the weblog of Alan Knox

Church in a coffee shop

Posted by on Apr 27, 2010 in definition | 30 comments

There is alot of discussion (both on this blog, in “real life”, and other places) about what constitutes a church. The lines are often blurred along the distinctions of identity, function, etc. Of course, as in all of these kinds of cases, evidence from Scripture, history, tradition, experience, reason, etc. are usually tossed and mixed together and filtered to come with the “right” answer.

But, still the talk continues. I’m still thinking about the identity of the church, and I’m hoping to start a good discussion with a simple example.

So, assume there is a group of people who meet together regularly at a local coffee shop.

Can this group of people be a church? Why or why not? Besides a group meeting together regularly, what else would be required for this to be a church? What is the basis of your conclusion?


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  1. 4-27-2010

    Well, we meet in a bagel/coffee shop on Sunday mornings. We meet in a side room, and we spend time singing, praying, and discussing Scripture. We take Commuion, although not every week. Some of us also get together through the week, and we meet each other’s needs where we can. We consider ourselves to be a church, but I’m sure there are those who wouldn’t.

  2. 4-27-2010


    Thanks for the comment. I hope others chime in as well.

    Why do you consider yourselves a church and not just a group of friends meeting for coffee and doing certain things together?


  3. 4-27-2010

    It seems to me that a church in scripture ranged from a city to a house. Paul many times wrote to cities or regions and referred to them as churches and also people were mentioned as a church meeting in a home. I probably make things too simple but in addition to meeting together I would say that a church would include people who are committed to serving each other and spreading the gospel. This group will at some time recognize more mature men “elders”, if the gospel is spreading they may baptize others, and if they share a meal together while remembering Jesus then they will share in the Lord’s Supper.

    I don’t see why a coffee shop wouldn’t work, and maybe be ideal for many.


  4. 4-27-2010

    The church is not a building…it’s the people.

  5. 4-27-2010


    Thanks for the comment. I agree that a church will serve each other and spread the gospel. Is this what makes them a church?


    Yes, the church is the people, not a building or system or institution. But, what would make a group of people meeting in a coffee shop a church and not just a group of people having coffee?


  6. 4-27-2010


    I think the key here is that this group of people all confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

    There are certain things they would probably do if they were a church (edification through sacraments/ordinances, teaching, singing, etc.), but the key to their identity is being “in Christ.”

    One other thing – they need to take up a weekly offering to support their pastor and buildings. Just kidding.

  7. 4-27-2010

    I would say that the group in the coffee shop can be a church if they are believers, and are “being” the church.

    I haven’t seen anything in scripture that defines a church as a group of people meeting in a specific, designated building with a paid professional minister. If we are believers then we are the church. It doesn’t matter where we gather.

    I believe we need to ask ourselves, “Are we functioning as the Body of Christ?” Is there mutual edification going on? Heb 10:24-25. Are we making disciples? Are we functioning as a community of believers? Acts 2

    Just because we meet in a “Church Building”, have a paid professional minister with an elder or deacon board or some form of that, does not mean we are functioning as a body.

    We meet with a fairly typical church body on Sunday mornings and meet in a home church fellowship with about 6-7 families several times a week. The two, for the most part are separate, which is a long story. We are a lot closer to the families in the home fellowship because we spend more time together.

    I think we function as a body as much as our Sunday morning church, but we have not recognized official leadership yet, we don’t meet in a “church” building and we don’t meet at the same time every week. There are, however, men who function as leaders/elders. They are older, mature men(50’s) but they are not elevated or titled.

    Each person is important to the group, and is honored for what the Lord has placed in their lives. We all learn and are edified by one another. So that is what I call “Church.”

  8. 4-27-2010

    They, who trusted in Jesus Christ, devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And a sense of wonder, admiration and respect came upon every soul, and many amazing things were being done through the ministry of the apostles. All who believed in Jesus Christ were united and had a strong sense of being one family, resulting in them sharing everything with which they had, and, when the need arose, even selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all. Daily, they took every opportunity to meet in their homes. They ate together, and with glad and generous hearts, celebrated the Lord’s Supper and offered praise to God, doing all as an act of worship. They were well regarded by all the people. The Lord added to their number day by day those who were responding to the great love shown and the edification they received from those gathered, and many were being saved.

    They were a church.

  9. 4-27-2010


    Would this be true of, say, co-workers who are all “in Christ”? Could they consider themselves church?


    I agree that it doesn’t matter where we meet, but is any meeting of believers “church”?

    Aussie John,

    I love that passage from Acts 2, and I agree that they were a church. Were they a church because they did those things, or were they a church and so they did those things?


  10. 4-27-2010


    That is a good question. If they are together for work purposes only, then I would say no. However, if they come together for purposes of edification then maybe yes. Of course, both of those things could happen.

    One reason we struggle with this is that our eyes have been colored by buildings, paid pastors, children’s church, etc. Trying to get mentally out of that box can be difficult.

