Follow the Wi-Fi
Editor's Note: This article is part two in a three-part series focused on helping church planters connect and communicate to their community. You can see the first article here.
No office, no desk, no problem! Not having a church building is actually a blessing to the church planter/evangelist. The problem of not having an established office pushes you out of the nest and into the community you desire to reach. As you set up your office in this town, it is your goal to bring light into the darkness. Here are some tips and tricks for being a good light-bearer to local businesses.
Find Office-Friendly Businesses
If a business offers free wi-fi and has open tables dotting their establishment, chances are they welcome people to sit down and get some work done. Starbucks is well known for wanting to create a “third space” for people. They intentionally create an environment that is open to conversations, work, and sitting around. Other cafes have taken their cue from Starbucks and will have comfy chairs, stools at bars, and tables for study. Another option if your town is one of the few without a Starbucks is to think about taking advantage of public offerings such as libraries. These public spaces are great for study because they are naturally quiet (but they are not so great for meeting people or counseling with church members). Maybe there is a farmers’ market or mall food court that is full of people; this is a great place to run into people from the community. Take a seat, go to work, and let God open the doors.
If you are in a cafe for any amount of time, you should order something. This is going to add up quickly. If your church has the means, maybe they can give you a budget of $20 a week to cover these costs. Regardless, if you are in their space, using their wifi, then order a coffee. The staff knows the people who just come in, take up a table, and never order anything. Taking up space without actually paying for anything does not communicate “customer,” it communicates “taker.” You want to bring value to your local business while at the same time taking advantage of their offerings. This is a give-and-take relationship. Another thing to think about is that generosity communicates that you value them and what they do, so throw a few dollars in the tip jar once in awhile.
I have found four different places in my city that I like to conduct my officework. I have a weekly calendar of which establishments I am going to frequent. On Wednesdays I am at the downtown cafe because they have live music, which I love. Because I am there at the same time on the same day every week, I begin to get to know the names of the workers. I have been there for a year now, and I know every worker on that shift, have met the owner of the establishment, and have made real community connections. They know I am a pastor and that opens up all kinds of doors for real conversations. Being a consistent person who tips well and always buys my same drink communicates that we are neighbors. It took me a few months to build up some rapport, but it was well worth it.
There is a food court I go to in the winter that I don’t go to during the summer. During the winter, business is down and there are empty tables galore. I enjoy the ambience and how public the space is, so I go every week. But then the spring comes and the place begins to fill up. Suddenly, the table I once was using each week to work at is now prime real estate. There are families walking around with trays needing a place to sit down. I want the business to do well, so I don’t do office-work there during this busy time. I still visit, but don’t take up “office space.” There are some cafes in town that make big money during the lunch rush. I make sure to not take up the much-needed space during these crowded hours (unless I am having lunch, of course). By being thoughtful of their business and desire to earn income, you are communicating that you value their establishment. You are a guest in their house. Be considerate.
Some places are better for studying while others may be better for having meetings. Think about where you’re setting up office and what’s on your calendar. For example, I don’t schedule meetings at the cafe with live music on Wednesdays because I don’t want to insult the musician or cramp the style of all who come to listen. I don’t have leadership meetings out in the middle of the public library under the “no talking” sign. I do schedule one-on-one meetings at cafes I know to be louder and full of conversation. I do my sermon prep in places that are more quiet and have space for my books. This is just a matter of knowing the business and the purpose of my officing. It not only values the business, but the sheep of the fold. You don’t want to have a meeting with some guy whose marriage is on hard times in a public place where no one is talking so your voices are being overheard by everyone. That puts your church member in a very embarrassing situation indeed.
Doing your office work in the community communicates that you are a pastor of the people. You care about their world and their lives. As you sit in their world, make sure you communicate love and not pride, thoughtfulness and not selfishness. The little things add up and build a testimony that can bear much fruit.