Café Retro

Café Retro  was a non-profit café with location right in the heart of Copenhagen, it was founded in 2004 and closed down in May, 2017. There is still much to learn from this project which was one of the early experiments in café church and which combined engaging with café culture with local and world mission.

Rie’s Story

Rie (pictured on the right) was one of the lay leaders of a café community in Copenhagen, called Café Retro which worked in a new way to meet and impact the lives of lots of not-yet-Christians. She was the vision carrier of a team of people that not only ran the café, but also were part of several teams that came together to form a community of faith that was completely authentic both to Jesus, and to the young adult Danish city culture. This project came out of the Lutheran Church – the state church in Denmark and much of Central Europe – and was founded on the belief that the best way to reach out to not-yet-Christians was to love them and engage with their culture, rather than expecting them to enter into a church culture that is totally alien and often viewed as judgemental to them. With this belief firmly in place it was not too big a leap to understand where the young adults would congregate, as the team of people stepping out into this mission enterprise were all young adults themselves. Their vision was to see the Gospel break indigenously into the strong and vibrant young adult café culture in Copenhagen, of which Rie and her friends were also all a part.

They set about making all the preparations that would be needed, including gathering the finances together to get started; building the mission team; hiring buildings; sharing vision and outlining their values. God was with them and provided for all their needs in this, and the result was the creative and pioneering Café Retro, which began 1st January 2005.

Café Retro’s Values

Rie and the rest of the Café Retro leadership team focussed in on three principles that were their key values…

1. Creativity and Art: Their particular vision of God that they saw expressed through their community was a creative God who releases creativity both through the world in creation, and through people and their artistic and imaginative natures. As a sign of this they sought to encourage as many opportunities to explore and release people’s creativity as they could, be that through giving opportunities to create/show art, take part in debates, creative meditation or through music.
2. Questions of Life: Café Retro was clear that one of its key purposes was to give people the opportunity to ask important questions about life, the universe and everything. They held regular debate nights that explored philosophy and social, religious and moral issues. This was done with everyone – Christian or not – having an equal say, with no-one’s opinion considered less important. The focus was not necessarily to come to the answer, but to show that Christianity gives permission and the space to ask the questions. Then the community can begin to go on a faith journey together.
3. Loving Your Neighbour: The Café Retro team all lived and communicated in accordance with this central command of Jesus. They wanted their lives to be a witness to the people who came into the café, but also they just wanted to live as Jesus called them to live. The finances of the café, as well as the way Café Retro spent its time were all based around seeking to bless their neighbours – both home and abroad.

Living by Faith

Café Retro was primarily, day to day, a café (fairly obvious, really!), and as such was open all day to the public, and was a place where people could come to buy food and drink and share fellowship (be that Christian or not). However, despite the money coming in they were a non-profit organisation, and any profits that were made were given to mission projects that the team were linked with in India and Africa. This formed one of the clearest and most open to the public ways to demonstrate what Loving Your Neighbour can look like on a global scale.

In terms of how it was funded, this came mostly from the sacrificial giving of people associated with the mission project, or members of the community that were blessed by it and wanted to see it continue. The local church were the only other source of giving to keep Café Retro project up and running. This did not necessarily guarantee that each month’s costs would be met, and so they learned that living by faith was at the core of their existence.

An example of just how true this last observation was can be seen from the core team of leaders. They were all volunteers, giving both their time and money sacrificially into the project. There were paid staff at the café, but the leaders were all living by faith as they followed Jesus on this exciting journey.

Not all Christians?!

Perhaps the most pioneering feature of this mission project is that despite being a contemporary missionary movement in the community, there was not the assumption that this meant that all the people who made it happen had to be Christians! Across all the people involved around 50% were not-yet-Christians, forming parts of all of the teams, except the central leadership team.

Altogether there were 6 teams centred around a leadership team that kept Café Retro’s various aspects going, and each team was made up of a mixture of those that know Jesus, and those that don’t yet claim to. This had a profound effect, which was to open up the ownership of the project to the whole community. The café became a centre for all sorts of people to explore faith and life together, and they could all see that they are really equally valued. This was a genuinely indigenous move of God! How many of us would dare start a mission project where half the workers were not yet Christians? And yet this proved to have a successful impact in Copenhagen!

All the workers were lay people, though some did have some degree of theological training. Rie was very much the vision holder, and her enthusiasm was clear and contagious to those around her. Two people were employed to lead the café, but they were the only two employed workers. Below you can see a diagram of the basic structure of the teams that ran Café Retro, together with how many people formed each team.

There was a culture of low control, but high accountability in the relationship between Café Retro and the Lutheran State Church. The institution did not fund the project, nor did it tell them what to do (hence them having the freedom to be so indigenous), but the national church were seen by the leadership and the community as being the spiritual guides for the Café Retro, and were responsible for holding the leaders accountable for what they were doing – ensuring that the focus was always on listening to the Holy Spirit for guidance and letting God lead the way.

Putting Values into Practice

Day to day they ran as any café would. However, every week and month there was also a variety of activities that were focused on exploring the core values mentioned earlier as a community. There was a weekly live music/DJ night; there were monthly debate nights; meditations were held regularly in a Quiet Room; and there were also many other one-off events that sought to explore Christian spirituality and give people in the community the chance to express their creative sides and build relationships in a “secular” and yet still “Christian” atmosphere. In addition to this they also ran a Christian debate and prayer group from the café called Retrospektiv. Here they discussed key issues of faith, prayed together and for the community, had events and dramas. This was the most overtly “religious” expression of the café, but was still a place that was formed integrally around young adult culture.

What did they learn?

Some things Rie learned along the way

1. Young people hate exposure to evangelism, so it is vital that we choose to meet them in their lives instead… loving them not because we have to, but because we want to.
2. Integrity is essential… if the Gospel is to have power, then it must be birthed in reality. We must live out what we say. When we do, people see the real difference that Jesus makes, and it is honest and attractive.
3. We are created to be creative, so that is all that Café Retro, with all its events and teams, focuses on!

All in all this is a remarkable and exciting story that shows how the body of Christ really can reach into other cultures and become an indigenous and leading player in the various communities that society is made up of.

To see more pictures and details of this project (in Danish!), click here.

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