I know why it happens; you want the best people leading, the best preacher, the best musicians and you want to end on time. The fewer people, the more control. When we started dreaming of church in a coffee shop we had all the same instincts. There are so many Christian cafés out there but we didn’t want StoryHouse to be like any of them, and we feared letting others into the vision would mean doilies and weak coffee. But deep down we knew that’s not how God does stuff. The invitational nature of God is an element of his character that constantly surprises and challenges me because he doesn’t actually need us. Not only this, but the people God invites are always the most unlikely choices who have then provided us with the most incredible stories.
At the beginning of the StoryHouse project, before we had a building and beautiful mint green coffee cups, I knew God was challenging me, not only to join him in the mission of reaching the unchurched in a new way, but to invite others to join in. Obviously we needed the backing of our church both spiritually and practically, but this challenge went deeper, reminding me that StoryHouse isn’t mine, and urging me to loosen my grip on this precious vision pulsing through my veins. Inviting others to join you can feel like more work and pretty much guarantees what’s created won’t look exactly like you thought, but it can also be so much fun and it will always tell a better story.
Today I could walk you through the café, listing names of those who helped create the space we’re standing in. I could tell you stories of generosity, of financial gifts, skills and time. Of the servant-hearted on their knees scrubbing toilets and climbing ladders to scrape flaking paint off the ceiling. Of decorating parties chasing the early winter sunsets, trying to cover the walls with paint before the light ran out. Countless cups of tea drunk from paint-splattered mugs, cakes, pizza, chips and yet more cake sustaining our weary bodies as we turned an old dry cleaners into a coffee shop. I agree, this story is a great illustration of Church, but not everyone involved was a Christian; atheists and agnostics freely gave their time to make tables, design the interior and help with the accounts because they loved the vision.
These are stories of community at its best, of new friendships made while priming skirting boards and varnishing wooden doors, and a communal sense of pride when stepping back to admire the finished product.
There are parts of the café that don’t look anything like I imagined, in both good and bad ways, and sometimes the staff play Disney soundtracks when I’m not there. Some of our missional plans are what I expected and some are completely out of my comfort zone, but that’s because we’re trying to invite others into this story. It does create more work and I’m still worried a lady from church will paint a wall yellow, even though I’ve told her it won’t work with the colour scheme, but overall I am thankful for the people who helped make this vision a reality because I’m part of something much bigger than me and my ideas, and that makes it better. Sometimes I think we can easily forget the way the master storyteller works; infinitely and eternally capable of carrying out his mission on his own, he remains determined to involve us despite the mess. If this is how the master storyteller works, then surely this is how the best stories are told.
Lizzie Lowrie is a local mission leader in Liverpool and runs a coffee shop and micro bakery called StoryHouse. storyhouse.community @storyhousecommunity