For most churches, the thought of not having a gathering time after worship would be unthinkable. Just a few reasons include:
- For many members this is one of the few regular times they can connect with each other.
- It is significant opportunity for engaging guests in the relational side of their church.
- It's a great ministry training opportunity, using this time to train and equip members to grow in their gifts of hospitality and service.
I wonder, however, how many of us have taken to time to assess whether any one of these goals—connection, engagement, or equipping—are actually being met with success? Another question might be: Is this fellowship time supporting the faith formation needs of all who attend it?
I used italics on purpose because I have heard from a variety of churches that the coffee fellowship time in their context has become a neutral time at best. A few examples include:
- In one church I know, members of the youth group were frustrated because the younger tweens spent most of Coffee Fellowship trying to get into the older teens’ youth room, daring older siblings to “do something” about it that would not have dire repercussions at home.
- In another congregation, a note in the bulletin citing the need for heightened supervision of elementary school students running loose in the nursery went seemingly unnoticed (according to nursery volunteers who had to figure out how to replace broken equipment).
- A long time member at a third congregation remarked that coffee time was the loneliest time of the day for her since her husband died. It was all she could do to navigate her way through the Fellowship Hall to get to her car.
I would say that the people in each of these scenarios are not finding this gathering time as a faith formative part of their Sunday experience (let alone their overall experience of being valued members of their faith communities). I would like to suggest that the Building Blocks Toolkit might be one resource to help each of these congregations assess their situations and begin looking at ways to strengthen the faith formative potential of post-worship coffee fellowship.
The Building Blocks are based on four themes of faith development for all ages:
- I belong to Jesus, and thus to his body, the church.
- I know/understand. Because I belong, I know the story of God’s faithfulness, of which I am a part.
- That story has a climactic conclusion! Therefore, I have hope.
- Inside that story, I am called to work in the kingdom and equipped to do that work.
I think that each one of these Building Block themes could be leveraged during this gathering time, but for today, let’s focus on a few ways to lean into the "I Belong" theme.
A. Make a chart (email me if you want an example) where one axis lists the variety of people groupings that are present during your Coffee Fellowship time: children, tweens, teens, guests, parents, seniors, singles, couples, etc. On the other axis, ask these basic questions:
- How do each of these groups demonstrate that they belong here? Or, what evidence is there that this is a positive experience for each of these groups?
- Where are there possible barriers for each of these groups to experience belonging?
- Where are there opportunities to help each of these groups experience belonging?
If we follow the elementary students in the unsupervised nursery scenario, these children already had a snack in Sunday School and weren’t interested in the juice provided by the adults during Fellowship Hour. They had been sitting for 45 minutes and needed to run. They did not perceive that they belonged in coffee fellowship and often resented the fact that their parents stayed so long. These facts had gone unnoticed until there was a focused assessment similar to the chart above.
B. Use the same chart to dream about how to take intentional steps to address any gaps.
Recently some Toronto teens with a very small youth group presence in their congregation decided that they would use the coffee time to start creating a yearning for strong youth programming in the students and families of the tweens coming up behind them in the ranks. They took leadership of this time by creating group activities for the children while parents had their coffee. Teens, tweens and families got the message that they belonged here because there are intentional points of engagement. All of these groups stayed longer and plugged into the community in a deeper way than they had previously.
C. Use this gathering time to allow people to share something of who they are—such as a talent or a hobby that might not find a ready venue in other parts of church life.
One church holds an annual art show during the coffee hour where folks of all ages can share their creations. This church will often give a theme and might limit the medium from year to year, but the show allows conversation and sharing that the regular coffee hour might not always allow for. This is a great venue for different people to belong through their ability to contribute in a meaningful way. Take it a step further and ask artists to visually depict what it means to them to belong to Jesus and/or his church.
These are 3 small steps to communicating belonging and strengthening the faith formational potential of an important part of the Sunday morning experience.
What are some ways your community uses their Coffee Fellowship to be intentionally inclusive and faith formational?
For more information on the Building Blocks of Faith, look for the Toolkit (coming soon!). Or, you can contact Laura Keeley, Building Blocks Champion, at email@example.com, or me, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.