“I’ve had more significant conversations in this coffee shop in one week, than a whole year working in a church building,” tells Paul Unsworth. “We need new models of church where people can have a sense of belonging regardless of what they believe.” In a busy, multicultural and popular street in East London, this Baptist pastor is re-inventing church. He and his team started a commercial coffee shop – as a church. They learned some keys on the way.
The coffee shop opened its doors June 2012 in Brick Lane. In this area twenty thousand people come to visit the shops and market on a regular Sunday. Many kinds of faiths are shared, but Christians are hardly to be found. While walking here one Sunday, Paul knew, ‘We have to be here, among these crowds’. They named the coffee shop Kahaila, which is a word play with the Hebrew word Kahila, meaning community, and the word Chaim/hai, what is connected with ‘life’. These words represent their purpose of bringing life to the very centre of the community: to plant a church as a café. Paul, “Traditional churches work well for Christians, but we want to explore how we model a church that engages people outside the church. Those kind of people who see church like they do a red telephone box – an amazing building that’s part of our heritage. They don’t want these telephone boxes removed and love to see it standing somewhere in a street, but they will never use it. They look at church the same way: they love the architecture and the fact that it is part of British culture, but it’s not for them.”
No business, no mission
The whole coffee shop endeavour did cost a lot of money and effort. Over a hundred thousand pounds were invested; partly donated and partly borrowed. This meant that they had to run the business well in order to raise an income, and to attract clients. Their aim was to become one of the best coffee shops in London and they seem to be well on their way: nearly four times as much profit was made as initially anticipated. But what’s more: people are finding them and recommending Kahaila on internet for their good coffee, food, service and atmosphere. While regularly adding the comment online: ‘Oh, and these guys are Christians’. Read more