Saturday, November 11, 2006

spirituality in public spaces

So I am having a go at offering spirituality at my local cafe. More precisely, I am running a journalling course for 4 weeks. 17 people turned up for the 1st night.

What’s hot about a cafe:
– public space means neutral space. the dialogue feels less churchy. the prayers need to be more real.
– the social rules are already written and understood. this is great for those not used to church.
– the set up is easier as someone else does it.
– the vibe is relax, chill, coffee, cake. if that’s your medium, then it’s a great message.
– cafes have tables which people naturally sit around. instantly you can operate at a number of relational levels – whole group and table group. great for working with groups larger than 10 in size.
– when you pop back for a coffee the next day, you remember the God interaction. you are walking back into a space that has been spiritual. that’s surprisingly good.

What’s not as hot about a cafe:
– it is noisier. all those hard surfaces. especially when the milk is frothing. so everyone needs to talk louder. that’s harder for introverts.
– there are economic realities to negotiate.
– what do you do with the walk-in crowd, the “Oh the lights are on, let’s pop in.” and they walk into an existing group. that takes a bit of relational skill to process.

But on balance, for what I am trying to do – offer spirituality in a public space – the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Posted by steve at 05:43 PM


  1. Yes!

    But please tell us more. Was it all arranged with the cafe owner? (I assume so, how did you persuade them or was the extra custom enough?) How did you recruit the group? …

    Comment by tim bulkeley — November 12, 2006 @ 7:03 am

  2. I love this idea! My spiritual director and I had a conversation a few years ago about the numerous storefronts offering palm reading, etc. in our area (Los Angeles), and the kind of spiritual hunger that indicates. We joked about setting up shop in a strip mall with some sort of Christian alternative, though it was hard to imagine exactly what that might look like. Your class is definitely one approach that might work. I look forward to hearing how it goes.

    Comment by Maria — November 13, 2006 @ 10:56 am

  3. Steve, I added this to my blog. Great thoughts. You basically described our day-in, day-out experience of creating church in a public space.

    Comment by Pernell — November 14, 2006 @ 7:57 am

  4. I too love the idea of church in public spaces. But you forgot one thing that falls in the “not so hot” category: kids. What do you do with children? Do you bring them? What do you do with them when they get bored, rowdy, restless etc. Do you take a Wolgang Simson angle and say include them (that their interuptions are God given)? Or do you exclude them. If so, this is costly. As a Dad of 3 wonderful but naturally rowdy kids…this is a constant factor in any proposition to my involvement in mission.

    Peace of Christ!

    Comment by rich — November 14, 2006 @ 10:25 am

  5. Tim, re cafe owner; that’s a negotiation I’d rather not say too much about in a public space. basically i’ve built a relationship over the year, i asked the owner about barista only and how many “cafe and cakes” would punters need to buy each night;

    the people came via my website, mostly by giving the brochure to a few people; a few through the cafe.

    Richard – re kids – interesting question … this is an exploration … like most of my ideas there are heaps of stuff i haven’t thought about it (and probably heaps of dumb things i do) …. can I turn the question back on you; How many cafes do you know who entertain kids for customers? or is it up to the parents?


    Comment by steve — November 14, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

  6. Great question in return. I would guess there are not many cafe owners that would take on baby sitting tasks. Therefore, I would have to say that it is up to the parents to see after them. But I wonder could provision be made there for children? If there weren’t too many, it could be feasible I suppose. After all, children are welcome in most restaurants etc. Why not in this space as well? Interesting.

    Comment by rich — November 15, 2006 @ 7:09 am

  7. I never said that kids were not welcome.

    This is a journalling course that starts at 7:30 pm at night. It’s not meant to be the provider of every single physical and spiritual need.

    But since we’re talking kids, let’s brainstorm the options Rich?
    1) cafe owner/church provide program
    2) cafe owner/church help with resources eg toys in corner
    3) parents multi-task and look after own kids at the cafe
    4) parents organise babysitting at home

    any others?

    Comment by steve — November 15, 2006 @ 10:34 am

  8. Steve, let me apologize first of all if I didn’t understand the forum for which this discussion was taking place. It was just off the top of my head. Just a curiosity really. Balancing 3 young kids myself, I find it a wonderful focus of my life but a constant challenge to most things church related.

    As a 5th option I wonder if children could not be somehow incorporated with the “adult” discussion. That is, making it more wholistic age wise (non segregaded). Sure, there are probably many drawbacks to this. But I think part of the nature of this discussion is to make church more accessible. Why not with children’s questions. Perhaps not during the entire time…there might be a combination thereof. Perhaps there could be freedom for children to come and go at will (safely of course). Granted, any course that would be taken is going to take extra work.


    Comment by rich — November 16, 2006 @ 10:37 am

  9. As an addendum, let me say that I mean my above comments in a more general sense of church in public spaces. Not specifically to your journaling class, Steve…which may well have much more specific demands that preclude children.

    Again, sorry for the side track.

    Comment by rich — November 16, 2006 @ 10:39 am

  10. Rich,

    I, for one, am glad you spoke. No way where your comments a side track. Your comments have pushed me and helped my thinking. Which for me is the point of having a blog and having comments.

    That for me, is why I started this blog. When people (like you) stop commenting, I think about stopping this blog. It feels more like a consumption zone than a conversation space and it stops having value for me.

    your 5th suggestion has got my creative wheels spinning:
    – if kids have spirituality; then could there be a spiritual journalling course for kids. that is a GREAT question,


    Comment by steve — November 16, 2006 @ 11:20 am

  11. A bit late in the conversation again but then I should be doing journaling homework anyway!! I have posted a bit about my experience as a participant on my own blog.

    i am interested in the idea of including kids from two angles – one the idea of a kids journaling course got me thinking – As a scrapbooker I do my own record of my almost five year old daughters life but we also do one together in kid scrapbook form. Pasting in cards and items she collects and helping her write the stories that go with it. (must make some time for that we are 6 months or more behind) My motherinlaw is an amazing journaler who keeps a journal for each grandchild of their lives as she sees them both directly and through us the parents. I know some of my emails get into that journal what an amazing intergenerational gift.

    The other angle of kids in cafes also interests me as our “coffee group” meets in a local cafe which is very accomodating to the preschoolers who sometimes join us. I bring an extra toy box that is often also used by other cafe kids and gives a way to include other parents in what we are doing. some have joined in our group. The extra custom we bring to the cafe was part of their agreeing for us to meet there and its been over a year now. We do a little more than mums meeting for coffee in that I share “inspirational” stories sometimes and we have a shared prayer journal.
    We’ve had some discussions too about cafes and kid vs adult space and what suits parents verse other patrons.

    Well my little princess is awake so I’m off to do some kids journalling which will be challenging as I like to do things in order and this isn’t!! Homework later??

    Comment by Jo Wall — November 19, 2006 @ 6:39 am

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