In a small city with a small-town feel, an LCMS pastor spends his days in a Cape Girardeau, Mo., café called STᾹ. He’s not skipping out on ministry though, and he’s not there just for the coffee. He’s there to build relationships, make disciples and serve up the Gospel in a way that feels a bit less threatening to the local college students and young professionals that breeze through the doors.
He’s also there to lead worship.
“STA [pronounced ‘stay’] is our multi-site church,” said Jared Tanz, director of operations at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau. “It’s the location of St. Andrew’s fourth worship service/congregation on Sundays. It serves … for people to gather and create Christian community with one another to then go out and to invite others to STA and belong.”
STA’s “mother” congregation, St. Andrew, planted this multi-site church/café to serve a very specific population in the university town.
“In many ways, Cape Girardeau still exists within the ‘Christian bubble’ where the general assumption is that everyone in the community shares similar Christian values,” explained Rev. John Dehne, lead pastor at St. Andrew. “This, however, is simply not true, especially as it relates to the [students of Southeast Missouri State University] and the professional/medical subcultures of the community. This is why we launched our STA campus: to span the chasm between the Christian subculture and the subcultures of the larger and much more diverse community.”
The new church, which was planted in 2016, is located near the university campus and Cape Girardeau’s downtown riverfront corridor. In an area with high foot traffic, it seemed to be an ideal place to plant a church – and especially reach out to those considered to be “unchurched” in the community. Tanz explained that “the main purpose of having the café is to create an environment that is open and welcoming to all people, a place where anyone can come sit, have a coffee or read a book and relax. A place that isn’t the traditional church building that some do not feel comfortable in.”
Not only that, but they hoped that the café would also “open doors to conversations and relationships that can grow into invitations to church there on Sundays or to Bible studies or concerts throughout the week,” added Tanz.
At first, the ministry was fully run by the pastors and staff at St. Andrew – the pastors conducted the Sunday evening service there, sat in the café throughout the week in order to build relationships and train volunteers and generally sought to reach this unique community in an uncommon way.
But stretching the pastors and staff between the two churches proved to be quite a challenge.
Pastors to STĀ
The pastors and staff were overcommitted, and thereby not able to devote the necessary time on an ongoing basis to train volunteers, offer support, lead worship and provide adequate ministry at STA.
It was even a stretch for the volunteers.
“Training of volunteers has been a challenge as well as the weekday activities at the location revolve mostly around the operations of the café and our partners that run that business,” said Tanz. “Rather than regularly engaging in missional conversations – which was the initial vision and training – volunteers have frequently engaged in helping with cleaning dishes and running food.”
Tanz also mentioned that “because of a lack of ongoing, daily pastoral presence, those volunteers have occasionally lost track of the greater mission of creating relationships. We have also run into the trap of hosting events to fill the building rather than intentionally focusing on furthering the mission of discipleship and sending into the community.”
It was clear that STA needed at least one pastor who could stay and make the church/café his top priority. So, St. Andrew made a plan. They would place one of the church’s Specific Ministry Pastors (SMP) at the location to offer dedicated service to STA– and they hoped to help fund it through one of Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s Kaleidoscope Fund grants.
“The grant will help us place an SMP vicar/pastor on-site at STA – with significantly more time and adequate theological training – to invest in that ministry, that community, and the college next door,” said Tanz.
“The cool thing is,” Tanz added, “we already made a commitment to get one of our SMP candidates, Tim, more involved in this new location even before we received the grant.”
The SMP pastor’s task will be to work closely with STA volunteers and business partners during the week, focusing on relationships and the mission of the church/café. He’ll also spend significant time meeting new people in the café, the community and from the university and invite them to join in worship on Sundays.
The grant will also help fund new outreach opportunities to the community and increase the café’s hosting abilities by installing a larger commercial range/oven that will allow them to offer larger community meals to those in the area.
“One of the other goals of STA was to give back to the community that surrounds the location,” Tanz said, “and this is one way we would like to do that.”
As the pastors, staff and volunteers at STA pour into their community, it turns out that they themselves benefit from the ministry, too.
“STA is a very special place of ‘happening’ in my life,” shared Joanne Erlbacher, volunteer at STA. “I have been blessed to interact with the young people of our college campus, with some of our community leaders and, on occasion, with the needier population in the surrounding neighborhood. The STA campus provides a perfect setting for people to experience community in a loving, Christ-centered environment.”
One particular person who has experienced that community through STA is a church/café guest named Kyle, who was invited to STA by another guest. He had just been released from jail and had led an “extremely challenging” life that was devoid of hope.
“Since becoming part of the STA community, Kyle has jumped all into a life focused on Christ and the meaning it has on his life,” said Tanz. “Kyle has also returned to prison to finish a sentence that was already in the works prior to joining us [but] his focus is still on Christ and spending his time now as a missionary where God has placed him until he finishes his sentence there.”
Bridging the gap and opening doors
As they maintain relationships with Kyle and others, the church hopes that, through this grant, they can “continue to work to bridge the gap and utilize the café” to bring people into Word and Sacrament ministry.
“This will be helped significantly as the SMP candidates are more fully utilized and connected to the daily and weekly ministry of our STA campus,” Tanz added. “The grant gives us an opportunity we may not have had otherwise to grow this ministry and gain support from others to keep moving forward. It’s given us additional hope in what God is doing and will continue to do through STA in our community.”
Tanz said that they’ll continue to share the Gospel through relationships at STᾹ, because “the day-to-day, trusted relationships between people are vital. We continue to strive after the training, encouragement and deployment of people into the weekly cafe rhythm in order to build meaningful relationships and open doors of ongoing opportunities to share the hope we have in Jesus with people.”