  11. 4-27-2010

    Alan, I have to believe anytime believers gather in His name we “have” church, because we are the church.

    Do we have to have a “pastor/elder” present to be or have church? Do we have to sing songs or take an offering?

    I really stumble on what is “officially” church. What general orthodoxy calls church, just doesn’t fit what I see in the bible. I see a lot of what Aussie John quoted happening in our home gatherings, or when we gather as families at the local park. There is always edification, servant hood, one another reciprocal ministry going on. I believe that is church as much as a formal sit down teaching is.

    When we meet for breakfast with the brothers this week, I believe “church” will happen. someone will be edified, encouraged, etc. The love of Jesus will be spread. A waiter or waitress might get witnessed to. You never know what will happen when believers gather.

    Maybe we need to re-evaluate if we really need to ask the question, “What constitutes a church?” Alan I have learned so much from you about being a servant, accepting one another, loving the brethren, etc., that I think if we just BE the church, then we are. Now that may sound simplistic, but I believe it is supposed to be. Jesus will build His church. Let’s just be.

  12. 4-27-2010


    I think you’re right about having our “eyes colored”.


    So, whenever a group of believers get together, perhaps we shouldn’t ask, “Is this or that group of believers a church?” Instead, perhaps we should be asking, “Why is this or that group of believers not acting like the church should act?”


  13. 4-27-2010

    We see the church as being those who belong to Jesus Christ, so when we gather together on Sunday mornings or do things through the week, it is the church doing those things. As a body the church is a called out assembly and that assembly can meet anywhere. Different assemblies have done different things through the ages. I don’t think it’s those things that we do that constitute a church, although certain things may be commonly done by churches.

    I think your posts about worship happening at different times when you are serving others are a good example of what church is.

  14. 4-28-2010

    They were a church because they were “in Christ”!

  15. 4-28-2010


    Though my general sympathies with regard to this question lie with what most of those who have commented have already said, I have a question regarding the possible significance of the following phrase in 1 Cor. 11:18: “when you come together as a church.”

    Does this imply it was possible for the believers, or some of the believers, in Corinth to come together, but not “as a church”? If so, what made the difference? Is there some etymological sense of being officially convened as in town assemblies in the world of the NT?

    Another passage that comes to mind that seems to imply this idea is 1 Cor. 14:18-19:

    “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

    In this context, for Paul, does hanging around with other believers in any ‘ole setting constitute being “in church”? Or, is it a particular setting beyond only this?

    I know what the Landmarkers would say regarding this. And, I am fairly confident they are not totally right. But, I think these verses (and, perhaps, others like them) do give good reason to reflect on this.

  16. 4-28-2010

    I think from God’s perspective, Christians in a locale ARE the church. His Son died and rose again, His Spirit placed us into one Body, and we are being builded together for a habitation of God.

    So it seems to me your comment, “Instead, perhaps we should be asking, ‘Why is this or that group of believers not acting like the church should act?'” Is a very interesting suggestion. Imagine moving/acting on this basis…

  17. 4-28-2010


    This post has got my mind working overtime this morning. 🙂

    And, I know your intention here (on this post) is to ask your readers, rather than your readers ask you. But, I have some other questions for you that I am curious about that I think you may well have thought about, and come up with some good answers. As a matter of fact, you may have answered them thoroughly elsewhere on this blog. But, it’s easier for me this morning to ask again, if that’s case. Hope you don’t mind.

    When we talk about “the assembling of the church,” from a lexical and grammatical point of view, is this not being redundant? Is it not like saying, “the church of the church” or “the assembling of the assembly”?

    Perhaps, another way of asking this is, are the terms συνερχομενων and εκκλησια, as used in 1 Cor. 11:18 pretty much synonymous, or is there a difference that helps us to think more clearly about what the “church” really is?

  18. 4-28-2010


    You said, “We see the church as being those who belong to Jesus Christ.” I agree. Would that be any time they gather together? For example, you guys intentionally get together at the coffee shop on Sunday. What if a few of you coincidentally ran into one another at the local park. Would you consider that “church”? Why or why not?

    Aussie John,

    I agree. So is any group of people who are all “in Christ” a church?


    You’ve made some excellent points and asked some good questions (especially in your second comment). If the word “church” is a collective similar to the English words “crowd” or “group” or “assembly” (which I think it is), then it is difficult “coming together” with “ekklesia/church”. Unless, of course, we take Paul’s use of “ekklesia/church” as short hand for “ekklesia tou theou/church of God”. Thus, it would be possible for believers to come together with others who are not believers. They would be an assembly, but not the assembly of God. Can believers gather together with other believers without being “the assembly/church of God”? That’s the question that I’m thinking through with this post.

    I’m leaning toward the position that believers can come together with other believers without being a church, but only because they fail to recognize themselves as a church. Thus, I do think that intentionality as important.

    As far as the title of my blog… yes, “The Assembling of the Church” is redundant, but I am using “Church” with the understanding of “Church of God”.


