Check out this story from August 2018 about The Coffee House in Cookstown. The founders attended the New Leaf Design Shop in April 2018.

I am connected with Vision Ministries Canada, and Jay Gurnett thought the Design Shop would be helpful as we got closer to making our church plant a reality. When I came to the Design Shop in April 2018 we had already signed the lease on a building at the centre of our town with the plan to open a community space – The Coffee House. We haven’t followed all the standard church planting steps along the way. Maybe this is because I am not a typical pastor, just a guy that is trying to be obedient to God’s calling. We really wanted to create a space where we could be present in our community and invite conversation. We want to connect God’s love with real life. We started by serving coffee, tea, baked goods and sandwiches for lunch and we purposefully decided not to charge for anything. We have since adjusted our menu, we stopped serving sandwiches and added an espresso machine that allows us to offer a full selection of specialty coffee drinks. We accept cash donations, but nothing is required. The reason for this is to create a space for conversation to begin. People who come in naturally ask, why? We are then able to share who we are, why we are there and bring Jesus naturally into the conversation. People aren’t threatened and don’t feel pressured because we haven’t forced the conversation; they asked, and that gives us the freedom to answer. We are just sharing our story.

The Design Shop really helped me to think about all the other things that go into starting a new church. It allowed me to look at what we were planning with a more complete picture. I am good at having conversations with people, being approachable, helping people see church in a different way and helping point them to Jesus, but putting systems in place is not my strength. The Design Shop helped me to see how important these things are and why they are necessary. Another thing that stood out to me from my time at the Design Shop was looking at the different types of people and how they relate and process things. I am a person who can see things before they happen, it isn’t hard for me to picture something that isn’t there yet. But to understand the other types was valuable because I began to understand why it was hard for some people to jump in with both feet with no concrete things in place. It also helped me realize that I needed these other kinds of people in order to make a good team. I think the most valuable thing that I took from the Design Shop was the guiding ideas. I had been struggling through mission statements, vision statements, core values and it all just seemed to be trying to put the great commandment and the great commission into different words. When Jared shared about guiding ideas it made so much sense to me. The point that a Bible-believing evangelical Christian should be able to say no to any of the guiding ideas, if it wasn’t for them, helped so much. We as Christians should all be on the same mission, but the guiding ideas are really what set us apart as a church – what makes us us?  

This community of Cookstown that we are in is a small town between Toronto and Barrie in Ontario. The population of the village is roughly 2000 people. The traditional mainline churches have slowly been closing over the last number of years, the Anglican Church is the only one that remains active. I believe that God has called us to this small community to let the people here know that He hasn’t forgotten about them. He wants them to know that while they see these older churches closing and moving out of town, His love remains here. My family and I live right at the heart of this community, actually just a couple doors over from The Coffee House. Through the conversations, I have had with people over the last number of months it has become clear that a lot of people from around the community have a distorted picture of God, but the majority would not argue over the idea of God Himself, though there are some for sure. There is one main group that has either a Roman Catholic or traditional mainline upbringing but have been far away from the church for a long time. When they think of God they think of judgement and condemnation. The other main group sees God as a part of themselves, they believe we are all a part of God; a very new age spirituality. They don’t mind talking about God, but Jesus makes them a little uncomfortable. By just listening to people as they share I have learned so much about the different worldviews people hold, and just trying to understand so we can bring the truth of Jesus to where they are.

We opened The Coffee House at the beginning of June 2018 and held our first Sunday gathering in the space on October 14, 2018! We didn’t have a big launch, we just let the word spread naturally through town and the conversations we are having at The Coffee House. We have been meeting for a little over 3 months now and it has been so encouraging to see God at work. God has been directing people here. We have been having a lot of what you would call “dones” that have been joining us. People who have given up on church. We are not interested at all in taking people away from other churches to join us. We are actively pursuing the one lost sheep. We exist for the one.

We really want to create an atmosphere where our neighbours feel comfortable coming in. A place that doesn’t necessarily feel like a “church.” We leave the set up the same on Sundays so it just feels like you are walking into the coffee house. Everything we do is relational and encourages people to engage. I will just give you a little picture of what a Sunday gathering at The Coffee House looks like. We open at 9:30 for prayer with anyone that wants to join us. This normally wraps up around 9:45-9:50. Then at 10 others will start to join us. Kid’s church starts at 10 so parents can drop their kids off and enjoy a coffee and conversation. At 10:15 the organized part of the gathering starts. We sing a couple of worship songs together. Then I give a 10-15 minute message that we follow with another 10-15 of discussion and reflection time. The space is open for people to be heard, to share a story or ask a question. I find that this time really helps to set the message into real life. Then we do one more worship song together and close around 11. Then it’s normally at least 12 before everyone is out the door. So even though the organized part of the gathering is only about 45 minutes, the church really meets from 9:30-12. I want people to see church as the people gathered together. It’s not all about the message or the worship music or the prayer or the fellowship – it is a combination of it all as we engage in it together! The coffee time in relationship with each other is just as important as the organized part of the service and I want people to get that. And because we stay in the same place when the “service” ends, the conversation seems to stay focused on the message and topic of the discussion. People really talk about how faith interacts with their lives and how it plays out. That doesn’t always happen over coffee at church. I think some of that is because when you leave the sanctuary or place of worship you give yourself permission to shut off. It’s like when you walk out the door your mind shifts. So staying in the same atmosphere seems to be a positive thing. Our plan for the future is to just continue to be present in our community with the love of Jesus and see what God does. He has already exceeded our expectations in the first three months and we are excited to see him continue to work in the hearts of the people in our community.