The Outreach Ministry of Coffee Hour
Fr Jim Kordaris
You may not realize it, but coffee hour is a ministry. It’s an extension of liturgy that goes back to the earliest days of the Church when the faithful would gather following the Eucharist for fellowship and to share a meal.
Outreach in the parish is not difficult. There is no silver bullet – no magic pill. It is a thousand little things we do that send a message of welcome to those that enter our doors.
Is your church friendly? It may not be as friendly as you think. We often hear the story of the person that visited a “friendly” parish only to find that the parishioners are only friendly to each other. Standing in the fellowship hall, coffee cup in hand, visitors are often ignored, left to feel invisible.
We look forward to fellowship after worship. It’s our social time – a time to see friends and catch up with their news and to make plans for the week ahead. But we may need to re-think our parish welcome efforts when it comes to coffee hour. Parishioners should be encouraged to speak to someone new during fellowship, welcoming the stranger and including them in conversation.
Our welcome efforts actually begin the moment people walk through our doors or even when they drive into our parking lot. Visitors decide within five to ten minutes of their arrival whether they will come back. Our welcome efforts may be our most important ministry.
Greeters need to welcome visitors – whether outside the door or as they enter the church. A sincere smile, handshake and greeting are what we offer as we place the Sunday bulletin in their hand. The bulletin should offer a welcome and an invitation to fellowship following liturgy. This welcome and invitation could be offered again during the announcements by the priest.
The greeters’ ministry continues as they welcome, guide and accompany guests into coffee hour, making introductions. For both the first-time visitor and the person returning after a long absence, entering a fellowship hall filled with people we don’t know or haven’t seen for a long time is difficult. Greeters can say, “Let me take you in to coffee hour. We’ll get a cup of coffee. I’ll introduce you to a few people.” This sounds like nothing, but it makes the coffee hour a ministry. It makes entering that room much less intimidating.
Remember – People are not looking for a friendly church. They are looking to make friends at church. When our people meet at church and get together outside of church, we have begun to create a community of friends. In a healthy fellowship ministry, people are making Orthodox Christian friends that are changing their lives.
As with any parish ministry, a hospitality ministry requires leadership and guidance. As parish leaders, we are responsible for how we get along with parishioners as well has how they get along with each other. Parish leaders find out about the people they lead. They make introductions and help them to find their place, both socially and in service to the community.
This ministry is not without pitfalls. There can be no “turf.” No one person one makes the coffee or controls the coffee hour every week. If one person “owns” the ministry, it can become stale. Leaders are stewards of their position, always asking, “Who can I get involved?” If possible, create a hospitality team or several teams. Make it a group effort as much as possible. Make it clear that it’s a ministry. Communicate that “Your help is welcome here.”
Give some thought to what you offer your guests. You are sending a message that “we are glad you’re here.” Preparing for coffee hour should not become a competition sport, but what you put out for guests sends a message. Consider them as guests in your spiritual home.
One New Testament Professor liked to tell his students that in the New Testament, bread is never just bread. We can also say that in the parish, coffee is never just coffee. It is so much more.
Many Orthodox Christians come from Southern European or Middle Eastern backgrounds where food equals hospitality. Putting food and drink in a visitor’s hands is how we say “Welcome!” When you’ve shared coffee or food, you’ve begun to form a friendship.
We become the Body of Christ in the Divine Liturgy as we are connected through His Body and Blood. We continue to be the body of Christ when we gather in His name. The Holy Spirit is present if we truly see fellowship as a ministry.
Fr Jim Kordaris serves the Archdiocese as Director of Stewardship, Outreach & Evangelism