Years ago, when I first started Wasatch Church in Roy, Utah, we asked the question of whether it was appropriate to serve coffee on Sunday mornings before the worship service. After all, active Latter-day Saints are forbidden from drinking coffee. If we served coffee, would that be an offense to potential guests coming from LDS culture?
The issue has come up again on a larger scale, as we are now contemplating not just serving coffee on the side, but installing a coffee shop in the fellowship area of the church building. Many churches, inside and outside Utah, have gone this route, as a way to promote fellowship and create an appealing environment that unchurched prospects can relate to.
I have made personal lifestyle decisions specifically to relate better to my LDS neighbors, and to maintain my credibility among them. That’s why I don’t mow my lawn on Sundays, and why I don’t drink alcohol. I have perfect freedom in Christ, but in the spirit of 1 Cor 9, I give up my rights in order to become “all things to all men, in order to save some.”
Wouldn’t serving coffee at church violate that principle, at least in Utah? Well, if we were reaching active, loyal Latter-day Saints, it would. We would not serve coffee. But realistically, the Latter-day Saints who are being reached and targeted by most Utah churches are fringe Mormons whose faith is mainly cultural. Some of the LDS people who find their way into our churches were active once, but are no longer convinced. They usually don’t leap from the LDS Church into a Protestant church right away. By the time they are ready to walk through our doors, an issue like coffee is no longer primary for them.
In fact, the presence of coffee may be a refreshing sight for the disaffected Mormon who ventures to come to church. It signals that the church is not like Mormonism. Perhaps it signals greater freedom, less legalism, or less rigidity on minor lifestyle matters. My experience is that, by the time a Mormon becomes disaffected to the point he or she is looking for another church experience, that person typically does not want a church that looks and feels like their former ward. They like it when not everyone is dressed up in coat and tie, or when the music is lively and contemporary – or even when coffee is served.