23 Lessons Coffee Taught Me About Reaching The Unchurched

I am an anomaly in America culture.  At 47 years old, I have never had a cup of coffee until I attended a Coffee Cupping last week.  Coffee Cupping is similar to a wine tasting in that you smell the aromas, identify flavors, test texture, and then drink different types of coffee.

It is not because of religious reasons that I have not had a cup of coffee.  I simply do not enjoy hot drinks.  Like many people who have no religious background, I have no coffee background.  I was truly an outsider in this group of about 15 people at the event.

Within moments I began to realize that many people with no church background likely process their church experience in the same fashion I, with no coffee background, was experiencing the coffee cupping.

With that said, the following are 23 lessons coffee cupping taught me about reaching the unchurched.  Make sure you read the last two.

  • The room was perfectly laid for the cupping when we arrived.  They were expecting us and made sure the environment would be to our liking.  Pastors and church leaders, are you facilities set up in a way that communicates to unchurched people that you are expecting them?
  • The barista and his assistant were engaging and very friendly.  They were likable which made me interested in hearing what they had to say.
  • The barista then told us early that “coffee is easy to mess up.”  So is the Sunday experience for people with no church background.
  • We sampled three different types of unidentified coffee.  People who are seeking a church home will likely sample many different churches.
  • The barista also said, “We’re in an educational time.  We want you to know what you’re tasting.”  Do you as a church give those with no religious background the time, space, and opportunity to become educated in your church and faith?  Are they allowed to know what they are tasting?
  • Since I have no coffee background, I only went because a friend invited me.
  • The people in their 20’s were more passionately engaged in the experience than us over the age of 40.
  • Of the approximately 15 people involved in the cupping, some were very thorough in their process.  Some went through it fast.  Some talked about it with others.  Some people came across as coffee experts.  Everyone will process your church experience in their own way.
  • As someone with no coffee background, all three coffees smelled the same to me – STRONG.
  • A friend of mine said after smelling the coffees, “I got nothing.”  I wondered how many people with no church background will say that after Easter Sunday.
  • Stirring too much messes up the experience.  There is a process after foaming called the break.  This is when the foam crusts at the top of the cup.  You are simply supposed to lightly break it with a spoon releasing a wonderful aroma.  By stirring too much, it prevents you from enjoying the scent.  Embrace simplicity.
  • Everyone viewed the smells and tastes of coffee through their own experience.
  • When people could not properly identify a smell or taste, the barista/leader would guide them through the process.
  • When it came time for the actual tasting, the barista said, “If you over think, you’ll choke.”  To those who are unchurched, we simply need to for them to enjoy the service, take away one big idea, and most importantly, come back the next week.
  • Coffee has an aftertaste.  We were also told that the coffees taste better when things cool down.  I wonder what the unchurched says about our services two days after things cool down.
  • The enthusiasm of experienced coffee drinkers comes of as weird to us with no coffee background.
  • The biggest selling coffee to the general public was the least popular among coffee enthusiasts.  There is MAJOR application here to church leaders.
  • Coffee enthusiasts, who represent a missional community, made fun of the mainstream Starbucks and Brazilian coffee beans.
  • We were told espresso is a machine, not a coffee.  Therefore, this business dropped the name “espresso” from all their brands thus increasing overall sales.  It may be time to drop all denominational names.
  • To both the coffee enthusiasts as well as those with no coffee background, everyone wanted sustainability in their products.  Everyone wants something that lasts and matters.
  • Passion can be a detractor.  To those with no coffee background, I do not want a 30 minute discussion on the difference between a Brazilian bean and a Peruvian bean.  Just give me the coffee.

And now the BIG TWO learnings every pastor and church leader should take away:

  • The barista said, “How you get the seed determines the taste.”  Pastors and church leaders, anything you provide to those with no church background will have a bitter taste if it does not have a Biblical foundation.  It is the Word of God that changes a human life.
  • As a person with no coffee background, I was giving coffee just one chance.  I could not tell the difference between any of the coffees.  I could not smell anything that wasn’t strong.  And most importantly, I did not like the taste.  I am going back to my cold drinks.

It frightens me but also gives me an incredible sense of urgency knowing that tomorrow morning, Sunday March 24th there will be thousands of people with no church background who are going to give church just one chance.  I wonder if they will come back next week or return to their current lifestyle.

Your thoughts?

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5 Responses to “23 Lessons Coffee Taught Me About Reaching The Unchurched”

  1. kenneth on 24/03/2013 #

    WOW!! What a thought provoking and eyeopening comparison. I was very happy though as I read your experience and compared it to our young church. We are in a great place and I hope that we will be blessed with further growth and more unchurched will find a home with our amazing group we have now.Through God, Forward Community Church is definitely changing our community with a goal of changing the world!! :)

    • briandodd on 24/03/2013 #


      You are fortunate enough to attend a great church. Your pastor, Drew Mahan, is a great friend of mine. I can’t wait to see how God continues to use FCC to transform Corbin, KY.


  2. Ron on 24/03/2013 #

    Just to continue the coffee analogy…I was a sales manager for one of the largest coffee companies in the US in my early years and I had much the same experience with my first cupping. As it turns out only a very small percentage of the population has the nose and taste buds to actually notice the minute differences between some beans. Its for professionals!

    However, what would have happened if someone had met with you earlier and explained a little about how coffee is grown and how the weather and soil influences the flavor and aroma of the coffee? Perhaps they discussed a little about how to brew your coffee and what a difference that can make? Then maybe talked to you about the kind of flavors and aromas you like and based on that they let you taste one as they described what to look for. It wouldn’t be as intimidating, and in fact might be quite interesting as you learned to discover the finer notes in the flavor and aroma.

    Yes, sad to say, all to often we throw visitors into an arena that is suited for the professionals, instead of guiding them step by step.

    • briandodd on 24/03/2013 #

      Ron, what amazing insights. I am glad you enjoyed the post and can relate on the level that you did. Cupping is for professionals. That is a thought-provoking phrase.

  3. Aaron Helman on 25/03/2013 #

    This is an awesome post. I’d even add this-

    To those with no coffee background, the coffees were all the same.

    How much do we spend “differentiating” our churches and services? Us insiders might be the only ones who notice the difference.

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