A View from the Pew: Church Coffee

You can tell a lot about a church by its coffee.

At some point in the past 20 to 30 years, we reached the tipping point of churches first allowing, then serving coffee every time the doors are open. It’s been an almost imperceptible caffeination, but as a distinct culture, churches today have made coffee part of their identity.

Allow me to offer my analysis of churches based on their approach to coffee:

Absent. If your church does not serve coffee, and the idea has never surfaced at a business meeting on how to attract new members, then you are either a member of a very old school church that doesn’t go in for such new fangled ways, you live in a very warm region in which sipping on hot beverages is counter to the climate, or y’all meet at some time when folks are already wide awake and very alert.

Prohibited. If your church not only doesn’t offer coffee but outright forbids its consumption, then you are likely a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Their Law of Health makes “hot drinks” unlawful, and many Mormons extend the practice to all caffeinated beverages. Rather than ridicule this practice, I tend to admire it because I have become so caffeine dependent that I have a hard time making it through the day without two or three cups.

BYOC. If you have a great number of attendees bring their own insulated coffee mugs, branded with their coffee shop of choice or not, you have a very independent-minded, do-it-yourself kind of congregation. Everyone looks out for themselves, they don’t expect the pastor to visit them every time they have a sniffle, and when the grass needs cutting, someone just does it without paying a service, setting up a Sign-up Genius, or forming a committee.

Percolator. I go to a small church, so it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of the black and silver percolators in use on a Sunday. These tend to be pulled out of storage for receptions and fancy events. To me, they communicate efficiency and quantity. Churches who use the percolator have volunteers or staff who know how to use this traditional piece of equipment and even how to clean it. Taste is often sacrificed with this method of preparation, but church shouldn’t always appeal to the taste buds, should it?

Mr. Coffee. If your church has one, it probably has a dozen of these glass-carafe-and-plastic-bodied coffee makers. There’s at least one in the kitchen, one in the office, and one in each of the adult Sunday school classrooms. There’s probably one up on a bookshelf missing the carafe which was broken when someone was cleaning it in the mop sink (purely hypothetical and not at all based on personal experience). Churches that serve their coffee from such devices also have to invest in paper filters or those wire mesh filters. They do give off a pleasing aroma throughout the building, “as unto the Lord.”

Keurig. The only way to suit everyone’s coffee tastes is the seemingly ubiquitous individual serving coffee makers with the little pods. The pods can be pricey, but when everyone pitches in and helps restock, it’s a participatory democracy. Churches who invest in these machines are striving for options so that everybody wins… except for those who prefer a greater emphasis on recycling. Keeping everyone happy has a downside somewhere.

French Press. Okay, I threw this in on a lark. I don’t actually know any churches that have a French press to make their coffee. I’m not even sure how they work. If your church has one, it’s likely in the pastor’s kitchen. The pastor gets a free pass if they are a bit of a coffee snob, because late night calls and emergencies require a caffeinated solution, and pastors should be allowed at least this one luxury.

Espresso machine. Typically only large churches with their own cleverly named coffee shops would have such an appliance, but it is all the rage these days in outreach-focused churches. While it would be easy to criticize the extravagance (“This money should have been given to the poor!”), there is a case to be made for parishioners to be able to get their cappuccinos, lattes, and macchiatos inside the building rather than having to wait in the drive through-line at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.

Iced coffee. Heretics only. Would not recommend it. Just don’t. I can’t even. What church would commit such a travesty? But if a church insists on serving iced coffee, it’s usually in their youth space—you know, the open-ceiling mod rooms fully accessorized with pool, ping pong and air hockey tables?

Pardon this tongue-in-cheek taxonomy, but the metaphor here has a kernel of truth. It’s worth examining the “why” behind some of the more mundane components of our church culture to better understand what we’re really about.

And I guess iced coffee is okay, in the proper context.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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