Conference begins LifeTree Cafe trainings

The Eastern PA Conference Congregational Development Team (CDT) is helping church leaders create more ministries outside the box (i.e., outside their church buildings) with a new initiative to attract members of the hard-to-reach millennial generation, those born from 1976 to 2004.

The new Ministry with Millennials Initiative (MMI) offered initial training August 3 and 4 for church leaders interested in starting the LifeTree Café outreach ministry in their areas. That introductory training will be repeated twice more Sept. 8 and 9 (6:30 to 8 PM), at the Conference Center in Norristown.

It’s the first step of a new church growth initiative that may lead next to appropriating the popular flash mob experience of creating organized but seemingly spontaneous interactive gatherings that often surprise onlookers. Those gatherings might produce innovative public worship, prayer, fellowship and service opportunities that can eventually lead to more structured events in churches and other venues.

The CDT recently visited and participated in a LifeTree Café, essentially a weekly gathering for friendly, guided discussion over beverages, at the Canal Street Pub in Reading (at 535 Canal Street on Monday nights). They talked with its organizer, Nathan Matz, a Reading police sergeant who also described the innovative, para-church outreach experience at the conference’s annual Faith-Sharing Event at New Hanover UMC in March. Thom and Joani Schultz, featured speakers at that event, started the growing national movement through their ministry resources company, Group Publishing.

Eastern PA Conference's Congregational Development Team with co-founder of Lifetree Cafe

The Rev. Gordon Hendrickson, Coordinator of Congregational Development, has been researching LifeTree Café for months and working with Group Publishing staff to arrange for development and coordination of several franchised church-sponsored Café s in the Eastern PA Conference. As director and chief visionary of the new initiative, he is seeking churches interested in being trained and resourced to start collaborative LifeTree Café s in their communities.

Hendrickson is negotiating group costs and other arrangements with LifeTree Café ‘s national director and is also seeking funding to support the effort. The conference-wide, connectional initiative is a new thing not only for Eastern PA but also for Group Publishing, for whom it may become a prototype for future multi-site franchising arrangements.

“Typical costs (for a LifeTree Café site) are $500 for initial resource materials and then $225 a month,” said Hendrickson. “By doing multiple sites we can reduce costs and do a better job of planning locations and providing support. For each license, we can reduce monthly rates to $67 a month and some additional upfront costs for signs. We are currently negotiating.”

The CDT has learned about a few other independent efforts among churches to start conversational cafés in their communities, like Good Shepherd UMC in Lebanon, but with “mixed results,” said Hendrickson. “After a few years, we may create our own original conference café model, but we may not if we feel the franchise model is working for us.

“Besides having models that are tested and proven, the training experience may be better with people representing several churches, rather than one church at a time,” said Hendrickson. “Refining the strategy is also better when you can see the big picture of where the cafés are going. And as a group our costs are reduced by two-thirds, while purchasing power increases.”

A second training event for developing LifeTree Café host and friendship teams will be held at the Conference Center Sept. 28 and repeated Oct. 8. The training events are free. Contributions to the LifeTree Café initiative can be made to the Eastern PA Conference Treasurer (check memo line: LifeTree–9100) and sent to the Eastern PA Conference UMC Center at P.O. Box 820, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0820 (Attention Gordon Hendrickson).

By John W. Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director
Information provided by Gordon Henderson

Photo Information

Top: The Rev. Richard Rimert (center) discusses observations with other conference Congregational Development Team members after a LifeTree Café session at the Canal Street Pub in Reading, with other café participants in the background.

Bottom: Nathan Matz (right), lead organizer of the LifeTree Café at the Canal Street Pub in Reading, talks about the ministry with conference Congregational Development Team members.

John Coleman photos