Today, new opportunities for ministry are opening around the world. Check out this example of an urban coffee house that is serving up more than coffee. Cory Stipp (CS) is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. He has been in ministry for 15 years holding associate pastor roles in Illinois, Michigan, and Kansas. Holiness Today managing editor Carmen Ringhiser (CR)* recently dialogued with Cory about the coffee shop he runs in Kansas City, Missouri.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to start a coffee house ministry?
A: I have always enjoyed coffee and the environment that a coffee shop creates. Also, I had heard about coffee houses in churches and how they worked. I was looking to do something a bit different to embrace a community as a high-quality coffee shop that serves and cares for its customers.
Q: Do your customers know it's a 'ministry?'
A: Some customers know that our former jobs were ministers at a local church. We don't openly say this is a ministry for several reasons. A number of people who walk through our doors have been hurt by a church, and others would not be open with us if they thought of this as a ministry because of preconceived ideas. However, many people know and join us in praying for our community.
Q: Explain the name.
A: A quay, pronounced 'key,' is a dock or harbor along a moving body of water. The area that we are located in used to be called the River Quay. So we liked the idea of bringing a bit of nostalgia back into the community. There are also some nice connections for us as a body of believers being a safe harbor for those who are adrift in their lives.
Q: Isn't a coffee house ministry somewhat of a throw-back to the 60s?
A: I'm not sure I would call it a throw-back...the coffee shop is our 'tent making' business that also draws people into our lives. People are looking for places to gather and share life; we are doing our best to create that type of space.
Q: What's the point of a 'coffee house' vs. any other start-up business?
A: A coffee house allows us to talk with people on a more regular basis, depending upon how much they like our coffee! Other start-ups might not create regular customers or be designed for conversation.
Q: How do you let customers know what you're about without proselytizing?
A: We serve them, love them, and listen to them. Most of our customers know there is something different about us. We make sure to greet people when they come in and say good-bye when they leave, just like any business would. We make it our point to know our customers so when someone comes in we listen to their face before we hear them say a word.
Q: Are your intentions to start a church?
A: This is a tricky question because I feel we are already a church. 'We' are the church, so as we serve those who enter our shop, we are being the church to those people, we just serve better coffee! But honestly, I feel that we are exemplifying the kingdom of God by what we do and say.
If I answered the question in a more traditional sense I would say our goal is to start a church, but it will more than likely look distinctly different from what most people think of as a church. We will be meeting in our homes and training others to begin to do the same. Eventually we may begin to come together on a monthly basis for celebration services with the other house churches.
Q: Describe your customers.
A: Our customers have become our friends and many have become like family. They are regular people: some have a religious background and others have none, some have a church home and others do not, some have no church home and no interest for one. I feel they are all great people, the kind who live next door or share an office with you. The demographic would probably be people in their late 20s to early 30s.
Q: Are you modeling this on a plan?
A: Not really. We were very intentional with how we created our space so it would assist in starting conversations. The coffee bar is at a lower level with fewer items in the way of connecting with the customer. We have read a couple books by Hugh Halter and a discipling book by Mike Breen: we took their ideas and molded them together.
Q: What did you do before this?
A: I was a youth minister for 14 years. I had started a couple side projects like a concert venue and most recently, a young adult service [at an established church].
Q: How did you go from that to business owner/barista?
A: Slowly and with training. I do have a business management degree with a marketing background. I spoke with numerous business people about our business plan and asked for tips. We formed an advisory board to help us as we made decisions about all areas of the business.
Q: What has surprised you in this endeavor?
A: Two things surprised us the most. The first is how much people have enjoyed our coffee. It sounds simple, but it really surprised us because we didn't know much about the coffee business before we started. The second is the relationships we have formed. More than just customers, the people we have met have become some of our best friends.
Q: How did you get financial backing for Quay Coffee?
A: We shared our hearts with Central Church of the Nazarene in Lenexa, Kansas, where I was serving as youth pastor. Pastor Rob Prince gave us a ton of support along with the platform to share with the church. That is where we received the majority of our financial support.
Q: What advice would you share regarding starting non-traditional ministries?
A: Find something that you love and are passionate about, because you will be knee-deep in this start-up for months. At the same time, never forget why you are doing the new ministry. We have to remind ourselves that we aren't out to build a coffee shop empire, but to connect with a community and share the love of Christ with them, while teaching them to do the same.
Learn more at www.quaycoffee.com
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2013
*Charles W. Christian is the current managing editor for Holiness Today.
Please note: This article was originally published in 2013. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.