It's a lot easier to strike up a conversation with someone while pouring them a cup of coffee, than just "out of the blue." Occasionally, people will ask for prayer, but often it's just an opportunity to be of service to others and to talk about what is important to them.
Starting Coffee To Go
When the Lebanon Lutheran Cooperative Ministry formed in January 2014, two of our major goals were:
1) Move the focus of our ministry outside of our walls
2) Change perceptions of what the church was about.
Those goals led us into something we call "Coffee to Go." Coffee to Go was inspired by our experience with Ashes to Go. We had such a great time meeting members of our community, as we imposed ashes and prayed on the street corner, that we didn't want to wait a year to do it again. Being Lutherans, i.e. obsessed with coffee, taking coffee to the streets seemed a perfect fit.
We purchased a garden wagon from a local home improvement store, a can of coffee, some single-serving packets of sugar, creamer, sweeteners, etc., some peel-and-stick printable labels, and some bungee cords.
Coffee for the Community
Usually on a Monday morning, I go to one of our downtown congregations about 6 am and start a pot of coffee in one of the 100-cup coffee urns, then spend a little time in prayer as it brews. Around 7 a.m., my partner for the day, any one of a group of laypeople who are excited about this effort, joins me and we load the coffee urn into the garden cart and strap it in with bungee cords. Then we toss in the fixings and the cups, and head out to our spot for the day, where we hand out coffee to anyone who would like a cup.
Each cup has a peel-and-stick label, with a printed message and our website address. We also have a portable sign with moveable letters that we purchased for other events. We usually set that up to read "FREE COFFEE TO GO" and the web address. We stay for two hours, chatting with whomever happens by.
One of the best spots we've found is at a local bus transfer point, but we've also had good outings at some of the busier downtown intersections. It's a lot easier to strike up a conversation with someone while pouring them a cup of coffee, than just "out of the blue." Occasionally, people will ask for prayer, but often it's just an opportunity to be of service to others and to talk about what is important to them.
The Blessed Results
We've learned a lot about our community, those who don't enter our church doors, and some unrecognized needs in our community. The most striking thing I've noticed, however, is people's surprise that the coffee is really free, with no strings attached.
Many of the people we have handed a cup of coffee to have been skeptical that a church would go through this effort simply to be a blessing to the community, and many of our members have been surprised by perception that the church is only interested in people's time and money. We're hoping to change that perception, one cup of coffee at a time.
Pastor Bob Ierien is one of the pastors of the Lebanon Lutheran Cooperative Ministry, a co-op of four congregations in Lebanon, PA. LLCM is an arrangement designed to increase efficiency and capacity for ministry in a changing cultural landscape, by sharing resources and opportunities for ministry across the life of the parish. LLCM is committed to becoming an "inside out" church, where everything done within the parish leads members outside their walls in ministry to the world.