such a cafe is and the same answers are recycled!

  2. The weekly/monthly effort does not achieve any of the things you want – fundraising, missional contact – ideas for something genuinely missional are quickly domesticated in favour of the existing folk and their friends and friendly in the cliquey kind of way that only churches believe is friendly

    . So value it for what it is – a place for the lonely and friends to meet up – but don’t expect to do anything startling.

    Permanent city centre cafes in churches are another story of which I have numerous positive experiences which are geniunely outgoing – and they all have one essential feature in common – a visionary think skinned individual who is both welcoming and brooks no nonsense from volunteers and preferably doesn’t need paying much.

  3. A previous incumbent of my church refused to let us have any cafes, coffee mornings, jumble sales etc. Reason being that he wanted us known for being a church, not a purveyor of coffee or seller of tat. At the time I thought it was a bit hard but looking back, he was right. There are other, better, ways of fund raising and mission. We never ran out of money or new people through the door.

    Leave cafe running to Starbucks and concentrate on being a church.

  4. Well, this Saturday you will find us also selling our tat to anyone who comes through the doors. Oh dear. But the money is going to a good cause (and not us!)

  5. All that has been written on previous comments are so true and the point of helpers – or lack of them are the reason we ended our then weekly cafe. But on the cry of “mission and outreach” opted for a monthly one to try to fulfil these crys. But now same problems and more, with health & safety issues, so one has to ask is it worth it!! I think my answer can be found in what I have said so over to you boss!!!!

  6. I have exactly the same problem Mother Ruth, with exactly the same monetary reward. In fact the whole piece, almost word for word, could have been written about St Augustine’s! My reaction was to just shut it down for a while and give everyone a well-deserved rest, but then fate intervened, and we are due to build a new hall very soon. That’ll give us about 9 months rest, and a chance to “re-evaluate” how best to use our new hall for “mission”. Damned sure we’re not going to keep doing the old things.

    Maybe the cafe will continue, but only if we are honest about what it’s doing, which is providing a wee meeting place for friends from the local churches and the lonely! Then again, maybe that’s part of our mission…… here we go again!

  7. I think it depends partly on your location. At the church in Perth which I attend, http://www.lethamstmarks.co.uk, where my husband is minister, when we built our new building we decided to have a cafe as we are in the middle of a huge local authority housing scheme and there’s no cafe in the area.

    However, we considered exactly the issue of resources you describe and decided not to go mad. So we just open for two hours on a Tuesday morning and two hours on a Thursday morning and that’s it.

    We don’t do meals at all but we do make good coffee, including latte, cappucino etc and home made scones. And we do get locals dropping in. It also is a good help to some of our more socially isolated members who can come and have company of a morning as well as mums whose kids can run about in the sports hall or if they’re wee, play with the toys in the creche room.

    What I really like about your post and some of the comments is that it’s good to ask “Why are we doing this?” rather than always doing things because we’ve always done them!

  8. Do you know Anne, that’s exactly what we have been talking about. Because we are in the Scottish Churches Scheme we need to have the church open for a certain amount of hours each year so need to do something if the Cafe were to go. I had just been saying to someone yesterday that maybe just coffee and homebaking was the way to go. Less volunteers needed, not so much Health and Safety to worry about too. And a super duper coffee machine sounds just the thing. Thanks for the idea!

    Btw, I used to be in Perth at St Ninian’s. How long have you been there?

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