- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

The following are excerpts from a recent service at Ebenezers Coffeehouse by the Rev. Mark Batterson.

Last week, National Community Church opened the doors to Ebenezers — our coffeehouse on Capitol Hill. It took eight years of praying like it depends on God and working like it depends on us. But the dream has become reality. Ebenezers isn’t just a first-class coffeehouse; it doubles as our third location.

The inspiration behind the name Ebenezers is taken from the Old Testament story found in 1 Samuel 7. The Israelites break a 20-year losing streak to the Philistines and win a miraculous battle. The prophet Samuel memorializes the victory by building a stone altar and naming it Ebenezer, which means hitherto the Lord has helped us. In other words, “so far, so God.”

Most churches build church buildings. So why did we build a coffeehouse? I have several core convictions when it comes to church.

Conviction one: The church ought to be the most creative place on the planet.

Conviction two: The greatest message deserves the greatest marketing.

Conviction three: The church belongs in the middle of the marketplace.

Let me explore the third conviction.

I went into this pastor gig with the traditional mind-set. I figured we would meet in rented facilities until we could buy or build a church building. And then God opened a door of opportunity at Union Station. And I realized that even if could build a church building, it wouldn’t begin to compare with the amenities at Union Station. We have 40 food-court restaurants. We have a parking garage. We have our own Metro system.

God strategically positioned us in the middle of the marketplace. Twenty-five million people pass through Union Station every year, making it the most-visited destination in the nation’s capital. I’m not sure we could be more strategically positioned to reach people who are unchurched and dechurched. Plus, we like comfortable seats, the movie screens and the smell of popcorn.

Long story short: Our vision is to meet in movie theaters at Metro stops throughout the D.C. area. We launched our second location at Ballston Common Mall in 2003, and we’ll launch in a theater in Northwest D.C. in the next 12 months. Doing church in the marketplace is part of our spiritual DNA.

In May, we’re hosting our first Buzz Conference [here]. Several hundred pastors will make their way to D.C. for the event. As part of the preparation for the conference, I’m doing a series of blogs called the Ten Buzz Commandments. I went through the Gospels and looked at the way Jesus did what He did, and I’m blogging those 10 principles.

One of the Ten Buzz Commandments is: “Thou Shalt Hang Out at Wells.”

When I read the Gospels, I only see Jesus preaching in the synagogue once. His message was too radical for the religious types. Throughout the rest of the Gospels, I see Jesus preaching on mountainsides, in the wilderness and from boats. I see Him going to parties with tax collectors and spending time with cultural outcasts. And I see Him hanging out with Samaritans at wells.

Wells were the center of ancient culture. It wasn’t just the place where people went to get water. It was the place where people went to congregate and have conversation. Wells were the natural gathering place in ancient culture.

What does that have to do with our coffeehouse? Coffeehouses are postmodern wells. Coffeehouses are the natural gathering place in our culture. There were only 200 free-standing coffeehouses in the U.S. in 1990. Starbucks now has more than 13,000 stores worldwide.

So why did we build a coffeehouse instead of a church building?

We didn’t want to build a church building where people would congregate once a week. We wanted to create a coffeehouse where people would hang out seven days a week. We wanted to create a marketplace where the church and community could cross paths. So we built a coffee well.

Here is the sad irony to me. If we had built a church building in our neighborhood, I don’t think very many people would have gotten very excited. In fact, I’m guessing our neighbors would have resisted our efforts. But you ought to see the faces of people who walk through our doors the first time. Everybody loves us because they love our coffeehouse — all because we built a coffeehouse that doubles as a church.

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