Third Space Grace

A café church on London’s Brick Lane


“This is a church!?!”

Amid the chirping of the coffee machine and the sound of heels clopping on the rough timber floors, it is not the first time I’ve heard this question. It is usually followed by a pensive look; yet as I share the vision behind Kahaila Coffee, the person asking it becomes more and more intrigued.

Most find it refreshing that this place exists to give back to the community and engage social causes while creating a unique space for people to discuss real life and spirituality. Inevitably, with an agreeing nod, they will say, “Cool—can anybody come?” Ultimately, our mission is to “make disciples” and see life brought into its fullness through Jesus Christ.

Brick Lane, in the heart of East London, is a place of exhilarating, nearly overwhelming, diversity. The extremes of wealth and poverty can be seen side by side. You will find Bengali-run curry restaurants, artisan cupcakes, tarot card readers, art galleries, prostitutes, vintage clothing shops, Muslim evangelists, financiers, hipsters, graffitists and tourists.

As expected in such an environment, Brick Lane is also a place of extraordinary creativity. In recent years it has become home to many young adults working in the arts: actors, artists, Web designers, writers, musicians and fashion designers. Being on the edge of “the City,” London’s “Wall Street,” it is also a playground for young professionals. And every Sunday, the now-famous markets on Brick Lane attract more than 20,000 people.

My wife, Lorelei, and I set out on this journey more than a year ago after I served for a decade as a pastor at Quest Community Church (Lexington, Ky.). Our vision was to start a community in London that would engage people with the gospel in “third spaces”: their homes, neighborhood eateries and coffee shops.

As we prayed, God brought together a team of individuals from all over the globe with similar hearts and minds, hungry to follow Christ and help others come to know Him. One young woman on our team had sold her business in South Africa and moved to London, sensing she was called here but not knowing why. It wasn’t long before we were utilizing her talents by hosting “Pop Up” kitchens in random places around London. We created menus with whatever was fresh at the market, decorated the venue with any item we could find (old doors for tables, crates for chairs) and invited people we had been building relationships with. They were starved for authentic community and just ate it up—so to speak!

There is a growing need for the Church to “get out there into the culture,” so God intersected our path with Paul Unsworth, a Baptist minister and the leader of Kahaila Café. We share the vision of bringing church into the culture and giving people a clear picture of who Jesus really is! Seeing thousands of people on Brick Lane one weekend had moved Paul. As the Muslims evangelized, there seemed to be no Christians anywhere to be found. Then, it dawned on him—the Christians were “in church.” This sparked the beginning of Kahaila Coffee, which now operates as a charity. Its name, an amalgamation of two Hebrew words, means “life in community.”

As Paul and I met and prayed, it became evident that we could accomplish more if we joined forces. When I presented the idea to the director of the C&MA’s marketplace ministries, he said: “The primary reason two organizations merge is to take advantage of the synergy that takes place—one plus one equals more than two.” We took the necessary steps to combine our fledgling communities of 20- and 30-somethings, fully expecting that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, great things would be accomplished for God’s Kingdom!

You can imagine the challenges of running a café with excellence while maintaining the integrity of the mission of “making disciples.” While some things would be recognized as traditional church (a Wednesday night meeting for worship and a church service), generally we treat everything we do—from working in the café to meeting people on prayer walks through the street—as “church,” and our church is highly relational. People naturally bond over a cup of coffee when they can sit down with others and hear their heart. One girl blurted out, “Well, I’m an atheist—but I kind of feel this is what church should be like.”

We are constantly on the lookout for ways to get to know local people better and serve the community locally and globally. At the moment, we run regular drop-in origami workshops, host live music venues and display local artists’ works. Also, we host Bible studies in nearby pubs and prisons and work directly with the Sophie Hayes Foundation, a British charity committed to combating sex trafficking.

We are eager to form more partnerships with churches around the world, and we have taken steps in that direction through our relationship with Greater Europe Mission. I will be coordinating for them as churches and universities send interns from the United States and Canada. Our hope in developing more of these relationships is to see this vision replicated and plant more coffee-house churches throughout London. My guess is they will have different atmospheres, yet maintain the same core mission of “making disciples” (Matt. 28:18–20)!

To see Kahaila in action, go to: https://vimeo.com/62357835.
And if you wish to follow the Frays, visit www.thefrays.com.

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