A new way of engaging community is brewing at Worcester church

Members got their first look at the Life Garden Cafe on Dec. 1, 2019. The cafe is expected to open in mid-January. See more photos at right

January 06, 2020

It takes a lot of work to create a great place to relax.
 
But Jesus Life Center in Worcester, MA, expects its new café will be well worth the effort, providing an innovative way to engage with the community and, eventually, becoming a revenue source for the church.
 
The Life Garden Café is expected to open in mid-January 2020. Open Monday to Saturday, it will serve coffee beverages, smoothies, snacks and sandwiches.
 
On Dec. 1, 2019, this mostly Brazilian congregation got its first look at the redesigned space during a worship celebration and open house (see photos in the gallery at right).
 
Thiago Vieira from Jesus Life Center said he hopes the café will be a place of connection between the church and the community. 
 
The whole church has been really excited about the project from the beginning, he said. Having a space with its own access that fronts onto the street made a café a natural fit. 
 
“We are right at Main Street and there's a lot of traffic and a lot of people passing by,” he said. “I think everyone saw it, first of all, as an opportunity to be ‘out there,’ you know, so people can see us with different eyes.”
 
Fostering a relationship with the community, Vieira said, requires going beyond the worship service and the ministries.
 
“We were thinking of a place where the community can come and be together and where we can engage in different activities with the community around us,” he said. 
 
Vieira sees the place filled with people of all ages – from kids doing afterschool activities to older folks from the neighborhood and students from nearby Clark University. It is also a space the congregation can use for small group gatherings and meetings or to socialize before or after worship.
 
Speaking at the open house, Rev. Juarez Goncalves, the New England Conference’s Latino Ministry Coordinator, congratulated the congregation on building what he called a bridge to the community. 
 
Rev. Goncalves said the Life Garden Café should be a center of hospitality where people can feel at home. “Where outsiders, strangers … and the unloved can find a sanctuary.” 
 
The idea for the Life Garden Café has been germinating for a while now. 
 
“It took a couple of years for the idea to grow and mature,” Vieira said. “A couple of leaders came to us with this business plan, and then we [were able to] say this is this is a viable plan and project that can happen.”
 
The renovation work on the café project was a combination of paid work and volunteer effort by the members. 
 
People really stepped up, Vieira said, and their ideas and expertise helped the project come together. For example, a church member who has experience with security cameras provided assistance with that. 
 
Vieira said the café will start with one paid employee and hopes it will eventually be able to hire more as it begins to generate revenue to support Jesus Life Center ministries. 
 
Vieira said Jesus Life Center sees this “as a great opportunity to raise money for the church. We are in a low-income community; for offerings and tithes, resources are limited. This will help the church to keep growing [without] relying only on people’s giving.”
 
Rev. Rick McKinley, director of Congregational Development for the New England Conference, said seeking new ways to support ministry will be increasingly important for churches. 
 
“Today tithes and offerings are no longer enough to cover the costs of supporting the ministry of the local church,” Rev. McKinley said. “There are a variety of reasons, but essentially we are living in a time similar to that of Paul, immersed in a culture that does not support, and is in some ways hostile, to the Christian church. 
 
“We need to refresh our way of understanding church economics to allow the church to thrive and bless its community as it effectively funds its mission.”
 
For churches that want to learn more, Rev. McKinley recommends the book “The Coming Revolution in Church Economics” by Mark DeYmaz.
 
One of the best things about the project, even before the café serves its first latte, has been seeing people’s excitement about “doing something quite different from regular church,” Vieira said.
 
“[There’s] that expectation that this space going to look awesome, and we're going to be able to stop by every day to buy a cup of coffee or just, you know, come and study, work, whatever [people are saying] ‘I can come to church every day.’” 
 
Vieira hopes the café’s presence will reflect the vibrance of the church’s ministry and extend it beyond Sunday morning.  
 
“[It will] give that feeling that the church is alive and always open and always present in the community,” he said. “Sometimes when we drive by churches during the week and they’re closed and dark, it’s totally different from Sunday, right? Sunday there’s a lot of people; it’s alive.”