A Major Crisis Facing the Church
Leah stared at her husband as he sat on the couch—his hands clasped, head down—as she tried to digest what he just told her.
“How long?” she finally asked.
“Since I was fourteen.” He still couldn’t look at her.
His words froze her. Fourteen. The implications of that stole her breath away. The entire time she had known him, through their whole relationship and marriage, her husband had been battling a porn addiction, and she had no idea. The only reason it was coming out now was because several other close people in their life had been confessing that they were struggling with their own addiction. It was staggering. Christian men she had respected and had known her entire life were suddenly saying they had been struggling with this for years. It had rocked her to her very core—her foundation felt shifted. Leah had told her husband just yesterday how relieved she was that he, at least, wasn’t among them.
How wrong she was. How foolish. That’s what really hurt—how naïve she had been about this whole issue.
“I’m so sorry.” Her husband said. Then he began to cry. He told her how a friend had introduced him to it when he was a teenager, how it had quickly consumed him. He tried to get help from his youth pastor, and eventually his father, who had told him he would “grow out of it.” For years he struggled with it alone, doing well for months, only to relapse and hate himself for it. The guilt and the shame were heavy and ever present. He had no idea so many others struggled, no idea how common it was.
For Leah, the realization of how common the issue of pornography was wasn’t a comfort. It was another blow. This was common? Why wasn’t it being talked about then? Why did her husband think he was abnormal, and struggled alone and ashamed for so long? Why did women not have support for one another to handle this? Why wasn’t it mentioned in pre-martial counselling, in the church, at marriage groups, in men’s groups—beyond the standard ‘Don’t do it, it’s bad,’—when the truth is that the issue is beyond telling people not to. People are watching, they are addicted, and they need help to get out of it. Leah felt like she just got initiated into a secret club that everyone knew about, but no one discussed.
Leah and her husband’s story isn’t at all an uncommon one. In fact, it’s the communality that is exactly the problem. Dan Gowe, an addictions counsellor and member of West Point Grey Baptist, has been working with people, particularly men, for twenty years who have porn addictions. He says, with great authority and passion, that the problem of porn addiction is, without question, one of the biggest crises facing the church today, and the least talked about.
It is common knowledge that porn addictions exist, but it is far less common to acknowledge just how many Christians struggle with this issue. Throughout his ministry, Dan has found that young Christian men, in particular, are extremely susceptible to becoming addicted. It only takes seeing it one time for many men to become hooked. The age of exposure is also getting younger and younger. A lot of the men in the program Dan runs started viewing porn as young as eleven years old. With the widespread use of technology, particularly cellphones, it has become impossible to shield young people from being exposed to it. If they aren’t viewing it on their own devices, it is almost guaranteed they will see it on their friends’ phones at some point.
Several years ago, Dan’s ministry, simply called Men’s Group, conducted an informal survey of one of the most prominent, well-known churches in Vancouver. Out of 170 men, 144 of them admitted they struggled with a porn addiction. They also found that 30 percent of women admitted they, too, had an addiction.
There are several reasons the church isn’t addressing this issue as it should. The biggest one being there’s a massive stigma attached to this type of addiction. This is exactly why it is so important that church leaders step up to the plate and acknowledge this issue. People need to know that they have a trusted place to turn to where they can go to get clean.
The message Dan wants most to convey is that porn addiction is widespread amongst Christian men, pastors and leaders. A plague has infected the church. They are not alone. There is real freedom and hope in Jesus in overcoming lust/porn addiction; those who have become addicted can experience and know the joy and peace of God that they have known in the past.
How does this happen? Meeting weekly with other Christian men in Christ-centred accountability meetings is essential. Strong , supportive, relationships develop. As men gain continuous months, then years, of clean time, they are able to help the newcomers. As men daily memorize scripture, in time, their brains begin to change and their souls are strengthened. As they learn to “take every thought captive,” and resist lustful thoughts in Jesus’ name, they experience the truth of His promise that with every temptation He will “make a way of escape.”
For the men that come to these groups, Dan said it will be the most important meeting they go to all week, because it is the start of being set free from a dark addiction that affects every part of their lives.
