By Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., Jan. 15, 2006. This is an excerpt of the chapter on this innovative church plant I wrote for the Abingdon Press book titled: Inside the organic church: Learning from 12 emerging congregations.
Chapter 2: Sol Café, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
We’re a “coffee-stop,” an “information booth” along a spiritual highway.
“Worship leading is … ‘curating” (providing opportunities for engagement and free association). – Sally Morgenthaler, worship leader and consultant
It looked like any other Internet café, with little indication a church gathering was about to take place. Feeling adrift, I made my way to the coffee bar. “I guess I’m the church greeter,” began Winston, the barista. “I usually don’t act so forward but you looked lost.” As a church growth consultant, I visit worship gatherings every weekend. But he was right, an unobtrusive beginning to this worship gathering had disoriented me. I didn’t know the bewilderment was so obvious.
“We usually don’t tell people a worship gathering is starting,” continued Winston. “We just let them get comfortable, have a coffee, and engage in conversation. Then the worship unfolds slowly … at an unhurried pace. We want to usher people into a spiritual encounter, we don’t want to announce ‘Hey, its worship time: in or out!’”
I wondered out loud if people get offended once they discover a worship gathering is unfolding. “Rarely,” replied Winston. “Most of the time people like the music, the unhurried atmosphere, patrons sharing their stories. It is a great way to do church, and it impacts people who have never been to church. They are slowly led into a church experience. It’s not dropped on them all at once.”
True to the forecast, the evening progressed deliberately forward, but at a leisured pace. People laughed, talked, introduced themselves, and generally turned this Internet café into an extended family. Instrumental music was played at first, but soon some people were singing along. Over time more joined in, and even reticent attendees soon sang. At first the songs had a reflective timbre, but as the evening progressed so did the songs’ Christian content, until finally I noticed many visitors were reflective and pensive. This unhurried evening would eventually culminate with a short interactive sermon.
The gathering that evening was warm and sociable. “And we get even better attendance when its colder,” reflected Matt Thompson one of the leaders. “Edmonton is cold in the winter,” he continued “and the Sole Café provides a warm cup of coffee, good conversations, and time to reflect on life.” Though usually frigid in January, this day in Edmonton Alberta resembled a spring afternoon. Yet good weather did not seem to deter a good turn out at the Sol Café.[i]
Church: Sol Café
Leaders: Debbie and Rob Toews (now employed as the director of a Christian retreat center), Jacqueline and Winston Pei, Anika and Steve Martin, Matt Thompson, Dave Wakulchyk.
Location: Whyte Ave., an urban neighborhood in Edmonton, Alberta.
Affiliation: Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada
Target Audience: college/postmodern thinkers, metropolitan residents, urban artists, immigrant families, blue collar families, people in their twenties into late-thirties.
A Fusion of Rhythms:
The Rhythm of Place
“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could come and just sit around,” reflected Rob Toews, the founding pastor. Jokingly he continued, “a pub was another option, but we didn’t think the CMA[ii] was ready for that.”
Sol Café had begun in the basement of a nearby Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. However, the leaders felt that the catacombs of a local church would not adequately impact the postmodern thinkers in the neighborhood. “The church facility was a safe bet. It was available, and it wasn’t costly,” continued Rob. “But it also wasn’t very effective.”
Rob and another leader used a large portion of the denominational support to purchase a local Internet café. During the week they ran it as a business. Rob worked 2-3 shifts a week, selling coffee and conversing. Eddie Gibbs describes such risk taking as a characteristic of the organic church, where, “uncertainty becomes an occasion for growth, not a cause of paralysis. It is a church prepared to take risks, which learns from its failures and mistakes.”[iii]
As Gibbs forecast, mistakes followed risks. “The café was supposed to support the church, but the finances to support the staff weren’t there,” recounted Rob. “And the people we were reaching were too young or too underprivileged to make significant contributions. But the location was excellent for our mission … just not for our finances.[iv]
And, find more examples of innovative and cost-effective church planing models here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/church-planting-cost-effective-alternatives-to-the-customary-planting-strategies/
[i] Sol Café’s leaders appropriated their name from the book “A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café” by Leonard I. Sweet and Denise Marie Siino (New York: Broadman & Holman, 1998). They also modified to fit the bilingual culture of Canada.
[ii] Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, the denominational affiliation of the Sol Café congregation.
[iii] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry, (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2000), p. 235.
[iv] Subsequently, Rob Toews had to take a fulltime job at a Christian retreat center. “I think we will survive, but it will be difficult,” observed Rob. “We are on our own now. No support from the denomination, which can be a good thing. It will make us learn and adapt.”
And click here to download a flier from the Sol Cafe explaining a bit about their ethos and genesis: thesolcafe.