Coffee shop church brews new faith community
By Kara Witherow, Editor
The early church was built on relationships. Jesus talked to people. He listened. He ate dinner with sinners. He was a friend and He loved people.
The Foundery is building its faith community in much the same way.
The ministry, which reaches out to those who feel disillusioned and disenfranchised with the traditional church model, Savannah’s artist community, and Savannah College of Art and Design students, is a new United Methodist church plant and congregation in Savannah.
Led by musician and former Starbucks barista Rev. Kevin Veitinger, The Foundery, which officially launched in June following the 2011 Annual Conference session, will soon include a coffee shop that doubles as a church.
Attendees currently meet at a bar in Savannah’s historic district, but Foundery leaders hope that funding comes through for them to open a coffee shop and meeting space in the next few months.
While java sales will certainly help the ministry raise funds, Rev. Veitinger says his concept of a coffee shop church has little to do with coffee.
“Coffee isn’t why people go to Starbucks. It’s like the television show Cheers whose theme song is ‘Where everybody knows your name.’ That’s why people go there.”
Starbucks’ success, he says, isn’t that they sell lots of coffee, but that the coffee shops have become a “third place” for millions.
Rev. Veitinger hopes that The Foundery will become a “third place” for many Savannah residents.
“Everyone has a ‘third place,’” he said. “We have our home and work – those are our first and second places – and our third place is that place where everyone knows us, where we can be ourselves and can engage in other people’s lives and they can engage in ours.”
This “third place” concept started Rev. Veitinger on a several-year process of thinking and reflecting, asking why many churches don’t function this way.
“Coffee shops are a great platform for building relationships,” he said. “Having a sense of community is an essential part of being church. We’re trying to recapture that idea of church as a faith community.”
As a pastor turned Starbucks employee, Rev. Veitinger found that patrons would often come to him with their spiritual struggles.
“I was getting in trouble for having conversations with people instead of making coffee,” he said.
Those spiritual conversations with clients become a small group of people meeting regularly at Rev. Veitinger’s house. The group soon outgrew his living and dining rooms.
But having taken a hiatus from formal ministry after moving to Savannah a few years earlier, the former youth pastor didn’t want anything to do with church.
“I was a little burned out. In my head I was done and didn’t want to go back. What I recognized, over time, was that no matter where you go God will bring people to you. You can’t run from your calling. God brought me people who were hurting and I recognized that I was engaged in some pretty amazing ministry just working at Starbucks.”
The small group was already functioning the way he envisioned his church working, and it led Rev. Veitinger into conversations with then-Savannah District Superintendent Rev. Marshall Howell and Dr. Tim Bagwell, Executive Director of Congregational Development for the South Georgia Conference.
“(The small group) was a bunch of people who needed a place to come together to study scripture, ask questions and pray. It was very much a place of healing. Pretty much everyone involved in that group had been involved in church but had been hurt and left. This group was a healing group for them.”
The Foundery ministry is more than a new idea, says Dr. Bagwell.
“The early church was built around tables ... food, sharing, wine, bread, laughter,” he said. “Think of how Jesus interacted with people throughout the gospels. The Foundery is actually reaching back to the ancient church. Kevin Veitinger recognizes that in our culture nearly everyone is looking for a connection. They might not walk into a church building to participate in worship, but maybe, just maybe, they will sit down and drink a cup of coffee with someone who cares for them. Out of the care, and the listening, and the story-telling comes a relationship which leads to questions and sharing and commitment to God. That’s not new. It is as old as the church itself.”
Building connections and relationships is at the heart of Rev. Veitinger’s ministry.
“It’s all about relationships,” said the husband and father of two. “You earn the right to talk. You don’t just walk up to someone and give them an evangelical pitch or invite them to church. You have to build a relationship with them and get to know them; you earn the relational right to do those things. That’s the approach that I take, and in turn, how we approach things as a church.”
Rev. Veitinger also pastors Wildwood United Methodist Church, a small, traditional congregation in Savannah. Although the members of Wildwood UMC tend to be older and more conventional than The Foundery’s audience, they have been a fount of love and encouragement for the Veitinger family.
Acceptance, love, encouragement, community.
Whether 2,000 years ago in Samaria, in a coffee shop in downtown Savannah or in a country church in rural South Georgia, they’re a formula for a healthy faith community.
The Foundery is a new church start that falls under the umbrella of New and Revitalized Congregational Development. Feb. 26 is Kingdom Builders Sunday; please prayerfully consider partnering with NRCD as they seek to offer exciting worship opportunities to people across South Georgia. Visit www.sgaumc.org/nrcd for more information and to donate.