Coffee as Church Planting?
For most coffee drinkers, their morning cup o’ Joe is a daily luxury. Sure, people joke about their addiction to the caffeine buzz or the sweet aroma of a freshly roasted Sumatran blend, but most of us could survive a day without it (even if we sulk as we do so).
But what if coffee did more than satisfy a morning craving or keep us alert in the middle of a long day?
What if coffee was … someone’s introduction to the love of Jesus?
For OMF missionaries Amy and Seann Gibson, that’s exactly what they hoped a fresh brew would accomplish when they moved into a rural community in Taiwan and opened up a local café. Two years into the coffee business, they now attest that those delicious beans really can be keys to the soul.
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When the Gibsons first moved to Taiwan in 2010, coffee wasn’t the immediate need that came to mind—the gospel was. Taiwan’s working-class population of 16 million people is largely unreached, with just 0.5 percent following Christ. So moving into the working-class villages of Chiayi County to share the hope of Jesus seemed strategic.
There was just one problem—Amy and her husband looked (and felt) incredibly out of place.
Surrounded by over 1,000 rural households where farm and factory work dominate the local economy, the Gibsons recognized they didn’t have much in common with the community. They weren’t the only ones who noticed this discrepancy. Local villagers eyed them suspiciously, wondering why foreigners wanted to settle into the neighborhood.
It became clear that sharing Christ through a traditional church-planting model might not be the right approach, but joining the working-class ranks and providing a communal space to build relationships could be worth trying.
That’s when the idea for a local coffee shop materialized. Amy and Seann opened the first floor of their home to anyone who wanted a cup o’ Joe or even just a place to hang out.
Two years after kicking off their business, it’s safe to say the idea worked.
“[The coffee shop] has become one of the few places in the community where people come together to chat and relax,” Amy says. “Through it, we have met so many people, young and old.”
As for their ultimate goal of sharing Christ’s love with the local people?
“We have had many opportunities to share the gospel, tell a story, pray for people, etc.,” Amy says. “We have people who come regularly, many with whom we are having continuous gospel conversations. … Often, people just come by to chat. They don’t even want to drink coffee!”
The shop has had a domino effect, sparking new ministry opportunities as well. The Gibsons now help run a youth ministry, adult English classes and a mom’s group.
Even the profits from the coffee shop go back into the community, funding special activities and meeting practical needs in the villages.
Reflecting on what God has done through their coffee shop, Amy says, “We feel truly a part of the community. We see and hear what is going on in people’s lives and families, and we are invited into people’s homes where we have more opportunities to share the gospel. After two years, we are sensing a softening among our friends and neighbors here. May the Lord draw them to himself as he promises to do in John 12.”
Praise God for the creative ways he is using missional businesses to reach Taiwan’s working class and other unreached communities in East Asia. Pray for more Christians to engage in coffee shop ministries and other relationship-building ventures to share Christ’s love in East Asia.