What About Coffee at Church?

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.

5 thoughts on “What About Coffee at Church?

  1. I don’t know any LDS people who would be offended by serving coffee in your meetinghouses or at events, but then, I don’t live in the monoculture that Utah might be.

    Interesting that you spend so much time on Twitter posting misrepresentations of LDS faith and culture, but use your blog to try and be a good neighbor. Seems like a contradiction of purpose.

    At the risk of sounding snarky, have you considered cooking bacon on “Fast Sunday” mornings? You could get some large fans to waft the scent through the surrounding neighborhood.

  2. Hi JCP,

    Thanks for commenting.

    I don’t have a Twitter account, so I don’t know what you’re talking about when you refer to “posting misrepresentations of LDS faith and culture.” Maybe you could clarify what you mean by that. Or maybe its a case of mistaken identity?

    I’m not talking about offending people who are committed Latter-day Saints. I’m talking about how not to create barriers to people who have already decided, for whatever reason, to disaffiliate from the LDS Church, and who might walk through our doors looking for a new church home. Even though they may be disaffected by some aspect of LDS history or doctrine or relationships or whatever, I’ve found that there is still a strong cultural identification with Mormonism – and its practices and values – that continues to shape a person’s identity. even after they are no longer actively participating in LDS Church life.

  3. Oh my but I had to laugh at your coffee topic. I have never aquired a taste for the stuff & never will but they do serve it at the Christian churches we’ve attended ,much to hubby’s thrill. I want to know why if Juan Valdez gets time why can’t they put in a Pepsi machine for me at these churches?? LOL

  4. I’ve never learned to like coffee either. Partly growing up LDS, and partly because my first taste of coffee was from a vending machine. Maybe that’s because I wanted a way to try it anonymously. Coffee in a brown paper wrapper. I still don’t like anything with a mocha flavor in it.
    But I can look around and see how important coffee is to so many people, and it does seem to create a positive relational environment. We do have a pop machine at our church – Coke, not Pepsi. But you have to make your way around to the youth room to find it.

  5. Ross,
    Your post reminded me of the time my husband and I attended LDS general Conference and stayed at the now no-existent ” Inn at Temple Square”. It was a lovely old hotel, and they served a breakfast in the morning for guests. This hotel was owned by the LDS church, and guess what? They served coffee!! I’ll never forget that impression it made on me! At the time I was a very active member of the LDS, and that seemed so odd to me that an LDS owned hotel would serve coffee! I asked the manager on duty that day and his response was that they had to ‘cater to the non mormon’ business guests. Whatever, that didn’t settle well with me. It just reaked of hypocricacy. Here they have a “law” that does not allow coffee, and their own leaders serve it and make money from it?! Go figure!
    In any case, God used it for good ,and it was just one of the many inconsistencies that Lord showed me.

    God bless,
    gloria

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