The dream of franchising Ebenezers Coffeehouse was birthed five years ago during an unplanned meeting between a couple of strangers chasing the same dream. Here’s the back story…
The desire started for Dara (my wife) and I as we walked through the lobby of our church in 2006. We decided that if we were to ever start our own church, we wanted to build a building that could be used by the community seven days a week. We didn’t want a typical church building, but one that the community felt was theirs and that the church “used” on Sundays. We kicked around several ideas. A warehouse that could double as an events center and a coffeehouse/venue were the top two. We could set either of them up as a non-profit model that poured all profits back into humanitarian projects in communities at home and across the world.
We were kicking around this idea with a guy named Randy at an event in Winston-Salem, NC in October 2007. We had just met that day and we just started dreaming about what church could be and how we could practically engage our community. We mentioned the warehouse idea and the coffeehouse/venue. He said, “You know, there’s a guy in Washington DC that just opened one of those.”
Two months passed from that day and I randomly got an email from Randy. He said, “I remembered that guy’s name. It’s Mark Patterson and the coffeehouse is Ebenezers.” I jumped on Google and put in “Mark Patterson Ebenezers Washington DC.” Turns out there were no Mark Patterson’s that pastor in DC. There was, however, a Mark Batterson. I arrived at the conclusion that everyone can make a simple mistake and this had to be the guy.
I went home that evening and checked out Mark’s website with my wife. I also found their MySpace page (yes, MySpace) for the coffeehouse. I wrote a message to Mark saying that we would love to connect sometime and that we had a similar vision. Right when I was about to hit the send button, I felt a prompting in my spirit to just let go and pray. I looked at Dara and said, “Dara, I feel like we’re supposed to let go and allow God to make the connection. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to send this email. ” She looked back at me very matter of factly and said, “So don’t.” I didn’t. (<— Husband points.)
We prayed together that night. “God, if you want this to happen, you will bring this to pass. Help us to meet Mark naturally and let us build a friendship instead of a business opportunity.”
Dara and I had a choice to make in the midst of all of this dreaming. On one hand, we had an opportunity to move to Raleigh, NC to plant a church. On the other hand, we had an opportunity to move to Charlotte, NC and help another pastor plant a church. During this process, Dara and I were asking God for wisdom.
We were at a railroad crossing, sitting at a stop light in Kannaopolis, NC when we felt like the Lord direct us in this way: “Charlotte will be the place that all of your dreams come to pass.” So we delayed our dream to start our own church and came on the staff of another church planter, Mike Field (Hope Church in North Charlotte).
I was sitting in one of our first planning meetings for Hope Church in January 2008 when the craziest thing happened. We were kicking around ideas of where Hope Church would meet. I floated the idea of a coffeehouse/venue. They loved it. As I was telling them about Ebenezers in Washington DC and a pastor name Mark Batterson, one of our team members looked at me and said, “I know Mark. I’m going to be up there in two weeks.” I looked back at him and said, “Can I come?”
Two weeks later, we were sitting in front of Mark at his office that is on the floor above Ebenezers Coffeehouse. We were complete strangers. And to make this even funnier, it turns out that the guy that was going to DC forgot to confirm with Mark that he was coming. When we got off the elevator at saw Mark, I would find out later, he had no clue we were coming.
I asked Mark a question that day that took every ounce of courage that God had placed in me. I was so nervous as I said to him, “Mark, I know we don’t know each other, but I came today to ask you if you have ever considered franchising Ebenezers?” Mark looked at me for a few moments, smiled and said, “What would you say if I said that I just attended an exploratory meeting on franchising two days ago?”
We look back on that day as the birth of our shared dream. God placed a huge dream in our hearts that has taken us on a five year ride that has been unforgettable. And it turns out that our decision to delay our dream in leading our own church plant actually accelerated our dream to open a coffeehouse/venue for the community.
I have made countless trips to DC since that day. We have traveled to conferences together so that we could continue building the friendship, dream together and pray over this shared vision. During one of the funniest moments of our friendship, Mark looked at me one day in Orlando, FL and said, “David, did you know that we had over two hundred people inquire to us about the idea of franchising before you came to DC that day a few years ago?” I wanted to punch him. “What?!” I asked, “Why did you never tell me that?” He just started to laugh. “Why did you say yes to us, then?” I was so confused. He looked back and me and said, “We’re kindred spirits. This one is just right.”
I learned another lesson that day in realizing there is nothing new under the sun. Dara and I had an idea to start a coffeehouse/venue instead of a church. Turns out someone had already done that. We had an idea to franchise Ebenezers to multiply the impact through shared vision and shared resources. Two hundred people had already gone down that road.
I also learned a lesson that day in being sensitive to the spirit. Mark has turned out to be a mentor to me in so many ways. But one of the main lessons that I’ve learned from watching his life is how to be a courageous, visionary leader that is led by the Holy Spirit. Mark is not led by his big dreams or his emotions. He is following the source of all of these big dreams.
Since this dream started five years ago, Dara and I were blessed to be sent out by Hope Church to realize a longtime dream of our own as we planted Center City Church in Uptown Charlotte in April 2010. We have an incredible team that has joined us in this shared dream. And we are all following Jesus as he continues to lead us toward seeing this come to pass.
I am leaving DC today to head back to Charlotte. The next step that we are taking is to write the second draft of our affiliation agreement. This agreement will be the guide that we use in the future to see this dream of reproducing Ebenezers Coffeehouse all over the world.
The dream is coming to life that started five years ago during an unplanned meeting between a couple of strangers chasing the same dream. Ebenezers Coffeehouse is coming to Uptown Charlotte. All in God’s timing, all for God’s glory.
Keep following that Spirit-Led Dream. God be with you – the journey can sometimes be even better than the destination! But I think, as I know your heart, that God may well be pleased by both!