the sol café, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The Organic Church On-Line Tour
featuring the insights of Bob Whitesel

Reaching a new generation in a postmodern culture will take creative thinking outside the standard church box. This is what Rob and Debbie Toews, Steve and Anika Martin, and Dave Wakulchyk have done by starting an internet coffee shop for the spread of the gospel – the sol café.

“Edmonton is cold in the winter,” says one of the leaders, “and the sol café provides a warm cup of coffee, good conversations, and time to reflect on life.”

Starting an internet café is a risky venture, and so when Rob Toews and another couple bought this business, working 2-3 shifts per day during the week to make it financially viable (while selling coffee, they were developing relationships), they had no idea how it would make it.

Here's some lessons that Whitesel provides for us:

Lesson #1: Let the worship emerge from your ambience. When going to a worship experience at the sol café, you’ll find low lighting, candles, hot brewed coffee drinks, soft music, and comfortable chairs. There is no announcement that worship has started, just a slow movement from instrumental music toward some singers, and then toward a time of joining in with singing and prayer and personal introspection. Bob Whitsel says that the emphasis is on “establishing an authentic and unhurried connection, first among musicians, then among attendees. Unveil rather than unleash.”

The teaching time is interactive. Rob Toews says, “At the sol café, interaction and asking questions are expected.” Bob Whitsel, in his analysis, writes, “Routinely, the organic church encourages didactic interaction, recognizing that young people want not to be lectured, but to be engaged.”

Lesson #2: Use self-sustaining venues, realizing profitability may sustain the venue but probably not pastoral staff. We are seeing this more and more in outreach ministry: Bookstores, Tea Bars, Art Venues, Music Shops, Coffee Houses, and more are being used as the base for outreach ministry in the urban setting. This is a difficult way of doing ministry for young pastors trying to raise families. “The sol café was able to pay our baristas $7 an hour,” recalled Rob. “But a pastor with a family is not going to live on that.” Rob now has another job as the director of a Christian retreat center. I think that denominations need to set up funds to supplement salaries of new church planters so that they can be able to do this kind of engaging ministry.

Lesson #3: The sol café literally “faces” its mission field. As the speaker sits on a stool and interacts with the people in the café, behind him is a large window that looks out onto the street. As people walk by, some gaze into the window, wondering what’s happening inside (some even walk in and order a coffee). The setup is intentional: it reminds those who have made the commitment to Christ that they are supposed to be reaching those out there on that street…that the purpose of the sol café is to be a missional community.

Bob Whitesel suggests, “Although a backdrop of street-facing windows may be impractical for many organic congregations, live video images from the street outside or nearby can suffice…(or) unfocused images behind the words of songs…can remind attendees of the daily activities and travails that go on concurrently with our worship celebrations.”

See Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations by Bob Whitesel (Abingdon, 2006)

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Ted Gossard said...


I like it. This also reminds me of a thought I've dwelled on a little, lately: Less is more, and more is less- often. I think what they're trying to do has a power in its simplicity. As well as its purposeful drawing in of others to be a part of it.

I can see the faith taking shape in people, maybe especially of the younger generations, in this kind of setting. Unlike the rigid settings in which life is often hardly shared together at all- I think here, unfortunately, of many evangelical churches- though more and more are breaking away from this, I think.

Thanks for sharing this. It would be fun to be there sometime.

Anonymous said...

Check out my house church model for Christian political activism, Bob.


Anonymous said...

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