“The only way a guy can walk in freedom is if they totally reorient their lives to the Lord Jesus. It can’t be church on Sunday and then maybe a 15-minute devotional once a day. It’s got to be much, much deeper than that. A real heart-felt, total turn to Jesus and walking with Him,” Dan said.
“We are at your service to help start support groups in your local area. We have found this relatively simple to do. There is no financial charge for this. It is our joy to freely pass on what has been freely given to us in Jesus’ name. Please feel free to contact me via our web page (linked below.) We can arrange a Zoom meeting with several of the leaders to share their testimonies of what Jesus has done for them and answer any questions.”
We encourage pastors to reach out to Dan and the Men’s Group through their website: https://mensgroup.ca , check out the powerful video testimonies and take the first step to helping those struggling in your congregations. These groups need to be everywhere; the fight needs to be fought in every church.
This month for our Church Planting blog, we are sharing an article written by my friend and colleague Reverend Cid Latty—the Congregational Development Associate for our sister denomination, Canadian Baptist of Ontario & Quebec. Cid hails recently from Great Britain where he was involved in planting Café Churches. This is another example of innovative ways we can join the Spirit at work around us wherever we live, work, play and pray. ~ Rev. Shannon Youell, Director of Church Planting CBWC
Could the principles of cafe church transform your community?
By Rev. Cid Latty
The now almost-legendary TED talk by Simon Sinek about the essentiality of understanding ‘the why?’ is worth considering before you contemplate any new venture, especially one that will affect the lives of people. The idea is simple, if you are strong about the ‘why’, you are clear about the ‘what’ and it’s easier to do the ‘how.’ Therefore, when thinking about micro-church, or a version of them like café church, we must begin where any good seminary student begins—with good, biblically-based theology (the why) so that we can work out in our practice (the what & the how). Thankfully, I don’t have to use much space here developing a theology of place or the repercussions of atonement as this has been done extensively elsewhere. However, let me summarize how I read a key scripture that I see as giving us a strong enough ‘why’ for the what that I’ll illustrate in the form of café church later on.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in John 1: 35-38 where we read:
The next day, John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
I call this (somewhat humorously) the least preached-on verses in the Bible. Why would the disciples want to see where Jesus lived? Notice first the context is one where years of prophetic silence have just been shattered by the loud call of the uncommon revivalist, John the Baptist. His declaration is simple; Jesus, the carpenter’s son, the one from obscurity, was actually the long-awaited Messiah. He is the bringer in of a new epoch who could put right the defragmentation of the cosmos. This was no small matter. It would be life-transforming for everyone who believed. Now hear the words again of the disciples, who have just been confronted with the culmination of Israel’s history. They say, ‘Where are you staying?’ Yes, let me say that again. On the backdrop of a huge paradigm shift, they enquire, ‘Where are you staying???’ This sounds like a strange question, for sure. You see, I think I might have asked a different question in that moment—maybe something like ‘How will you take away our sins?’ or ‘Explain to me what Daniel meant when he saw the Son of Man?’ or better still, ‘How will God rule the world when the culmination of the end times occurs?’ No, they don’t ask our good theological questions. Their question is all about hospitality, locality and humanity. In my paraphrase they are asking ‘Can we come over for a coffee?’ or ‘Where is your house?’ Or even ‘Do you live like we live with the same mod cons?’ And it’s this line of questioning (not the one I would have) that John gives credit for seeing ‘His glory’ (John 1:14) because the one who was in the ‘closest relationship with the Father has made Him known.’ (John 1:18) It seems that through the ability of Jesus to be relatable, accessible, giving people a view into the normal parts of His life, they were able to connect with God. Now it follows that our good theology will ask ‘If God is like this how should we behave?’ Our theology will be seen in praxis. What we do as a result of what we see in God will be crucial. So, any café church, or micro-church for that matter, will need to incorporate being relatable, hospitable and accessible if it is to reflect the way of Jesus.
This was definitely the basis for what began in 2006 when we started a café church in Welwyn Garden City (a commuter town just outside London, UK). Our question was, “How could we incarnate the gospel in the café culture around us?” We could see how a thriving café culture was rapidly developing in our town. Coffee shops were opening up everywhere, and this was also replicated all over the UK. In fact, a staggering 50% of the UK adult population at the time visited a coffee shop (something that was unheard of before this time). Our own church congregation were a part of this café culture, with many of them using coffee shops as ‘third places’ between home and work. With this in mind, we asked our local Costa Coffee if we could develop a community in their store and were amazed when they said yes.
