“It’s not just coffee we’re selling.” So says a barista at a Charlotte coffee shop called The Third Place. She speaks for millions of people, and in a recent twist, millions of Christians.
For decades, coffee shops have been the place for people to gather. Think Central Perk from Friends, or Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls.
Churches and non-profits have captured this notion and mingled it with a missional theology to shape the coffee industry with a faith-propelled purpose. In other words, can a $4 cup of bean water have any Kingdom finger prints? It seems so.
Followers of Christ are reexamining the coffee industry from seed to cup. It is Kingdom intention meets entrepreneurial spirit meets millennials’ habits meets coffee addiction meets community renewal. Now that’s a mouthful.
Here are three ways that faith-propelled coffee ventures are shaping the industry:
- THE SHIFT TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD (NEARSIGHTEDNESS)
A few years ago I had a two-week trip to Europe and Asia. One of the business partners I traveled with engineered every stop around a Starbucks. After all, where else could we get good coffee?
That’s not a problem anymore. It seems like there’s not a community in the western world that doesn’t have a local beanery of some sort. Some roast it themselves, some partner with suppliers, some just serve it in cool containers, but everybody’s got one.
Guess what else every community has? Churches … and lots of them. There is a good chance several of those churches are outward focused, trying to impact their community. Blended together you have coffee with a shot of Kingdom or perhaps the other way around.
One example is Stillwater, Oklahoma’s The Coffee House, which is located across the street from Oklahoma State University and overseen by a local Baptist church. Or check out Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s got a truly local feel because of the unique customer experience and the impact of their purchases. The tagline is “It’s more than a cup of coffee.” This shop, run by people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, aims to “change the way people see other people.”
This is exactly the type of thing faith-driven local coffee shops do. They enable people to buy their lattes locally, but they also have real impact locally. It’s the perfect marriage of entrepreneurial spirit, a market passionate for social impact, a love for coffee, and a desire for Kingdom impact.
- THE BRIDGE TO THE WORLD (FARSIGHTEDNESS)
World coffee exports are just under 10 million bags a month. So that makes coffee the world’s second most-traded commodity (after oil)—totaling $20 billion in coffee exports and a half a trillion cups consumed annually.
Seventy countries export coffee, led by Brazil and followed by, in order, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, India, Honduras, Uganda, Guatemala, and Mexico. It’s a huge industry for these mostly developing nations, as you can imagine. In Brazil, for example, the coffee industry provides jobs to over five million people.
In other words, faith-propelled coffee ventures have incredible opportunity to impact global change. They can use coffee ventures to provide jobs and fair wages in developing nations, sustaining families and providing financial freedom. They can affect every step of the supply chain, planting gospel seeds all along the way.
Think of all the structure options. You can go non-profit or for-profit. Coffee only or coffee plus (one of my local coffee shops offers handwoven materials from other nations as well). Church-owned or partnership with local businessmen or women. Businesses to sustain foreign missionaries overseas or businesses to sustain financial giving to mission work. In other words, the containers vary but the heart remains the same.
The folks at The Well in Nashville <wellcoffeehouse.com> operate on a different scale from the guys in Little Rock who started Bridge 2 Rwanda, but both are using coffee to bring about great change overseas.
The leaders in this space are those who are thinking holistically about their coffee. One article claims that at least 36 hands contribute to bringing coffee through 23 steps from the coffee tree to your cup. Think of all the opportunities for impact.
- SPACE FOR YOU AND ME
I started this blog post with the quote, “It’s not just coffee we’re selling.” That’s actually only half the quote, which I pulled from this video about The Third Place, a coffee shop in Charlotte, NC.
Did you catch it? The barista said, “It’s not just coffee we’re selling. We’re basically selling community.”
In other words, you can use your coffee shop to do good, but you can also use it to facilitate good by bringing people together. A Kingdom coffee shop is a space to develop regulars and friendships. Maybe everybody won’t know your name, but somebody will.
In my hometown, Mama Carmen’s has music release nights for local artists and bookshelves in the back with comfortable seating for easy reading and conversation. Mama Carmen’s is building community one cup at a time.
We’ve come a long way from paper cups and the silver coffee pot in the foyer. And the coffee industry has come a long way from Folgers or that other option.
Coffee shops with a faith foundation are always selling more than coffee. And transactions in these spaces fix more than just pesky caffeine cravings. These coffee shops with local, global, and community veins can provide a job for those in need, bring awareness to a cause, and even challenge an unjust social stigma.
So get involved and help grow the multiple bottom line.