A few years ago I had a Starbucks moment. I was studying at a Starbucks on Capitol Hill for a sermon, and I usually tune out the mood music, but one line of the lyrics slipped through my reticular activating system. I’d never heard the song before, and I didn’t know who the artist was. And maybe I just had too much caffeine in my system, but the juxtaposition of words struck me:
There’s a church on the periphery, Lady of our Epiphany.
I had a thought as I slipped my vanilla latte: As long as the church stays on the periphery, our culture will never experience an epiphany.
When National Community was first getting off the ground, I had the traditional church mindset: Meet in rented facilities until you can buy or build a church building. And then our church started meeting in the movie theaters at Union Station. God put us right in the middle of the marketplace, and doing church in marketplace environments became part of our DNA.
In 2005, we purchased our first piece of property. Instead of building a church, we opened a coffeehouse. Why? The motivation is simple: Jesus didn’t hang out at synagogues as much as he hung out at wells. Wells were more than just a place to draw water. Wells were natural gathering places in ancient culture. Jesus didn’t expect people to come to him. He crossed ancient cultural boundaries and went to them. So we decided to build a coffeehouse instead of a church building. And it’s not a church with a coffeehouse. It’s a coffeehouse where a church happens to meet. There is a difference!
The vision is simple: Create a place where the church and community cross paths. Think of it as ministry by proximity. And Jesus set the example: He touched lepers, talked with Samaritans and befriended prostitutes. He hung out with tax collectors and hung out at wells.
At NCC, we have a core conviction: A church that lives within its four walls is not a church at all! So one of the wonderful things about Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse is that every penny of profit goes to our local outreach and mission partners, such as Strive DC , an organization that helps chronically unemployed people in D.C. transform their lives through employment. Or the Southeast White House, known as the “house on the hill for all people” as it works with inner-city youth, local organizations and national leaders to improve the lives of people. Call it coffee with a cause.
We’re going to continue to create postmodern wells where people can get a great cup of coffee while adding value to our city, its residents and community life. We’re also creating a place where people can quench their spiritual thirst, just like the Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at a well 2000 years ago.
Mark Batterson is the Lead Pastor at the National Community Church in the District.