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Cafe-Bar-Church: Seeking New Ways to Model Christ

Martin Luther was known to invite his students to his house, where he would serve homemade ale and engage in theological conversation. Reflecting that earthiness of faith is “Luther’s Table,” an experimental fusion of church and bar on the outskirts of Seattle. While it is not unusual to see the mayor or police chief eating lunch there on a weekday, the first two hours of each day are devoted to serving homeless people morning coffee, and on Sundays the bar is closed for church worship services. During most of its open hours, the establishment fosters conversations and community interaction. However, the growing popularity of the bar/restaurant/church among church people has threatened its intention.

“We have gotten away from our mission to be a place for conversation and community for people outside the church,” says Joe Glen, the cafe’s head of marketing and fundraising, in an article on Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. That unintentional shift has prompted conversations about how to get back to being “a place for people damaged by the church.”

The Rev. Jerry Buss, the synod’s director for evangelical mission, hopes the establishment fosters “meaningful conversations about life and faith and things that actually matter” around a beer or a mug of coffee, outside of church, “but in a place where pastors are still around.”

According to Buss, the synod’s support comes from a recognition that the church needs to experiment to find ways to reach the increasingly non-churched population. But so far, the endeavor has lost about $10,000 per month. Even so, the operation contributes 1/3 of its donations to local good work charities. Also see our resource, “Why the Mainline has become the Sideline and What to Do,” and our feature story, “A Distinct Identity helps Churches Remain Vibrant.” You might also appreciate “Emerging Adults Least Likely to Engage their Faith.”

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