    What do you think would be different if we moved/acted on the basis that we are the church when we get together with any believers?


  19. 4-28-2010


    I think I agree with what you say in your last comment to me. But that opens up the question, what intention are we talking about? Surely, it is not just the intention of calling ourselves “church.” And, it is not just the intention of randomly getting together at such and such an hour at such and such a place with a random group of believers and doing whatever.

    Any further thoughts?

  20. 4-28-2010

    Here is another related question:

    Though I think it is self-evident that a church must not have a formal, written “church covenant” to be considered a church, do you think there is any validity to the idea that a church, in the NT sense of the word, has, at least, a tacit “covenant” type of relationship one with another that, in some way or another, goes beyond the covenant relationship we have with all members of the Body of Christ?

  21. 4-28-2010

    Alan, I agree with you that intentionality is important in gathering. If we were to run into each other at the park, I don’t think I’d consider that “church.”

    Now, we get together at a local pub about once a month or so for fellowship and discussion. Would you consider that church?

  22. 4-28-2010

    Alan asked, “What do you think would be different if we moved/acted on the basis that we are the church when we get together with any believers?”

    Deb and I lived on Okinawa for 3 1/2 years, living in a small village for most of that time. Different languages, customs, dress, food, values, etc. We were always “gaijin”–foreigners, outsiders, no matter how much we made friends, no matter how well we fit in. It was not our true home, it wasn’t where we belonged if you will.

    If/when another American came by, even if they weren’t from Altruria Street in South Buffalo, it was like finding an old family friend–someone you had an instant connection and familial feeling for, and they for you.

    That connection, that feeling of kinship, that desire to encourage and help one another, that feeling of finding someone from “home”–that is something like how we might act/see ourselves/feel when we meet with other believers, anytime, anywhere.

    In that framework, we would want to know what has brought us here, what God is doing in and through us, how we might help each other, what are our struggles–all without being divisively interested in determining first what precise flavor of Christian we are.

  23. 4-28-2010

    Intentionally as a requirement to being? Or is “being” the basis of intentionality/action/faith?

    In so many other areas, it is based on the facts of being that we are called to action. The pivotal Rom 12:1,2 call to action is based on the entire treatise of the first 11 chapters (and the same is true for so many truths in Ephesians, where chapters 1-3 set forth our being/position, and Eph 4-6 calls us to act on that foundation of already being…

    We are His–act on it. We are given the Spirit of God–act on it. We are the church–act on it.

  24. 4-28-2010


    Right. When I say “intentionality,” I don’t mean intentionally calling ourselves a church. Perhaps “intentionality” is not the right word. I’ll have to think about it more.

    We are covenanted with God, and are covenanted with one another because of that. I think that covenant is realized more among those with whom we spend the most time. I do not think it is valid to create a new covenant with which we both include some and also exclude some from our responsibilities towards one another.


    Why do you think you would not be a church when you “run into one another at the park”? I don’t see why the pub meeting would not be a church. Again, it would depend on whatever “intentionality” means. 🙂


    I like your description of being fellow-foreigners. Like I told David, I think the word “intentional” is the wrong word, but I’m not sure what word to choose.

    I don’t think we can just choose to call ourselves a church and therefore be a church in God’s perspective. We don’t make that decision, God does since it’s his church. On the other hand, if God does view us as a church, our intentions does not change that.

    So… help me think of a better word?


  25. 4-28-2010

    “Why do you think you would not be a church when you “run into one another at the park”?”

    Maybe because I haven’t shed all of the baggage from years in “traditional church”? 🙂

  26. 4-28-2010


    A related question has to do with 1 Cor. 14:23, where it says, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues…” Is there a qualitative difference between “the whole church” coming together, and part of the church coming together?

  27. 4-28-2010


    They were a church because they were “in Christ”!

    My assumption was that whilst meeting in the coffee shop, they are qualifying for the name “church” they are edifying one another, encouraging one another, making disciples, loving as Christ loved, serving, sharing thoughts for sharing what the treasure they have found with the surrounding community etc., etc.

    None of the above? Well, ???????????

    Being “in Christ” makes them a part of His Body, but, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”!

  28. 4-28-2010


    “Baggage”? Yeah, me too. But it’s fun (and sometimes painful) to shed some of it.


    That’s a good question. Of course, three verses later (1 Cor. 14:26), Paul doesn’t use the “whole” adjective in front of church. So, the “whole” could indicate a qualitative difference, or it could just parallel the “all” in the same verse.

    Aussie John,

    Yeah, that’s a good point. Those who are “in Christ” will exhibit certain things when they gather together. But, what about those groups who don’t exhibit those things? Perhaps that’s a question for another post…


  29. 4-29-2010


    We desire a better country, my fellow gaijin (Heb. 11:13-16).

    Great example – thanks for those words.

  30. 4-30-2010

    Hey, Eric. Homesickness runs deep, brother (Philippians 1:22-24).


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