What we planned then was a themed event with quizzes, a short talk, discussion and live music—all with the added benefit of being served by friendly, coffee shop staff. Our purpose was to help people engage with issues like debt, parenting or the environment from a faith perspective. We called it ‘coffee with a conscience.’ People would not only be invited to enjoy a lively evening of chat, hope and humour, but we would offer them resources and prayer to help them take action after the event was over. All this would form the basis of our hospitable community.
What we ran on that first night proved to be so popular that I began discussions with Costa Coffee management, and a few café churches were piloted in other stores. Due to the success of these, Cafechurch Network was formed. This registered charity was later given the ‘OK’ to put a café church in every suitable Costa Coffee store in the UK. Over the next ten years, we would help to start more than one hundred café churches all over the UK.
Running a café church in a main street coffee shop was a win-win for the church and coffee shop. Stores benefit as café church helped them to feel part of the local community. The church would benefit as people who might not enter a more traditional church setting interacted with people who did. This may be one of the first steps for some towards going to church. For others they may feel that café church in a main street location was the kind of community they wanted to belong to. This then challenged us to re-imagine how we could help people in a café context move forward in their faith journey.
When developing a café church (or a micro-church), one of the challenges can be the word ‘church’ itself. It can be a loaded word for some people as they may have either misconceptions about what it means or real experiences of pain in a church context that could be off-putting. While running a café church, we often found ourselves having to reassure people that what we were doing was inclusive and not accusative in tone and texture. We therefore found that we, ourselves, had to learn how to communicate differently in a café context. For instance, while it may be acceptable in churches to expect people to sit patiently through whole services, offering only polite contributions and encouraging sentiments at the end, in a main street café context this is not the case. People come ready to talk with each other and are familiar with connecting in a relaxed environment. If the subject is not engaging and the talk is monotonous, people will begin to talk among themselves and the whole evening will be lost. I would often say to café church leaders ‘whatever you do, don’t be boring.’ It is better to keep it lively and make a mistake (correcting yourself later) than to be mind-numbingly dull and risk jeopardizing the whole meeting. Part of the thrill of serving in this context is that the content needs to be transformational, not just informational. We need to be an engaging presence, not just a welcoming one.
The questions I ask today in Canada are ‘What do people enjoy doing?’ ‘Where do they enjoy meeting each other?’ ‘Where do conversations happen?’ ‘Where do people yearn for hospitality?’ ‘How can we address the pandemic of loneliness?’ If you can think of an answer to these questions then you are a step away from taking the principles of café church (being accessible, hospitable, a relatable community) and applying them to your situation. Our Canadian adventure could be a similar one to my UK story because the needs are the same, even though the cultural expressions may be somewhat different. Here is a leader’s guide that will help you run an online café church: https://baptist.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/cafechurch-at-home-leaders-guide.pdf .
If you can dream about the needs around you for a while, I’m sure that you can also translate your thoughts into doing something good to transform what you see. And as Paul said to the Ephesians, God is ‘able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’ Our first step is to begin with our own creative imagination so that we can step into the opportunities with our actions. Café church is a micro-church expression that you could do today. The decision is yours. By the way, I can hear my community asking me one question, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear your neighbourhood asking you the same question, too. The question is this, ‘Where are you staying?’ What will your answer be?
Rev. Cid Latty Clatty@baptist.ca
Congregational Development Associate, Canadian Baptists of Ontario & Quebec
 I will not offer a list of books and resources as these are readily available and almost without limit; however, a surprisingly good book that summaries the effects of the incarnation is ‘A Community Called Atonement’ by Scot McKnight, Abingdon, 2007.
 Costa Coffee had, at the time, 900 chain stores of coffee shops similar in style to Starbucks. Costa Coffee is owned by Coca Cola today.
 There are some excellent points on how to do this in the book ‘How to Revive Evangelism’ by Craig Springer.
Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference
Copyright © 2019 Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, All rights reserved.
Making Connections is the monthly newsletter of the CBWC.