As part of an outreach ministry, members of The Source Christian Reformed Church in Pembroke Pines, Fla., have been meeting in coffee shops across the community for the nearly a year.

With the help of a Sustaining Congregational Excellence* grant from Pastor Church Resources, church members have started what are called “power groups” that include Bible studies, sermon discussions, discipleship classes, and other programs as a way to bring the gospel into places where people, especially non-churchgoers, gather.

“It has been very exciting to see how people are getting connected with each other,” said Chris Cassis, lead pastor of The Source.

“We have seven small groups meeting across the area, and another will be starting soon. They are attracting others who don’t have a church, and for some of these people the groups have become their church.”

Over coffee, people can relax, ask questions, and speak about concerns and issues they might have with religion. They can come as they are, and they often show up from local neighborhoods at what, for many, is their regular stop for coffee.

People who drop by are also from various ethnic groups, since Pembroke Pines is a diverse community. As a result, different perspectives are welcomed, and people of various ages are connecting.

“We have seen people come together, begin new power groups, and support one another with prayer,” said Cassis. “We have been witnessing older people mentoring younger people, and the church is beginning to embrace what it means to be in a group with one another.”

The strategy behind this effort is fairly simple: For the church to grow, discipleship must take place, inside and outside the church. And as this happens, said Cassis, the “congregation is getting to know each other better and loving each other more, and people are finding community and plugging in.”

For instance, a woman with two small children joined a small group and got to know people in the group. One Sunday morning, the pastor saw her come into church. It turned out that a grandmother from her power group had offered to bring the children and sit with them at church.

“She takes the children for ice cream to give the mother a break after church,” said Cassis. “The relationship would never have been formed had we not had the opportunity to create those interpersonal connections.”

Another recent example came from a group that meets in a Starbucks shop. “One of the group members was talking to a customer, telling him how much he loved doing church in a coffee shop,” said Cassis, “and he ended up inviting the customer into the group meeting that evening.”

As part of the SCE grant, the church has also offered a marriage workshop, out of which came an inspiring testimony. At the workshop there was an unmarried couple who had had a child together.

“The guy refused to get married and had told his girlfriend that he would never end up married,” said Cassis. “You could feel her sadness as she expressed how badly she wanted to be married. By the end of the marriage workshop, he had proposed, and I recently performed their private wedding ceremony at their house with friends.”

Cassis helps to train power group leaders to present materials that the church has created and compiled to undertake this coffee shop ministry. Currently the church worships in a high school auditorium and anticipates that the discipleship outreach will eventually bring people in to worship and to become active members of the church.

There are currently about 60 people meeting in the coffee-shop groups.

“The idea is to get people next to one another and to find ways to share their faith,” he said. “We see that people are hungry to learn about religion in these smaller settings.”

*The Sustaining Congregational Excellence grant program has ended, but similar grants are available to churches through the Ignite program.