Discipleship is cafe-shaped conversations.

Dear Troy:

I wanted to give you some of my notes on teaching and learning. As I looked through my brainstorms, I saw this bullet: Discipleship is cafe-shaped conversations. Next to that I wrote “This is a piece that needs to be written contrasting cafes and lecture halls.”

I know that I promised you that I would send you those notes. Please forgive me for writing that part here.

coffee cup with spoonThe idea for that first bullet comes from a post called Cafe-shaped conversations that my friend Chris wrote eighteen months ago. In that post, he talked about the difference between mass communication and the kind of conversations that happen with social media.

Businesses using mass communication do big campaigns. They use big film crews, big design firms. They buy big ads in big papers. They carefully craft a story and then sell it.

Chris contrasts that with social media conversations, the kind of personal interaction that can happen on Facebook (or by bumping into someone at the mall). The story grows, it changes in real-time rather than in focus-groups ahead of time.

The cafe-shaped conversations that we are finding through social media are more meaningful, more impactful, and have a chance to spread and overtake other mass methods. And yet, they need tending. It’s like watching a small cafe pour an espresso versus getting a cup of joe at the local McDonalds. Completely different value propositions from the start.

It took me a long time to understand what he was saying. I mean, a long time. I think I was focused on the cafe part (no surprise to you, given my coffee ‘commitment’). I was missing out on the conversation part of the phrase. But then it clicked.

Discipleship is cafe-shaped conversations.

Last night, you and I and a few other guys sat in a conference room, the same room we’ve been sitting in most Wednesday nights for the past year. The group is never quite the same, never more than a dozen. Last night we were at the end of the sermon on the mount, the story about wise men and foolish men and houses on rock and sand.

What was so compelling to me last night was that we were working hard to figure out what Jesus meant and what each of us meant as we talked. We were engaged, we were listening, we were trying to understand. And we were asking and we were exploring. After a year, we have built enough relationship that we can anticipate what troubles others, what questions they will ask, what perspective they bring.

And we were doing the very thing that we can’t do on Sunday mornings across the hall with several hundred of our closest friends.

In that setting, there is no time for conversation. There is no time for questions. When Pastor Bill speaks, when I speak, we never say, “So, what do you think?” And I’m not sure that’s bad. There is a place for the preaching and teaching that we do in those settings. Some people aren’t ready for face-to-face discussion. Not yet. Some people don’t care.

But what I do know is that I wouldn’t trade anything for the conversations.

You and I need to talk more about how we can do more in those smaller settings to be even more helpful. I keep thinking that I could help more by anticipating some of the repeated questions. Not, mind you, to head them off, but maybe, after years of that person wondering, helping them find some answers, some peace.

So I’m guessing that you and I need to have our own cafe-shaped conversation soon.

Thanks.

Jon

P.S. You know, I have a funny feeling that Galilee must have had some pretty good cafes, places with umbrellas and tables and about a dozen or so chairs.

4 responses to “Discipleship is cafe-shaped conversations.

  1. Given how beautiful the Galilee is I would be surprised if they didn’t have some good cafés, or at least tea houses. (Did coffee exist in Israel long before it made it to Europe?)

    More on topic, I like the point that there is a place for sermons and a place for discussions. I think we all benefit from both.

  2. Good question, Goldie. I’m not sure whether either tea or coffee was in Israel then. I’ll have to check.

    And it is a matter of goals and possible outcomes. The problem is when we don’t consider what we are seeking with what audience.

    Thanks!

  3. Jon, I enjoyed this post both from a social media and a spiritual perspective. A lot is rolling around in my head … this afternoon our church body gets to have a meet-and-greet with the pastoral candidate our board of elders has selected for our approval. Don’t let this go to your head (*grin*) but I’ve been praying that God would send us a Jon Swanson. Someone with a pastor’s (or shepherd’s) heart as well as a gift for communicating the most important message of all. So in one sense, your post reminds me that evangelism happens in the “lecture hall,” but that “discipleship is cafe-shaped conversations.”

    For the business application, it’s this. I’m trying to teach my clients how to “do” social media for themselves rather than outsourcing it. My “evangelism” can include white papers, blog posts, formal proposals and strategy recommendations. But making real believers — social media disciples — most often happens in those cafe-shaped conversations.

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