By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
WILMINGTON, Del.—On any given Sunday someone will wander off the street into the Church at LOMA. Often, they don’t know there’s a church service going on. Why? Because it’s in a coffeehouse. Worshippers meet for Sunday school. The adults meet in the upper area, near the coffee bar; youth meet in the lower section and the children in the back. Then they all gather for worship. Coffee and pastries? You bet!
Hockessin Baptist Church planted the new church and the two are connected, but the staff says it’s not really a multi-site, or one “church in two locations.”
The leadership prefers to call it a “grove” approach–different trees planted in the same “grove,” sharing the same “Son” and soil and both producing like fruit.
Hockessin Baptist Church owns LOMA, the coffeehouse situated in the downtown lower market area of Wilmington. Hockessin Senior Pastor Jon Boulet said LOMA was a God-given vision and in 2010, when the shop opened, Boulet said it was a heroic step for Hockessin Church. They could have expanded their own building, but chose to minister through buying a coffeehouse and operating it.
Working in partnership with Embrace Wilmington and the BCM/D, Hockessin wanted to embrace a small part of the city with the coffeehouse–through the connections with the city and local leaders and meeting the community.
The coffeehouse, though purposed to share Christ, is not overtly Christian. It’s similar to many upscale coffeehouses with modern decor, a guitarist in the corner or Beatles music playing in the background. Sandwiches, pastries and coffee drinks are top notch and not cheap. There are no tracts hiding in corners or in the bathroom. There is, however, a mission statement on the back of the menu.
Ben Cordova, ministry director of the coffeehouse, is intentional in his ministry as he directs the day-to-day operations.
“The single most effective ministry is the kindness behind the counter,” Boulet said. The coffee workers’ care for those who enter says more than anything else. Regular customers know the staff cares for them.
“It says a lot more than a cup of coffee in Jesus’ name,” Boulet said.
After the coffee shop successfully opened and began to thrive, the church decided to expand, with more seating that could also be used as a ministry area for meetings and small groups. What evolved was a church.
Terry Foester, Hockessin’s executive pastor, explained that when Hockessin took over the coffee shop, the plan was always kingdom growth. Hockessin began a planting and spreading committee to plan how to intentionally use the coffee house for the purpose of kingdom growth.
“The funny thing is that they (the planting and spreading team) became the core team for the church plant. The vision was fueled by a church planting conference in Wilmington. Hockessin sent a core group of 40 people to help, including half of their worship team.
In the fall of 2012, they called Jeff Keith, a pastor in Fulton, Ky., who was feeling led to do urban ministry. He didn’t know it was going mean bringing his wife, Sarah and their daughters, Karis, Eliza, Raley, and Leah to Wilmington, Del.
The three men laugh together about how they’re working through the logistics of being two churches that are linked, but separate. They have some planned events together and they have their own.
The culture in each church is different. Hockessin Church is in an old refurbished school building that is located in an area that does not get drive-by, stop-in visitors. Visitors are invited by friends or discover the website and listen to podcasts.
The Church at LOMA, now averaging 70, draws from the locals—the workers, the residents and those who come for entertainment. There are also 7,000 college students who attend nearby Delaware Technical Community College.
“We don’t have to put on big events to draw people. We just connect with the events being publicized,” Keith said. The coffeehouse, and thus, the church, is always a stop in during events such as the “Ladybug Festival” or the “Art Loop.”
Now the Church at LOMA is doing outreach working with the local Salvation Army and ministering at emergency shelters.
Interestingly, the men acknowledge, Hockessin didn’t have intentional plans to start a church, but God did.