Mike Baughman answers: What have you learned about ministry from running a coffee shop?

Union coffee shop in Dallas is a church plant created to reach young people wary of church. The pastor who serves as its “community curator” talks about what he has learned from this experiment.

Mike Baughman

Vocation: Community curator, Union coffee shop; United Methodist elder

What have you learned about ministry from running a coffee shop?

BaughmanI’ve learned that sororities are better at hospitality than most churches are.

I was sitting at a table -- we have this large table in the middle of our space -- and I was sitting there doing some work. There were a couple of girls from Tri Delta sitting there, and they were talking about getting ready for rush. I was impressed at what they were doing, and then I invited them to an event that we have on Friday.

Rush started on Monday, and one of them said, “No, we can’t be there, because we’ll be memorizing names on Friday night.”

And I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “We’ll be memorizing the names of all the girls who are rushing.” And I said, “That’s not a small amount of people.”

She said, “No, it’s about 150, 200 people.” I was amazed, and I said, “Well, OK, so tell me more. How do you prepare to welcome people?”

And she leaned in and she said, “Do you think it’s an accident that when a girl shows up for rush that the first person she meets knows her by name?

“And the next person that she talks to happens to be someone from her hometown, who hands her off to someone who happens to be in the same department as she is, who hands her off to somebody who happens to play the same sport that she did in high school, and that she walks out of that room thinking, ‘All these girls are just like me’?

“That’s not an accident. We work hard to make sure that people feel at home when they walk in our doors.”

And that conversation stunned me, because I thought, “Gosh, if the church spent 10 percent of the time that sororities spend on hospitality and welcome, I think it would be a different story about the church right now.”

One block north of us is a CrossFit gym. CrossFit gym does a better job with accountability than most churches do, because they actually expect things of their members. Because of that, they have better community than most churches do. I know lots of people who are willing to miss church on a Sunday, but you better believe they’re not going to miss their workout on Thursday morning.

I’ve learned that most successful nonprofits know more about how to tell the story of why their nonprofit matters than most churches can. And that’s a sad statement, because we have the story.

We have the story to share, but most churches aren’t good at telling that story, let alone telling the role the community can play in it. But some of the nonprofits that we’ve gotten connected with through our work -- man, they know how to tell their story.

So one of the key things that I’ve learned is that there are lessons to learn in the world around us. And it’s not just because they’re smart and they’re doing things.

It’s because we believe theologically that God is at work in other places. God is not limited by the walls of the church, nor will God be. Our job is to figure out what God is up to and become a part of that.

The preceding is an edited transcript.