OVERALL CHURCH attendance has been on the decline in this country for decades, and almost 40 percent of people 18-29 describe themselves as "religiously unaffiliated."
On the other hand, coffee continues to attract new converts—more than 83 percent of Americans now drink java on the regular—and gourmet coffee sales have been increasing 20 percent every year.
Rather than wring their hands over the empty pews, some Christian-based organizations have adapted to the times with neighborhood cafés, providing caffeine, baked goods and an unorthodox setting to spread the Good Word.
While some operate as non-profit extensions of their governing ecumenical bodies, others are independent entrepreneurial ventures that have specific values built into their business models.
For the most part, however, the gospel is completely optional: Evangelical agendas take a back burner to the business, finding success like any other café by offering high-quality, hand-crafted beverages and creating an atmosphere that appeals to a diverse array of customers.
One regular of a church-run watering hole—an avowed atheist—sums up the religious origins of his daily cup of joe thusly: “I don’t care if the Pope is making it, as long as it’s fresh and hot.”
Here’s a round-up of local faith-based coffeeshops serving up top-notch brews and snacks alongside low-key messages of tolerance and grace.
- Photo by Jon Waits
The Foundery Coffee Pub
1313 Habersham St.
With specialty drinks like the "Ziggy Stardust" and the "Dirty Hippie," this is no uptight Church Lady outfit. Backed by the United Methodist Church, the Foundery was forged in 2013 by tattooed minister and punk rock drummer Kevin Veitinger with the aim of giving SCAD students and Savannah residents a clean, well-lighted place to study and share ideas.
Since then, the place has been packed at all hours with artsy types sketching in pads, business suits meeting over iPads and neighborhood locals lingering over the free weekly paper. Local roaster Cup to Cup coffee provides its exclusive bean blends, and a cadre of well-trained baristas prepares orders with fancy designs in the foamed milk.
This spacious, sunny windowed corner location affords views of the street parade, but the real action happens in the back room, where a roster of community coteries gathers every night of the week: Chess clubs, 12-step groups and non-profits utilize the space, as well as Common Grounds, an ongoing, non-denominational civil discourse on current events. Sunday worship services welcome the queer faith community, and monthly potlucks feed everyone ‘til the food’s gone.
“We’re here to build relationships and serve the community,” says the Rev Kev. “We’re not trying to make anything too complicated, just to serve great coffee and be inclusive of everyone.”
- Photo by Jon Waits
Blue Door Coffee & Waffles
1718 Bull St.
The tiny building next to SCAD's Arnold Hall may be run by the Scripture-based City Church, but the only iconography visible at Blue Door Coffee & Waffles is of the sci-fi/pop culture variety.
Star Trek and Lord of the Rings memorabilia lines the walls along with life-sized likenesses of C3PO and R2D2, and an old school Simpsons arcade console sits in a corner, awaiting quarters.
Twinkly lights and comfy chairs invite a quick bite or an extended study huddle, or perhaps a respite after a strenuous session of Pokemon GO.
“We’re the nerdy coffeeshop,” says manager Kenneth Clark with a grin. “Just a cool spot that happens to be run by a church.”
Counter Culture coffee and espresso complements heavenly made-to-order waffles, coming out warm, fluffy and topped with fruit, Nutella or bacon. Doubled up, they make hearty savory sandwiches, stuffed with egg and cheese or roast beef—though breakfast is an option for any time of day.
After hours, Blue Door hosts a youth ministry that often teams up with City Church to bring food, clothing and books to needy families on Savannah’s west side, and the church has a big new location on Bee Road in the works.
- Photo by Jon Waits
Our Daily Bread
6 E. State St.
When former Sapphire Grill chef Josh Holland teamed up with Mabel's Cupcakes maven Dee Gibson to create a café in the building owned by nearby Lutheran Church of the Ascension, there was only one stipulation: That the menu be accessible and affordable to all.
So Holland set to work, crafting an impressive breakfast and lunch menu of egg dishes, hot sandwiches, salads and soups at an impressive price point, considering the chef’s fine dining background.
“There’s nothing over ten dollars, and it’s all homemade,” he says. “We apply the same principles and technique in the kitchen here as the restaurant, everything from scratch.”
The proof is in the wafting scent of lavender shortbread and cinnamon rolls, part of a daily pastry selection that inspires hosannas from your sweet tooth. (This is where to find the only cronut in town, as far as we know!)
The high-ceilinged, brick space on the corner of Wright Square bustles with the business lunch crowd; mornings and late afternoons tend to be more sedate. While the Church’s presence is quietly evident in the decor and book share selections, Our Daily Bread’s operations remain separate from ecumenical influence.
“I don’t think about the religious stuff day-to-day, though I feel really fortunate to be in business with them,” says Holland, adding with a smile, “they focus on the faith, we focus on the food.”
- Photo by Jon Waits
The Maté Factor
401 E. Hall St.
For folks who dig a lovely hangout but don't drink coffee (we don't know who you are, but we've heard you exist), the Maté Factor and its roasty, toasty drinks are a delicious alternative. (Relax, javaheads, fresh coffee is also available.)
The exquisite downtown hideaway features lattes and teas brewed from organic yerba maté, grown on farms in Brazil run by the Twelve Tribes Community, a spiritual group that formed out of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s and counts 50 enclaves established around the world. Members renounce personal possessions to live communally, and each locale supports itself with different industries.
The Savannah community, which also operates Commonwealth Construction, opened the doors to the wood-and-wrought iron café in 2015, stocking it with fresh pastries and wholesome breads baked on site and serving stuffed sandwiches out of the back kitchen.
Manager Brian Fenster says it’s not the group’s style to proselytize, though he hopes that patrons are also nourished by the community’s “food of the spirit,” the notions of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control.”
“People come in and sense that there’s something different about this place. If they want to know more about who we are and why we live the way we do, they can ask,” says Fenster, who lives with his wife, Shelevah, and their five children with several other families in a restored Victorian next door.
“More than anything, we want them to feel like they’re loved and cared for.”
The Front Porch
215 W. Collins St., Pooler
Photo courtesy of @TheFrontPorchPooler
Located in a lovingly restored bungalow in the old section of Pooler across the street from the new City Hall, The Front Porch is as cozy and homey as it sounds.
Patrons enjoy espresso drinks, teas and baked goods on the eponymous porch or inside, a clean, bright oasis decorated with green plants and quotes from Scripture.
Christian in origin but not associated with any particular denomination, the coffeeshop is what owner Abby Kruenegel calls “mission-driven” in its philosophy of providing a “calm space where everyone feels welcome.”
The former residence provides different nooks for various activities, from solitary, secular meditations to group Bible study.
One room is completely dedicated to toys, books and games, and stanchioned off with a sturdy baby gate, allowing parents and caregivers to relax on the couches while tots play.
“As a mom myself, I know how important it is to be able to have a place that’s kid-friendly where you can talk with other adults,” laughs Kruenegel.
“This is a safe environment—a ‘third place’ besides home or work where people can be who they are.”