My alarm awakens me with its usually annoying tone, and I crawl out of bed early, even though Friday is my day off. I peek through the curtains to see if there is snow and check my phone to see if school is cancelled. School isn’t cancelled, and it’s only 20 degrees outside.
Although I’m waking up to serve others, sometimes I still have a bad attitude. I brew three full pots of coffee — not the coffee I prefer, but the kind my neighbors like. After wheeling supplies out to the sidewalk, I am reminded why we do what we do. The first person shows up, and suddenly I’m excited.
For five years this has been my routine on Friday mornings when school is in session. What started as a dream of getting neighbors together for caffeine and conversation has turned into a robust tradition we call “Free Coffee Friday.” My wife and I have gathered with a motley crew for five years now; a handful of bus drivers, a few neighbors, several tired elementary parents and an occasional representative from the school administration. Rain, shine or snow we offer a warm cup of coffee and something more — a relationship.
God has turned many cups of coffee into trust. Coffee on the corner built a bridge to walk through tragedy, find friendships and even watch a woman come to faith in Christ. Although I know our weekly coffee outing is “worth it,” sometimes the temptation to measure efficiency rears its ugly head. Here are the shifts we’ve had to make in order to be faithfully present in our neighborhood.
1. From fortress to hub. It’s easy to view our homes as an escape from the world. While this isn’t wrong, it’s incomplete. Most of our homes are located in neighborhoods, which puts us in proximity to other souls who are dearly loved by God. We have come to view our home primarily as a hub for ministry in the neighborhood where we are salt and light to those around us.
2. From disconnection to collective overlap. We lived in a disconnected and lonely world. We have learned to move from compartmentalizing relationships to inviting all those around us into the same spaces. “Free Coffee Friday,” Easter dinner, football games and birthday parties have all become spaces for people who did not know one another to connect on the corner, in front of our home or around our table. (I talk more about “Free Coffee Friday” and life in the neighborhood in “The Mission Field Next Door.”)
3. From impact to faithful presence. I am tempted to aim for impact, meaning a noticeable spiritual result, but I have learned to begin aiming at being faithfully present. Instead of wondering how we can create the biggest events or include the most people, we try to focus on being fully engaged with the people God has placed us around. Don’t try to change the world; just be faithful to make a small effort — any effort — with your neighbors.
4. From intermittent to consistent. I’ve been part of several serving initiatives that were one-hit-wonders, but very few that were consistent. Living in proximity to others not only makes you accessible, it also provides great potential for embodying Jesus to those around you. Consistency breeds credibility. People are hungry for relationships, not handouts. Five years ago, a simple idea to bring neighbors together turned into a reality. And through consistency, offering free coffee has morphed into something that has created meaningful relationships.
As we faithfully inhabit the places where God has put us, we’ll see that those places are more than just houses or apartments; they’re a mission field.
Alan Briggs, his wife Julie and their four kids live in Colorado Springs. He is the Director of Frontline Church Planting where he equips leaders to start churches, and he is the Multiplying Pastor at Vanguard Church. His book, Staying Is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You, describes his family’s journey into the heart of their place.