When Pastor Greg Mayo returned from the mission field and started Cornerstone Church in 1992, he had no idea that he’d eventually be entering a new mission field. Inspired to start a church plant in Augusta County that was part of a network of churches originating in Broadway, VA, everything seemed like business as usual. The church was growing and newcomers David and Donna Sandy joined the flock shortly after the church opened its doors in 1993. The couple threw themselves into the ministry, and David eventually became an associate pastor at Cornerstone in 2005.
A Seed is Planted, and a Café is Born
Donna worked in Charlottesville for more than 20 years but has always called the Valley home so when she felt called to do something closer to home, she knew she had to listen.
As Donna prayed about things, she felt a calling to start a business, but not just something for herself. “I wanted a place where ministry would happen,” Donna remarks, her passion and her tender heart laid bare as she conveys the story behind The Gateway Café.
“I wanted a place where ministry would happen.”
“The original idea was to start a coffee shop in the church,” recounts Donna. Of course, that idea didn’t seem practical; the church was growing rapidly. There was no room. Donna continued to pray and one day in passing Pastor Greg asked her, “when are we going to open that coffee shop”? Floored and not knowing what to make of it, Donna confesses, “I just let it pass.”
A few months passed before Donna worked up the nerve to approach Pastor Greg about the conversation. “How did you know that I was thinking about a coffee shop?” Donna asked. Of course, Greg didn’t know, he was simply listening to what God was telling him, but he wanted to discuss the matter further. Pastor Greg warmly interjects, “It was a convergence of God speaking to two different people about the same mission.” The pastor had always dreamed about engaging in a marketplace ministry, but knowing where to start was the issue. He hadn’t run across any church-run business models that he could adapt to their purposes.
“It was a convergence of God speaking to two different people about the same mission.”
A Helping Hand and a Little Corporate Know-How
At this point, in larger ministries, a lot of great ideas expire before they’re birthed, but when it’s a God thing, things have a way of falling into place. Thankfully, the answer to this dilemma was only a seminar away. “I was at a workshop discussing how to improve the financial and legal structures of ministry, and the presenter just happened to share a story about a church in Florida that was doing marketplace ministry,” says Pastor Mayo. The presenter, a representative from the online ministry Start Church, related how the church was able to form a corporation and own stock in the corporation. This was an “aha moment” for Pastor Mayo. Not wanting to cut corners or put the church at risk, he said to himself, “these people can help us do this the right way.” Once the contract was in place, Start Church helped Cornerstone form a corporation the church dubbed CCA Enterprises and made sure all the I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed. Cornerstone owns the stock and CCA Enterprises is accountable to its shareholders (the church).
Business as a Mission and Mission as a Service Model
While the Gateway Café belongs to Cornerstone Church, that doesn’t mean that religion is served up as a complimentary side item. “It’s such a different vision and idea and even though our congregation is cheering us on they sometimes have a hard time wrapping their minds around what we’re doing,” says Donna. The mission behind this thriving business is to be the church in the marketplace.
“It’s such a different vision and idea and even though our congregation is cheering us on they sometimes have a hard time wrapping their minds around what we’re doing.”
The rationale behind this business mission all comes back to why people don’t go to church anymore. In many cases, people never set foot in a church because they weren’t raised in a church environment. The people who visit our cafe may not know anything about the church, or they may fall prey to preconceived notions. Perhaps they are between churches at the moment, for whatever reason. Or maybe they’ve been hurt by the church. Whatever the reason, none of that matters here because when you walk into the café, you’re not walking into a building with crucifixes adorning the walls and no one’s in your face about religion. You might find a few references here and there, but you have to look carefully. The Gateway Café is all about creating a welcoming environment that reflects the values of God’s Kingdom. Our business model is fueled by the relationships we cultivate and how our staff treats our customers. Pastor Mayo adds, “We don’t want to be a Christian café, we want to be a café run by Christians.”
The staff is ready and willing to pray for people when the need arises. Donna Sandy and Pastor Mayo work hard at creating an environment that provides refuge and warmth for customers and Donna and Pastor Mayo have visited with patrons on more than one occasion in times of need. “We just went to visit a couple who doesn’t have a church family right now, and they’re experiencing a tragic situation involving cancer; we’re able to shepherd them through this time,” shares Pastor Mayo. These people are part of the ministry at this bustling café, and the staff is more than willing to be there for their customers.
“Our vision is not to be a Christian café, we want to be a café run by Christians.”
A Divine Dining Experience Expands with Catering
Yes, the food at this little dining venue is divine, it has to be to keep people coming, but management makes it amply clear that selling sandwiches and coffee isn’t what it’s about at the end of the day. “We’re here to present the love of God,” Pastor Greg humbly states. And it’s apparent that in addition to that love is a willingness to serve as this tasty noshery has moved into the catering arena.
Hoping to add value and a new mechanism for service, catering is the newest offering available by the folks at the Gateway Café. Donna, the renaissance woman in this business, who’s done everything from catering to bookkeeping is now plying her skills at food prep and providing customers with fantastic fare that can be customized to customer’s needs. “It’s not a cookie-cutter menu,” shares Donna, happy to provide a service that goes well beyond the expectations of her customers.
Now, the miracle that became the Gateway Café, and a gateway to God’s love, has more ways to serve and minister to area customers.
Are you working hard to make a difference in the community? Do you somebody who has a story others should hear? Contact Valley Inbound today and let us know!